Interview with guitarist and vocalist Gordon Whyte
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: March 14, 2021
Head in a Jar is a 4-piece Crossover/Thrash Metal band from Sydney, Australia, that has been around since 2011. The band has released a couple of EPs and full-length albums that have all made them a bit more popular and well known. What is great about them, especially considering these tough Covid-19 times, is that the band brings joy and fun to Crossover/Thrash Metal by taking their music seriously but, themselves, not so much. You need a way to escape reality from time to time, right?
It was the band's second album, Free from the Fridge, that impressed the staff at The Metal Crypt. It made us curious and the only way to dig deeper was to arrange a conversation with the band. Gordon Whyte, the band's guitarist and vocalist, stepped up and filled us in with a lot of information about the band, how things got started, about their sources of inspiration and influences, the Covid-19 situation Down Under and so many other things.
GETTING BACK ON THE STAGES AGAIN
Hey there, Gordy? How's life Down Under? I understand you are still allowed to play gigs at least and bands have no restrictions for this type of activity despite the (awful) global pandemic situation...
Gordon: Hi Luxi! Thanks for having me. Yeah, we're back to playing gigs and restrictions have been pretty much lifted. For a while last year this was off the table like the rest of the world, but things seem to be returning to some semblance of normality. We played a couple of live stream shows last year and there was one live show that had to be seated but we've probably had some of the best opportunities to play live over the last year or so, which is lucky for us after we dropped the new album last year. Our plans to tour were scuppered (along with everyone else's) but at least we managed to play a few shows in some form.
Do you feel sort of privileged that you are able to play live concerts in Australia at the moment because as you know, it's simply not allowed in so many other parts of the world?
Gordon: Often we feel a little cut off from the rest of the word as the population is low and the cities are far apart in Australia, so I guess, for now at least, we're finally in a bit of a privileged position. Our isolation and low population aren't conducive to large turnouts at shows but did mean we were able to weather the Covid storm better than a lot of the rest of the world, so we are in something of a privileged position at the moment. It's about time!
How did Head in a Jar get started?
Gordon: I'd been interested in (and trying) to start a band since I was 15. The other guitarist and founding member of the band, Nick, and I had gone to primary school together but had lost touch. We got back together through a mutual friend to find that we'd both devolved into metalheads and realized we had a lot in common so that was the foundation of the band. An interest in heavy music, Thrash and horror movies got us together. We're also pretty good friends. Sometimes.
It's obvious that all of you love Thrash Metal and Crossover (at least on some level) and are like-minded people when it comes to getting along with each other and having some fun. Do you find Head in a Jar a good and welcome escape from your daily routines?
Gordon: While none of us in the band are particularly aggressive guys (just big nerds), playing Crossover/Thrash is definitely a good outlet creatively, aerobically and therapeutically. I think there is a certain amount of tension released through playing aggressive music and it's a good way to work some stuff out. It's also a great excuse to hang out with friends and play together.
B-MOVIE FLAVOUR ADDED TO THE NAME
How did you come up with the name Head in a Jar? Who gets the credit? Did you try to find as a crazy and goofy-sounding a name as possible to describe your music in the best possible way?
Gordon: Nick wrote a song called "Head in a Jar" and we were searching for a name for the band and decided to go with it after a plethora of other ridiculous suggestions. We felt like it had a nice B-Movie flavour to it, which encompassed our overall attitude toward life. Our motto has always been "take the music seriously, but not yourself" and we felt like Head in a Jar summed that up nicely. Plus, it's a cool image and has appeared on both our full-length album covers. A bit like our Eddie. Nick can take credit then... or blame.
Many people have mentioned S.O.D., D.R.I., Lawnmower Deth, Beastie Boys, System of a Down, Dead Kennedys, etc. as comparisons to your band. Do you agree?
Gordon: Most definitely. We're all massive, massive fans of most of these bands, some of us more than others but I'll get made fun of if I start talking about how I'm not as into System of a Down as much as some of the other guys. We're definitely all obsessed with D.R.I. and Dead Kennedys though and often argue over what the best albums are by each band (4 of a Kind and Fresh Fruit, obviously). I'd probably also liken our sound to a couple of other bands that we're big fans of, with Nuclear Assault and Gama Bomb being some examples. We also like Frank Zappa and Devo.
The band's second album, Free from the Fridge, was released on April 24, 2020. My sincere congratulations on this achievement! I am sure it felt pretty darn good to get your follow-up album recorded and released, right? Can you tell us why there was a gap of seven long years between the debut album and your latest baby?
