Satan's Satyrs Make Music to 'Die Screaming' For
Also, their bass player is in Electric Wizard.
Staggering out of Herndon, Virginia, like a six-legged razorback high on blood and gas fumes, Satan’s Satyrs ply the kind of doom-fuzz domination and full-tilt horror boogie that exists about a million miles outside the realm of giving a fuck. Teenage mastermind Clayton Burgess recorded and played every instrument on the band’s 2012 debut, Wild Beyond Belief!, while he was still in high school. Inspired by Blue Cheer, Electric Wizard and a slew of sleazy 60s/70s cult biker flicks like The Glory Stompers, Werewolves On Wheels and Satan’s Sadists, Burgess eventually found kindred spirits in guitarist Jarrett Nettnin and drummer Stephen Fairchild, who joined the SS fold in time to appear on last year’s Hammond-drenched brain-boiler Die Screaming. After being invited to play Holland’s prestigious Roadburn festival by Electric Wizard (who were helping to curate) in 2013, the Satyrs exploded into the public’s watery, bloodshot eye and Burgess was swiftly enlisted as the Wizard’s new bass player. We tracked him down at a house in idyllic Cornwall, England, where Burgess was visiting between EW rehearsals for a handful of upcoming Euro festivals.
Noisey: Satan’s Satyrs recently supported Electric Wizard on a US tour, so you were pulling double duty. Playing two sets a night must’ve been exhausting by the end.
Clayton Burgess: By the end, I felt like I could’ve done another full tour. It was exhilarating for me, despite the fact that I was playing two shows a night. But really, that wasn’t the hard part. In some ways it just felt like one long show because we played back to back. The hard part was what you might expect—the traveling, trying to get some sleep, that kind of thing. But actually performing was exhilarating because you get a boost of energy. Every show was sold out and you just have these rabid fans there. It’s easy when you have a crowd giving off that kind of energy. So it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be.
Jus Oborn of Electric Wizard handpicked Satan’s Satyrs to play Roadburn when he helped to curate part of the festival in 2013. Is that how you ended up in Electric Wizard? Was it as simple as that?
I guess that was basically where the seed was planted. Of course, with Electric Wizard nothing is overnight. But how I introduced Electric Wizard to Satan’s Satyrs was back in the day, when the band first started in 2010, I just mailed them our demo tape. It was totally unsolicited by them. They had no idea who we were. I just sent it to them because they were a huge influence. That’s how Jus and [Wizard guitarist] Liz [Buckingham] heard about us. A couple of years later, the Roadburn thing came around and we kept in touch. At the end of 2013, they were like, “Hey, we need a bass player. Do you want to audition?” And I was thinking, “Yeah, right. Whatever.” I figured they were kidding around. But definitely they were already fans of Satan’s Satyrs. I think after they saw me perform live as a bass player, that put the idea in their head. So at the end of the year, I flew over to audition.
What an amazing opportunity for a guy in a band so heavily influenced by Electric Wizard.
It certainly was, yeah. When we first started Satan’s Satyrs, we were always listening to Electric Wizard. So it was surreal to be asked. Not to sound arrogant or anything, but I kind of understood why. It felt like I was ready for it. When I went over to audition, I felt confident about playing. But at the same time, I was just blown away, like, “How did this happen?” How did I go from having Witchcult Today in my ears every day on the way to school to auditioning in their rehearsal space in Somerset, England, you know? [Laughs] It was strange and surreal, but I’m glad they asked.
Do you know how many other bass players you beat out for the job?
I’m not sure how many, but I know there were others. It was maybe a slow process. They’re very particular about who is right for the band, so I’m just glad I fit the puzzle. But it’s not like they were having open auditions and there was a line around the block. They’re very secretive about those things.
It makes sense that they chose you. Satan’s Satyrs and Electric Wizard seem to share a similar sonic-overload mentality. And both bands conjure a specific atmosphere and enjoy the same exploitation and Hammer-horror type films.
Yeah, certainly. I kind of developed my interests from getting Witchcult Today when I was 14 and then getting all the rest of the albums from there on. When Satan’s Satyrs did our first demo tape, we had nothing to lose. It was like, “Hey, let’s just pay tribute to Electric Wizard” in a way. We weren’t trying to reinvent the wheel. We wanted to do what we like, but maybe do our own take on it. They were a huge influence in the beginning—I can’t understate that—certainly with the horror-movie aesthetic and evil atmosphere.
Speaking of movies, Satan’s Satyrs was named after the 1969 biker flick Satan’s Sadists, starring Russ Tamblyn—later of Twin Peaks fame. Was there anything in particular about that movie that spoke to you, or did you just like the name?
It still is one of my favorites in the biker genre. It was one of the top films of its era, I’d say. I like the lawlessness of it. It’s a peculiar film. It’s not very good, per se, but I guess “good” is subjective, really. I like the desolation of it, and the freedom of what it would be like to be in a biker gang, riding around the desert and being up to no good. That was enough to spark off my mind and influence me to do a band with those themes in mind. It’s just a down-and-dirty film. It’s pretty outrageous, and that’s what I wanted to do with Satan’s Satyrs at first. That was a B movie, and I wanted to make B music, something that exists within itself and doesn’t really answer to social norms or etiquette or correctness. I wanted to create a band you could escape into like that. I really dig that film. Good soundtrack, too.
Which other biker flicks are you into? I imagine movies like Stone and Psychomania are favorites.
Certainly, yeah. I was watching lots of biker movies when I started the band. I didn’t really want to start a “biker band,” but that was what I was into so I had to express it. I’d say the top contender, besides Satan’s Sadists, is Werewolves On Wheels. That movie was partly an influence on the name as well because I chose “Satyrs” to give it a bestial element inspired by Werewolves On Wheels. It’s a really good movie, actually. Everyone who sees it for the first time says, “Where are the werewolves on wheels?” But that’s almost beside the point if you watch it enough. It’s a really good biker film and it’s got horror elements. That film was a big influence.
