Trespass – The Wolf Comes KnockingTuesday, 23rd May 2023
When it comes to influence across the metal landscape, most artists draw inspiration from the classic elements that started it all – including the strong wave of bands across England that served as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal scene. Prolific for a time in the late 70’s and early 80’s, names like Def Leppard, Saxon, Iron Maiden, Tygers of Pan Tang, Diamond Head, and more made their presence felt to a movement yearning for killer songs and solid live performances. Trespass would be another act seeking to garner that same attention – although not quite breaking through to that level despite strong singles and compilation appearances. They are still active and alive with their latest studio album Wolf at the Door – the quartet bristling with that same old school set of influences while also paying attention to the modern audio tools at their disposal to develop better tones and production values. We reached out to vocalist/guitarist Mark Sutcliffe to bring us into the material for the new record – the interesting story behind the cover art, thoughts on this latest lineup and the band chemistry, great memories of those early Trespass days, plus what the future holds for more releases.
Dead Rhetoric: Wolf at the Door is the latest Trespass studio album – and first since 2018’s Footprints in the Rock. How were the songwriting and recording sessions for this set of material – and has your approach to what works best to get the ideal results changed much with modern technology at your disposal compared to the late 70’s/early 80’s methods?
Mark Sutcliffe: Yeah, it really has. The thing is now, you can get such great results with a decent computer, and I use Pro Tools. As soon as you have an idea, you can start fleshing it out. I’ll get an idea and send it out to the guys; they’ll start working on it as well. We get together, and everyone has an idea, although we do jam together sometimes as well. Back in the 70’s, literally I would have two cassette recorders, and I would record a bit of guitar in one, play it back, and record the next part. The songs come anyway – there’s more remote work going on now. It still brings results.
I decided that I wanted … Trespass was one of those bands in the late 70’s, early 80’s, we were so young, green, and naive. Especially in the band between my brother and I, we had quite a broad taste in music. We crossed over on things like Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, things like that. My brother liked Genesis, I liked Rush, and so Trespass was flying in that way between all those different influences. It’s quite a diverse sound, almost punk in some places and more progressive in others. I’ve always wanted to open the band up to some different things. I’m pleased with the way the album has come out. Once I have something in the can, one of my heroes Ritchie Blackmore, he said he never listened to his albums once they were done. He didn’t know what they sounded like. (laughs). I’m not that bad, but I listened to the album in the car today and I actually enjoyed it.
It’s a little more diverse. Footprints was a little bit more, I was trying a few things out – I’ve settled down into a sound I am happy with for Wolf.
Dead Rhetoric: You mention in the background information that you tackled a number of environmental themes in the lyrical content for this record. What sort of topics interest you the most and what has been your approach to conveying these lyrics in the best manner possible?
Sutcliffe: Electric guitars are not really able to shout too much about the environment because they use valves that heat them up with amps to a million degrees. I just think it’s a general thing that it may seem I’m down on humanity, but I feel that there’s so much love there as well. Being a human being is such a wonderful thing. I’ve always felt that you have the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other, I suppose I have a tendency to write about things that are really important to me. It’s still got to be fun. We just recently played the Keep It True festival in Germany, and it was fun – there are a lot of really heavy bands we shared the stage with. A lot of their lyrical content is more horror movie based, I’m not into that as much. I mention the devil here and there, but the devil is in us as far as I’m concerned, and that’s where the fight is. I’ve got a daughter and granddaughter now, and I worry how the world is going to be. I’m just trying to do my best through the only medium I’ve got.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us regarding the artwork from Mark Wilkinson for Wolf at the Door? How did the process work between the band and Mark to arrive at the final product?
Sutcliffe: It’s a fantastic story actually. We live in a little country village in England, and we have some strong links to the states actually. There are a lot of US airbases around here – during the war, there was an American airbase in every other town. My father spent a lot of time around the base near where he lived, he would get gum and stuff like that from the American service men over here. We are in the middle of nowhere. I moved to this village about three or four years ago, and there’s a great pub here. Suddenly it closed, the couple who ran the club split. I had to wait several weeks, months in fact for this pub to open up again. When the new landlady/landlord put up a new sign, it was the most fantastic picture of a Saxon King, a warrior. I thought it would make a really cool album sleeve. Just in conversation I asked the landlady who did your sign? She said a guy named Mark Wilkinson. Would you like his email? I said yes – and I emailed him, and he told me about his background working with Marillion, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, other people.
