Hywel Davies (Dead Shed Jokers)

Hywel Davies - Dead Shed Jokers

Discovering a new band is an exciting thing. In the last couple of years Big Elf, Von Hertzen Brothers, Rival Sons and The Treatment have become four of my favourite acts – all exciting bands, but only one of them is even from the UK.  Nothing wrong with that, of course, the language of rock is universal. It is, though, particularly exciting when you realise that a newly discovered band comes from your own neck of the woods, or near enough.

The Dead Shed Jokers are, in fact, from Aberdare in the South Wales Valleys – a part of the world that has long been regarded, by me anyway, as classic rock heartland. Readers of Words and Music will also recall the link between Aberdare and my liking of Bob Dylan. The DSJ’s debut album, Peyote Smile, made quite an impression on me, and seemingly on Classic Rock magazine too, as one of the album’s standout tracks, ‘Magic Teatime’, appears on Issue 183’s Unleashed: 15 of the Hottest New Bands in Britain covermount CD (May 2013).

Those attending Planet Rock’s Steelhouse Festival in July 2013 will be able to able to see and hear the Dead Shed Jokers for themselves. In the meantime, I caught up singer Hywel Davies to find out a bit more.

Hi Hywel, I’ve got to say that listening to Peyote Smile I struggled to find clear points of reference with bands readers would already know. (A good thing!) So how would you describe the kind of music you play?
Basically anything within the rock and roll spectrum, we have no strict template for what our songs or the band should sound like, we just get in the shed with a few ideas and see what happens, pretty much. Each song tends to be different from the next as we have three writers within the band, so more than anything we try to serve the mood of the song/lyrics best and make it as dynamic as we can. We’re pretty hard on ourselves when writing to not to trudge over the same ground but in turn it does lead to a more colourful song palate. However, whilst the songs are variable they do share a common feel/atmosphere, which is probably the hallmark of the band rather than a common influence. I think if you like rock, be it the softer or harder side you’ll find something to get you off on Peyote Smile.

Tell us about the band
The Dead Shed JokersThe band consists of Nicky and Kristian on guitars, Ashley on drums, Luke on bass and me, Hywel, on vocals. We’re based in the Aberdare/Merthyr area and have survived a total of six years now, four originally as The Gubbins and then the last two as Dead Shed Jokers. We released our debut album, Peyote Smile, at the tail end of 2011 as Dead Shed Jokers and are currently in the process of writing our second, which is going quite well.  

Tell us about your influences as a band
They’re quite varied for each member to be honest, which probably accounts for the variety of sounds on the album. The Doors, Sabbath, Dead Kennedys, Dylan and modern acts such as QOTSA, The Stone Roses, the Black Keys and NOFX are just a few. We all come from different musical backgrounds, listening-wise, and have turned each other onto our own preferences over the years, or at least tried to.

Who was the first artist to make an impression on you?
The first band was probably Led Zep when I first really got into them in my second year of university. The riffs, the vocals and just the whole band dynamic blew me away and I bought their whole back catalogue within a month or two. Did my mates tits in probably, because that’s pretty much all I played for a year. At the time I remember thinking to myself that surely there can be no band better, and maybe that’s still true, but some strong contenders like QOTSA and Soundgarden have come forth in the meantime. Singing along to Led Zep I discovered that I could actually sing, and then at the tail-end of university started singing with my old man’s covers band, where Nicky spotted me and asked if I fancied forming a band. So without Led Zep I wouldn’t be doing this.

Tell us about an album, song or lyric that means a lot to you?
When it comes to lyrics, it’s Neil Young every time for me and whilst often simple they really hit home if you’re exposed to them at the right time. Hywel Davies - Dead Shed JokersMy favourite album is probably On the Beach just because of the darkness pervading the music, but he has countless lyrical gems. When I was younger and started singing and writing songs for the first time I was already 22 and it worried me considering a lot of bands were in their prime in their late teens and early twenties and I was just starting off and didn’t have a clue what I was doing and whether I even could write anything decent. Later on that year, I discovered Neil Young and everything changed for me. In the track ‘Old Man’ he sings “24 and there’s so much more” which is such a simple line, but hearing it was a massive sigh of relief for me. Knowing he hadn’t written this classic song until that age, and continued to write countless classic songs and albums after that, catalysed me into getting into my writing and learning guitar too. I swore I’d learn the song myself before I was 24 but I still can’t play it!

What does rock music mean to you?
It’s more music in general than a single genre. Don’t go a day without it and don’t intend to for the rest of my days. No better feeling than when you discover something new that makes your hairs stand on end and you can’t believe that you’ve been living without it. That’s the beauty of it, the likelihood that you may never hear a band/artist that could be your favourite of all time. The exploration never ends.

What do you want from rock music?
It’s not about what you want from it, it’s more about what you take from it and every artist offers something different.

Where do you see the Dead Shed Jokers in five years time?
Well, there’s not many bands that last six years these days so unless anyone dies (which is a possibility!) hopefully we’ll be doing what we do now but on a bigger stage and with a bigger fan base. The same thing any band wants. We have no delusions of grandeur, but we’ll take what we can! The music is only getting better and to have a fan base that appreciates that and not the pointiness of our shoes or the rigidity of our quiffs is a great thing.

