Interview: Dan Heathcote
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What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
My Dad had Pink Floyd on vinyl growing up. I was fascinated by Dark Side of The Moon and The Final Cut in particular, the lyrics and the spacey guitar sound. It wasn't till I started buying records myself in 1991 when I heard Nirvana's Nevermind and U2's Aching Baby that I got really hooked on music. I started playing guitar in 1996, having seen a Radiohead concert in Nottingham on The Bends tour. The atmosphere was electric, and it was an outpouring of emotion, total escapism. Then a few years after starting to learn chords, Jeff Buckley's death in 1997 and posthumous album Sketches For My Sweet Heart The Drunk a year later confirmed what I was starting to realise. I wanted to be a song writer no matter what. I was always into writing at school mainly poetry. Having studied William Blake, he wrote in such powerful and sensual language, I related to the angel references and the idea of an unseen hidden world. The world inside of us, the world of feeling and dreams. All of these things seemed to suggest it was possible for me to blaze my own trail with my imagination, pouring that into my writing and singing and playing. If I wasn't a musician, I would probably be a writer. I did some work experience at the Independent newspaper, and was interested briefly in becoming a journalist, but the reality of that job, was you had to write stories about celebrities, and it wasn't fictional or meaningful. Fictional characters are way more interesting as are other possible worlds other than the British media circus.
What do you like to do when your not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
I love to read and watch films, I write notes as I go which becomes poetry that then feeds back into the lyrics in songs. I write abstract and stream of consciousness style. The themes of films and books resonate long after I've watch them and I see imagery in my mind's eye. I kind of write about feelings and atmospheres, psychic landscapes. There is a lot of symbolism in my work and it plays on the mythical and subconscious. In a way I'm always working whilst always escaping as well, the two things are intertwined because I enjoy being creative. I have developed a unique turn of phrase, having read different authors. Film soundtracks are great too, very inspiring.
How long has your band been around?
My band Zadkiel has been around since 2002, there have been various line up changes, but it's still going with new people playing the newer songs and the existing body of work. Zadkiel have done 2 Eps (Inverted Heaven and The Ethereal Fear) and an album The Saturn Return in 2011. Before that I was in a band called Endorphin initially with my brother on bass, he's moved to Germany but remains one of my biggest fans. I'm just about to release my first solo album Limbic System on CD in August this year.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I'm based in Nottingham in England. There's not much of a scene here at present, but we are close to Sheffield which is an hour away and has a alternative/progressive rock scene which I feel more connected to. I originally grew up in Mansfield which had even less of a scene and was seemed quite isolated from the rest of the world. I went to music college in Nottingham and studied a BTEC in Popular music and a HND in music performance. I met some good friends and other musicians through that. In particular I met my producer Doug Robson who recorded some of the Zadkiel records. The first Zadkiel record was recorded at Clarendon the college one summer.
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you.
Zadkiel is named after an Archangel. There are 7 apparently. I saw the name written in a book on Reiki that my mum had. She is a Reiki Healer. Zadkiel's name means Angel of Freedom and Justice. Two concepts I believe in strongly. As for Angels, I'm not sure if I believe in them totally, but it is possible. Anything is possible. The sound of the band is very ethereal and otherworldly so it just fit the sound of the music.
Tell me about the best and worst shows you have played.
The best shows, one was in front of a A&R scout from Mother Records / Palm Pictures in Sheffield in 2000 as Endorphin. I ended up becoming friends with that person for a while receiving records from other acts on the label. It didn't pan out though and they moved away. We played Sheffield Boardwalk that night which has now closed. Probably the worst one was when Endorphin split up and we played London The Hope and Anchor (where Joy Division played their first London gig) I tried to smash my guitar and it wouldn't break, because I was so upset we were breaking up. After that most of the Zadkiel gigs have felt good. The best ones have been in our spiritual home of Sheffield. In particular at Sheffield West Street Live, which is currently my favourite venue. We've play there quite a bit.
Tell me about your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you haven't already?
