Their band name may imply the ending of sight, but a whole new awakening is taking place for Manchester punk rockers Dead Retinas.
Latest EP Divine, released in November, marks the beginning of a new era for the band, being the first with new bassist Chris Gaduzo on board. That addition saw Chris ‘CJ’ Smith move to lead vocals, alongside yet another Chris (Chris Heath) on drums, and the only non-Chris Jack Thompson on guitar, who, along with CJ, is the sole remaining original member of the band.
And, as CJ explains, Chris G’s addition has had a significant impact on Dead Retinas – which, apparently, comes from the commentary track on Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s film Paul. He told us: “Bringing Chris Gaduzo in on bass completely changed the writing and recording process. The result is that Divine is an EP driven by the bass, which for us has never happened before.
“A lot of our early stuff was very guitar focused mainly because at the time Jack was the more technically skilled musician. Now with both Chris’s matching that level, it’s given us more room to experiment with how it should. It’s definitely the EP we’re most proud of releasing.”
The fast and furious punks describe their sound as an “Amalgamation of Sin,” which perfectly summarises the wildness of the quartet. As CJ expands: “Although we describe ourselves as Hardcore Punk that’s never been the sole intention, we just want to write good music. If I had to describe it, it’s raw aggression steeped in personal conflict. A lot of the musical elements jockey for position to grab the spotlight.”
There’s no messing about with the EP, as it dives straight into big screamed vocals in the intro to Gold in Monochrome over a low bassline, booming drums and eventually high-pitched guitars that launch into a fast-paced rolling riff. The high-pitched guitars return over wild drums then cheeky little breakdowns as the barrage of screamed vocals pound away relentlessly. Check it out below:
You Go Glen Coco opens up with a cool riff over more pounding drums, then a big bassline kicks underneath and continues under a mass of punky screamed opening vocals. The opening riff comes in for a chorus of savage screamed vocals, followed by some doomy bass notes under screechy guitars. Check it out in the video below:
The EP closes with An Exercise In Bad Taste, which features another cool rolling riff under yet more relentless vocals. The punky romp takes a brief pause for breath with a sole chugging bassline, throat-corroding screams then a smash of heavy guitars under wild screams. A delicious ending to a short and sweet, fantastically frantic EP.
Band members enjoy a wide range of influences, with Fucked Up the basis for CJ’s personal stage show, post-gig playlists consisting of soul and folk, and the band going to see Run The Jewels together.
But on what inspires them to write music CJ, who tells us he’s learning the splits with some success, which is – he tells us! – impressive for a 6’3″ 25-stone man, explains: “Instrumentally, we used to ride the spontaneity train and write songs with whatever we’ve just come up with. It’s only with the change of line-up have we had a solid writing process of composing parts and editing out unnecessary notes and flourishes. We’ve also had the time to go through ideas throughout the band’s career to pick out little moments of inspiration and develop them into a more solid structure.
“I also think we’ve learned to speak up as individuals when we don’t like something, there’s been a growing discard pile of unfinished ideas we didn’t want or need to pursue. With Doom and Stoner music so popular within the Manchester music scene, a little bit of that has rubbed off on us, and though I wouldn’t ever consider us under those genres we’d still like to explore what makes those genres interesting, Doom in particular.
While the band’s lyrics are entirely a personal affair. As CJ tells us: “I write a lot about my own personal view of the world. It’s a world not many people will ever come across, but certain songs will make a lot of sense after a good listen. You Go Glen Coco is about my own personal battle with mental health, and the fact I couldn’t escape it, because 90% of people I know were or are medicated for mental health conditions.
“An Exercise in Bad Taste is about my own personal fascination with fetishism, particularly within the LGBT community, and my reluctance to experiment or feel ashamed of trying more, despite being part of a culture where it’s literally a part of everyday life. The name of the song is the tagline from John Waters’ Pink Flamingos.”
“Gold in Monochrome is about never amounting to anything important, and those that do will judge you for everything you’ve ever tried to achieve. It becomes more real in people’s everyday lives when you look for just a second. To be rich is a lottery. To be popular is a lottery. Whether it’s matching all those numbers or being born into the right household with the right genes, or the right looks. It’s lonely at the bottom, despite being the most populated. The pressure builds and the back breaks under that pressure.”
The band are already hard at work on a follow-up to Divine, which CJ tells us is exploring some even more fascinating topics: “I’ve been exploring abusive relationships: people stripped of human rights for no reason but a lack of understanding, all through the eyes of friends who have been affected by it. Most of the stories in my own lyrics are true stories that aren’t a direct representation but are rather aimed at providing a platform without identifying the gender, race or sexual orientation attached to it.”
You can see Dead Retinas play at Metal 2 The Masses at Rebellion in Manchester on 27 January. And CJ tells us live shows are when Dead Retinas at their very best. He said: “It’s a dysfunctional brotherhood, but all the parts create a well-oiled machine. Live performances are sort of where our heads come together, we’ve focused on the live performance for so long it seems weird to be writing new material.
“Since the current line up’s first show together we’ve been tweaking and changing the live aesthetic and staging, working on transitions, how we interact with the crowd, the little nods and nudges you see when bands communicate on stage. Ultimately we’re performers, people buy tickets and merch, come down and see us perform, we want to put on a show they’d remember. That’s the driving force for us.”