New Zealand’s biggest drum n’ bass band tell fellow metalhead David Farrier about their favourite Slayer and Pantera albums, and how playing with Tool inspired their heavier new direction.
The release of their new album Stars seemed like a good time to talk to Shapeshifter about their love of drum ‘n’ bass, maybe touching on the smatterings of soul, dub and funk found throughout their albums.
But then I remembered the last time I’d seen Shapeshifter play.
It was back in 2007, and they were opening for prog-rockers Tool in Melbourne. On the surface, Shapeshifter they seemed an unlikely choice for the LA band, but as I watched it started to make sense. While they may not work in the complex polyrhythms of metal, their sound is huge, epic and soaring.
It also makes sense for Shapeshifter, because their members are huge, huge metalheads.
I sat down with Nick Robinson, P Digsss and Sam Trevethick to talk not very much about their new record, but mainly about their love of metal.
Congratulations on a new album. It’s out this Friday. Wonderful stuff. Are you excited or are you sick of talking about it already.
Paora “P Digsss” Apera: There are many layers of feelings… “Oh God is this still going?” Then we had our first gig last week and it was like, “Yeah, it’s quite exciting!”
[Getting to the point] I know you guys love your metal music. I am not sure many people know this about you. Or maybe they do. Anyway, I want to know your favourite metal albums.
Paora: Oh, classic. I listen to it from start to finish: [Slayer’s] Seasons in the Abyss. Seasons for me is just awesome. But I love all of it. South of Heaven still does things for me. And Vulgar Displays [of Power], the first Pantera – I love that. Their first three albums. And the first couple of Meshuggah albums…
[All three men burst into various sounds of enthusiastic agreement]
Shit. This is fairly intense stuff you are listening to. I saw Meshuggah when they played down at the Transmission Room.
Sam Trevethick: Yeah, I’ve seen them twice down there! Look, I love Slayer too, but for point of difference I’d probably say… oh man, South of Heaven was the first music album I listened to when I was about 12 years old. I had a Walkman and a car drive down to Dunedin, I remember listening to it and just thinking, “What is this?!” I thought it said, “I am an angel from heaven!”
[Everyone bursts into laughter]
Paora: I used to think it was, “Only love comes from heaven!” and my bro was like, “Dude, it’s Slayer man!” and I was like, “What is it?” and he was, “On and on, south of heaven!” But I love that about music. You make your own interpretation. That’s why I kind of like not giving lyrics. Sometimes it’s like giving away half the mystery.
I agree. Lyrics almost lose their power when they’re written down. Like there it is, in front of you.
Paora: Yeah, yeah, yeah!
Sam: Case and point would be the album I would choose – Adrenaline.
Paora: Blood good album!
Sam: …by Deftones, because I just lived that album. That came out in 1995 and my friend was like, “Check this out!” and it was just around the time of that first Korn album. And it was so much deeper and more classy and it just really took me. Even though I loved that first Korn album.
Paora: And it was like that first introduction of that sound. You know, metal has been in my life for such a long time, and those first Slayer albums was when I initially was all about “the heavier the better!” But when that first ‘Tones album came out, man. It just played non-stop every day for the next couple of years!
And it aged so well…
Sam: Yeah, and it’s so interesting they were together for eight years before they put that out. And the production ethos on that is so different to the rest of it.
[Everyone starts discussing the album, riffs, doing little bits of air guitar]
Nick Robinson: I am not as deep into it as these guys. But what was the 1996 Pantera album?
[Everyone else: Vulgar!]
Nick: Yeah, that in my flat at the time was probably played every day. A thousand times. I was leaning towards punky stuff at that stage. I do remember Head Like a Hole, Flik Y’Self off Y’Self, I was right into that. And just the fact they were local! And they were getting nude, dick’s out… mental.
And you played in metal bands yourself in the past, right?
Nick: Yeah, a couple of metal-ly bands.
Do you remember their names?
Nick: Big Load Master. Um, Thrax da Smulch. Yeah, the area I grew up in was heavy into metal. New Brighton, Christchurch.
Paora: The first Shihad album, too – Churn, still does it to me. The first two, really.
So with all this in mind, how are you not a metal band? What came along that made you think, “This is what I enjoy, but this isn’t what I want to play”?
Sam: The thing about metal is, it takes so much time. We would practice three or four times a week, and I remember in the last good metal band I was in, we played for six months in the garage before we played any gigs. And we probably had about six or seven songs by that time, and we practised every week! And it’s very physical music: You have to be on top of it and it is so much fun. But when we started Shapeshifter it was like…
Paora: …“Hey, there’s girls coming!’
Sam: And it was still atmospheric, it was still grind-y, I mean Redford [Redford Grenell, former Shapeshifter member] had the hardest job, he was doing the drumming! But there were electronic instruments. I still got to the play the guitar – I didn’t get to do metal stuff, but…
Paora: Well, actually – thinking back to “Chain Reaction”, which is one of our first ever songs, it was pretty dark.
Sam: And you [Paora] used to get on the mic and do, not a roar of doom, but….
[Everyone mimics various forms of metal-esque scream/roar]
Well I guess you’re playing with similar types of energies. You are making big music.
Paola: When I first got introduced to drum ‘n’ bass, I think it was like 1995, ’96 when I was in Wellington. We were all about metal then, and I loved hip-hop as well, but metal I went crazy into. And I remember when I first heard drum ‘n’ bass I was like, “Oh man this is like the metal of dance music!” I was blown away at how heavy it was. But when I first got introduced to it I was like, “Is this all in 4/4?!” That’s not metal!
So metal fans that want to sick up a little bit at the thought of electronic music – what is a track of yours should they listen to?
Sam: We have one of the new record called “Fake Charmer”, which has distorted guitars and stuff in it. It’s interesting, because we supported Tool in Melbourne.
I was at that show. I followed Tool around Australia. Oh god, Tool fans. But that is a perfect example of metal and your stuff joining up!
Sam: Yeah, and we had to choose from our set, because we were scared! There were rumours of them being a tough crowd. We thought we might get booed! But [Tool drummer] Danny Carey was standing side of stage, the whole show [mimics punching hand in air] with his girlfriend.
Paora: And to be honest, that gig inspired us to say, “Fuck it, let’s bring some heavier stuff into the set!” And we brought some more guitar driven stuff in after that show. It was like a gateway.
Sam: But to come back to your question, I’d say “Stryka” or “Fake Charmer”.
Thank you guys. I am really glad you like your metal.
Subscribe to The Bulletin to get all the day’s key news stories in five minutes – delivered every weekday at 7.30am.