All right, so you’re still a classic ‘80s Hard Rock fan. That was and still is your life. “That” means local radio shows. Cassettes. Glossy band posters. Saturday night gigs. Yellowing ticket stubs and fading concert t-shirts. You enjoyed your favourite bands in their prime and followed them into maturity. Then, you’ve had your share of attending the farewell tours and reunion shows and celebrating two-digit album anniversaries. Now imagine you wake up to the world where all the acts from the ‘80s and early ‘90s suddenly decided to retire. A nightmare, huh…? Not necessarily. There’s a new wave of bands coming your way, and while the 2000s belonged to Scandinavia, now they’re coming from everywhere…Well, with the UK-based Nasty High and its international line-up, the word “everywhere” is actually a key one! The group released their sophomore album Where The River Runs this year. This fact alone gave me an opportunity to chat with members of Nasty High: Dan Bentley (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), JB Haze (bass, background vocals), Nick Constantino (lead guitar, background vocals), Arron Beckworth (lead guitar, background vocals) and Mazzy Speed (drums, background vocals) about their post-lockdown plans, dynamics within the band and carrying the torch for the ‘80s inspired Hard Rock. But also, it was a moment for the old rocker pals to catch up…
JB: Hi Alex, first of all, it’s great to speak to you again!
Alexandra Mrozowska: Hey! Absolutely, it’s been ages! (Note that the circle of Polish hard rockers me and JB come from is in fact so small that we all have known each other for years – AM). Now, let’s get to business. You’ve just announced your first post-lockdown gig, which is going to take place in November in Chesterfield, UK. Are you looking forward to it? What was the band up to during months of quarantine?
Dan: Yeah, Real Time Live is one of our favourite venues to play. The stage and sound are excellent and the bar even has fake Marshall cabinets all along the front, so it looks cool too! We haven’t been able to play together or rehearse at all since our last show before lockdown in the UK in March, so I have been writing more songs, working on some other recording projects and doing some home improvement and instrument maintenance. I know most people are complaining about the lockdown and there are times when it’s very frustrating, but I’ve quite enjoyed spending time alone and being locked in the studio, so I don’t think it has affected me mentally as much as most people.
AM: Nasty High were one of the unlucky ones whose new albums saw the light of day right before the pandemic hit. What was the impact of the lockdown on promotion of Where the River Runs?
Dan: Unfortunately we released it pretty much the weekend before the lockdown started. So apart from our album launch weekend where we had two shows back to back in one weekend in London and Nottingham, all of our sales have been online orders by post. We don’t have record label support or a team working for us, so I have to post and package every single CD and t-shirt by hand myself. As the pandemic started blowing up and getting out of control, we quickly made the decision to postpone all the heavy paid album promotion until after things had calmed down, so we could give the album the tour support it deserves.
AM: Sounds pretty sensible. Speaking of the album, do you feel Where the River Runs is a step forward for the band in comparison with Liquid Scream?
JB: Yeah, absolutely. In the couple years since the release of Liquid Scream, we’ve all grown so much as musicians. Our musical horizons keep widening and we’ve gained some new members, so our idea-base gets bigger and bigger. Most importantly, the longer we play together, the less it feels like just five guys jamming with instruments and the more we feel like one rocking organism grooving in the same direction.
AM: With only one song credited to the entire band (“Let Yourself Go”), what was the songwriting process for the album like?
JB: There is no general rule really. Sometimes we are just jamming and Mazz will come up with an interesting beat that we work around or someone will come up with a catchy riff at the rehearsal. Other times one of us will bring an almost ready song that each of us will adapt slightly to fit our individual playing styles. We are truly a band, which means it’s not unusual for the bass player to come up with a guitar riff or for the vocalist to bring a bass line and that’s great. We are one team with the same goal, which is to make great songs we all enjoy.