I asked you to describe your music earlier. Do you think musical labels are helpful or limiting for bands trying to make it?
Obviously helpful in the sense that if you can find someone to fund what you do and put your music out there and that’s your job for the rest of your life, fucking epic where do I sign. However, on the other hand if it means dictating your musical output once signed and moulding you into the most palatable product for the public’s ears, well what’s the point, you’re not better off.

These days I don’t think it’s as important. Many bands (Enter Shikari, for example) have proved that success is possible without one. It’s all down to the music at the end of the day, if it’s good enough it will out and with Soundcloud, Bandcamp etc., you can easily stream it into the earlobes of the world. Everything is so accessible these days so you can develop a fan base without the distribution power of a label, which was essential, say, 15-20 years ago. A multi-million pound contract would be nice, mind.

DSJs on stage

Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
See the shed commandments; they’re on there along with the instructions for the Hadron Collider and a detailed explanation of how Sky Plus is a form of time travel.

Dylan or Morrison?
The frontman part of me says Morrison, but you can’t deny Dylan as a songwriter and lyricist. They’re both legends and will continue to be. As far as music I listen to most that would be The Doors. L.A. Woman, from start to finish, is the canine’s testicles and in my top 10 albums of all time.

What makes a rock gig special?
Apart from the obvious things, probably a good sound on stage. It makes a hell of a difference when the band can actually hear each other and are actually playing in the moment rather than playing blind and hoping that everyone else is playing the same bit. Changes the vibe of a gig completely; you get off on each other.

Your most notable gig to date as a band?
Hywel - DJs on stageAs mental as it sounds, it’s probably the smallest one we’ve played in a mate’s house party. Black bags were stuck to every wall in the house to try and save them from getting trashed and there was glow in the dark shit everywhere. We played in the living room and it was packed, just chaos. We went back the next day and the place looked like a Tsunami had hit it, ceilings on the floor, baths full of cans, shit everywhere! Awesome night, you’ll struggle to re-create an atmosphere like that.

The best gig you’ve been to as a fan?
It’s a toss-up really between Neil Young at the Hammersmith Apollo (2008) and QOTSA at the O2 in Bournemouth (2011). The first time I saw Neil Young was just mind blowing, throughout grown men turning to each other jaws to the floor, shrugging in disbelief and in shear awe of one old geezer and a bunch of songs. He played acoustic for an hour and half and even the songs I hadn’t heard before made an impact, which is rare. He ended the set with the killer blows of ‘Don’t Let it Bring You Down’, ‘Cowgirl in the Sand’ and ‘Old Man’ and sure enough the tears came. To this day no solo artist has topped it.

QOTSA were something else entirely, a band free of touring an album just playing a greatest hits set for fans in a cracking venue. This was the fourth or fifth time I’d seen Queens and me and my mates were saying beforehand “we’ll take this one easy, just listen from the back” like a bunch of boring nans. But then they opened with ‘Regular John’ and straight away the place just went bat shit crazy. We all looked at each other and just said “fuck it” and were straight in the pit. The set list was immense.

Your best encounter with an artist as a fan?
When I went to see Neil Young for the first time, Thom Yorke (Radiohead) was sitting a couple of rows behind us. So after the support band had played, a few friends and I went to say hello to Thom on the way to the bar. The first two boys said they were fans and shook his hand but when it came to me instead of shaking his hand for some reason I just winked at him. Later on, I was thinking about it and remembered he has a bonky eye, so he probably thought I was taking the piss!

Blagging my way backstage with QOTSA was pretty awesome too, barrels of free beer, tumps of grub and mingling with the band steaming. Unfortunately Josh was feeling a bit under the weather so wasn’t present, which was a shame. Had an opportunity to steal one of Troy’s suits too, which was hanging in the cupboard, but resisted.

So, what do you say to a ‘rock star’ after you say hello?
I’m polite, so I’d say their name.

What would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
That’s bollocks, locally there’s amazing bands that will kick the balls off most bands live and that’s just in our small pond. It’s just the fact that people are not hearing the music, or supporting the local music scene to get a chance to. There’ll always be rock music and people will always want it. Scientists have proven that listening to Justin Bieber will reduce your sperm count, so when global infertility dawns people will be playing Stooges albums in assembly to save mankind.

And finally, what are you up to at the moment and what’s next for the band? 
Things are on the up at the minute, ‘Magic Teatime’ (off Peyote Smile) is on the new bands CD in the May edition of Classic Rock magazine, which is great, and then this summer we will be playing Planet Rock’s Steelhouse Festival, which is probably the best opportunity we’ve had to date. We’re also writing our second album and are about eight songs into that. We’re really excited about what’s coming out in the practice room at the minute and it’s a step forward from Peyote Smile. We’re considering recording the album ourselves and are excited about getting into the process, and striving to get the raw sound we want to hear from the music. However, we have had some interest from some notable producers so that may change if we can find the right guy for the job.

Dead Shed Jokers - the shed

CHEERS, HYWEL!

Check out Peyote Smile on the DSJ’s bandcamp page

Live shots of Hywel and Dead Shed Jokers: Paul Scott Thomas Photography
Paul Scott Thomas Facebook page

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