It also has a cool soundtrack.
Oh, yeah. It’s really good for driving in the desert when we’re on tour. We always put that on when we’re driving through Texas because it has those kinds of vibes—desolate, big open spaces. That’s what I like about biker films in general, actually—they showed this side of America that I could only fantasize about, really, because I hadn’t been out into the deserts to explore. I liked the idea of the desolation, the emptiness, of being on the outskirts. That was a theme I picked up on in the biker films. I still enjoy that, and I still watch the films.
Easy Rider seems like the obvious gateway drug for those movies.
Yeah, The Glory Stompers is another good one. Dennis Hopper is in it, and I think it pre-dates Easy Rider by about two years. It’s one of those American International biker films, and it’s so sleazy and grimy. Dennis Hopper is so convincing as this horrible bastard of a bike gang leader. I just really dig it. But even before I started watching the biker films, I listened to the soundtracks, particularly anything Davie Allan and the Arrows did. They did a lot of the American International soundtracks, like Wild Angels, Devil’s Angels, The Glory Stompers. I love the fuzz guitar. That was a big influence on me—these crazy fuzz guitar tracks that were so dirty and mean sounding. And from there I had to check out the films. So a lot of that was happening when I was 16 years old, when the band first started. I was already into bands like Pentagram and Witchfinder General and Sabbath and Wizard, of course, so those elements kind of formed the nucleus of Satan’s Satyrs as just a couple of teenagers making a demo tape.
You wrote some of the earliest Satan’s Satyrs material with someone identified only as “the Ghoul.” What can you tell us about him?
Well, I might as well keep him mysterious because nobody knows who he is and it’s probably better that way. That’s not a knock on him as a person, but let’s keep a little mystery here. [Laughs] He was just a friend from high school. We’d been jamming around a little bit and we were both into Black Flag and we were both into Sabbath. We were listening and buying Pentagram and Electric Wizard records together. During one summer break we decided to write some songs. And that was it, really. So we co-wrote a couple tracks, but eventually we kind of parted ways. I continued on, and at one point it was just me. I just had to carry the torch on for myself, because I was really dedicated to this vision of the band.
What is the Ghoul up to now?
[Laughs] Shit, I don’t know. He’s moved away from Virginia, but we just saw him on tour. I don’t think he’s doing any bands or anything, but he’s doing okay. He’s still a friend of mine. But he’s mysterious, let’s put it that way.
So you parted ways with the Ghoul and recorded the Wild Beyond Belief! album by yourself.
Yeah, I did everything myself. I was a senior in high school. I was going to graduate in a few months, and my goal was to get the album done before I graduated. I didn’t end up finishing it until a couple of months after graduation, but I was determined at that time. I started it when I was 17 and finished after I turned 18. It took a long time because I played all the instruments myself. Drumming is hard for me, so that took a while, but I think the whole thing took about three months between school and graduating and everything. I just remember being totally obsessed with doing a record by myself. I don’t feel that way now, but at the time I was the loner in high school and it was like, “Fuck the world, fuck graduating high school. I need to do this before I turn 18 and it’s all over.” Because when you reach 18, you’re an old geezer. [Laughs] That’s what I thought at the time. But I think you can hear the youthful energy on that record. It definitely has all the bombast of a snotty teenager.
At some point after Wild Beyond Belief!, you found the guys who are in the band now and who played on Die Screaming. What was that process like?
Well, it was a bit of a process. I did Wild Beyond Belief!, but before it came out in the summer of 2012, I was talking with my friend Jarrett [Nettnin], who I went to high school with. We were sharing music with each other and so I asked him to come play with me in Satyrs. Me and him were jamming for a while, and then he brought Stephen [Fairfield] into the picture, and he became our drummer. Stephen went to the same high school as us—we all grew up within two minutes of each other—so by early 2012, the trio was finalized. That was good for me, because I always wanted a power trio, like Blue Cheer or something like that. A year later, we were rehearsing two sets for Roadburn and we were already writing Die Screaming.
At Roadburn, you played a proper Satan’s Satyrs set and a set of Blue Cheer covers.
Yeah, talk about being obsessed. Walter from Roadburn asked us to do that. Of course we were down for it—Blue Cheer is a huge influence. Between the three of us, they’re one of our favorite groups. Those first two records are “put it on anytime” kind of records. We’re always in the mood for Blue Cheer. But the rehearsals for Roadburn were heavy duty, man. We’d do a rehearsal during the day for the Satyrs set and then we’d do one late at night for the Blue Cheer set. And we were rehearsing three or possibly four times a week. I don’t know how we did it. But we were just so focused on making an impact at Roadburn.
I understand you’ve got a third Satyrs record in the can.
Yeah, we recorded it in February in Nashville. It’s about to be mastered. We’re just putting the little bits and bobs together—artwork and that sort of thing—but it will be out this year. Same lineup as Die Screaming, but it’s different for sure. It’s more stripped down, more raw, and definitely heavier. I like the old records, but I feel like we’ve finally locked into this vibe that’s the Satan’s Satyrs I wanna hear. It’s going to be eight or nine tracks, depending on what we can fit, and it varies from punchy numbers to long numbers. It’s a well-rounded album, I’d say. We really made sure to give each track its own vibe. We don’t have a set release date yet, but I think we’re shooting for August or September. I’m practically giddy about this. Can’t you hear it in my voice? [Laughs] Shit, man. I wish it were out now so everyone could hear it.
J. Bennett plays guitar in Ides Of Gemini. His favorite biker movie is the original Mad Max.