Dan: I write most of the songs, then the other guys ruin them with their terrible suggestions and then I have to give them songwriting credits… (laughs) No, seriously though, writing songs for this album was much more fun this time. Every member has a unique writing style, so I think this helps to make us sound like us and not like most other young bands around nowadays. The other guys in the band seem to like writing during rehearsal by jamming, whereas the songs I write tend to be on my own in my studio because my mind just seems to go blank during rehearsal and I can’t come up with any good ideas, probably because it doesn’t give me time to experiment with riffs and vocal lines. On my own, I can sit down with a guitar and stop and start whenever I need to in order to figure things out vocally. Even the songs we wrote together in rehearsal like “Let Yourself Go” was just guitars and backing instruments and no vocals. This is the way I always write vocals; on my own driving on the motorway or locked in the studio. I’m a very slow writer, so the rehearsal room jamming style doesn’t work for me.
AM: It’s not that common for the young band in this genre to self-produce since the very start…
Dan: It’s mainly because we are an unsigned band. We’re not against working with a producer. Maybe with the right guy it would produce better songwriting and arrangements, but we just haven’t had any good enough offers. We are what punks would call a “100% DIY” band. We don’t have a manager anymore and no record label, so without outside investment, we are not really in a position where we can approach our favourite producers and ask them to collaborate.
AM: Is there a producer whose hypothetical offer to collaborate with you would never be rejected? Why?
Dan: There are so many great producers out there and we wouldn’t be against working with any of them, as long as we always had a say in the songwriting and it didn’t turn into a situation where the producer was choosing all the songs and getting outside songwriters to write for us etc. I don’t have any favourite producers, but I have a lot of respect for Rick Rubin and Mutt Lange. I’m more of a fan of songwriters than producers. Some of my favourites are Desmond Child, Diane Warren, Michael Bolton, Paul Stanley and all the Toto guys.
AM: Some reviewers point out to slight Power Metal-esque vibe to some of your songs. Are you really influenced by the genre? What genres other than Glam Metal do you find to be a source of inspiration for Nasty High?
Nick: The really exciting thing about the current line-up is that not only do we all get along really well but also – the span of everyone’s individual interests is huge! From softer melodic AOR all the way to all-out Speed and Thrash Metal, I’d say our idea pallet is very extensive. So having a cross-pollination of ideas from lots of different genres definitely makes for a really unique and exciting writing process.
Dan: This surprises me to be honest, as I don’t really get any power metal vibes from our music. Maybe these reviewers can hear something I haven’t noticed, because it is hard to assess your own creation without being biased. I guess some bands I have listened to in the past could be considered Power Metal like Yngwie Malmsteen and Helloween. I’ve also never particularly liked the term ‘Hair Metal’, ‘Glam Metal’ or ‘Sleaze’ but I guess everybody just uses these words as a quick way to describe the genre. I prefer to just say ‘80s Hard Rock’. I’m also influenced by ‘70s Rock, Japanese music, pop, RnB, video game music etc.
Arron: While I don’t think we draw particularly from one genre of music – we are diverse in the music we listen to. At some point these influences will probably subconsciously make their way in to the music we are writing. It never hurts to have diversity in the music you are writing and listening to.
Mazzy: I for one am glad that the vibe gets through! I love Rock, but for me nothing beats the pure epic feeling of laying down a Power Metal part where it fits nicely, and you know what? It works for us! For the longest time, I have been influenced by bands such as Sabaton, Powerwolf and Battle Beast, and it’s a joy to be able to implement parts of their genre into what we do. I’m convinced it helps our songs feel unique, while still being able to rock the stage for our fans.
AM: Do you intend to explore different genres and styles in your further career? Do you care about genres and labels at all?
JB: Like I said earlier, as long as we are all happy with the song we’re creating, we’re not bothered. Whether we are going to sound heavier or more melodic doesn’t matter to us, as long as it comes naturally and we all enjoy it. We are all open-minded and I guess we are ‘infecting’ each other’s music tastes and learn from one another a lot.