I thought you were about to say, "My sincere commiserations" and I was going to say, "That's fair." Haha...!! We did put out an EP in between the two albums (and we've got another one to be recorded in March this year) but I think there were a few factors between albums. The first one took a long time to record, and we went through a few lineup changes in between—two bass players and a drummer. I think when we landed on the current lineup, we felt more confident in writing new material and presenting it to the band and we've been writing voraciously since. We have probably another album's worth of material written from the pandemic times but we are going to continue following the EP/LP/EP/LP pattern for now. EPs are a bit of a more relaxed affair to create and don't require as much of an attention span from the audience (or from us), so that's probably why it was a while between drinks. We'll hopefully have another full-length recorded next year, though. The writing, learning, rehearsing, recording process is quite long if you want to give the songs time to breathe but we seem to be in the swing of things now.
Back in the day, you had a bassist who actually came from Finland. His name was Onni "Hot Nuts" Hirvonen. Why did he decide to leave your troops? And "Hot Nuts..."? Where on earth did his nickname "Hot Nuts" come from?
Gordon: In Australia (I've been to Finland but I can't remember if they had them, I was too busy drinking Lapin Kulta) we have vending machines in pubs that will dispense hot nuts to you. We were in a bar with Onni (where he spent his time when he wasn't either completing his PhD or playing in Head in a Jar) and he was standing next to a Hot Nuts machine and Nick pointed and said, "Hot Nuts Hirvonen." The name stuck and I think he may be credited as that on subsequent albums he's appeared on with Excalion now that he's moved home. It started a trend where we give all subsequent members of Head in a Jar a nickname; "Whizz Kidd", "Sexual Eclipse" and "Dr Cyconovic."
Just to add to Onni's mythos, I met him at a urinal during a screening of the Big 4 concert at a local cinema. We bonded over our love of Megadeth. The rest is history.
A SENSE OF HUMOUR IS A GOOD THING TO HAVE
To promote your second album, you did a couple of videos and of course, a crazy sense of humour is always a big part of your videos as "Hell Beach" proves loud and clear. How important is humour in your music?
Gordon: The four of us are not serious guys and I don't entirely understand the need to be super serious and grim even though we love that stuff. The whole over-seriousness in music is almost comedy in itself and that's what's great about rock music in general—it's over-the-top and fun. I'm a big fan of comedy music anyway, especially Weird Al. As I said earlier, we take the music seriously but not ourselves, so it's fun to marry Thrash with comedy. It's all just about having fun. Plenty of other Thrash bands have done the same thing before us and we believe there's room for everything.
Who was responsible for all the ideas that can be seen in this video? One guy said after seeing the video, "God you guys are so sick...!!", which explains the level of (healthy and/or sick) humour that you guys have in the band, I guess.
Gordon: I believe it was our mates Belushi Speedball who made that comment. They're a similarly comedic band in the states that we've befriended online. As for the video, we had a big brainstorm and came up with a long list of beach-related gags to put in the video and ticked them off when it came to shooting them. If you know each member of the band you could probably tell who came up with what. Our mate Bryn played the dictator who ends up in Hell Beach and took everything like a trooper, especially pretending to be drowned and even drinking a can of sand. Staring in a Head in a Jar video is a dirty job but someone's gotta do it. Massive shout-out to Bryn.
Is it easy to transfer all this humour to your live shows? Do you do some wild and crazy things on stage?
Gordon: We do love a few theatrics on stage, but it always depends on how long we have and who we can get involved. Previous gags include stage invasions by rats or a dinosaur (we have songs along these themes) and a (kind of) real Head in a Jar that sits at the front of the stage staring at the audience with flashing eyes. We tend to try to be as funny as possible between songs, sometimes succeeding and sometimes not. A few other gags have been playing unsuitable covers, dressing up as the characters from Friends and covering ourselves in green slime. Once, Nick did a striptease but that was more sensual than funny.
100% LIVE BAND
How important is it for the band to play live from time to time?
Gordon: We ultimately see ourselves as a live band as that's what Rock music is all about. We have very few songs that haven't been played live as they're all arranged to be played live by the band. Playing live is the best part of being in a band and recording is a much different beast. We also enjoy making videos (like our half-hour Halloween special) but playing live is definitely where it's at.
Do you feel an urgent need to play outside Australia or are you completely happy and satisfied with conquering new shores Down Under only?
