U.K. blackened sludge outfit Mastiff may call themselves "a miserable band" from the "miserable city" of Kingston Upon Hull — but don't you fucking dare insult their hometown.
"People from Hull hate other people slagging our city off," says singer Jim Hodge of the port city in England's eastern Yorkshire region. "But when you're here, that's all you hear people from Hull saying, 'It's shit!' It gets slagged off by people from here, but we'll defend it to the nth degree."
Hodge says this love/hate relationship with his city is a key driving force in not only his, but his community's, musical development. "Hull has a great music scene, and it always has," he says of the area, which over the years has birthed an eclectic range of acts: from David Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson and industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle to 90s electro-alt-pop duo Everything But the Girl and modern deathcore crew Black Tongue and more.
"Because it's on the road to nowhere — you only really come to Hull to catch a ferry to go to Europe — it's a city [where] all the people that can play music, try to play music. Not to get out of the city, as in move away from it, but to get out and see other places. Because Hull is such a small place. And if you can write music and enjoy yourself with your pals and disappear up and down the country or into Europe, people are going to do that."
Since 2014, Hodge has been doing just that with Mastiff. The five-piece — rounded out by guitarists James Andrew Lee and Phil Johnson, bassist Dan Dolby and drummer Michael Shepherd — have been refining their hardcore-informed sound, which weaves in grindcore, powerviolence, hints of black metal and more. They've released a couple albums, Wrank (2016) and Plague (2019), and landed gigs opening for Crowbar, Biohazard, Conjurer, Cult Leader, Iron Monkey and more. But 2021 is shaping up to be Mastiff's biggest year yet. They recently landed a deal with eOne, who will be releasing their new album, Leave Me The Ashes of the Earth, on September 10th.
Unlike previous Mastiff albums, which were each recorded in two days, Hodge and Co. took their time, relatively speaking, on Leave Me the Ashes of the Earth — and knocked out the album's nine songs in a whopping five days.
"We are essentially a hardcore band at heart — so it's probably first take, best take," Hodge says of their rapid-fire recording approach. "The new album is more intricate than the previous ones. … [But] if you try and capture something too clinically, it loses something. We're not the tightest band in the world, we know that. But I think that's what makes us a slight bit different from other bands in the hardcore scene. Because people do overprocess and over-engineer albums and sounds. I think our approach keeps a raw edge to it."
We recently caught up with Hodge to dig into the vision and history behind Mastiff — a chat that took some fun detours into his own recent "Yorkshire Warrior" training, Acacia Strain stolen valor, genuine Taylor Swift fandom and more. Read that conversation below.
IF YOU HAD TO DESCRIBE MASTIFF'S MISSION STATEMENT, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
JIM HODGE [Laughs] It's hard to put a mission statement on it because we have literally just fallen through the right doors. We're from a small-town city called Hull. It's very insular in the music scene. Everybody swaps about. So we've been pals for a long time. We're five guys who enjoy playing music and the right moments came along. But yeah, we've just fallen through the right doors. [Laughs]
HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INTO HEAVY MUSIC?
We used to have a program called Top of the Pops in England. They would play AC/DC, Iron Maiden. My first single was "Back in Black," I still have it. Then I remember buying "Flight of Icarus." I was in primary, or elementary school, I was eight when that came out.
And then when I was 10 or 11 I had a guy that lived down the road, slightly older, he was probably 15 or 16 and he was into proper old-school English punk. We're talking bands like the Sex Pistols, Crass … That rubbed off on me.
SO YOU STARTED WITH CLASSIC METAL AND SOME PUNK. DO YOU RECALL THE MOMENT WHEN YOU FIRST DISCOVERED UNDERGROUND EXTREME METAL?
I can nail this one! [Laughs] A guy at school, called Steve, came in and said, "I've got this album and I can't stand it, does anybody wanna swap?" He was into glam metal. So he said, "Well, I'll have that — Heart's Bad Animals — if you wanna swap it with this album" ... which turned out to be Slayer's Reign in Blood. [Laughs] And that was the turning point — that was the moment when my mum and dad went, "What have you got on!" [Laughs]
AND YOU KNEW YOU WERE ON THE RIGHT TRACK.
[Laughs] Yeah. I still dabbled with the lighter stuff, but that was the moment.
DID YOU COME FROM A MUSICAL FAMILY?
Not so much. My uncle plays folk, my dad can play guitar and my granddad used to play guitar. But no, I was sort of the little metalhead that sat in his bedroom listening to every piece of music he could get his hands on.
