Widows are a an absolute class stoner band, hailing from the increasingly vibrant scene in Nottingham. The band are on the comeback trail with their new album, Oh Deer God, which was released last month. In March I spoke to the band’s guitarist James Kidd about the band’s origins, their comeback, the new album and the stoner scene in the UK.
Jack: Hey guys, thanks for taking the time to speak to me. How are you doing?
James Kidd (Guitar): Good thanks, excited to get the album out and start doing shows again.
Jack: The band formed in 2008, how did you all meet?
James: Adam (vocals) and I have known each other since we were kids growing up in the same little village up in East Yorkshire. We met Ze Big (drums) through our housemate who was doing Muay Thai with him at the time and a couple of weeks later we started jamming the tracks Ad and I had demoed earlier that year. We’ve had a few bassists over the years but Phil Emblin joined us in Summer 2015, Ze Big had known him for a while through Nottingham’s tattoo/piercing community and suggested him when we parted with our previous bassist. He nailed the tracks really quickly and has been a big part in the creation of the sound we have now.
Jack: Did you always intended to be a stoner rock band?
James: It was kinda the direction both me and Ad were heading in with the stuff we were writing toward the end of our previous band. We’d grown up listening to a lot of stoner/hard rock from the 60s onward and it just seemed to be what came out naturally when we were writing the first few songs. Having spent years playing as fast as we could in bands since school we wanted to go a bit slower this time around, but as we got used to playing together things started to speed up to the point where we probably play some of the older songs twice the speed we did back then. Ze’s punk and hardcore influences definitely had a hand in that.
Jack: What bands have influenced your sound? Are Raging Speedhorn an influence?
James: Ha, we could be here all day listing bands but obviously Black Sabbath, that goes without saying, plus a lot of that old school hard rock and blues from the 60s and 70s like Creedence Clearwater Revival, Hendrix, Led Zep, etc, stoner rock like Kyuss, Fu Manchu, Goatsnake, Clutch, Baroness, and the likes of Black Flag and Bad Brains from the punk side of things.
Jack: Has being from Nottingham shaped your sound in any way?
James: That’s a good question. Certainly the musicians we have played with in the 20+ years we’ve all been making music have helped shape our individual sound and styles as players, and the fact that we have a great music scene in Nottingham has given us plenty of opportunities to work on our live show. We’ve also recorded three of our four releases in Nottingham studios so as far as our records go, it’s definitely been a big part of our sound.
Jack: What’s Nottingham’s music scene like?
James: We have a LOT of musicians in Nottingham, I mean tons, name a genre and there’s somebody absolutely killing it at the moment. Our favourite bands right now are Heck, Church of The Cosmic Skull, The Five Hundred, Taken by the Tide, Brianblessed, and Riff Bastard, who have all been dropping some absolute scorchers lately. We’re also really lucky to have a lot of very active promoters here too, these guys are an important part of any scene and things would be a lot different here without them, they love what they do and it shows in the gigs and festivals they put on. I’m really proud of our DIY scene here too, there’s so many sly little venues that we’ve had some great times and played some of our best shows in.
Jack: You released your new album Oh Deer God in April. What prompted the shift to the darker, more sludgy and doomier sound?
James: Having released the previous album almost five years ago, we’d been playing the same songs for a long time and wanted to change things up a little. We didn’t want to just write more of the same. I’d been listening to a lot more doom and sludge stuff whilst we were writing, we’d talked about doing some more aggressive tracks back when we were touring the last album, plus we’ve all had some major highs and lows in our lives since then and this album is something of a cathartic release for all of us, so that sound just seemed right for the feeling we were trying to capture.
Phil Emblin joined us on bass about 18 months ago, this is the first time we’ve written a group of songs with a solid bassist and that’s definitely been a big part in solidifying our sound. Chris Fielding’s skills behind the desk at Skyhammer studio really helped us achieve the sound we were going for in the practice room too, the man’s a genius.
Jack: This is your first album since 2012’s Death Valley Duchess. What was the reason for such a long gap in between them?
James: As is often the case, life got in the way a little bit. We all work pretty intense jobs and have busy private lives so although we’re always working on it at some level, sometimes certain things have to take a back seat so you can pay the rent. Plus we really enjoy going out and playing shows, it’s way more fun than writing all the time.
Our original bassist left in early 2011 to be a dad and run a tattoo business, this was before we’d even recorded that album and we didn’t find a proper full time bassist until about a year later. By that time we were itching to get back on the road so we put more of our energy into going out and doing shows rather than writing together. I had a fair few riffs I’d written during that time though, so we were able to hit the ground running when Phil joined us in mid-2015 and got the album written in about six months.
