It has been nearly three decades since thrash band Lawnmower Deth released an album but are now back with the quite brilliant Blunt Cutters. Velvet Thunder talks to Pete Lee and Chris Parkes about their surprise new album, the reaction and did someone say Pookiesnackenburger?
When it comes to the music industry, nothing makes more dramatic copy than reporting on a feud or brutal name calling over the internet; friends in the bands can sometimes end up not being that friendly at all. In terms of art, it is not the first time that a band has said that they are “doing it for themselves first” and that has on occasions been stated in response or in defence of criticism. And then there is Lawnmower Deth. This is a band so far in the opposite direction to the trappings of rock stardom that they are practically in another galaxy. This is a band of friends, four of which went to school together, the fifth, they have known forever. As to their art, they do it for themselves, but the context is they enjoy getting together as friends to write some songs and if everyone else enjoys it too then the more, the merrier. Nice guys in rock music – there are many – but absolute humility to the point of self-deprecation is a rarity and it is disarming; the pre-prepared questions go out of the window to be replaced by a chat. No airs, no graces but laughs aplenty.
A rewind is required first. Lawnmower Deth began life in North Nottinghamshire in 1987. The brainchild of Chris Flint, he wrote and recorded songs in his bedroom and under the pseudonym of “Mr Flymo”. The songs were sent to premier metal publication Kerrang! with some fake tour dates. Flint thought better of it fearing incurring the wrath of attendees at dates that did not exist so he had a retraction printed which was spotted by similar minded friends that joined the band each giving themselves each a lawnmower appropriate pseudonym. Fusing thrash with punk, adding humour and the surreal, the band signed to Earache Records and released their debut album Ooh Crikey…It’s Lawnmower Deth in 1990, the follow up Return Of The Fabulous Metal Bozo Clowns in 1992 and their final album Billy in 1994. Backed up by shows that were abject chaos – and hilariously so – Lawnmower Deth became somewhat legendary and were as much a part of the UK thrash scene as any other band – they seemed to be on a roll. Sadly, Billy was neither a fan or press favourite and the band called it a day following the tour to support it. Lawnmower Deth reformed in 2008 for what was supposed to be a one off gig supporting Bullet For My Valentine at London’s Alexandra Palace (affectionately known as ‘Ally Pally’) which led to offers from festivals such as Download and Bloodstock where they went down a storm, a Christmas single with Kim Wilde and now, some 28 years after Billy, a brand new album called Blunt Cutters. Within hours of the album’s release, social media was blowing up and chart positions were beckoning. Gentlemen, people really do like your album.
“No, everyone thinks it’s shit!,” laughs vocalist Pete Lee. “The reviews have been great, everyone has been really kind about it so that’s nice. People should have an opinion, people can say that it’s shit, and people can say it’s great, but I’d hate it if anyone said ‘meh, it’s alright’ because that’s a bit lazy but nice folks are saying nice things about it.” The response to Blunt Cutters has been something of a surprise to the band? “Yeah.” Says Pete following a slight pause. “Really surprised. It’s an odd thing because of what it’s like with reminders, it’s been 28 years since we had an album out and we didn’t know what was coming. We don’t know if people have moved on or if there are new people out there or whether we are just a bunch of old gits that should have known better and not put out a record at all, we just didn’t know how people would react until we put the album out there. People could have easily said ‘well, it’s Lawnmower, isn’t it?’ but it’s charted, it’s doing well on streaming platforms, it’s been great.”
“Pete and I were chatting about it,” says bassist Chris Parkes, “I don’t think that any of us really thought about reaction, reviews, charts or sales or anything like that because we’ve always been weekend warriors and a hobby band first and foremost, we do this for us. We’ve been practising for the last ten years, and we managed to come up with some songs, there was no plan like there always isn’t in Lawnmower. I don’t think that we thought about reviews so they have been a real surprise, it’s been absolutely fantastic, we can’t quite believe it.”