WAS THERE A SPECIFIC MOMENT THAT INSPIRED YOU TO WANT TO PLAY IN A BAND?
To be honest it was a bet. Somebody in a pub bet me. There was four of us in the pub — and it just turned out that everyone could play an instrument, apart from me. [Laughs] They said, "You can't start a band." And six months later we played our first show. It's a bad way of putting it: but don't make a bet to a narcissist that he can't do something. [Laughs] Even though I shouldn't admit to being a narcissist.
JUMPING UP TO MASTIFF, WHO WOULD YOU SAY ARE YOUR TOP THREE MUSICAL INFLUENCES WHEN IT COMES TO THE BAND?
Our style has changed dramatically over the years, but at the moment Converge have a big input. Napalm Death, that last album [2020's Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism] had quite an influence on us. And Acacia Strain for myself. They're like one of my all-time favorite bands. They influence me on everything.
HOW DOES MASTIFF FIT INTO — OR STAND APART FROM — HULL'S HEAVY-MUSIC SCENE?
There's always been a great music scene. Back in the early 2000s, 2010s, the hardcore scene here was unbelievable. The amount of touring bands we'd get here just from word of mouth, bands like Red Chord … Cursed played here in this little 250-cap venue. Crazy little things like that would happen. Maybe because it's on the way to Europe. People would be like, "We have these dates, let's just play there."
It died off for a bit, but now we've got a really good music scene again. Bands like, I don't know if you'd heard of them, but Black Tongue, they are one of the biggest hardcore deathcore bands going at the moment … So that's the general gist. Whether we stand out or not? We don't really think of ourselves like that. We're still surprised every time people show up at the gig. [Laughs]
SO YOU DON'T STAND APART FROM HULL, YOU STAND WITH HULL.
Yeah, exactly. We try not distance ourselves from it. Yeah you captured it right.
COVID HAS OBVIOUSLY DISRUPTED NORMALITY ALL ACROSS THE GLOBE. THE U.K., LIKE MANY OTHER PLACES, HAS GONE THROUGH MULTIPLE LOCKDOWNS. WHAT HAS LIFE BEEN LIKE FOR YOU IN HULL OVER THE LAST YEAR?
We've been lucky. We obviously got to record an album last September . … We had the intention of releasing it on a smaller label and then the option for eOne came along. Pretty much we've been concentrating on that. Luckily we haven't missed a beat — obviously [we missed] live shows. But as with most bands when you're writing an album you aren't playing as many shows. So we were lucky.
LEAVE ME THE ASHES OF THE EARTH WAS RECORDED IN FIVE DAYS. THAT SEEMS PRETTY INTENSE. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE BAND'S MINDSET IN TERMS OF CAPTURING EVERYTHING IN SUCH A SHORT PERIOD OF TIME? DOES THAT COME FROM A HARDCORE "FIRST TAKE BEST TAKE" APPROACH?
Sort of. The two previous records, Plague and Wrank, were done in two days.
OH, SO YOU ACTUALLY DRAGGED YOUR FEET ON THIS ONE.
[Laughs] Yeah, well. We had got some money. Do you know about the game Cyberpunk ? We were contacted by Cyberpunk [to contribute the original song "Acid Breather"]. They gave us an amount of money which enabled us to have five days in the studio. Not that we wouldn't have done it that way anyway. But the first two EPs were recorded [quickly] because yeah, it's probably first take, best take.
YOU MENTIONED THAT MASTIFF'S STYLE HAS EVOLVED. I'M THINKING OF THE SONG "ENDLESS," WHICH INTRODUCES AN ALMOST BLACK-METAL RIFF BEFORE BREAKING INTO THIS RAW HARDCORE ASSAULT …
Yeah, I think because we all listen to everything. Our drummer is into grindcore, one of our guitarists is into blackened hardcore metal. We listen to all kinds of genres. I think this one is a lot faster than previous albums. But we do like the slower ones too. Not doom particularly, because we're not a doom band. We just like a slower track that builds.
TOTALLY, THERE'S A SLUDGE UNDERCURRENT THERE AS WELL. SPEAKING OF THAT, YOU'VE TOURED WITH CROWBAR RIGHT?
Well, not a tour unfortunately, not yet anyway. [Laughs] We've played with them which was one of those holy shit moments. It was like the first big support spot. I suppose that was a moment for the band when things started taking a turn for the better. It was a line in the sand.