Sheffield West Street Live is owned by some friends in a band called Awooga who are doing quite well on the modern Prog scene. There are lots of great bands from that place. I've played alongside some talented singer songwriters there too. It just has the right atmosphere and the crowd are usually into it whatever is on. There was a venue in Nottingham I liked called The Maze, which shut down recently. It sort of lost it's way but was a great place with good sound for upcoming bands.
If you could play any show with any lineup who would be on the ticket?
That's an interesting question. I'd love to support Radiohead. Sargent House with the likes of female artists such as Chelsea Wolfe, Emma Ruth Rundle and Lingua Ignota are my favourite new label. Swans would be an incredible experience too, I was going to see them in London at a venue called Earth before they cancelled due to Covid.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band?
Be yourself. Use your influences as inspiration, but realise what you want to say and work on original sounding stuff. There is no limit in imagination. If you can put the work into being better on your instrument that will take time, it is worth it though. You don't have to be a virtuoso to be a good musician though, punk is just as important as proficiency.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
There is no time machine, but music is timeless. Keep going, find the right people, trust yourself, express yourself, don't be afraid. Once you've finished a record, nobody can take that away from you. It's a moment in time, it can live on but don't rest on your laurels.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
Ghost In The Machine. Probably or Dragons. Dragons was the first recorded Zadkiel track that opened up a new world to me of what was possible in the studio with my music. It's trippy and dreamy. It has the line "Slay The Demon, the Parasite of Paradise". It was a breakthrough, there were demons to overcome, and that was the moment it started to happen. Ghost is more of a redemptive love song... "You are regeneration, and you know I've been aching for you." and also the hopeful ending "The gloom will be pierced and the doomed will rejoice". It's quasi-religious. Mindslayer from The Saturn Return album pushed the boundaries with a 12/8 to 5/4 time signature change, and it has the over 80,000 plays and 30,000 downloads on a royalty free music site called Jamendo.com
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
We don't really do requests. Astral Lady is probably the one that does get asked for most because it is a bit more of straight forward narrative with an uplifting feel through out. It was an Endorphin song before I rerecorded it will Zadkiel as well, so it's an oldie but a Goldie.
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
With the band on our latest record Transient Resurrection (which is finished and yet to be released) The songs for that some were co written musically.. (Hypersleep, Propaganda and Artifacts) A couple were written by me (Sephiroth and Dove) and one was written musically by our Guitarist George Beedle. That was a longer more heavier track called Behemoth. Most of the songs are written by myself and brought into the band, a few of the tracks are musically written by George. I write most of the lyrics, with a few lines of his that I also sing on some stuff. In terms of inspiration, the lyrics themselves and new ideas musically inspire the songs. Sometimes it can be a scale or chord progression, other times a rhythm or playing in an usual time signature.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
The main messages in the songs are Life is short, and sometimes brutally so. There are times I urge people to make the most of now and live your dreams as best you can because of time being in short supply. There is hope too, references to heaven, whether that is real or not. It's again a possibility. Also fighting demons and monsters in songs, as a metaphor for overcoming your real problems. Some of it is abstract and like a dream or nightmare. Life is both in my opinion. And if heaven can exist then so could hell. Sometimes I write about non-existence too. I tend to try and capture the strange and fantastical..there is an escapist element.. some of the places in my songs you might not want to go to, but they help put this experience into more perspective.
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?
Sometimes but not often. This is because the guys come up with their own parts as they see fit to fit into the songs and that either works or it doesn't. Most of the time it works as is with little need to change anything radically. There have been issues to do with money for rent before in the past with previous members, but me and the guitar player are both well off enough now to keep the bills paid and the lights on in the rehearsal space. We are both ok with that for the time being.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that's coming up?
Zadkiel have just got back together in the studio after a hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic. We are trying out new songs ready to record a 2nd album at some point in the not too distant future. We have recorded with Doug Robson in the past for free, but are going probably pay to work with some one next time as he is busy with fatherhood. Hopefully we will play live next year once we've begun the process a bit more. We have a new Ep called Transient Resurrection that is waiting in the wings to be released also probably next year after playing some more shows. In terms of what is next for me, I am about to release my first solo acoustic album on CD in August. The album is called Limbic System and is raw and stripped down. It is out online already via my Dan Heathcote bandcamp page. I have also recently released a music video for the first single called Hive Mind.