James Monteith (TesseracT) and Rachel Aspe (ex-Eths) from the new hardcore band Cage Fight were in Paris to promote their first eponymous album. The occasion to explore for RockUrLife the origins of that new band.
Hello to both of you. Thanks for meeting with us. So to begin, how would you define Cage Fight’s sound?
James Monteith (guitar): Raw, angry, viceral, heavy.
How did you two build your collaboration?
James: We initially met a long time ago, about seven years ago, at a TesseracT show where Rachel was at. We basically connected but didn’t really speak for seven years. And then when Jon [Reid, Cage Fight‘s bassist] and I started the project, it was kind of fun, not really doing anything particularly seriously. But then I was scrolling Instagram and I saw Rachel‘s cover of a song by The Black Dahlia Murder and immediately I thought: “that voice would sound great on these demos“. So I dropped her a message, she said: “here’s my email, send me a demo“. I sent it over and twenty-four hours later it came back and it was really good. That’s how we started.
So Rachel, what was going on your mind when you read that message?
Rachel Aspe (vocals): I didn’t expect it at all because I did some covers but as it was the [COVID] lockdown, I thought that was it. When I received the message, James told me: “Maybe this isn’t your style“. So I listened and I thought: “That’s totally my style, I love it!” I immediately started having ideas.
James, what motivated you to make a real project out of the first demos with Jon?
James: I think just the fact that everything fell into place very easily. We had the early demos and then when Nick (Plews, drums) and Rachel got involved everything moved so quickly. We all worked together very well. We all clicked, we all were on the same page. It was super easy and it was almost impossible to stop it.
In the press release from the album announcement you say that it’s a music style that allows you to channel your anger. Does every song on the album has to do with an infuriating topic for you?
Rachel: Yes, in fact we all chose those topics together. Things that infuriate us all. (laughs)
James: I think a lot of the content was inspired by the issues that happened over the last few years. The Black Lives Matter movement, cases of police violence against women, which were a big deal in the UK. Misinformation very much from COVID conspiracy theories. But also the whole kind of Brexit thing in the UK was very much about misinformation created by, essentially, the elite to basically fool people into believing that Brexit was what we needed as a country whereas in fact it only benefits the wealthiest and it screwed the rest of us. That made us very angry. And other atrocities in the world. In fact, since we made that album, loads more bad things have happened. We’ve got loads of ideas for the next one already. (laughs)
Are you working on new material already?
James: Not properly, but we have ideas kicking around. We should probably get on this soon. (chuckles)
What was the writing process like from the first demo to the album?
James: It’s a mixture of me coming up with ideas in my shed and Jon‘s as well. Sometimes me and Jon, we’d get drunk and drink beers and just come up with ideas and just mess around. Then I’d wake up the next day and try and refine them a bit and then I send them around, email them to Rachel and she would demo vocals on top. That’s how the demos came about.
Then we went to the studio. Nick had learned the basics of the drums but then he rewrote all the drum parts in his own style. So once he recorded the drums, I ended up changing loads of the guitars to fit with his drums. So it’s like a real organic process where everyone fed into it.
Rachel, did you have an input on the album’s writing besides the vocals recording?
Rachel: I don’t know, I just let go. Jon sent me lyrics and I would lay my voice on top. I found all the patterns myself. But I think that the style evolved bit by bit, we didn’t really think about it. (laughs)
On the album there is a few tracks, the intro and interlude, that seem to be channeling 90’s hip hop style. Is this something that has influenced you in a way?
James: No, we were very much inspired by a lot of like the 90’s New York hardcore stuff like Madball and Biohazard and they had a very strong hip hop influence in their sound. I mean if you listen to “Hold It Down” by Madball, it kind of ripped off that stuff. It’s kind of the same way of thinking. Even in that album we listened to recently, from that new band Gridiron. They had hip hop breaks in there as well and it’s quite a hardcore thing and we really like that. And it’s quite nice to hear a new band doing that.