Dan: As JB said, we don’t consciously think about genres when we are writing songs, we just write whatever feels good and we either like the song or we don’t. I think we will always have heavy guitars, intricate bass, powerful drums and big vocals with backing harmony vocals. We might do some more keyboard-heavy songs in future, some faster more aggressive ones with double bass drums and some mellower ones with clean guitar parts, so maybe some of these songs might unintentionally cross over into other genres. But I don’t anticipate we will start writing Reggae or Black Metal any time soon. The music industry doesn’t really seem to like bands which are hard to classify, because they are harder to market and music charts are based on genres, so I don’t think it’s the smartest business move to do too many different styles in one band. Only very rare examples succeed at this, like Faith No More. I’d say it’s better to do a side project or start a new band if your style is going to change so drastically. Nevertheless, our songwriting is always evolving.
AM: Speaking about reviews and labels their authors try to classify you with, do you actually pay attention to whatever they point out to, be it praise or criticism?
Nick: To an extent yes, it’s important musically that we take on any praise or criticism so that we know where we’re at. Fortunately we’ve had a lot of good feedback on the new album which is a good sign. We’ve had a bit of criticism too – notably in the production quality of the album. As a band we’ve decided to re-release an updated version of the album with a professional production quality, thereby taking into account the only main criticism we’ve received. We feel now is the right time for this as the content is still fresh and what with the current global pandemic keeping everyone in, it’s a worthwhile thing to get done before everyone’s time will be more restricted when things return to normal.
Dan: We always seem to receive the most praise for the songwriting and live shows. The newly mixed and mastered album will be available very soon, hopefully to coincide with all the restrictions on live venues being lifted. We are working with Tristan Hill from 7Hz Audio for the remixing and an Italian engineer based in London for the mastering. All fans who have purchased the original run of the CD will receive a Dropbox link where they can download all the new versions of the songs in uncompressed lossless WAV quality. So to anyone reading this, the original self-produced mix of the CD will be very rare one day, so grab a copy while you still can!
AM: Although Nasty High is a UK-based band, there is a strong international vibe to the band’s line-up. Does it affect the group in any way?
Dan: I don’t think it’s ever been a problem. There were a few early gigs in dive bars and biker pubs where you could tell there were some English people who didn’t like foreigners, so I guess that was a bit hairy, but nothing major really. When we first started as a 4-piece, the other three members were Polish and I was the only English/Japanese person in the band, so maybe rehearsals could feel a bit lonely sometimes because a lot of the discussions and jokes were in Polish, but I still enjoyed it. Since then, levels of English have improved a lot and Nick and Arron have joined so we have three native English speakers in the band now. I would say Brexit will have a bad impact on the band when it comes to touring in Europe. I wish we could reverse that decision.
AM: The UK wasn’t that much of a mecca for Glam Metal in the ‘80s and the early ‘90s as the US were with its Sunset Strip scene. That is not to say the British scene of the time didn’t have a lot of potential – it surely did! Presumably, now it’s worse. So are there any difficulties with pursuing the style like yours, booking the gigs or general promotion of the band?
Nick: Although the fan base for our music isn’t huge, it’s still a surprising amount and after feedback from a lot of our gigs we find that we’re gaining fans who previously wouldn’t have listened to our genre – which is really positive to hear.
Dan: When we first started playing live, we just played every gig we could, no matter how small the stage and regardless of the line-up of other bands on the bill. Nowadays we go for better opportunities which benefit us the most and try to arrange and promote each show more professionally to maximise our reach and further our career as much as possible. As for the British scene, I think we had our fair share of big bands from the UK back in the day, like Def Leppard, Thunder, Whitesnake, FM and the lesser known bands like Dare, Fastway, Blue Murder etc. I don’t tend to separate bands into separate sub-genres like Glam Metal or Stadium Rock or whatever; to me all those bands are in the same genre, it all has the ‘80s Rock vibe with huge reverb and big choruses etc., it’s just that some bands wore makeup and had big hair and others not so much. And some bands rocked and other bands sucked! But the Glam Metal scene here in the UK is actually pretty decent considering most of the bands of the genre were from LA. There are always lots of festivals and bands touring here. And the audiences are becoming more diverse. Our last show in London, it was all young people, so rock is definitely not dead!