We met up in the pub, I talked about the album, he picked up on Wolf at the Door as kind of a harbinger of what’s happening in the world. In the UK, we are feeling under the heel a little bit. We started to talk about ideas, and the wolf in the picture is meant to represent nature. My theme is to be careful how much you push nature, because it can bite back if you are not careful. Mark worked on that theme. She might be crying out in pain to an extent, but we have a massive backdrop made of this for the back of the stage. He is such a talented guy – he can get a pencil out and draw all this stuff. He came back several times to talk to me, he enjoyed creating it.
Dead Rhetoric: How you would describe the band chemistry and playing abilities for the current lineup of Trespass?
Sutcliffe: The band was started by my brother and I in 1978. Paul and I had a special affinity that many brothers have in bands sometimes. The new lineup I have to say, we have had the most fantastic trip out to Germany, there’s some real chemistry there. I was looking across the stage at the guys, and it’s really starting to come together. With all bands that have been around a long time, the lineups change, but I am really comfortable with these guys, and I can express myself, I know what I am trying to achieve. All musicians have a sense of pride when it comes to their abilities in music, we are able to come together. Joe the other guitarist is only in his thirties, we are all 50 and some of us in our 60’s. He brings a real sense of youth, he has a bluesy kind of style, it’s really working.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the major differences as you write, develop, and play out live in the UK and abroad versus when you were establishing yourselves during the height of interest in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal era?
Sutcliffe: So much has happened in this musical genre during that time. We were emulating Purple, UFO, Thin Lizzy, and some American bands too. The rise of Metallica, the whole thrash metal thing, if someone had said to me in 1979-1980 you will still be able to pull a reasonable audience in the year 2023, I wouldn’t have believed them. I also wouldn’t have believed that Deep Purple would still be touring. There’s something about this music, it has legs – it just won’t die (laughs). As much as some of the pop music industry would like it to. There’s just something about it – you see it at the festivals, the sense of family. There’s such a diverse range of fans under this genre. I don’t necessarily want this to be factionalized, like death metal, that metal – there are styles of playing, but there’s a link about hard rock/metal music that turns people on.
The really heavy end, I can listen to a track or two, but I like a bit of melody as well. That’s where Trespass is, we are more towards the Thin Lizzy/ Wishbone Ash end of things. There are some heavy tracks in there, we have stuff like “Beowulf and Grendel” on Footprints and “Crooked Cross” on the new record as well. When we get a chance to play a longer set of an hour and a half, and hour and forty-five minutes, there are some good sets of songs there. We can pick a great set across all of our history, and we’ve been playing a few tunes that didn’t get a chance to get played in the past which is real fun.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider some of the great moments within the career of Trespass? Specific singles, shows, tours, festival appearances, albums/releases where you knew you were making a mark or impact with your music and craft?
Sutcliffe: Obviously “One of These Days” the first single. It just took off; it was one of those situations where we were so green to this independent record label. We put out the single, it took off, and our label couldn’t respond quickly enough to the demand. That first single was a big deal. And the Metal for Muthas II compilation, where we had two tracks. Iron Maiden had two tracks on volume one, we really thought that was a turning point. One of the greatest times for me was playing the Marquee Club in Wardour Street. We supported a band called Girl, two members of which you know – Phil Collen went onto Def Leppard, and Phil Lewis he went on to L.A. Guns. It was such an incredible reaction from that crowd, we had never experienced that before.
There is a hole there, because we should have done an album then. I wish we had. Some of those early club gigs were fantastic. The rock scene – when you played at the Marquee club, when you were in the dressing room in the back you knew, everyone who had been anyone had been in that room. That was quite something. More recently, it’s great to be able to still do these shows. I’m humbled we are still able to do it. Sometimes there’s a bit of a problem where the promoter will say, can you play an old school set? Which is kind of hard when you have a new album. Bridging that gap – a few people can still hear the old style in the new albums, which I am very pleased about.
