Interview With Lord Pyre - Ave Noctum
A further blow has been struck in our PROPAGANDA BATTLE. Our friends AVE NOCTUM have interviewed STUKA SQUADRON'S basslord LORD PYRE - or at least his human avatar. His words can be found below.
The link to the article is here: https://avenoctum.com/2024/01/15/stuka-squadron-interview/
Bullets can’t kill them. Daggers? Hatchets? Fat chance. Not even ill-advised splinter groups of Iron Knights could completely destroy these wretched revenants. From beyond, beyond the grave, the Stuka Squadron have roared back into unlife with the magnificent Zeppelin album. In an exclusive, I caught up with the man behind the madness, the lead vampire himself, Lord Pyre, a.k.a. Graham Cushway for a chat about all things fang-tastic.
AN: Congrats on the release of Zeppelin. What’s the reception been like to it?
Graham: It’s been really good. We got “a masterpiece of Heavy Metal” from a German site, and of course “the album that you wish Maiden would put out” from yourself. That’s priceless! Can’t ask for better. We’re getting good reviews in, which is great because you spend a long time producing the album, and you’ve got the thing in your hands almost waiting for the 15th December release date to come round because you want to see what people think of it. I mean, we’ve had the record for a long time – you know, from recording demos and applying to record labels, the whole recording process – and I knew for a long time that academically this is a good album, because it’s the music I want to hear, right? Knowing your album is academically a good album is one thing, but you don’t really KNOW until other people hear it. Sometimes you get some comments that don’t like the product – like in your interview, where you said that you didn’t like Montague Summers because it was a bit “lightweight” – that’s fair enough if that’s your view, that’s a minor criticism. If you please everyone all the time, you are a miracle worker!
I don’t listen to actual negative reviews because if you do, you end up chasing your tail. Previous bandmates used to do that. They’d listen to negative reviews, and before you knew it, they were saying, “oh, we need to be more X or more Y” and I’d be saying “no, we need to keep doing what we’re doing”. You’ll get reviews from some reviewers that are like, “Oh, they sound too old fashioned”, but you just know it’s some kid into black metal reviewing it like that because they’ve been told to. That’s just life. That being said, the reception to Zeppelin has been incredible, and it only seems to be getting better. It feels tremendous. It’s a bit like having a child, you know? You know theoretically that they are supposed to be good at some things, but it is still astounding to receive a good school report. Back in September I spent three days listening to the producer record drum tracks, and was suicidal. To have got from there to here in that time feels awesome.
Of course I was apprehensive when we were recording the album. Would it be better than ‘Tales of the Ost’? That was a really strong album and got a lot of good press. Now we’ve got the finished article, I think ‘Zeppelin’ is a better album. It’s got a lot of different influences in it, and we’ve worked hard to ensure that each song is distinctly different to the others. The earliest parts were actually written for what became the ‘New Sound Of War’ album. ‘The Weeper’ has a lot of folk influence. I was listening to Pentangle and that kind of stuff way back in 2012. The rest is a mix of NWOBHM bands like Maiden on ‘Zeppelin’ and more basic things like Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie on ‘Tiger’ II. The point was to find a new style every single song.
AN: You’ve released on Metal on Metal records – how did that record deal come about?
Graham: We sent the finished recording to a small number of record labels. Six, I think.
Having a full album is a real benefit. Most bands are like “we’ve recorded two demos and want 10 million to record our album”. There is a guy on the scene from a band called Rogue Male who says that he was given £1million to record an album in the 1980s but still hasn’t got round to it! That’s not our style, although some fans have compared this to ‘Chinese Democracy’ in terms of the wait … ‘Zeppelin’ is a better than that album though!
