Amazing Snakeheads on James Brown and Rowdy Live Shows

Kenneth Partridge

By Kenneth Partridge

on 08.04.14 in Features

File under: Gothy, bluesy, Tarantino-esque punk ‘n’ skronk
For fans of: The Birthday Party, Tom Waits, the Cramps
From: Glasgow, Scotland
Personae: Dale Barclay (vocals, guitar), Andrew Pattie (saxophone, keyboards), Scott Duff (drums)

The Amazing Snakeheads are nocturnal creatures. They recorded their debut album, Amphetamine Ballads, in a series of overnight sessions, and the record opens with a song called “I’m a Vampire,” a savage lounge-punk workout that sounds best after sundown. After that comes “Nighttime” — a creeping, clanging blues anthem. Two songs later, we get “Here It Comes Again,” on which frontman Dale Barclay transforms into a werewolf before our very ears.

Speaking by phone well after dark — naturally — Barclay chatted about his influences, his love of performing, and the recent departure of bassist William Coombe and drummer Jordon Hutchinson, his partners since the beginning.

On what happened with his former bandmates:

It went very badly. We fell out. I’m not too keen on giving any detail. I’m sorry. Things just went bad really quickly. That’s what happens. Shit happens. You’ve just got to deal with it, and I dealt with it. That’s all I can really say. It’s shit. It’s really heartbreaking. But there’s nothing more I could have done. It’s still pretty fucking raw. I want to keep it as private as I can. It’s a shit situation because they’re my best friends. It wasn’t just being in a band with people you don’t know. I lost my best friends. It’s fucking heartbreaking.

On being partial to American music:

Rock ‘n’ roll is American music. So I’m playing American music. I’ve always been fascinated by America, and by the music that’s come out of America. If you look at the music that America has given the world in [the past] hundred years alone, it’s absolutely fascinating how so much can come out of one place, even though it’s a vast country. If you’re gonna play rock ‘n’ roll, you’ve got to know where it comes from. It’s my life’s ambition to visit Stax. I know it’s not the original one, but I’d love to go to the Stax museum. I’d like to go to Graceland, but I’d like to visit Stax more. I’d like to go to Detroit as well, the home of Motown.

‘You’ve got to go on stage and go for it with every ounce of yourself. I think that’s something James Brown did.’

On his go-to party record at 2 a.m.:

It’s got to be James Brown, Live at the Apollo. Play that on a Saturday night, and everybody’s moving. What’s not to love? James Brown has always been a touchstone, kind of a high-water mark of what you can do on stage. When you see the [live] footage of James Brown, particularly when he was at his peak, it was unrivaled energy. What’s happening on stage was unparalleled. And that’s always been my thing: You’ve got a stage — what are you gonna do on it? How much energy are you gonna put into it? You’ve got to go on stage and go for it with every ounce of yourself. I think that’s something James Brown did.

On whether the lunatic on stage is the real Dale:

All I can really say is, I don’t feel in any way at ease until I’m on stage. It takes me going on a stage and playing rock ‘n’ roll to actually feel good about myself. That’s why I do it. Every time I go on stage, I actually feel at home. I actually feel good. I actually feel like I have a purpose in life. That’s the only reason I do it. When a song goes really well, that feeling I get really does make me feel I have a purpose. Even though there is no meaning to this life, maybe there’ll be some meaning. Playing live is absolutely vital for me to function as a human being.

On how long it takes for his shirt to come off during a show:

I go on with it off now. I go on with no top now. I used to wear some nice shirts, but I just go bare-chested.

On whether the Amazing Snakeheads have started a riot:

Occasionally there’ll be a fight, but generally, people come to our shows to get down. Everyone’s got good energy. Sometimes it might not look safe, but it’s really positive. There’s a lot of joy when we play. It’s tangible. You can fucking taste it, man. It’s a special thing when you get live music right — when you make it work, and you put the energy out, and you get it back. It’s fucking incredible.

On whether there’s been a backlash from the British press:

Nah, man. I couldn’t give a fuck. I really hoped people wouldn’t like my band. It’s more strange to me that people actually liked it. I never thought anyone would. I’m more comfortable with people not liking what I do than with people liking it. It’s a bit of a mindfuck when people actually dig it.

On the band’s loungy, rockabilly-gangster look:

Some people make a big deal about it, but that’s just how we dress, man. I like to look fucking sharp. Especially if I’m playing. Again, it’s going back to rock ‘n’ roll. You go way back, all these cats — Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley — they knew you’ve got to have the fucking music, but if you’re gonna go on stage, you’d better look sharp.