Dead Rhetoric: I would agree. The problem is you have a lot of people that want to keep a band in a specific era or box, without thinking about the fact that you still want to create new music and establish yourselves in the present…
Sutcliffe: I am a big Deep Purple fan, especially of Ritchie Blackmore’s playing – some of the riffs and the way he played guitar. They did a big show in South America recently, and they were still amazing – they still have to play “Highway Star” and “Smoke on the Water”, so I don’t mind still playing “One of These Days”.
Dead Rhetoric: What has heavy metal meant to you personally? And what keeps the spirit and strength going forward this deep into your career as a musician?
Sutcliffe: If I were to meet the guys from Deep Purple, Roger Glover, Ritchie Blackmore, any of those guys – I would say they literally changed my life. When I left school at 16 and went straight out to work, it was one of those stories. I wanted a guitar, and my parents, we weren’t a well-off family so with my second week’s wages I bought my first guitar. I started quite late; at the same time, I met a couple of guys where I was working at that had the most incredible record collections. They were a few years older, they introduced me to this world of music I didn’t know before. It blew me away. If I had turned left instead of right, or gone to another place to work, this would not have happened. Music is not about the music or the band, it’s about how it makes you feel. I get goosebumps listening to some tracks. The level of emotion involved for me, I’m quite a shy person but it’s a way of communicating as well. They find music is a way of letting out some ideas and things they want to say. It’s really important to me still. The way I communicate it’s quite a natural thing for me – I enjoy writing, and a great group of guys are with me.
Dead Rhetoric: When you feel overwhelmed or you have lost your focus, what types of things do you like to do to regain perspective?
Sutcliffe: I should probably listen to more music. I have a tendency to develop my music without being too distracted by other things. I’m still reaching back to the influences of my youth to an extent. It links to the new music to the old. A lot of the bands that were at Keep It True, a little younger than us, they had influences from a different set of bands. I paint, I like painting, it’s one of the reasons I was impressed with Paul’s artwork. I like growing vegetables, I am vegan. It’s quite important for me. I love nature, I like to relax. The music thing, I’m always picking up the guitar if there is one there.
Dead Rhetoric: What is it like to not only have older followers but a second and third generation fans of this style of music?
Sutcliffe: A friend of ours Alex came all the way from Rio to Germany to see us. I just think that’s… I’m really surprised to see some much younger guys into this. People called Trespass a legendary band. It’s quite something to be called that. It’s great, I teach guitar as well. I have been teaching for quite a long time now. When you get a young student, they still want to learn the classic stuff – Hendrix, Deep Purple. Modern rock, it’s a different kind of thing.
Dead Rhetoric: Was there a band or two from that NWOBHM scene that surprised you in terms of not establishing a bigger following?
Sutcliffe: Not really. There is a tradition with British movements. Usually only two or three bands go through to make it big, and I don’t really know why. I guess being bigger, more popular stateside is important. You think of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard. The trouble is, by making it a movement and having a window, pretty soon that window is going to close. Trespass – I really wish we had made an album in 1980. We could have done it, we had the material, but I let the music business influence me too much. I would rather have stood or fallen on my own music as I wanted it to be, than allow it to be manipulated by the record industry, which is what happened. As soon as we started to get advice, some of it wasn’t the right advice, and I regret it. If you had an album already recorded, you would get a major to take that on. The NWOBHM era lasted for me from 1979 to late 1982, and that’s it for me. Lars and James from Metallica were writing to us in 1980 and cite Trespass as an influence. I’ve met them a couple of times, and that’s amazing to think you have had that much influence. A global band, that’s quite something. We were younger than most of the other guys in Def Leppard, Saxon, and Iron Maiden.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for anything related to Trespass over the next twelve months?
Sutcliffe: I’ve got some ideas. I want to record another retrospective of a few songs that never were heard at all. I want to do as many live shows as we can. I have a bit of a break after writing an album and it’s released. I would love to come to the states to play, I’ve visited there but never played. You just never know, maybe Lars and James will invite us over! (laughs).