Jack: What does new bassist Phil Emblin bring to the band?
James: Phil’s presence in the band has helped us a lot with writing as he’s got some great musical knowledge and song structuring skills. His playing is a big part of our current sound and has helped us make Widows into a much wilder sounding beast than before. He’s a proper musician who knows what he’s doing and his music tech training has really helped us nail the overall sound we wanted, He’s also got a twisted sense of humour so he fit in with us right away.
Jack: For the album you recorded in the legendary Skyhammer Studios with Chris Fielding. What was it like working with him?
James: Chris was great! Adam and I had wanted to work with him for many years even before Widows had formed and before Skyhammer even existed. I’ve worked with him on a couple of tours in the past so had got to know him before we did the album, which I think helped ease things along a little. He’s a proper pro with so much knowledge and he really got the best out of us in the studio, it was a pleasure working with him.
Jack: What inspired the title of the album?
James: It’s a play on words as to what you’d say when waking up with a crippling hangover. We’ve all been the victim of plenty of those and Jaegermeister has been responsible for more than a few of them. If you look at the label, you’ll see there’s a circle, the head of a deer, and a cross on there; Oh Deer God, so it’s a little nod to our favourite “fuck you up” drink.
Jack: Do you have fond memories of playing Desertfest in 2012?
James: That was a great show, really well run. We had a lot of fun there, and I think that was the first time we had a dressing room with our name on the door. [Laughs] we thought we’d “arrived!” We shared the stage with some good friends of ours too and it helped secure us a bunch of new fans. It was an honour to be asked along.
Jack: When you played that festival, did you expect it to be the stoner goliath it is today?
James: Widows had worked with the Desertscene guys for a while before then and they’d had some amazing bands come over from the States and Europe in the two years before the first Desertfest, so we knew they were capable of great things. When we started, there was a bit of a sludge/stoner scene in various towns around the UK but it all felt quite disconnected to begin with, I think Desertfest really helped pull that all together and make the scene a proper interconnected movement like it is today. I was a bit too young to catch the whole stoner rock thing in the early 90s so the fact that we’re now getting to see bands like Sleep, Kyuss, COC, Unida, and Fu Manchu again, just when we all thought we’d missed our chance the first time round, is fucking amazing! To answer your question though, I had a feeling after the first one that it could grow into something much bigger, and by the time they announced the bill for the following year I knew it was only going to go from strength to strength from there on. There has always been rock/metal festivals but until Desertfest there wasn’t really a unifying festival in the UK specifically for the sludge/doom/stoner scene, the bands were often just fighting for space on the bill at big outdoor summer metal festivals like Download, Ozzfest, or Dynamo. I think if you ask anyone who’s an active part of this scene, they’ll say this one feels like it’s “ours”, and that’s pretty special.
Jack: Do you think stoner music has got more popular due to the festivals like Desertfest and the internet or have these festivals just brought like-minded people together?
James: I think it’s probably a bit of both. Although the internet is always going to connect previously isolated misfits and weirdos and give them a voice, stoner rock has always had a pretty cult following so Desertfest and similar fests have definitely brought together a lot of like-minded, if otherwise disconnected people through their events. But as a result of festivals like DF, I think more people have got into the music as it’s the perfect place for someone just starting on their journey into stoner rock to see a ton of bands all in one place that really make the scene worldwide, that kind of thing is always inspiring. The fests like Desertfest Roadburn, Heavy Days in Doomtown, and many others (as well as the internet) have been an undeniably big boost to this style of music in the UK and Europe though, they have given a lot of the older bands a new lease of life, and the newer bands a big push into the public consciousness. They’re definitely the places to play if you want to get your name out there.
Jack: What are your plans for the rest of the year?
James: Oh Deer God comes out on 14th April (preorders starting 31st March) and we had a few shows around then too:
We’ve got a video in the works too and a studio video of us at Skyhammer is coming out soon as part of the promo for the release. We really want to play some outdoor shows this year too, Riff Fest in Bolton last year was ace and we want more! Invite us to your festivals!
Jack: Finally, someone comes up to you and asks you what stoner rock is, what album do you give them?
James: Kyuss’ “Blues for the Red Sun, no contest. Although I’d make sure I slipped a copy of Unida’s Coping with the Urban Coyote in the case as well, that album absolutely slays! Those two bands were basically what drew me into this world and I will never not like them. Ever.