WITH so much tension emerging in the…
political arenas of the U.K. and U.S.; it is only natural musicians would want their say. Akiva are based in Bedfordshire - and are one of the most intriguing and engaged bands around. I ask them about their new single, M.O.D., and the connection it has to the Ministry of Defence’s ‘Be the Best’ slogan – and how they feel about that. The guys discuss their feelings about President Trump and recruitment of military personnel; whether the world is in stable hands – and why they have been compelled to react.
They chat about their musical idols and how Akiva formed; the story behind M.O.D’s awesome animated video; what comes next for them – whether there will be more material surfacing very soon.
Hi, guys. How are you? How has your week been?
All good, thanks. Been a good week.
Our new single, M.O.D’s been getting some good feedback - so we’re all pretty happy.
For those new to your work; can you introduce yourself, please?
Yep. We’re Akiva; a four-piece Electro-Indie outfit from Bedfordshire. We’re into analogue synth. loops; drum-beats with a groove; rolling basslines; Stones-y guitar sounds and big choruses. Our sound was probably originally inspired by all that Electro-Indie crossover stuff that came out of the nineties: The Charlatans, Primal Scream; Unkle; Black Grape; Doves, Stereo MC’s etc. – and, also more recently, the likes of The Horrors, Jamie T and Beyond The Wizards Sleeve. We’re also big fans of trying to use music to get a message across - particularly in the volatile climate we currently live in.
We were recently described as ‘George Orwell-meets-The Killers’ - which is not far off.
Tell me about M.O.D. and the inspiration behind the song?
M.O.D. was originally written when we had that massive spate of soldiers being sent back from Afghanistan in coffins and paraded through Wooten Basset. At the time, it felt like it was happening almost every other day. There was a massive amount of respect shown for them by the public - and it was pretty emotional stuff to watch on the news every night. The tragedy of it was that it felt like all of those deaths were completely avoidable and unnecessary - particularly, in light of the fact that that war doesn’t seem to have achieved anything...
Talk to me about the video and the animations employed. Was that quite tough to put together?
Yes, but we don’t get to take any of the credit for that part!
We hooked up with an animator called Wayne McCauslin to put the video together. We put an early release of the track out to a load of music video-makers and animators - and Wayne came back with a really powerful pitch that we instantly loved. He completely understood the song, the message; our taste in music and what we’re generally about. We loved some of the stuff he’d done before, too. We’d play his other videos with the sound turned down and stick our tracks over the top - and it just felt like whatever he did would fit with our music.
We spent a couple of months going back and forwards with Wayne’s ideas and our feedback - but we didn’t really ask him to change anything he came up with. He got it right from the beginning, so we just went completely with his vision. We think he did an amazing job. It’s funny: it feels like we’ve known him for ages now, although we’ve never actually met or even spoken on the phone as everything was done by email (he lives in Germany and we’re in England).
It’ll be funny when we do finally meet up (I haven’t even got any idea what his accent is…).
Does that Ministry of Defence ‘Be the Best’ slogan, juxtaposed against the funeral parades we saw in Wootton Bassett, rile and disgust you as a band?!
We have to be careful not to get too high and mighty about this. It’s easy to have a pop at politicians - and we understand you need an army and people to protect the country. What our armed forces did in World War II, for example, was incredible; brave and inspirational - and we all owe them a massive debt. However, in the last fifteen years or so, it’s all just felt so pointless. Very few people think the wars we’ve been engaged in have actually protected us against anything. Yeah, that ‘Be the Best’ slogan did rile - that’s why it’s referenced in the song.
‘Be the Best’ was a marketing slogan trying to persuade very young lads - who didn’t know what to do with their lives - to go and stand in front of bullets for no obvious reason. In the '00s, the average age of a new army recruit was nineteen. I understand that all organisations have to do a bit of advertising to get people interested. It’s one thing using that sort of emotive language to sell someone a car: quite another to ask a kid to put their life on the line, for no apparent cause.
Politics and polemics of war play heavy in your aesthetic and mindset. What is your view regarding the way Britain is changing and the divides you see around you?