AM: Certainly not! Also, I believe Nasty High actually started as a four-piece. What advantages does the current line-up have? How does it influence the music?
JB: When we first started playing, Dan was not only a singer but also our second guitar player. We wanted to give him more freedom on stage for the benefit of the show. However Dan is a tasteful, inventive guitarist and it’s not easy to find a replacement for him. Luckily now we’ve got Arron and Nick who are both fantastic players and Dan is now free to do what he does best – run around the stage ensuring his vocals soar and the energy level is over the roof.
Dan: Yeah, now that I’ve got used to only singing, the live shows are far less stressful because I don’t have to worry about looking down at my feet while tuning my guitar in between songs or losing momentum with talking to the audience and keeping their energy pumped. But I do miss playing guitar a lot. You will still hear a lot of my rhythm and acoustic guitar on the recordings. I also don’t want to rule out playing guitar again on stage in future. I feel like most of the problems I suffered with guitar when we were a four-piece could be solved if we had a team to help with the live gigs, like guitar technicians and stage hands to help setting up the gear, tuning up and fixing things. It would be great to strap on my guitar and rejoin JB and Mazzy on stage in the rhythm section sometimes and let Arron and Nick do the Judas Priest twin lead guitar thing. I’ve noticed quite a few bands have three guitarists nowadays. The most recent example I saw was Find Me with Robbie LaBlanc when they played at Rockingham Festival. But I don’t think I can start playing guitar again regularly until we have some help on stage.
AM: When it comes to festivals, one of the band’s biggest accomplishments was surely playing on HRH AOR festival in 2018 with a line-up that could be described best as killer. What are your memories of that event? Any funny or interesting stories?
JB: Yes, that was a special moment for us. We got to meet Skid Row and man, they were just great guys. When you grow up listening to an artist you kind of feel like you know them and sometimes when you get the opportunity to meet them, you realise it was all just an impression in your head and the artist is a completely different person in real life. Well, with Skid Row it just felt like reunion with old friends! The nicest bunch!
Dan: I met some great people at the festival. I spent most of the festival hanging out with Crimes of Passion (COP UK), particularly Henning Wanner (ex-White Lion). We all got really drunk in the audience and we were singing along loudly to Night Ranger. I lived in Germany many years ago, so I speak pretty good German and I’ve remained good friends with all of them since. I also saw Joe Lynn Turner backstage and I’m a big fan of all his projects. He was wearing sunglasses and had an entourage of security following him around like a school of fish. He didn’t acknowledge anybody or talk to anyone; there was no eye contact. I guess he appeared to be somewhat aloof with a kind of ‘rockstar’ attitude. It was quite surreal. It’s hard to say what he is really like without actually talking to him. I heard he had a heart attack on the same tour some weeks later, so I hope he’s okay now. I spoke to Graham Bonnet backstage at a previous festival we played in Derbyshire and he was really nice, friendly and unexpectedly down to earth.
AM: You’ve already shared the stage with many household names of the Rock and Metal scene. If you could pick just about any band to play a gig with, old or new, who would it be and why?
Dan: Probably Winger, Harem Scarem, Mr. Big and of course any of the big bands like KISS or AC/DC. But honestly, when we are actually playing a gig we are so focused on our own performance and gear setup that we don’t really have too much time to appreciate other bands on the bill as much as we would like because all our energy is focused on the Nasty High show. Hopefully this will change when we get to the point where we have help with the technical side of the gig and loading in and out, so we can just focus on the performance, meeting fans and enjoying the atmosphere.
AM: Felix Commerell, the keyboard player of the Swiss band Fighter V, put together a Spotify playlist called Future Of Rock. It features songs not only by his band, but also other young Hard Rock acts such as Nasty High. Do you feel there is a support network between the bands of this generation?
