I’m going to open this interview with a bold statement, but Liverpool’s Dawn Ray’d are not only one of the best British black metal acts touring today, but one of the most important. Their message of standing up to fascism has never been more important in this day and age. In March, I spoke to their vocalist Simon Barr about the band’s origins, association with anarchism, their breakout album The Unlawfull Assembly, touring the US, Roadburn Festival and their upcoming shows.
Jack: Hey, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. How are you?
Simon Barr (Vocals/Violin): I’m good, the weather is pretty cold, but I’ve got a coffee, and I’m ready to asnwer some questions!
Jack: How did Dawn Ray’d form?
Simon: We used to play in a band together before Dawn Ray’d, but Matthew was just filling in on drums for a few tours. We had got tired of playing that music, and wanted a fresh start, and to play straight up black metal. I rang Matthew the day our old band ended and we deicded to start a black metal band. We went on tour 2 months later.
Jack: Did you always want to be a black metal band? If so, was it because you wanted to distance yourself from previous project We Came Out Like Tigers?
Simon: It wasn’t that we necessarily wanted to distance ourselves from We Came Out Like Tigers, but I didn’t feel there was anywhere else to go with that style of music really. Our bassist from WCOLT could no longer commit to long tours, and it seemed like a good time to quit and start again. Starting projects can be tough, but I think knowing when to finish them is also a skill in itself. I would hate to be in a band that should have already ended.
Jack: What bands are your influences? Has being from Liverpool influenced you?
Simon: I guess we take influence from new things all the time, we all listen to a lot of music, but I guess death metal, black metal, crust and neo-folk would be the main things. Being from Liverpool and the north of England in general has had a big impact on us, especially politically. We definitely look up to bands like Napalm Death, Carcass, and even Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, they are heavy bands from working class backgrounds that have all dared to speak out about injustice and equality, whilst also having the riffs to back it up! Liverpool is a staunchly left wing city, with strong unions and a history of anti-fascism and syndicalism, so thats where this band has come from, and I’m proud of that.
Jack: Dawn Ray’d are famous as an anarchist band, how did you get into anarchism?
Simon: I got into it during the student demonstrations of 2008. There were huge nationwide demonstrations against tuition fees and the wider austerity of the time, that became very radical, lots of occupations, property damage and direct action. It became clear that if you wanted to achieve anything you had to make your voice heard, not just sign a petition and hope someone would take notice. That and being involved in DIY scene that was closely linked to anarchism.
Jack: What started the band’s association with antifa?
Simon: That’s a very loaded question! My understanding of it is that ‘antifa’ is a tactic, not an organisation. It is merely short for anti-fascism, and nothing more. There is no structure or membership, it is just people autonomously organising against nazis. People have been doing that since the 1930s! I support people resisting fascism, obviously, as I consider myself a decent human being.
Jack: Antifa have been heavily criticised for protesting and shutting down events recently, where some critics have stated they instead should challenge their opponents with debates and discussion instead of direct action. Are antifa given unfair coverage?
Simon: Again this idea that ‘antifa’ is a homogenous organisation is a misunderstanding, its like thinking there is a group called ‘protest’. I think if people in a city decide they don’t want neo-nazis playing shows and bringing other fascists into their communities then so be it. It’s not as simple as somehow encraoching on ‘free speech’, there are huge repercussions associated with allowing those people into your community. As a person of colour or a member of the LGBTQ+ community for example, you have to face the idea that hundreds of people who support a racist singer will decend on your town to go the concert, potentially threatening your safety. These bands have already had their say at other shows and all over the internet. If you say extremely offensive and hurtful things you have to expect there will be repercussions to your actions. People aren’t going to like it. If you complain about that then you don’t want free speech, you want to be able to say abusive things with impunity, and that is just not how the world works!
If people want to somehow engage nazis in a debate then you are welcome to try, but remember that other people may have already tried that, realised it has never worked through all of history and are having to resort to different tactic instead. Also, to think that nazism is worthy of some kind of intelectual scrutiny is nonsense. It is not just my opinion that nazis are wrong, it’s a fucking fact. The debate of whether or not black people should equal to white people, or whether gay people should be aloud to live, or whether the holocaust happened are not debates that need to be had, and giving them air time is fucking offensive. We know those ideas are wrong, they are the most dangerous and insidious ideas to ever have existed, and we have seen too many times, from Hitler to ISIS, where they lead.
Jack: What are your thoughts on the whole Taake situation?
