Senser are a rap-rock band with the attitude and sensibility you’d find in most punk outfits. Their debut album, ‘Stacked Up’ peaked at number 4 on the UK album charts in 1994 and has since continued to garner praise, as its sound is considered to be ahead of its time by many (this interviewer included). ‘Stacked Up’ was remastered in 2014 for its 20th anniversary, and the band’s most recent full-length ‘To The Capsules’ was fan-funded. You can find the hard-hitting group live this June at The Continental in Preston, England on the 16th.
For those who haven’t come across your band over the years and followed you to this most recent release, how did Senser first form and become the band it is today?
James: We spent our formative music years at free festivals, squat parties and acid raves… whilst also listening to bands like Public Enemy, Slayer, Tangerine Dream and Pink Floyd… that combined with the political upheaval of the time culminated in Senser forging its eclectic sound.. We liked experimenting with beats, rhymes, guitars plus a multitude of musical genres and quite early on discovered we could rustle up a fairly intense live energy. We were pretty DIY with our approach to the music biz and released our own EP’s on cassette which gained us some good slots at major UK and European festivals… it also attracted the attention of the record industry… we signed our first record deal with independent label Ultimate Records in 1993 and released our debut album ‘Stacked Up‘ a year later… luckily for us it entered the UK charts at number 4 and the rest as they say is history.
Favorite track off ‘Stacked Up‘?
James: My favourite tracks off ‘Stacked Up‘ have varied over the years… most people mention ‘Age Of Panic‘ or ‘Eject‘ which were our two of our biggest singles off the album and always get a big reaction live… for me though I’d say ‘No Comply‘ for its energy, message and sound or ‘Stubborn‘ – it has an epic journey to it and honesty that a lot of tracks of a similar ilk don’t tend to have.
If each of your six albums were representational of a point in your lives, what would that point be for each?
Nick: ‘Stacked Up‘: This was the culmination of Senser’s formative years. A result of many years of hard work touring, writing and experimenting before we really knew what our sound and identity was. This was our first experience of making an album. I personally had no ideas or expectations of how it would turn out. This was definitely a time of learning but also an opportunity for creative freedom, expression and energy. It seemed like anything was possible.
‘Asylum‘: This was a massive change for Senser. After all the turmoil of the split and still riding on the success of ‘Stacked Up‘, I think this was possibly the greatest period of uncertainty for Senser. I remember there being a sense of steely determination among the remaining members of the band to make the project work. This was definitely a reality check for us; a wakeup call after all the excitement, success and security of the previous years. Despite this, there was a sense of optimism and freedom. After all the friction and tension that had been building in the band, our working environment suddenly became a much healthier place to function in.
‘Schematic‘: The first release after reforming in 1999. After 3 years apart, this was a time of creative revitalization. A point in our lives where we were able to reconnect with what Senser was originally about. We also had a lot of fresh ideas to experiment with. This was the first album that we wrote, recorded and mixed on our own equipment. A self sufficient time for us. A point in our lives were technology was starting to allow us to record without the huge sums of money previously required.
‘How To Do Battle‘: This was a point in our lives where we were really starting to hone our songwriting skills. Haggis left the band just before we finished the final stages of writing so this became the first time the original line-up had control over the production of an album. As a result of Haggis leaving we were also free to work with other producers like Neil McLellan and Scotty Harding. ‘How To Do Battle‘ became the first release on our own record label, Imprint. It represents the time that Senser became completely self-sufficient as a band.
‘To The Capsules‘: The first Senser album entirely recorded and produced by the band. It was also the first time we used crowd funding to finance a project. ‘To The Capsules‘ was recorded on our own laptops and mixed remotely. Although an exhausting and time-consuming process, the experience was liberating. It also brought us much closer to our fans who had helped to finance the project. For me, this album was a lot of fun to make because we had the luxury of being able to take our time and experiment with the music and production. It was a great learning experience. This was a point in my life when I discovered that we could take full responsibility for every aspect of producing and releasing an album. Although emotionally and physically draining, it was a rewarding experience.
Your lyrics have always been biting, and they’ve continued to have that sharp-honest edge on tracks like ‘Chemtrails’. Do you find yourselves growing more perturbed by society as time goes on?