One turned us down immediately. The other four didn’t reply at all (which is what I was expecting from experience) but then Metal on Metal records got back to us. We have a perfect synergy with them. They’ve done an incredible job on the design and the CD. The colours are so bright and vibrant. They are keen talking comics and games as a ‘maybe’. I’ve always wanted to do that!Metal on Metal did give us some feedback that the spoken word sections on ‘Zeppelin’ were a little too long at first, and to be honest we thought that was fair, so we shortened them for the CD. We’ve got the original version up on the Bandcamp for those interested in delving more into the story. Constructive criticism like that is beyond helpful, particularly when you are thinking along the same lines yourself.
I was surprised to get a deal so readily because we touted ‘Tales’ around all over the place. One major label (name withheld) sniffed around it, but then were like “No. It’s badly recorded” along with various other issues. I reviewed their next two releases for Ave Noctum and guess what? Absolute dogshit! Two 1-3/10 reviews at best! Who knows what these labels hear in the bands they push? I am not sure I hear the same things, personally.
AN: This is the first time, I think, you’ve done an interview not in character as Lord Pyre – what’s the differences between Graham and Pyre? (And what are the similarities?).
Graham: Yes, this is the first time I’ve been interviewed in person. In some respects, it’s easier to be interviewed as Pyre because it’s all about storytelling. He would just riff on the stories on ‘Zeppelin’ and our (now written) lore. He’s all of my worst traits combined, me if there were no consequences. He’s arrogant, he’s narcissistic, he’s full of himself, inconsiderate, superior and even worse he’s both a vampire who looks down on humans and a comic-book World War II German to boot!
Sometimes I forget to turn him off. At one of the last gigs that we did as Stuka back in 2017 or 2018 I remember James and Gravedigger were backstage at the gig, and asked me to take a picture of them. They foolishly said “take the best picture you can!” Obviously, in Pyre’s view the best picture he can take is one of his own face. They stood there for some time posing before they realised that only one person was being photographed! This is all normal for Stuka.
I’ve interviewed other performers who use alter egos, such as Alice Cooper and the chap-hop artiste Professor Elemental. They all say that their characters are extensions of themselves, and I can really see it.
AN: It’s been twelve years since the magnificent Tales of the Ost, and of course a lot has happened since then – a band break up, a splinter band, a brief live reformation – and the long-awaited Zeppelin. How did you keep the faith during this time?
Graham: I think a lot of that has to do with belief. I was always determined and fated to do Stuka again but as a Heavy Metal bassist it is hard to do anything on your own. It was only when the other guys wanted to come in that I was able to achieve anything.
Losing Stuka was horrible. It was worse than my divorce, as I was being fired from what was to a large extent my own creation. I didn’t sleep for a month.
It all started out so well. When we started what would become the ‘New Sound Of War Album’ I got everyone to sit down in a circle with their feet touching. I’d heard that Maiden did that for the Brave New World album and thought it was a great idea. It meant that there was no hierarchy and that everyone was free to contribute. There were so many good ideas coming that I didn’t even bother contributing anything. I just wrote it down and then summed up at the end. However, it wasn’t to be.
I haven’t actually spoken about this in the past or put my side of the story out in the press, but I know in great detail what went wrong with the recording of “New Sound of War”. I spoke to James and Gravedigger and they filled me in on exactly what went wrong in the writing and recording of that album. I will admit that in the run up to New Sound Of War I was burned out. I was commuting every weekend from the Hague to West London to rehearse for three years. I didn’t mind. It was so worth it for Stuka, but in the end, it did catch up with me. The first day of those sessions, I thought the studio was awful and cheap, the producer was useless and I had little confidence in that line-up to realise any of those songs. I did one session and that was that.
As for the album itself, even the title is laughably pompous. ‘New Sound Of War’? You changed the sound of war from awesome to awful! Way to go, morons! I’ve never heard the album in its entirety. The only time I heard bits of it was went around George’s place (St. Georgiou, ex-Stuka guitarist), and he put it on for a laugh!
