Me and That Man, the collaboration between Behemoth’s frontman Nergal and leading British/Polish rock musician and producer John Porter, are set to release their debut album, Songs of Love & Death via Cooking Vinyl on 24th March 2017. We caught up with them in London ahead of their European tour to discuss their creative vision and how their songs express personal experience, defiance and darkness through their own prism.
Nergal, what was it that you wanted to express with Me and That Man that you couldn’t with Behemoth?
Nergal: I like the simplicity and the minimalistic means and tools that we’re using in this band. It all comes down to a guy playing the guitar. It’s this and really nothing more than this. There’s no trumpets, there’s no orchestration, there’s no masks, all of this is somewhere else. Here is just two guys playing some dark tunes on their grunge guitars or whatever! That’s what we used to call each other in the very beginning, the grunge brothers
So this is just a stripped down – literally – version of yourself?
Nergal: Exactly! It’s the other side of the pole that’s how I see it and I did it deliberately and I did it just to clean up my system.
Were there any specific themes or personal experiences that inspired you to create Songs of Love & Death?
John: Obviously, that’s the whole point of writing songs. Well, there isn’t a point in writing songs. They just come out because you vomit!
Nergal: Pretty much, I use the word defecation. Uh, I defecated a song! Maybe it’s not the right word to use in a restaurant where people are eating around us but that’s exactly what it is. You’ve got it in your system and you must get it out, just let it out. Otherwise it’s going to get intoxicating, same with the other stuff! You just spit it out, that’s it!
So this is similar to a cathartic process for you?
John: It can be, it’s a therapy isn’t it?
Nergal: Remember this song that I wrote in the middle of the night? I was asleep and suddenly seriously there was this song in my head. I remember getting up and thought this sounds good so I will put it down on a tape recorder and the weird thing is that the lyrics can happen at the same time so you can sing it back and see how it sounds, if it’s worth it and it turns out yeah!
Back in earlier announcements you had mentioned that the album will be called Love is a Dog From Hell but it has been changed to Songs of Love and Death. What prompted that change?
Nergal: The label suggested that we change it so we don’t get into any legal problems with the owners of Bukowski’s legacy whatsoever because also on the cover there is the portrait of an old man and originally it was Bukowski’s portrait and they were like: ‘you know what, it could get ugly if someone smells money there so let’s change it’ and I got this title Songs of Love and Death. Actually the original suggestion was from John: “Let’s call this record ‘Songs of Love and Death in E Minor’.” I think it’s cool but it’s too long, Love is a Dog from Hell is a better title but let’s stick to the other idea and use this without the E Minor.
John: E Minor it’s still there in the gaps!
“I really hope that people dig the honesty of it.”
Nergal, did you have any moments of self-doubt during the writing or recording progress about your ability to sing given how different it is compared to the vocals you’re best known for?
Nergal: Of course! Every now and then I’m like “Shit, really?” Because I am exposed to something that I am totally new to. Not anymore but still I’m new to this. For John, he’s so confident in this because it sounds similar to most of his life but for me it’s like: Oook, it can be slippery ground. I don’t know, as I kept saying, I’ve got to do it, so I get to deep dive and see if I can swim. Simple as that!
John: Self-doubt is also motivating. It can be.
Nergal: Exactly! Because I don’t know, let’s see how it goes. We have this tour ahead and singing every day. I don’t know if I can pull it off. I have been talking the whole day today and I already feel it scratching my throat. Somehow I don’t have a problem with screaming but just singing, I feel it. Let’s see what happens. It’s a new thing, I want to get there and I hope I pull it off. But then again, it’s not just me. That’s the cool thing. If I stop, there’s still John.
John: Good old John!
You have mentioned in the past that you are a big fan of Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen and the album is drawing from their dark narratives. What’s the mark, if any at all, that you’re hoping to leave in that genre of music with Me and That Man?
John: We don’t have to bring something new to the table that’s the way it came out. Various inspirations, various influences. You can recognise what we listen to.
Nergal: The last word before I die iffy original. I guess that I am everything but original… On every front.
A talented thief?
Nergal: I am a thief.
John: It is original. I mean, we just interpreted things that have been out there already.
Nergal: I am a thief, she was right. But then again, if you steal inspiration from someone, you’re going to flash it through your own filters. Right? It’s going to go through your system. So, it’s already not his, it’s mine because it went through my experience. That’s how I see it and there’s an example that I have been using for years now, you can grab all these people, give them guitars and tell them “Hey can you play E Minor?” and in my opinion what I’m going to hear from 20 people will be 20 different vibes even though it’s the same chord. The same goes with this. These blues players, they play the same fucking song. Listen to Muddy Waters or Robby Johnson, it’s the same song. He’s using the same chords, it’s the stories that are different. And he’s just singing about how fucked up the world is, how fucked up his life is. And that’s it. That’s what I love about blues personally. It’s all emotions, it was not about shredding and showing off, that came later. Instead of going there, we’re going back to talk about our experiences, about our lives and about our emotions in these songs. I hope there’s some uniqueness in there because of the collaboration, because of these two different currents that mix up. I think that’s interesting, the synergies.
Talking about the collaboration, John you have obviously worked with a range of artists from The Smiths and Bryan Ferry to BB King and John Lee Hooker, how was the collaboration between the two of you given your diverse backgrounds?