Nick: It’s really positive that playlists like this are being made. I think we’re at a point now where a lot of our idols are retiring from the scene, not playing as much or are past their best and so I feel that it’s almost our duty to carry on the interest in the genre. From supporting like-minded bands on Spotify to adding them to our tours/dates – it’s things like social media that really help make this possible. But I think it’s as much about the bands as it is about the fans – there’s a lot of “I wish bands would play like they did back then” or “I only like these ‘80s/‘90s artists because groups today aren’t as exciting” – and so it’s also about convincing the audience that there are still a lot of bands out there producing music like that. As soon as the interest in more recently established and up and coming bands picks up, we’ve no doubt the scene will spawn much more great music.
Dan: In terms of a support network of bands, honestly, not really. The fans and media people are great and the bands we’ve played with have all been really nice (apart from Daxx & Roxane who we got into a massive street fight with after one of our early local shows! But that’s another story). However, I don’t think the new bands support each other as much as they could, maybe because some of them feel like they are competing with each other. We probably don’t help other bands as much as we should either, but I don’t think this is deliberate; it’s just due to lack of time. Like most young bands, we still have full-time day jobs, so most of the limited free time we do have is spent on rehearsals, recording, writing, promotion and travelling to gigs, so this doesn’t leave much room for going to other new bands’ gigs. But it’s definitely something we’d like to do more of in the future. The most support we’ve received so far has been from Crazy Lixx. We managed to get some great reviews in some magazines too, such as Planet Rock, Fireworks and many foreign language mags and web reviewers.
AM: Dan, you’ve just mentioned Crazy Lixx. Last year, you sang background vocals on their Forever Wild album. What was the experience like and do you look forward to further collaborations – not necessarily with Danny and the gang only, but other bands as well?
Dan: We first met them when Nasty High supported them at a show in London in 2017. Then their guitarist Chrisse Olson messaged me some months later asking if I knew any roadies to drive them to Hair Metal Heaven festival in Hull. I was a van driver at the time, so I offered them a very reasonable price and they also gave me a free ticket to the festival and the sofa bed in their hotel accommodation too, which was great. Danny and all the guys from Crazy Lixx have been so good to me, I’m really so grateful for the opportunities they’ve given me. The advantage of modern technology and having a home studio meant that I could record all my backing vocals for “Breakout” and “Weekend Lover” here in the UK and then send my raw tracks to Danny who gave them to Chris Laney to mix in Stockholm. Receiving all the rough vocal tracks from Danny made me really appreciate their level of songwriting, particularly the detail in the backing vocal harmony layers and song structure, which is something I hadn’t noticed as much before. All the band members are amazing guys, not just musically but to hang out with too. They gave me lots of great life advice and insights into the music industry. I also have a few other collaborations coming up in the future which I can’t talk about yet, but no doubt you will hear about them relatively soon.
AM: Keeping my fingers crossed! What are the band’s other plans once everything goes back to normal?
Arron: Rehearsing! Not being able to rehearse and hang out has been a bit of a downer. Before the lockdown we’d put some serious time into honing the set in readiness for the now cancelled gigs. I’m really looking forward to unleashing this effort on the fans.
Nick: We’re going to be putting a lot of effort into getting as many gigs booked as possible in order to support the newly re-released second album. Alongside playing more gigs, we’re looking forward to doing some music videos, photo shoots and designing more merchandise in order to promote us further, so there are lots of exciting things to come.
AM: Any last words?
Dan: Happiness is a pleasant but momentary feeling, not a lifelong quest. Being super happy all the time would be exhausting and terrifying. 80 years from now we’ll all be dead, so just ride the wave and stop caring what other people think. Do less thinking and more doing. Time appears to go by more slowly if you do different things every day. And don’t forget to go to nastyhighrocks.com and max out your credit card on merch. Thanks!
You can check out Nasty High’s song “Let Yourself Go” off their new album Where the River Runs below: