“This is the amp that I used for the whole record – this tiny, shit amp. I recorded the guitars in here, on that. I did it all pretty much sitting here.” God Damn’s frontman Thomas Egerton gestures to the amp behind him whilst sitting in his conservatory in Wolverhampton.
It’s hard to fathom that the gargantuan sounds on God Damn’s most recent album Raw Coward came from such an average piece of equipment. Driven by a deep need to rid himself of sleep-deprived neuroses and to shake off the expectations of the music industry at large, Egerton and his bandmates have written an album that is deliberately anti-radio, full of anti-establishment and anti-ego messages. When asked what he’s most proud of about the record, Egerton is pleased that a relatively “unlistenable” set of songs reached and resonated with so many people. “Everybody who releases an album says 'We did exactly what we wanted to do,' but I truly think doing it ourselves on Raw Coward meant that it came out in its purest form,” he explains. “Originally, we were going to put out a scuzzy EP of unlistenable stuff, just to be awkward and left of centre. We gave a bunch of songs to our record label (One Little Independent) and they were like 'this is the best stuff you've ever done. Make a whole record.'”
Egerton didn’t really need permission or any outside affirmation to create the visceral yet deeply enjoyable noise on Raw Coward. As he explains, the music and more specifically the lyrics flowed out of him during the height of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns. “There was a lot going on in the world and I'd had some personal difficulties. I've got two children who are severely autistic and that means I get no fucking sleep. The insanity that comes with sleep deprivation and the bleakness that comes with that fed a lot of the lyrics. It was the first time that lyrics had come first for pretty much all the songs.”
This combination of venom, vitriol and humour is what makes Raw Coward such a cathartic listen, most notably on tracks such as “Shit Guitar” and the deliciously titled “Dog Shit in the Autumn Leaves”. The smell of resentment and rage is tangible, but so is the sound of the howling laughter that fuelled the whole thing. It’s an unfiltered experience with the volume cranked up to an ear-splitting level.
“It's a very English thing when you're feeling absolutely shit, when your life is the worst fucking thing ever, you just turn it into a joke,” Egerton continues. “You have to take the piss to get through trauma or difficult times. I've said all along that I want God Damn’s aesthetic to be like Steve Pemberton, but in a punk band; really fucking dark but also really silly.”
“With the song titles, you can tell we're doing whatever the fuck we wanted to do. We pretty much destroyed any chance of ever having any radio play or being a mainstream band by putting out this record. I've been told by someone I'm friends with - well, I'm not sure we’ll be friends anymore if I keep telling this story - but I've been told by a mainstream radio presenter that 'we are not playing this kind of music anymore.' All the outspoken bands that you hear on the radio, have you noticed they're watering down their lyrics? It's because they got the note that said, 'don't ruffle feathers, this is not going to get played.'”
“I've taken some pretty wild jabs at the music industry with this record... Raw Coward is about a broken man at his wits end. I really don't give a fuck about God Damn being a 'successful' band, I don't give a fuck about ruffling some feathers. The whole 'your idols are paedophiles’ thing, it has been a problem for years. It’s fucking depressing. These artists who we’ve been idolising for years and who are selling us these fucking amazing instruments and huge amplifiers, when really, why the fuck would I want to be like these flawed individuals? I have broken guitars that I make my records on. You don’t need all the shit that they’re selling you. That's what "Shit Guitar" is about,” Egerton says.
Egerton’s refreshing approach to instruments was also informed by his time spent recording God Damn’s 2020 self-titled album with renowned Producer Sylvia Massy (System of a Down, Smashing Pumpkins, Deftones, Johnny Cash, REM, Slayer, Babes In Toyland, Tool). Working with Massy gave him the confidence to produce and engineer Raw Coward independently, and he reflects on the time he spent working with her warmly.
“It was Sylvia’s ethos and her ethics and her experimental approach that I liked. This is a woman who has got every piece of audio gear going; she's even got one of the Neve 8028 mixing desks that Dave Grohl made a movie about. She came to Wolverhampton and to Manchester to record with us, and bearing in mind she's got all of the world's microphones at her disposal, she said, 'the best microphone for you to use for your voice is an SM 58,' which is the standard, affordable microphone everyone uses at gigs. She was right.”
"All the outspoken bands that you hear on the radio, have you noticed they're watering down their lyrics? It's because they got the note that said, 'don't ruffle feathers, this is not going to get played.'”
This stripped back approach to recording undoubtedly shaped Raw Coward, but something which also shaped its sound and aesthetic was the introduction of two new band members. Rob Graham joined the group on additional guitar & vocals and Hannah Al-Shemmeri played keys and created the artwork too.
“Having Hannah in the band has had a huge influence on our recordl,” Egerton explains. “They're an artist in their own right and they do some fantastic paint work, sculptures, and glassblowing. Being around their spirit and raw nature meant that I could bring certain lyrics to the table. I remember showing Hannah "Shit Guitar" and asking, 'Is this a bit silly?' and they were like, 'No, that's fucking amazing, that's got to see the light of day.' I might not have done that if we were just a group of lads.”
The idea that things might seem too “silly” to write about, or in contrast that all art must have meaning feels pernicious for both fans and musicians. “Isn’t music supposed to be a form of escapism? Have we forgotten how to just have fun with it?” I ask Egerton. Does he personally think there are some things that should or shouldn’t be written about, whether they’re silly or serious?
“There's a thing in music where people are like, 'Oh, you can't say that. You can't sing about this,’” he begins. “I don't live in fear that I'm going to get cancelled, because I think there's some pretty fucking clear and fair rules to not getting cancelled, but there are still loads of buttons to press that are only going to offend the people who need to be offended by it. We're pissing off the right people. As God Damn we play this pretty bleak music, but we played a show the other day where we just smiled the whole way through. I think we're a weirdo band for fellow weirdos. We've got our little weirdo club and a weirdo path that we're going to follow now.”
Egerton elaborates on what he really means when he affectionately brands loyal God Damn fans as “weirdos”. “I think because I've got two autistic children, it's made me look at myself quite a lot. I'm definitely a bit ADHD and I'm definitely a little bit neurodivergent, and part of that for me is my obsession with when people are doing shit wrong; when people are being unfair or people are being mistreated. The fact that I seem to surround myself with other neurodivergent people, a lot of our fans are neurodivergent too. I mean, I'm not going around the crowd shouting 'you're autistic!' at people – that would get me cancelled - it's not that at all. It's just kind of like, 'Oh, these types of people show up for us and that kind of makes sense.'”
Having people show up and support the band after COVID-19 put a stop to live music for most of 2020 is something that took a while to get used to for Egerton and his bandmates. God Damn played a string of live dates across the UK in August and now they’re gearing up to play more shows in satellite towns across the country.
“Touring was quite nerve-wracking at first,” Egerton admits. “It felt like we were going out into the Wild West exposing ourselves to bullets. There was a good turnout at a lot of the shows though, and it was nice to see people singing along to our songs! I was expecting to see more people wearing masks, but that's their choice and everybody was super respectful. We had an active engaged crowd and it was really enjoyable. I think people maybe are over the initial buzz of 'you can go to gigs now' though. I don't know what to expect with this next tour. People still don't believe that things are going to go ahead.”
With his shit, tiny amp still in view behind him, Egerton signs off the call. For a man who has had his personal and professional limits tested to the max, he seems stronger, more content and more than ready to keep making authentic, LOUD records that push all the right buttons.