John: I didn’t really have to change very much. It’s basically hovering around my kind of stuff anyway so with Nergal it was just the case of pumping it up a bit. Pimping it up? Making it a bit more full on.
Nergal: That’s a good name for a TV show: Pimp my Nergal!
“If you’re doing something according to people’s expectations which you’re not sure about anyway, nothing is going to come out of that. Nothing really worthwhile anyway.”
There’s already a strong reaction from the fans looking at the comments posted online. There seems to be a love/hate reaction. What do you make of that?
John: That’s better than people saying “Oh I don’t know…” Saying you don’t like it is a more positive reaction that just being in the middle. It’s better if you love it or hate, it’s like marmite.
Nergal: What’s in the middle doesn’t exist. It’s flat, it’s dull, there’s nothing there. There’s no definition so I’d rather go for definition. It’s like with Metallica’s Lulu, everyone hated it. With us, I’d say it’s like 60% “woah“, 30% “fuck it” and 10% “I don’t know, it’s boring“. That’s good statistics, I love it! Plus I like this saying from Oscar Wilde that goes along the lines that extreme reactions are artists’ art, those extreme opinions. It basically proves that the artist was honest with it and I think that’s what it is. Look, you’ve got politicians or people that try to be always in between because they don’t want to bring extreme reactions because maybe they’re afraid of that. They’re not going to go nowhere. So if you make a statement, a bold statement like “Hey I like that! I like that painting” you already have a strong interaction so you can learn from it and if someone says something like “I don’t know, this painting is OK” it’s stupid, it’s nothing, there’s nothing there so I think in the reactions there’s a lot of substance there.
John: There’s enough there if someone says I don’t like it instead of the “I don’t care” thing. Any reaction is better than no reaction.
Nergal: I remember we posted it on the Behemoth website and there was a video and there were dozens and dozens of comments and I’m reading them all and at the end of these never-ending comments there was a comment “Who cares” and I’m like actually people do fucking care!
Do people’s expectations on your artistic output ever weigh you down?
Nergal: Not anymore. That’s the self-confidence that you gain through experience and I guess the more you live, the less you care! It’s the cool thing about getting old, not that you’re ignorant or arrogant but you just don’t give a fuck.
John: If you cared about expectations you wouldn’t really ever get anything done. If you’re doing something according to people’s expectations which you’re not sure about anyway, nothing is going to come out of that. Nothing really worthwhile anyway.
Having looked at the first reactions for your newly launched videoclip, viewers have been talking about the symbolism behind it. Could you tell me a bit more about the creative process?
John: A woman made it!
Nergal: It’s female produced. I think it’s very decadent. It’s not very positive but then the song is pretty dark and I wouldn’t really go for a literal story “My Church is Black” so let’s build a church and paint it black. There are metaphors there, the song is simple. The lyrics are simple, primitive even but then there’s a lot of things going on in the video. I like the fact that it’s very arty. That was my concern in the beginning when Olga brought the script. She brought the script and I saw all these girls I thought it might be too cheesy, too rock n’ roll, it’s going to look cheap but it doesn’t. It’s pretty disturbing, I like that word. I’ve seen reactions and I’ve heard reactions that are really touching. People are confused, really confused and disturbed which is good! That’s it! I am happy about it. We have four videos ready and each one is completely different. There’s going to be some crazy shit happening in one of them. Some people already labelled us as provocateurs or something. That’s stupid, it’s art! The next video is going to be more regular looking.
No more nudity then?
Nergal: Next one is going to be from the front!
Was there any specific meaning behind that?
Nergal: Probably there is but give me some time to digest it and I will let you know. I could probably come up with different concepts but maybe I shouldn’t because it is there, people watch it and come up with their own mind, with their own interpretations. I’ve heard different opinions. I’ve heard opinions “Ah awesome video, with a shitty song” or “The music is awesome but this video is embarrassing“. It’s awesome how diverse it can be, it’s great. I like it.
You have announced some upcoming live performances and we are obviously used to some intense appearances from you with Behemoth, what can people expect from a Me and That Man live show?
John: It should be intense also. It should be stripped back, laid back. No nonsense, just going for it.
Nergal: I had a vision. It’s hard to articulate that. I hope it’s going to be a solid conceptual performance but no gimmicks or bullshit just four guys playing their music. Light, sound, and acting, playing will just come together conceptually nicely and that’s the way I see that. It’s going to be no extras, nothing. We’re never going to try to spice it up and sell it out. Class is the world we should use here. We will do our best to make it look and sound very classy. I bet the songs, when we play them live, they’re going to sound harder. So let’s see. It’s going to be fun!
I know it’s still early days, but have you thought more about the future of the project or do you take it day by day?
John: Well I take it day by day. That is the future, to just be here right now.
Nergal: We’re not looking at the future. It’s this tour and all the work that needs to be done by that time. I think it’s enough and then we will see.
If there’s one thing that you want people to take away from all this, what would it be?
John: That they would find maybe some emotions or emotional issue which they didn’t have before, maybe they discover something about themselves because sometimes you do get that when you listen to music and suddenly something moves you that you didn’t even know it existed sometimes.
Nergal: I really hope that people dig the honesty of it. It’s cool if people go “You know, that’s not my thing. I don’t like it but I sense the honesty there. I know it’s sincere and he’s real when he’s doing it” because I have seen “He’s doing it for money!” What money? Where’s that money? No!