Remember the sleazy biker / horror (aka: bikesploitation) movies from the 70s that had some of the best soundtracks? Whether you do or have no idea what I’m talking about, you’re in luck — Canada’s The Death Wheelers will be releasing their debut full length, I Tread On Your Grave, this week via RidingEasy Records and it’s a picture perfect homage to this era and its aesthetic. Along the album’s eleven tracks the band weave a tale of a motorcycle club being wiped out by authorities then returning from the grave to exact revenge. And it all unfolds over some of the most raucous sleaze-n-roll jams around — not to mention successfully pulling this off as an instrumental band. From the album art to the song names to the sordid riffs contained, The Death Wheelers bust this genre wide open for a new look from new fans. Just ahead of the album’s release we had the chance to sit down with bassist Max ‘The Axe’ Tremblay to discuss the new album, the band’s tie in with bikesploitation and the ecstasy of being an instrumental band. Read on and don’t forget to pick up your own copy May 11.
I Tread On Your Grave is not your first material but it is your first full length. How did you approach the writing process knowing this would be longer than anything you’ve done to date?
The first EP/split the band released was entirely recorded by me as a solo project in the winter of 2015. In the fall of the same year, I recruited musicians to play the songs live. So the writing process on this album was entirely different just by the fact that three other people pitched in this time. Each new member contributed, whether it was with a complete or partial track, or just riffs. We would jam out the new material and make modifications as we went along to create the narrative. All in all, I must admit it was a pretty chaotic way to go about things, but when we put everything together at the end it finally made sense. I think it really came together with the artwork/packaging.
The 70s biker movie (bikesploitation) aesthetic plays a huge role in not only your identity but your music as well. How important is it to you that the album comes across to the listeners in the same vein as these movies?
I Tread On Your Grave was written as a soundtrack to a fictional movie, it was therefore extremely important to capture the essence of this time period/movie genre in the music. I try to source period accurate images to give it that vintage vibe. I orchestrated the synopsis and the cover/concept of the album to give it unity. We also recorded the album as one unit in the studio instead of recording all of our parts separately like they would do in the old days. It was also cost effective and one hell of a weekend! This is also a key part of our aesthetic. We keep it real and enjoy wreaking havoc along the way.
The goal of an instrumental group is to keep listeners engaged and focused on the music itself which is something you guys do extremely well. Early on, was the choice to go instrumental a conscious decision or was it born out of comfort level between band members and simply not wanting to mess up the formula?
I’ve always been a fan of instrumental music, both new and old. My dad was a huge fan of surf rock and introduced me early on to the greats such as Davie Allan & The Arrows, The Pyramids, Dick Dale, The Ventures. I’m also a huge pro wrestling fan (I did some amateur wrestling myself years ago!) and most entrance music composed for wrestlers is instrumental. Obviously, movie soundtracks (Goblin, Carpenter, etc.) have been a huge influence on us as well. Just looking at our Canadian label brothers The Shooting Guns who scored the two Wolfcop movies has been inspiring as well.
The original idea was to have an instrumental band to be able to exploit the jammy, no strings attached kind of rock ‘n’ roll approach. To this day, this basic idea remains but the storyline and the way the songs are written are more calculated in the context of a soundtrack.
Further to that point, has it been advantageous / freeing not having a vocalist?
Not having a vocalist is great if you ask me, as it allows us to integrate leads whenever we want without overcrowding the sound. Also, we can abruptly change key or tempo, something that would be a little more awkward if we had to integrate vocals in a song structure. Being instrumental also allows us to have improvised/jammy passages.
Reading the plot synopsis behind the album intrigued me before I ever heard the first note of the music. After spending time with the album, you successfully captured the “soundtrack” feel. It’s like watching one of these movies play out in real time. How did you go about syncing music to synopsis or did it just happen organically?
Since there are no lyrics to tell a story, we used song titles, samples, pacing and song order to dictate the unfolding of the movie plot and its soundtrack, which was a bit challenging but I think we managed to create some kind of a narrative.
Your cover of Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick” stays true, in intent, to the original but has your own experimental stamp on it. What made you choose this particular song to cover and play around with?
When we initially decided to cover “Moby Dick” in a live context we didn’t think we would eventually record it, let alone put it on the album! Long story short, we still had time in the studio, so we decided to give it a try and record it. We were still unsure about releasing it since we wanted to pay proper tribute to Bonzo and Zep. I think we managed to not butcher it too much. Credit goes to our drummer Richard ‘The Bastard’ Turcotte who did an amazing job on the solo.
I Tread On Your Grave will be released on RidingEasy Records. As a fan of that label I can say that The Death Wheelers are a perfect fit to their roster. How did working with them come about and how has the experience been so far?
I have been a huge fan of RidingEasy Records since day one. Ask Dan, the owner; I was one of his first customers. I bought their first ever release the day it came out. Being on the same label as bands like Monolord, Salem’s Pot, R.I.P., etc. is an honour. I’ve travelled the world to see these bands perform live in their early days, too. You kind of have to when you live in Canada because we’re always the last place bands tour, if they come here at all. RidingEasy is a driving force in the music scene and they are extremely supportive of their bands. Right from the start, Dan and I hit it off. He’s your typical Cali laid-back dude. Jack, his assistant, is also extremely helpful and reliable. We couldn’t ask for more.
How did you guys originally land on this particular style of music and what were some of your biggest artistic influences along the way?
Like I mentioned earlier, the instrumental greats (Ventures, Davie Allan, Carpenter, etc.) have all been an influence on our sound but some heavier/grittier music as well, Motörhead, Venom, Midnight and Entombed come to mind. As far as imagery/themes/performance are concerned, we have drawn a lot from bands like The Cramps and The Stooges.
What would be the one bikesploitation movie you would recommend someone watch to get a feel for I Tread On Your Grave and why?
I would recommend Psychomania (1973). It has it all: bikes, sleaze, death, an occult ceremony and gratuitous violence. The soundtrack to the movie is also amazing!
Now that the album is done and ready for the masses are you pleased with the results? And, do you feel you achieved what you set out to do with it?
Making an instrumental concept record like I Tread On Your Grave was a little bit of a gamble since it falls outside the traditional album umbrella, plus some people just flat out refuse to listen to instrumental music for some weird reasons. Despite all of this, we are more than pleased with the response/reaction we’ve gotten so far as the first pressing has almost already sold out, so I would say that our expectations have been exceeded by far.
Other than the album release, what do you have coming up in the foreseeable future we need to be aware of?
We have a couple of gig announcements coming up for this summer/fall. There might also be a chance for us to spew our venom in Europe soon. We’re also starting to write the scenario for album II.
Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. Anything you’d like to add?
Keep it real, DIY or die, fuck the haters, if you don’t like it, don’t listen, if you do, join the crew.
Many thanks to Max and The Death Wheelers for their time!