Simon: He painted a swastika on his chest to be controversial, provoked loads of controversy, and then for some reason complained about it. (He also said loads of homophobic things too.) I don’t wear nazi logos because I don’t want people to think I’m a nazi. You cannot forget how dangerous and offensive those ideas are, even if as white people it can be hard for us to understand that sometimes, because we are not directly threatened by them.
Jack: I find it hilarious that the metal scene is quick to attack bands for being far left, but are strangely defensive of far right acts like Graveland and Burzum. Do you think the metal scene turns a blind eye to far right acts?
Simon: Yes, sometimes. It’s that thing of “Dawn Ray’d/Panopticon/Iskra shouldn’t bring politics into metal” whilst also saying “I can seperate the art from the artist, I just don’t listen to the nazi bits of Graveland, free speech!”
Jack: You’re releasing the second pressing of The Unlawful Assembly in April, how happy are you with the response to the album?
Simon: It has been amazing, really great. I was so glad when it was received so well. Some of the reviews were overwhelming, it was quite an experience. When you release a record you never know if people are actually going to like it or not, so there is always a lot of nerves before it goes out. I have days when I’m super proud of it, then days when I question everything and think that it is a terrible and ive made a terrible mistake, so to see blogs I regularly read and high profile review sites sing your praises feels pretty damn good! It’s been great to see peoples responses to the lyrics, and seeing people sing them back to you at shows, I put a lot of thought and effort into them, so that means the world to me. Seeing it sell so well has been good too, if Prosthetic are happy, then I’m happy!
Jack: The album deals with a lot of political themes, do you hate being called a political band or just accept it as it is part of your nature?
Simon: I guess at this point we have to accept that people are going to see us as political! I am happy with that, we are political, most of our songs are expressly political, and these are things I strongly believe in, things I know to be true. I want the world to be a better, more fair place, and we sing about that every night. Idon’t see it as a negative either, a lot of music and musicians that I like are political, if its good enough for Karl Willets and Barney Greenway then its good enough for me!
Jack: What prompted the inclusion of clean vocals and more emphasis of the violin?
Simon: I guess when you write a full length compared to an EP there has to be an increase in dynamics, you have to hold people’s attention for 40 minutes. Also, that was honestly how the songs came out, we aren’t too calculated in our writing style, we try and write the best songs we can in a way that feels natural and true to ourselves. Its probably a reflection of the music we’ve been listening to recently as well.
Jack: What was the recording process like?
Simon: Pretty smooth to be honest, we are all very hardowrking I think, and everyone wants the best for the record. We also don’t really interfere with each others parts, we know that we each have to focus on what we are doing and let everyone else do the same, so there’s never any drama or fights or whatever. Also Tom Dring is a genius and a joy to work with, he makes it very easy!
Jack: What’s working with Prosthetic Records like?
Simon: Its been great, they’ve been really open about everything,e we’ve been able to meet EJ and get to know their team, and they’ve invested in this band a lot. No complaints.
Jack: How excited for Roadburn are you?
Simon: Man, I get really nervous before we play big shows, so I’m trying not to think about it too much! To be honest though once you start playing, once the first note starts, then its just a whirlwind until the end of the set for me. So I think it will be fine. We always seem to play our best at big festivals too, so I reality it will be good fun.
Jack: Apart from the long drives how different is touring the US?
Simon: Its harder I think, there is less money, less food and we slept on floors most nights. But we are fine with that! I think we are very lucky with the DIY scene here in Europe, there are enough wealthy countries to play in on each tour so you can usually have a pretty smooth ride. The US was great though, it was fun playing so many house shows, and the one thing I really took from it all was how friendly people are over there. Texas is hands down my favourite state too.
Jack: What else do you have coming up?
Simon: We have a load of European festivals to play, Northern Discomfort, DIY Fest, 0161 Fest, Atmosfest in Nottingham, plus a few others. We are hoping to do a full European tour in summer which we are currently booking, basically just playing as many shows as we possibly can.
Jack: Finally, what is the most important black metal album of all time?
Simon: That’s tough, I guess it depends what you mean. I guess Venom could arguably be the most important because without them there might not be black metal, but then that’s not what you think of as black metal nowadays. De Mysteriis by Mayhem was the first black metal album I ever heard, I found it really shocking when I first heard it, I was young and didn’t fully understand what it was, but after I got over the initial shock value of it, it hasn’t stuck as one of my favourites… I really like A Blaze In The Northern Sky, I just think the title is the greatest album title ever, in the context of what was happening at the time, but then I have probably listened to Wolves In The Throne Room or Rotting Christ more… Fuck it I don’t know, if I make a bold decision like that I’ll change my mind tomorrow and regret it forever…
Jack: Thanks for the interview, have a good tour!
Simon: Thanks man.