The intro beat was actually programmed by a guy called Jeremy Sybester who’s a garage producer who’s kind of quite well known in the UK in garage scene and is a friend of ours. And the middle hip hop section was like a classic 1980s hip hop beat. It’s just fun, that mixes it up.
On the second to last track, “My Dreams” [ed. the last one is a cover of a Body Count song] we kind of hear some prog influences that harkness back at what you are doing with TesseracT. Will it be a style that you could expand on in the future?
James: I think that song just naturally evolved, it kind of turned into like an epic outro to the album. The song at the end is a cover, and it’s just a fun track to make, like a really epic track that’s still got the angry vibes but has just a bit more depth, a bit more emotion and just a bit more going on. I don’t think that’s going to be the direction of new music, but I don’t want to write off not experimenting a bit more with that kind of style.
Did you already being planning a tour in support of this album?
Rachel: We have nothing planned right now but we think it will happen in September. We weren’t even expecting all those dates that came upon us. So now we at least have those, but it will come. (laughs) We’re just relishing in it right now.
Let’s talk about the cover art for the album. We’ve heard that it is a photograph of a real tattoo, is that true?
Rachel: I actually did it.
That’s great! How did this come about?
Rachel: Since I have been some painting, the guys asked me if I wanted to make the artwork. I said yes but I didn’t see a painting. I wanted something brutal, catchy. I was thinking that we shouldn’t make something beautiful, because I think everyone wants to have a beautiful cover right now. So i decided to do a tattoo. I found a volunteer and I tattooed it. We spent the day in my studio in London, we filmed it, actually it is going to be the next music video, in a timelapse. Then we took a photo with a real photographer, because I can’t do it all, and I edited it with a friend. I really did what i wanted. I wanted it to be dirty. Painful.
And has it been easy to find a volunteer to have a tattoo of the band’s logo on themselves?
Rachel: No, it’s been complicated. That’s the reason it took so long to release the album. I found a guy in Glasgow but he didn’t show up on the day of the appointment. We had booked a photograph to do the timelapse, it was so much pressure. Eventually I found this girl who lived in London. So I had to wait to move to London to do it. It took a month. But she was really thrilled to participate in the project. Now she’ll have her tickets for free. (laughs)
Tell us how is your life as a tattoo artist during COVID and how it transitioned with Cage Fight?
Rachel: It’s a little complicated because I’m not a tattoo artist since long and there are people who do tattoo since the same time as me that still consider themselves as apprentices. I’m only starting. But when I was in Glasgow I worked every day, i did mad hours. And then i started with the band and it didn’t sit too well with my boss so he fired me. He said to me: “You have a month [to go] because you prioritizing your band“. So I decided to move to London. I had to find a shop there. And I got really lucky because I found really great people. On the other hand I had my clients in Glasgow and I lost it all, I came to London without clients. And that’s hard. I had to find another shop. I have a crazy schedule: I work on the weekends, during the week and I have the gigs. But it’s worth it.
And how are you holding up?
Rachel: I’m fine for now and in any case, the more i will find clients, the more it’ll go, i would work less. But yeah it’s really complicated.
On Instagram we can see that one of the shops you’re working with is pretty famous.
Rachel: Yeah, it’s in Camden. We got along instantly, I am really lucky. I went to London immediately after my boss fired me and I went straight to Camden. I went to every shop there and it’s the first who accepted me, who told me: “It’s okay, you make music, i love it“.
We also can see that you have a really defined tattoo style. Is there a link between that style and the kind of music you’re making? Does tattoing influences your vocals or vice versa?
Rachel: It’s true that right now I do lots of tattoos with angry faces. (laughs) Everyone asks me for a angry animal. It’s true that they are dark and black. And yeah I had a pretty dark period and it makes me feel good to tattoo dark things. But I also enjoy doing other things. And yeah, I think there is an influence, but is subconscious. Both make me feel good.
And coming back to the vocals, for any neophytes out there that don’t know anything about it, could you explain how you achieve such an impressive performance?
Rachel: I have been singing like this for fourteen years. At first I was already singing a bit like this, I was very brutal. When I joined Eths I had to adapt, I had to do softer vocals, and I think I frustrated me a bit. After that I found another band, who did brutal death, and I learned to do really low lows.
And at the same time I was thinking that I didn’t enjoy doing low notes all the time, so I tried many things. Also, with Eths, I was taking it mostly from the throat and I realized that it damaged it a bit, so now I completely changed my technique.
How do you protect your voice?
Rachel: When I started with Cage Fight, I gave it all so much so that it damaged me a bit. I had to rest for a month and that’s when I started to re-learn a technique. Now I have a routine where, every day, I do noises, simply that. Noises like: [imitates a wheeze]. Then I do little screams, very faint. I try to do that one hour every day and I noticed that since I’ve been doing that it’s much better.
And I also noticed that if I’m not in the mood, I struggle more. What gets me going is the rage.
Now let’s rewind a bit to the past. You went on France’s Got Talent. Why didn’t you get to go on to the second round? You didn’t want to deny your own identity, in a way?
Rachel: Actually it was them. They told me yes then called me back and told me that if I were to do the second round I had to wear pink, that i had to do something softer. So I told them: “What you call metal is really Johnny [Hallyday] for you. You don’t get it“. (laughs) But I think I’d do it again, if I had the chance. Because I think it is important and that it opened [metal] to a lot of people, you don’t really realize.
And if you got that chance again, would you do something differently?
Rachel: With all the techniques I learned since then, it would be much more brutal. (laughs)
At the end of the day, what did that experience bring you?
Rachel: I was younger at the time, I wasn’t really confident in myself. I hadn’t found a band that I liked. So it really boosted my self-esteem, it opened a door internationally, I got to meet a lot of people. I started talking with Shai Hulud‘s guitarist. I did a feat with them and now we’re playing with them in April. It really opened everything.
Do you think your participation in the show helped you to get to job in Eths?
Rachel: Actually, they did a post on social media when they broke up. So I send them a message. But they saw the video so I think it pushed my audition.
What are your best memories with Eths?
Rachel: My biggest memory what the Hellfest (2015). And it was a band that I listened to when I was a teenager so obviously it was great. Another great moment was when the japanese television came. They did a segment “A day in my life“, it was crazy. Sadly i can’t find the video.
Back to you James. You are known for being a part of the progressive act TesseracT. What are the main differences between TesseracT and Cage Fight in terms of style, technique, gear?
James: Technically, TesseracT is very much about dynamics, precision and subtle nuances. It’s very detailed. It’s, I guess, rhythmically lot more complex. Whereas Cage Fight is much much more aggressive, and much more simple in its construction. But technique wise it’s more of a workout. There’s lots of downpicking, lots of very aggressive, very fast picking. I guess in a way Cage Fight stuff requires a lot more work to play but less brain. (laughs)
So that’s how you would summarize those differences?
James: In terms of technical playing yeah, it’s much more about it’s much more physical, whereas TesseracT is much more mental. They’re both just as hard as each other in their own ways, I think. But in terms of gear, they’re both very different as well. Tesseract is very super tech, where everything is sequenced, we have amp modellers, we play to a click track and tempos change constantly. The computer changes our MIDI patches and we’ve got loads of delays, loads of effects, there’s crazy shit going on. Whereas with Cage Fight, there’s just guitar, amp.
What do you enjoy playing more between the two?
James: It’s a totally different experience. Like I can’t compare the two. They’re very, very different experiences, but I absolutely love to play Cage Fight, I always wanted to play this kind of music and I’m finally doing it! (laughs)
I grew up listening to a lot of thrash and hardcore. I never really got to play it. I tried to bring some of those influences when I was younger, but they weren’t that style. And then I joined TesseracT and that was my focus for the last 15 years. So now at this time I can focus purely on that kind of style, which is basically something I wanted to do my whole life.
Last question: we are RockUrLife so what rocks your life?
James: What rocks my life? Beer and heavy metal. (laughs)
Rachel: I’d say screaming. Eating. (laughs)
James: [In French] Fromage. J’adore le fromage. Je mange le fromage. (laughs)