WHEN WAS THAT?
That was, probably, maybe about five years ago. We had pestered the shit out of the promoter. [Laughs] Eventually, he was like, "Alright! For god sake you can do it!" [Laughs] That was how it came about. It was in Sheffield. Crowbar are a main influence of our band. Those guys are so nice.
HAS IT BEEN HARD FOR YOU NOT PLAYING SHOWS? DO YOU MISS IT?
Yes, I do miss live shows massively. We've got our first one back this weekend. We've played one a month ago at Manchester, and that was the biggest room we've ever played. But unfortunately, it was socially distanced.
OUTSIDE OF THE BAND, AND MUSIC IN GENERAL, WHAT ARE YOUR PASSIONS? I SAW ON INSTAGRAM YOU POSTED ABOUT COMPLETING A YORKSHIRE WARRIOR EVENT. TELL US ABOUT THAT?
[Laughs] That keep-fit thing kicked in about four years ago. It's obviously an age thing. [Laughs] I go to a boot camp locally and the guy who runs it was like, "Oh there's this Yorkshire Warrior course." And I was like, "I'll do it!" Again, back to the narcissist … [Laughs] The training, I don't think you can train for an assault course, really. It was just running and trying not to booze for the week before hand. So we've got this gig on this coming Saturday, and then on Sunday I'm doing anther 10K run. [Laughs] It couldn't have fallen any worse, really.
THAT'S GONNA BE A BRUTAL MORNING RUN. [LAUGHS] BACK TO MUSIC, YOU MENTIONED EARLIER THAT YOU STILL LIKE A BIT OF LIGHTER STUFF TO BALANCE OUT YOUR HEAVIER LISTENING HABITS. DO YOU HAVE ANY "UNEXPECTED" MUSICAL INFLUENCES THAT MIGHT SURPRISE?
Taylor Swift is one of my favorite artists. I'm just drawn to the musical side of it. She's an amazing songwriter. From Red, probably, but then I worked my way back. I took my daughter, Honey, to see her perform. And parents at [her] school were like, "Aww you're taking Honey to go and see Taylor Swift." And I'm like, "No, she's coming with me. It's the other way around." [Laughs] I think the Taylor Swift thing was probably due to my parents listening to stuff like the Eagles and Don McLean and things like that. ... Prince is another one. I love Prince. But that's a standard, everybody loves Prince.
TRUE, EVERYONE LOVES PRINCE. BUT I CAN SAY I'VE NEVER GOTTEN TAYLOR SWIFT AS AN ANSWER FROM A METAL SINGER.
[Laughs] Well I will wear that as a proud little badge. [Laughs]
IN THE METAL WORLD, WHAT BAND OR MUSICAL ARTIST ARE YOU THE BIGGEST FAN OF? ANY SUPERFAN STORIES?
Acacia Strain are my absolute go-to band. A couple years ago they headlined a festival called Tech Fest, which was the only festival they played that year. One of my pals was working side of stage and got me in. And I ended up being in all the press photography for the show. [Laughs] [Acacia Strain singer] Vincent [Bennett] posted the photos to his Instagram and I was right there next to the backdrop. Like, "Oh there's six members in Acacia Strain now?" [Laughs]
[LAUGHS] SO IT'S JUST YOU, LIKE, ARMS CROSSED LOOKING HARD WATCHING FROM THE STAGE.
[Laughs] I don't know about that. Just looking, like, Ohhh! Look where I am! [Laughs] I've been luckily enough to meet Vincent as well, and, [like] Crowbar, they're just a great, nice bunch of blokes — as most people are in music … until they get an abundance of money, which seems to make people fools.
IF YOU COULD PLAY ONLY ONE OF MASTIFF'S SONGS FOR SOMEONE TO INTRODUCE THEM TO YOUR BAND, WHAT SONG WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
There's "Black Death," which is on Plague. … It's a very meaningful song to me. Whether that's a good introduction to the band? I don't know. But that's the one that hits home for me most, I suppose. It was written about… I lost a son, who was five days old. So there was a lot of emotions involved with that, obviously. The outpouring and cathartic moment with that track is the one for me. It's the one… We don't play it very often now, if at all, but it's the one I always blow my throat out on.
So, what can I say off the new one? "Endless" is a good one. I don't really know! [Laughs] They're all mint tracks. "Midnight Creeper" captures us at our most vicious at the moment. It's short and flat-out, that's probably the one at the other end of the scale of "Black Death."