It is a good point as to who is out there because there will be those around at the time, going to the gigs as teenagers and are now in their middle age with kids but Lawnmower Deth still has appeal. “There is definitely all of that going on,” agrees Pete. “We supposedly came back to do a one-off gig in 2008 and we didn’t seem to leave again. You can tell that the audiences are the same but that they are different. There are the old enough to know better faces and those regulars but when you do the monolithic festivals and there are 30,000 people you don’t have a clue who they are, it’s a mixture of the regulars and the inquisitive. It ebbs and flows but surely it’s the same for everyone if they’ve been around long enough?” That is true but Lawnmower Deth are no ordinary band, it is a release from the usual serious business and especially at festivals when a band that is out to entertain comes on and the crowd is into it? “I agree,” says Pete. Find me a better band than Skindred at the moment, they get it, they perform and that’s what we’ve always tried to do. Maybe we’re a bit better at it now, we’ve got some songs, we’ve crafted that a bit better, but we’ve always tried to go out there and entertain, ultimately, people should have a good time. I see Skindred and War Republic, they put on an entertaining show and it’s what we would rather see.” The Nottingham Rescue Rooms Christmas show was awesome with the stage diving taking everyone back to the old days and, there was certainly a lot there having a good time “We don’t do that many club shows, it’s mainly festivals,” explains Pete. “When we do clubs and we’ve done London’s The Underworld a couple of times, they are notorious for the security, you wouldn’t argue with them. There are the signs that says, ‘no stage diving’ but the security just backed off and said, ‘the crowd is behaving, the band is behaving so we will behave’ and they just let people get on with it. As long as everyone is being safe and are not diving in feet first, it’s your own front teeth that you’re going to look after, isn’t it? It is a beautiful thing though to see a 50-year-old stage diving!”
As Pete and Chris have already referenced, Lawnmower Deth’s return in 2008 was meant to be a one-off occasion but this led to those festival appearances and now an album. Once it became year after a year, was an album ever really planned? “It’s the last thing that we were thinking about,” laughs Pete. “The way that it worked was that we were asked to do the Bullet [For My Valentine] show, then we were offered Download and we couldn’t say no because it was [Andy] Copping [Download band booker] and it kept rolling, the festival offers kept coming and to be honest, we were happy turning up three or four times a year getting gigs that didn’t exist before. We were happy just having a good day out and seeing other bands and that was fine but what really happened was that we tired of playing the set over and over again. We were rehearsing and doing the same old thing when Steve [Nesfield, guitar] said that he’d got a couple of riffs that sounded interesting. That turned into two or three songs and then it became quite prolific, those two or three songs became a whole album’s worth. Even at that point we were not thinking about an album but what we were thinking about was that we record them at home to see what they sounded like, and we were just doing it for our own benefit, we never thought about releasing it. At one point when it began to sound fairly decent as a home recorded demo, we were not thinking ‘record deal’ we thought that we would stick it onto the Internet and give it away for free. It became serious was when I was chatting to Dan Tobin at Earache [Records], I’ve known Dan forever and he was setting up Dissonance Productions at Cherry Red Records, he said, ‘send it over, I’m interested’ and he came straight back and said, ‘let’s do it’. That was the point that it became really serious and ‘shit! We have a record deal!’. We signed to Cherry Red, and it all fell into place quite quickly. Although the home recorded sessions sounded great, we were at our limit of what we were capable of doing, Cherry Red are going to back it and brought in Chris Clancy as producer and suddenly, there is your album. It took these components and all of these moving parts to make it happen.”
“Steve has always been into his techie stuff, the fiddling around with music and putting things together but for the rest of us, we’re pretty much novices,” says Chris. “Steve was recording a lot of stuff and trying to figure what sounded best, it would be 3 o’clock in the morning and we would get another mix. I’d say, ‘that sounds brilliant” and then two days later another mix would come through. Steve would get advice from [in demand metal producer] Andy Sneap, Steve is a perfectionist and wanted to get it sounding the best it could be. Andy helped him out, what to try and what to use. When Chris Clancy got his hands on it, he would ask for a little bit more of this, a little less of that. Getting the songs together was actually quite easy.” Considering that Lawnmower Deth had been recording at home and perfecting the tunes to make them sound in Pete’s words ‘fairly decent’, was the process a relatively quick turnaround? Pete laughs at the suggestion. “It was two years, it was like bloody Def Leppard! The songs were there, having Chris Billam [drums] in the band these days helped with song structure, but we’ve recorded this album three or four times already. I was recording vocals where I live, Steve and Chris Billam