Yeah, massively so...
I remember talking to my granddad as a kid about World War II; he was in the Navy. At that time, almost everyone had a living link in their family to someone who had fought, died or been involved at some level. We all lived in a very peaceful time but the memory and awareness of just how devastating and destructive conflict could be (was) very apparent and it affected how people thought and behaved. That living link has all but gone now and as this has disappeared: it feels like that awareness of the consequences of war has evaporated as well.
People don’t take anywhere near as much care in what they say. Highly divisive and threatening rhetoric gets flung around now in such a casual manner: it’s pretty scary where it might lead. I don’t think it’s just Britain, either – this seems to be happening everywhere at the moment.
The same goes for the U.S. Do you feel Trump is a man who needs to be stopped? Why do you think he is someone who, apparently, speaks to a lot of Americans?!
Trump is obviously a disaster-zone.
He’s a complete imbecile with a lot of power and extremely divisive opinions - which makes him very dangerous. However, I do also think he’s a symptom of a wider problem at the moment, rather than the cause. If he gets ousted, there could equally be another populist lunatic taking the reins. Growing inequality over the last few decades has played a big part in that. There are a lot of people who are stuck in a rut with no obvious way of getting out and chancers with intellectually lazy, flawed populist ideas are now starting to appeal to them. Trump is the aristocratic, son of multi-millionaire; whose vast wealth is purely a result of his huge inheritance.
Despite this, he managed to win the votes of millions of broke, working-class Americans. He has no idea what their experience of life is like and he certainly won’t make their lives any better – yet, they still all voted for him. Something, somewhere, must have gone very wrong with our political system for that to be able to happen.
Bedfordshire is where you are all based. How did Akiva come to be and what is the inspiration behind the name?
We all went to school together. Rob and Dave are brothers and were at junior-school with Malc. I moved down from the North and met the others at secondary-school. We started out by messing around with guitar riffs and trying to learn the odd cover - that we could play to our mates in the school talent shows and stuff. In the sixth-form, we started to take it a bit more seriously and set up camp in Dave and Rob’s foam-plastered garage - much to the disappointment of their neighbours. That’s when we formed the band properly.
We were originally called ‘Hush’ but changed our name to Akiva in 2004 - when we released our first album. Akiva is the name of a character in an old Second World War film called Kelly’s Heroes.
Your music mixes in classics, Rave suggestion and Grunge undertones – packed inside intense and to-the-point lyrics. Who were the artists you all grew up with and source as influences?
The Grunge thing comes mainly from Nirvana - who were the first band we all got into. We were very young, then. We loved Kurt Cobain, the energy and those noisy guitars - but we didn’t really identify with the whole ‘I-hate-myself-and-want-to-die’ thing. That’s why bands like Oasis, Primal Scream; The Charlatans and the Prodigy appealed to us so much more. They had the same energy and Punk spirit - but it was all so much more uplifting. The Rave scene had that energy, too. Malc used to go to a lot of raves and my brother started D.J-ing old-skool, Drum & Bass and breakbeat - so I got a lot of those influences passed down to me.
We loved the feel and sound of a lot of Rave and old Dance tunes; however, for us, guitar music was always the first love; mainly because of its powerful ability to send a message. People like James Dean Bradfield, Ian Brown and Thom Yorke were big inspirations as they always had something important to say.
Also, and probably most significantly, it was going back and discovering The Who and The Rolling Stones that made the biggest difference for us. That late-1960s combination of swaggering, upbeat guitar tunes with powerful, politically-tinged messages in the lyrics – incredible! Sympathy for the Devil and Won’t Get Fooled Again became our blueprints for what a song should be...
It seems your music is as influenced by the cornerstones of legendary music and Question Time/BBC Radio 4 alike. Would that be a fair assessment?!