Anyway that’s all bygones. I am not sure if it would have felt worse if it had gone really well for them. As it is, the last I heard from Iron Knights was that they were putting out whatever their last album was for free. Then at some point in about 2014 I was in a chip shop in Redhill and, lo and behold there were a number of flyers for Iron Knights scrunched up in an ashtray. Suffice to say that any band that has taken to flyering chip shops has so far lost sight of what they are doing that they probably aren’t going to be headlining Download for at least the next couple of years….
The label then were also giving us really odd advice – like “Don’t go on a buy-on tour with Judas Priest, but DO go on tour with Vicious Rumours.” I mean, Vicious Rumours are alright, I remembered them from the 80’s, but Judas Priest were playing arenas, you know? The band had the money for it ten times over. Anyway, we reformed for a while, but the other guys didn’t really want to push on. One of them even wanted to re-record ‘Tales’ in its entirety so he could fiddle with the drum sound! You won’t get anywhere like that.
AN: There are some very talented musicians on the album – how did you find them?
Graham: Count Axis (who was a lead player in the band in 2009 – 2010, he did the solo on ‘On The Volga Bridge’ for example) got in touch in, I think, 2019. He was responding to posts on Facebook looking for members. As soon as he was in touch we started working together and recording in a small way.
Then Captain Strange came on board shortly afterwards. Once you have a singer, obviously it becomes a lot easier. I knew before he auditioned that he was pretty good because he had sent me some tracks from his other bands. He has an incredible range and, frankly, doesn’t realise how good he actually is. He was in a number of bands before (Dendera, Winter’s Edge) but probably hadn’t found a vehicle that matched his ambitions in the same way that Stuka does. He’s perfect for the music and, refreshingly, really gets Stuka.
Then we were into Covid and had to down tools for almost two years …
AN: Can you tell us a bit more about the guest musicians on the record?
Graham: Moog (who plays Rasputin on the album) is a really interesting character. I met him when I went to review Professor Elemental down in Brighton at a Steampunk bar called The Yellow Book. The act before was Moog, playing along to backing tracks, doing kind of Chap-hop-rock, and I thought he seemed pretty colourful and that I would get him in for interview. He was brilliant – he kept me busy for an hour and a half, he had so many good stories. Moog made the ‘Fighting Trousers video’ for Professor Elemental, that has 4 million hits or something. He was such an interesting character, that as soon as I stopped recording, he told me that his first job after school was as a werewolf in the Circus Of Horrors. I turned the phone back on and we had to start up again!
His band Rapscallion is a Chap-hop band and they play continuously usually on the south coast. I recommend his album, “Maximum Splendid” – it’s very funny, and the songs cover important themes such as what is the best kind of biscuit? The answer is … well you need to listen to the album! It’s very much rock like The Darkness, but the subjects are Steampunk things. Moustaches, penny farthings, disaster dates with women who turn out to be Cuthulhu … that kind of thing. He usually supports Professor Elemental and Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer and other Steampunk acts on the South Coast. For all that. He’s a metalhead through and through. Him singing in a ridiculous Russian accent as Rasputin in ‘Zeppelin’? that’s just him!
Meltem is a really interesting story. I was reviewing Doro live for Ave Noctum, and this incredible female singer supported her. She bounced onto the stage, was really good looking, had enormous stage presence and was an amazing singer, but nobody said who she was. She was the best part of the show. Doro was good, but this girl was fantastic! We were looking for someone for a duet on ‘The Weeper’, and couldn’t really find anyone, so I thought I’d ask George, as he knows everyone, and he said “why don’t you try my best friend in Music, Meltem?”. When I saw her website I was like “It’s the girl from Doro! I’ve wanted to work with you for years but didn’t know who you were!” I welcomed her to the Squadron and there you go. I’m so glad we have her on the record, and as you can hear on ‘The Weeper’ she’s amazing.
AN: Where did the inspiration for the band come from? Stuka always remind me of an ancient comic strip called “Fiends of the Eastern Front” from 2000 AD In the early 80s.