are recording at their houses, we’re passing it over the cloud. Once Clancy knew what he wanted from us then everything had to be recorded again. The whole process was two years, but I guess the last bit seemed to happen very quickly in comparison to what was probably us floundering in the background and trying to work Pro-Tools.” The pandemic cannot have helped. “I think that the other part of it was that it was in the middle of Covid,” agrees Chris, “it was probably more protracted but as Pete says, once we knew what needed to be done, Clancy’s bit was really quick, wasn’t it?” Pete nods his head vigorously. “Yeah, that’s it,” he confirms. “First and foremost, Clancy is clearly a talent, isn’t he? Then he got what we were really about and for me that has been the whole transformation, we are slightly more adept at playing instruments and at song structure this time, it’s not just a series of riffs in random order, there are actually hooks and choruses even though it’s still Lawnmower. Clancy moving it to sound like a finished product if you like, that weight, the gravitas and that heaviness is the thing that was the missing piece. We haven’t had that before and that has made all of the difference.” As Chris confirms, there were some stipulations. “We didn’t want that much,” he says, “we just said that we wanted it to sound really fucking tight, really fucking heavy and make it as blastingly powerful as possible. You crack on, mate!” “It’s no different from when we play,” adds Pete, “we’ve always worked on being decent people, there’s no divas, we don’t hide in dressing rooms, we don’t act like arseholes. We turn up and chat to people, we’re reasonable to the ones looking after us like stagehands, the sound guy, the security and all the people that have to clean up your shit afterwards, it’s always been a mandate for us. It was the same with Clancy, this is what we want, you know better than we do so who are we to question? Go and do your thing and Clancy did with diamonds on top.” It is Chris’ turn to nod his head at Pete’s words, “One of the things that we’ve always talked about is that we’re chancers.” he adds. “There is no script with this and at the end of the day, we’re fans. When we’re asked to do a festival, it’s like a fan day to us, we’re nothing special, we just happen to be fans that are playing.” “You try standing in our shoes,” says Pete, “there you are, and Francis Rossi walks past, or some other icon from your teenage years, it’s crazy! What are we doing here, it’s Lawnmower Deth for God’s sake!”
One indisputable fact is that the music industry has changed beyond all recognition since Lawnmower Deth released their albums in the early 1990s when the only way of hearing the music beyond gigs was to buy the physical product in comparison to the Internet and streaming services today. There is something that is often forgotten in favour of the negatives – the reach that streaming services has and how far music can travel where it could not before. “What were we doing back in 1988? We were tape trading!” exclaims Pete. “What is the difference apart from it being not as romantic? That’s what Spotify is to me, it’s just a more efficient version of tape trading and I say ‘crack on’, let people access it. I’ve got the back end access of Spotify because I have the artist’s rights so I can see what is going on and we’re being played in the weirdest places, the Scandinavians have been playing it a lot. There weren’t places that were aware of that even knew who we were, never mind getting a hold of an album. It’s really interesting to see what’s going on at the moment. That is the joy of Spotify that while everyone is on a downer over streaming, it actually gets you out to a much broader church and more quickly.” There is still the issue of being paid for your hard work though, it is an issue that a lot of artists have with streaming. “I’ve seen that commentary quite a lot that the band should be earning from it,” says Pete. “Don’t get me wrong, I am eternally grateful for it but this is not going to make us rich, we never went into this thinking ‘there is money here,’ the fact that people can access the material is what we are bothered about. What I care about in a very nutshell-like story is that what keeps us doing this – and don’t get me wrong, it could be different for Chris – but for me it’s a story and we’ve now got to places where a band like Lawnmower Deth should never have got to. We were a bedroom band, we are mates, we played in local pubs with local hardcore bands, and we made it to the big stages of Download. The Kim Wilde thing is a story and for us, it was always about the next part of the story and what could happen if the album is available. Whether you stream it, want to buy the vinyl or the CD, if it makes you get a hold of it and it carries the story on because it opens another door for us then that is what it’s about. It’s never to do with money, that is why I work. This is the fun that we have as a group of mates and do something that hopefully people want to do with us.” It is exciting to hear that Lawnmower Deth has found new territories where the band are now reaching thanks to Spotify and a world being made smaller by the Internet so would the band consider offers from Euro festivals as well? “I hope so,” says Pete. “Let’s not go down the Brexit well though because that will make life difficult for any band trying to get out but I hope that it turns the heads of Wacken or Hellfest, all of the obvious ones. I do hope that it opens opportunities that were not there before.”
Both Chris Parkes and Pete Lee mention more than once that that Lawnmower Deth is a bunch of friends that write and perform songs that they write. They are not a band that is at odds with each other, there are no raging egos or arguments and they are all on the same page. The band – as well as Chris and Pete, the aforementioned Steve Nesfield on guitar, Chris Billam on drums and Gavin “Paddy” O’Malley on guitar – have known each other for longer than the band has been going. On Blunt Cutters there is “life affirming solos” from another friend and former member Kevin Papworth. The camaraderie of Pete and Chris is obvious as they laugh and the way that they second each other’s points. Even at gigs, it is not just the humour of the songs or the lunacy on stage, it is a band that really is a bunch of mates and this soaks into the audience. The band ended in the 1990s when Chris Flint decided that he’d had enough. “As the years went on, Chris [Flint] found it quite difficult doing live shows,” explains Chris. “He used to get quite anxious about it and it really took a toll physically. We said that we would like to carry on and we’d known Chris Billam since we were at school, we were mates anyway and he used to roadie for us. Chris was the only choice, really and we were not sure whether he would do it but he played drums, we needed a drummer so it was happy days.” Did Chris Flint give you his blessing to continue the band? “Absolutely!” says Chris, “it’s been amazing to have his blessing, we still have contact with Chris, he comes to gigs and stands at the side of the stage saying, ‘I’m glad that I don’t have to do this anymore!’” The time frame between the band ending and then that supposedly one-off gig was 14 years but were there any thoughts about firing up the Lawnmower during that time? “There were gig offers,” says Pete. “There were some really random ones like playing a mate’s birthday party. I was probably the most obstructive, I would pretty much say ‘no’, I am married, with kids, I have a decent job and that was all encompassing so there was no real interest. I kept saying ‘no’ and when the offer came to do the Ally Pally, it got pushed in my direction because everyone thought that I’d say ‘no’ but when someone offers you Ally Pally, it was too much of an opportunity which meant everyone had to say ‘yes’! [laughs]. We just thought at the time that it had run out of steam, it had done its bit so who was bothered? The 2008 gig was only supposed to be a one off but at least three of us turned 40 that year and it was a bit of a mid-life crisis thing, we thought “what a hurrah this is, 40th birthday year and we get to play the 10,000 seater Ally Pally!’ It was the biggest gig we had ever played at that point so that is why we said ‘yes’ but it was only going to be the one gig and then we’d go back into obscurity but that’s not how it’s panned out, is it?” Chris agrees that Lawnmower Deth has come full circle. “Pete moved to Lancashire, got married and had kids. Steve and I went to University in Sheffield, got married and had kids as well and then we came out the other side and the kids don’t need you as much,” he says. “We’re lucky that our kids are into metal and come along to all the festivals and roadie for us and when we would have been going to see bands we’d heard of, they are the ones pushing us into seeing new bands when we are at Download. That full circle is us bringing our families with us.” Pete agrees with Chris “It’s exactly what makes it so interesting this time, the fact that my kids at 10 years old are swanning around with a AAA pass at a festival, what an experience that is. It’s made it a lot richer having a family day out being Lawnmower Deth. How beautiful is that? I was probably a dickhead, you are cock of the north when you are 19 and in a band but we’re better people these days, kids keep you grounded, my wife keeps me grounded, for sure. I just think quite honestly, I’m just grateful for the experience. I’m grateful for being in Lawnmower, my family being part of that, we’re chatting and we have an album out” So the big question is that if Blunt Cutters takes Lawnmower Deth to far flung countries and more albums, how would that align adult responsibilities? “For me, it’s not going to change anything,” responds Pete. “The experiences that we have are odd at the best of times but I like the fact that they are experiences such as the main stage of a festival or why we are mates with Kim Wilde or the new album. As great as it is, it would be part of life, we are the same people and go to work, still being family as well is what keeps it fresh. I don’t think that it would change anything, I wouldn’t want it to and if we did then the whole thing would implode. It’s about what it is and knowing the realities of that, this band is not Metallica, it is what it is and the fact that people get it and they are enjoying it, that is fantastic. It is not going to be a career move, though.”