Yeah. It seems weird for a band to say they’re influenced by Radio 4 , but I think if you going to write about something, you have to do your research and you have to understand what it is you’re talking about. We read a lot and listen to and watch a lot of programmes about news, politics; economics and history - because we want to understand things. We want to know what’s going on in the world and why. Songs with personal themes (love, loss; pain, regret and aspiration) have always been those that appeal to people the most; however, for us, it’s combining the personal and the political that makes the most powerful music. It doesn’t work with the political on its own (no-one wants to hear a song about the Government’s fiscal policy!) but, when you combine love and class-conflict..you get A Design for Life. When you mix anxiety and the Vietnam War...you get Gimme Shelter.
This was very much at the back of our minds when we wrote M.O.D. - and framed what we were trying to achieve.
George Orwell is a hero for all of you. What is it about him and his writing that connects with the band?
George Orwell was a visionary and a genius. Nothing short.
1984, in particular, is a bit of Bible for us. It’s pretty mind-blowing to think that he wrote this nearly seventy years ago - yet it couldn’t be more relevant today. The stuff about Big Brother and surveillance was prescient: look at the Edward Snowden revelations. I also remember when George W. Bush first declared the ‘War on Terror’, thinking: “Who is he actually waging war on?! Terror isn’t a country or a person it’s a concept. How can you win a war against an idea?!”. George Orwell had this nailed in the 1984 plotline: the state constantly declares itself at war with unknown and intangible enemies to create fear and uncertainty in the population. This allows them to maintain control and stay in power.
This is exactly what Bush did. Despite being one of the most incompetent presidents America has ever seen; in 2004, he managed to get re-elected - largely, in part, to this everlasting ‘War on Terror’ he’d created.
What tour dates do you have coming up? Where can we catch you play?
We’ve not got many live dates in the diary over the next few months, unfortunately. We’re focusing on writing some new songs - which we’re planning to record early next year. We’re also teaming up with Wayne again. Next week, we start work on another video for our next single - which will be called Ammunition.
You can probably guess what the themes of this one are about, too…
If you each had to select the one album that means the most to you; which would they be and why?
Me (Dave MacK - Vocals): Mine would probably be Tellin' Stories by The Charlatans
I had this on-repeat permanently as a teenager and still never tire of it. It’s the combination of that Stones-y, Dylan-esque swagger; Burgess’ heady, optimistic vocal drawl and those pounding drums, basslines and piano riffs - it just makes you feel so alive! I used to feel like I could do anything when I listened to this.
I still do, now!
Malc (Guitar): The Stone Roses’ debut album (The Stone Roses)
It has everything I adore in music swirled into a perfect package - and twinned with the coolest original artwork, personal to the band. Grooving basslines; the funkiest breakbeat drumming; an arrogant swagger; dark, cutting and topical lyrics disguised in familiar, uplifting melodic harmonies… and then; the sparkling, absorbing guitar that binds and lifts these tracks to magical perfection. If I’m happy, I want to hear this record: in my deepest despair, I reached for this album - a night out on the town is improved by hearing a track from this album.
When I pick up my Les Paul it’s this album I think of - and I fall in love with music over and over again.
Dave Merc (Drums): I’d go for Ill Communication by the Beastie Boys
Layered; new; aged; aggressive and blissfully chilled - all in one album. It encapsulated the confusion of my late-teens, but it had a culture about it and a resilience that helped see me through those days with focus and persistence.
Rob (Bass): David Bowie – Hunky Dory would get my vote
There’s not much I can say about this album that hasn’t already said. It’s just a masterpiece and I can’t help but be moved by it every time. Bowie was a true genius. I felt like I’d lost a close friend when he died last year.
What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?
Work hard, practice loads and don't expect to make any money! You really do have to do it for the love of it - now that all music is pretty much free. That's always been our biggest motivation: trying to become as good as we can at playing and writing and trying to create something we can really be proud of.
Christmas is not too far away. Do you all have plans already or will you be busy working?
We haven't made any Christmas plans yet. It gets a bit annoying seeing Christmas ads when we haven't even had Halloween yet.
There are still two months to go…
Finally, and for being good sports; you can each name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
Propellerheads - Bang On!
Black Grape - Reverend Black Grape
Massive Attack - Unfinished Sympathy
David Bowie - Life on Mars?