Graham: You’re not the first person to mention comics in general to me, but that’s not the inspiration! Actually I like comics and do like 2000 AD, but never seen that strip. Captain Strange is big into comics.
The inspiration actually came to me when I was in service in Baghdad. I was walking through the desert just after the release of ‘We Drink Blood’ and I was thinking ‘Vampires are cool, but there are loads of vampire bands. We could … put one in a plane.” Just then an A-10 Warthog flew by. I was like “Warthog Squadron! Wait … no … that’s terrible …”. Still, it made me wonder what the most badass aircraft I had ever heard of would be? I thought ‘Stuka!’ and the mental image was just so cool I stopped and doubled over laughing, right there in sand. I called up James later and tried to explain it and he was like “Uh …. ok …”!
AN: I remembered that Christopher Lee had played not only countless (sic) Vampires, but had also played Rasputin in the past. If you could have any celebrity past or present on a future album, who would it be?
Graham: Well there is quite a lot of scope, because basically that means anybody at all in all of the history of mankind. I would call that a fairly wide field.
So I mean you could have Ozymandias King of Kings, or Paganini or the Roman Emperor Nero, to find out if the latter was quite as a singer as he thought he was! Christopher Lee is an obvious one. He was on the Rhapsody of Fire stuff plus had his own album of course, so let’s leave him out.
On this album we of course have Rasputin as our primary adversary. We COULD bring the actual Rasputin along to sing basso-profundo … but would that be as good as Moog pretending to be him with a ridiculous Russian accent? No way! I’ve settled for Aleister Crowley. Imagine if we could play a Stuka show while The Great Beast performs one of his public ‘rituals’. I think that would be a sight to see. We sampled Crowley on Tales of course … but I’d rather have him in person!
AN: New Sound of War was set to be released by Stuka Squadron as a follow up to Tales of the Ost. An album of the same name was released by Iron Knights in 2012 – will we ever get to hear the exploits of the Squadron in North Africa by the Squadron?
Graham: Even though I wrote pretty much all of the lyrics and music for that album, only to see it being mangled, I don’t know if we’d record them as a band. I’d probably have to credit Iron Knights for any of the songs and treat them as covers. That would grate somewhat when I wrote all the lyrics and music! Still, I have raised the possibility of reviving something like ‘Desert Fox’ with the guys, but that would only appear as a B-side.
As for where the band will go next, we COULD revisit those times and fill in those adventures, but we have talked about all sorts of new ideas. ‘Pit Of Fire’ on ‘Zeppelin’ really stages the action in the closing years of World War II, so it may be time to plough new furrows historically speaking.
I’m a Doctor of History – I’m really a medievalist by way of study, but I will pretty much read any history One phrase that stayed with me when writing the Band Lore (which the label suggested that we do so that journalists can follow the story) is ‘Days of Carpathia’, so maybe something of a Squadron origin story? We’ve talked over doing the Cold War, which feels an obvious fit. Captain Strange wants to go to space. It might even be fun to wander onto Viking Band territory and see how we match up against those guys!
We’re vampires! We can go anywhere and do anything … anytime!
AN: What does the future have in store for Stuka Squadron?
Graham: First thing’s first, we have to get out there and tour ‘Zeppelin’. We’ve played our first gig on the 6th of January Downstairs at The Dome with Die Kur Parilla and Howlin’ Anton Bleak . I’ve explained to the rest of the band that it isn’t normal to stagger out in front of 200 plus people at your first show with a new line-up and that is down to the band having previously played every postage stamp in the country, but I don’t think they believe me!
I want to get out on the road and play the songs off this record because they deserve to be played live. We need to tour, and tour, and tour to get people to listen to this brilliant album. It is also time we rewarded the fans for being so damned patient, and time to atone for the misfire last time round.For all that, we’re already talking about our next album. One thing’s for sure, we won’t leave it 12 years like we did with ‘Tales Of The Ost’!
(Interview – Chris Davison)