Gordon: We had big plans to tour overseas for the release of our latest album, Free from the Fridge, but, as you know, Covid-19 got in the way. It'll happen but it just depends on when. In the meantime, we're planning to conquer Australia when we can rely on traveling interstate. Hopefully that'll happen sooner than later. Technically, Onni and I very drunkenly played an open-mic night in Jyväskylä a few years ago so maybe that counts as a mini-tour?
Do you think too many Thrash Metal and Crossover bands take things too seriously nowadays, singing about very serious topics and stuff? I mean, this world needs more bands like Head in a Jar so that people are not constantly reminded of all the "ugly" things around us because as you surely have noticed by yourself, we are living through very crazy and strange times indeed...
Gordon: There's room for both and many bands deal with both, including us. We comment politically in some songs but dress it up as satire and comedy. At other times we just have fun. If you take a band like Nuclear Assault, they have very serious songs that deal with big issues that are still relevant today but at the same time they have tracks like "Funky Noise" or "Hang the Pope", which don't take themselves as seriously. Plenty of bands that we love do this like Sacred Reich, Sodom, D.R.I., Gama Bomb. There's room for everything in Thrash Metal and it's great to hear both. The only problem is people judging one another on whether a band is good/relevant because one band might present themselves as sillier than the other. I don't have time for that because I love some super-serious bands. I love the silly ones too. Who always wants the same flavour all the time? That said, a little bit of fun and escapism never goes amiss, and the world can be dark sometimes. That's why you can enjoy watching Schindler's List and Space Balls for different reasons.
BEING DIY GIVES YOU MORE FREEDOM
Many bands are releasing stuff on their own nowadays to have better control over their stuff and without pressure from outsiders. Does this method suit you guys or are you keeping your eyes open to find a suitable record label so that you have more time to concentrate on creating new music?
Gordon: This is a really good question and one I've grappled with. Being completely DIY is great for complete control. You can do whatever you want, including doing nothing. It can also be fun to take part in every step of the process; writing, recording, raising money, booking shows, promo etc. That said, I'd love to be able to have someone that took some of that away. While I love it when people buy our stuff, I don't like spending an hour at the post office filling out custom forms. I don't really like putting lots of work into social media posts and videos and then having them not be seen by anyone because we can't afford to sponsor everything we post. I think the ultimate for us would be to be able to have the band cover itself cost-wise; rehearsal spaces, recording, promo etc. I love doing all the graphics and design and promotion and I love writing, rehearsing and playing music but as a I said there are a few things I'd like taken care of such as money and distribution. Hit us up if you feel like taking care of these things for us!
The future is very hard to predict but let me ask this anyway; What are some short-term plans for your band? What about some long-term plans?
Gordon: We're going into the studio this month (March 2021) to record our follow-up EP to our 2020 album Free from the Fridge. It's going to have four tracks and, if I say so myself, they're really good. We also have our 10th Anniversary show this Saturday night in a town just south of Sydney and that's shaping up to be pretty big. Other than that, we'll be working on the mix and artwork for the EP, writing new material, shooting music videos, and hopefully organizing a tour and arranging our next full-length album by the end of the year. We like to keep busy. Hopefully a few more shows here and there if things start picking up post-Covid-19.
HARD MEN IN ACTION
OK, I have one last question left for you in this chat and then I will let you go for one (or two?) sophisticated Jagerbombs (w/ice). If Head in a Jar took a role in one of the famous and most iconic Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, what role would it be?
Gordon: I hope you don't mind if I hijack this question. I'm a big fan of what I call "Hard Man" movies and have an extensive collection of them on VHS. It's a weird obsession and one that has inspired a song on our new EP, "Fatal Error!" I'm not that big of an Arnie fan so I'm going to put each of us in other Hard Man film roles. Nick would be Rambo having a breakdown at the end of First Blood. Adrian would be Steven Seagal in Above the Law, Marcus would be Bruce Lee in Way of the Dragon and me? I've gotta be Jean Claude van Damme in Sudden Death. I hope that answers your question in a weird way (Haha... it certainly does—Luxi).
I would like to thank you for getting this interview done and in the very same breath, wish you all the best with all future endeavors with the band. May there be some pleasant surprises for you and your band. To wrap this conversation up, feel free to spit out some closing comments, curses, whatever really... The stage is yours, Gordy! ;o)
Gordon: Thanks for all the great and well-researched questions, Luxi! They were really fun to answer! Keep in touch and I hope you can give us another good review when our new EP is out later in the year! As for taking the stage—check us out on Facebook, Instagram, Spotify and Bandcamp! Buy our stuff! Stay weird! Thrash 'til death!
|Other information about Head in a Jar on this site|
|Review: Free from the Fridge|
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