Heitham: I would just like to point out that the track ‘Chemtrails‘ is in no way an affirmation or a statement that the phenomenon of chemtrails is real. It’s about the idea of stepping outside the given reality. I would say that one has to walk very carefully In the current climate. I’m no more perturbed really by society now. I’m still equally disgusted with it and genuinely hopeful at the same time. I do notice a pattern of rolled back rights. Opportunist populism and nostalgia for times that have never existed. I think the current battle is for stability in the idea of what constitutes truth.
What’s the songwriting process like for a band such as yourselves?
John: It’s generally quite lengthy to end up with a completely finished track! Initially, any one person in the band will come up with the basic idea of some guitar riffs, beats or programming. Heitham and Kerstin will work on some lyrics and melodies and then the music is sometimes tailored back around their ideas. We’ll all then get together and play through to see how it feels as a band, and work on the structure and how it flows as we play it in live in rehearsal and then at a gig. Occasionally a track will come together a lot quicker, but not often, as it’s mostly a group effort.
Heitham, you recently put out a novel “In The Droom” via Onslaught Press. Firstly, if you had five words to describe the novel, what words would you use? And secondly, how does the novel-writing process differ from song-crafting?
Heitham: 1. Fevered, 2. Dream, 3. Sex, 4. Trans-dimensional, 5. Mystery.
The second part is a very interesting question. In my experience there’s a little difference in the creative process of writing prose and music. You have all the questions of dynamics, narrative, suspense intelligibility and especially mood. The big difference is that you’re working alone. So there’s no collective team energy to feed on. The only person you bounce off really is your editor or publisher. I would liken it to writing albums alone in the way that Steve Roach, Biosphere or Aphex Twin do.
Are there any other solo projects (musically or otherwise) happening behind the Senser scenes right now?
Heitham: Personally, I just finished recording mixing and mastering the new Fiend album which is coming out in the autumn on the label Deadlight Entertainment. I have my ongoing solo hip-hop record in the works. I am building the foundations of my next book. We’re also talking about possibly doing another Lodestar album. I’m sure the others have plenty of projects.
2013’s ‘Biting Rhymes‘ was an EP of five rap-covers, including epic versions of ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’ and ‘Follow The Leader’. Are there any covers you would like to do in the future or would’ve liked to included on the release?
John: I think ‘Biting Rhymes’ was good as it was, just a taster of some of our early hip hop influences. At our shows last year we were doing a cover of Butthole Surfers ‘Who Was In My Room Last Night?‘ which was a different thing but really worked and some people in the audience really loved that. There’s a Frank Zappa song ‘Dumb All Over’ we’ve talked about doing for a while, and I’d really like to do ‘Baba O’Riley‘ by The Who. I’ve got the sequences for it, and I think it’d be really fun!
You’ll be performing at The Continental in Preston, England June 16th, along with Razorrawks and Earthling Society. What sort of energy can be expected of a live Senser set?
Kerstin: Senser can be visceral and the layers swim and pulse but we often come up pounding the stage. Expect many dimensions.
You have a string of festival dates you’re performing at this year. Does the festival setting change anything for you as artists in comparison to smaller venues? What’s been your favorite festival experience?
Kerstin: Outdoor festivals have bigger PA’s and a sleepover party buzz, it’s sunshine, stars and bonfires and people go a bit nuts so that can make magic fly around but a venue gig contains the sound, the acoustics are enlivened by the walls, you get power and sweat, sometimes those gigs have more adrenalin for longer as you aren’t on the festival conveyer belt in quite the same way.
Near the beginning of your career you opened for artists such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against The Machine, The Levellers, Tool, and Moby. Do you have any humorous tour stories with any of these artists? As well as any funny tales involving bands that have opened for you?
Heitham: I can tell you that Moby is better at skipping than music. The Levellers and Rage Against The Machine were very sincere and friendly people. Tool I actually know. They’re the most fun of all of them and the finest rock musicians of their generation. They like amusement parks. I once went to Disneyland with all of the Melvins and once to Six Flags with David Yow.
Are there any newer bands you’ve all been listening to lately? Anyone you consider to be on the cutting-edge?
Heitham: We tend to listen to a lot of older stuff together. I like the new Childish Gambino video. I like the new Eagle Twin album, the last Laibach, The Bug Ft. Flowdan, Dylan Carlson, Kate Tempest, Ocean Wisdom, Tarantula Brothers.
Aside from the aforementioned gigs and solo projects, what does 2018 have in store for Senser and Senser fans? Can we expect any new music?
Nick: Senser are currently working on album number 6. The songs are starting to take shape now. We hope to begin recording soon!