One of the elements of Lawnmower Deth is their lyrical humour. Going back to Ooh Crikey days and it was Watch Out Grandma, Here Comes A Lawnmower and Weebles Wobble But They Don’t Fall Down but Blunt Cutters is not short of the laugh out loud moments and there is real genius when it comes to Raise Your Snails and Bobblehead. Even after listening to the album for a while there are those easy to miss details such as the “Phil” in Good Morning, Phil is a cheeky poke at a particular TV personality that fronts a car sale website advertisement. There has to be some care taken when using ‘joke band.’ Lawnmower Deth are neither nor are they a ‘parody’. Pete Lee begins clapping. “Thank you very much, I am going to applaud that comment right now,” he says. “What the hell is a ‘parody’? There was nothing to parody back in 1988!” This is true and Lawnmower Deth were as much a part of the UK thrash scene as Xentrix or Acid Reign or Sabbat, a parody is making fun of the stereotypes. Bad News – a ‘band’ made up of comedians as part of the Comic Strip Presents…they appeared at the Donington Monsters Of Rock festival as openers in 1986 and were relentlessly bottled by the audience. “Raven might have been singing about fast cars and Ronnie Dio was singing about dragons, that was their thing and we loved all of that stuff,” says Pete. It wouldn’t have been right coming from us, I can’t stand there doing dragons!” It is countered that there does have to be separation from the art and the artist. “I guess so,” concedes, Pete, “I don’t think that a humorous commentary is that uncommon in these kinds of circles, it’s always existed so for me it all fits together. I totally agree with what you’re saying as to Bad News or Spinal Tap or Pookiesnakenburger, let’s go all the way back.” Chris gives a knowing “ooh” at the mention of Pookiesnackenburger “Bad News were downright manufactured TV types taking the piss out of heavy metal which at times is quite comedic. I think that there is a gulf of difference between the bands that do parody it these days. If you look at [Evil] Scarecrow and Raised By Owls, they are great musicians that are doing the shows and doffing their caps back to that stuff but I think that they are very different proposition to Bad News and Spinal Tap.” One track which did not quite fit the typical Lawnmower Deth format is the stunning closing track Agency of C.O.B., complete with strings and a end of the world type broadcast spoken word piece, it is truly an immense track. “It’s an odd one, isn’t it?” asks Pete. “It was talked about a lot as to whether it should go on the album or not. Steve and I have a huge investment in that song. Steve had the whole structure, that whole what I call his ‘Adam And The Ants moment’ with the Ants Invasion riff at the start, it became an interesting song. I spent a weekend at Steve’s house messing with the vocals, I had all of these ideas. We were both surprised that there was a grown up Lawnmower song and it was so removed from what people expected that it was a question of should we or shouldn’t we? The answer was that if we were going to do it then it would be the tail track rather than trying to own a side with it. I think that it works great but we’re never going to be able to play it live. Can you imagine? It’s not that it’s complex, it’s just so tiered, we’d have to get keyboards or God forbid backing tracks which we’re not going to do. It’s for record only but I do think that it’s a song to be proud of.” Chris agrees. “I think that it’s brilliant the way that the song has been jumped on, it doesn’t fit but people have taken to it and that’s amazing.” While Agency of C.O.B. is a stand out song for its structure and just how different it is, Blunt Cutters is an incredibly well produced and constructed record that just aches to be played over and over, it really is a stunning achievement. As usual, Pete Lee and Chris Parkes are modest. “I think that if it’s an album that has legs and longevity, if it’s a good heavy rock and roll record with some songs that people can hang on over a gimmicky listen then I think that is fantastic.” Chris nods his head at what Pete says. “When we put the songs together we were rehearsing back to back so we were loosely putting together a list of what an album would look like so we knew that the songs were strong,” Chris adds. “If we thought that the songs were shit then we would not have put them out. I am not embarrassed to say that the album is really good and that the songs are shit hot and that I want to listen to Blunt Cutters more than any other album I own.”
No interview with Lawnmower Deth would be complete without a mention of Kim Wilde. As unlikely as it sounds that a UK thrash/punk act would team up with pop royalty is surely the stuff that dreams are made of – but it happened and keeps happening. Lawnmower famously covered Kim’s 1981 hit Kids In America (at three times the speed, obviously) and the band and Kim performed the track – as well as Watch Out Grandma, Here Comes A Lawnmower and Egg Sandwich at the Download Festival in 2016. The band and Kim teamed up again for a Christmas single in 2017 entitled F U Kristmas. The press release for Blunt Cutters hinted that Kim would appear again on the album and the rumour was indeed true with a spoken word intro to Bastard Squad. Kim has been supportive of the album? “As ever,” says Pete. “She is a darling, so yeah, she has been tweeting out and she did that video with me at Christmas when she was talking about it. She is amazing and has been giving the album some love. We are genuinely mates, none of that showbusiness stuff, every couple of weeks we chat over WhatsApp, ‘how are the kids?’ That sort of thing. Kim shouldn’t be but she is one of those down to earth pop royalty and grateful to be around.”
The obvious final question is will there be more Lawnmower Deth albums? “There is more coming,” confirms Chris Parkes. “We are rehearsing one week and the other week we go to Chris Billam’s shed, we have some riffs and we have some songs rolling. We still have the enthusiasm and it’s still making us laugh when we put some riffs together.”
Lawnmower Deth are no longer the niche band that no-one has ever heard of and thanks to Blunt Cutters, the only way is up. Watch out grandma? No, watch out world, here comes a Lawnmower.
Blunt Cutters is out now on Cherry Red Records/Dissoance Productions