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GALLHAMMER: Hammer of the Girls

May 17, 2008

All-girl groups in metal are rare and are typically limited to mall-friendly crap like KITTIE or DRAIN STH. One all-girl group, however, has arisen from an unsuspecting place with an unsuspecting sound. Tokyo’s GALLHAMMER combine the raw sounds of HELLHAMMER proto black metal, AMEBIX crust punk, and subtle new wave/alternative influences. Most importantly, the band have taken these influences and created a unique expression of darkness that is both exciting and fresh. APESHIT got in touch with vocalist/bassist Vivian Slaughter to find out more about this young band and the ominous meaning behind their use of the color white.

APESHIT: The idea to form GALLHAMMER originated in 2002 but it wasn’t until a year later that the full line-up of the band came together. How did the three of you originally meet? Was it hard to find other musicians who wanted to play the same style of music?

Vivian Slaughter: The concept of GALLHAMMER had always been in my mind, but it was really hard to find members who had the same taste in music. I met Mika at a time when I was singing in a punk band. I think I called her up once when I was drunk and invited her to come into the studio. At the time, I wasn’t committed to any particular band, and I wanted to start something new from scratch and was looking around for new ideas. One of those ideas was GALLHAMMER.It was great that we finally got together in the studio, but both Mika and I were vocalists, so we needed some instruments before we could record anything. As it turned out, I had a bass and she had a guitar, so we brought them to the studio. Then I discovered that we had totally different taste in music, so I had no intention of asking her to join me in creating GALLHAMMER. But somehow we managed to crank out two songs in two hours.Although we had entirely different tastes in music, neither of us had any experience playing instruments before, so we decided to learn together. I had her listen to bands like AMEBIX, BURZUM, and HELLHAMMER, and it turned out that she liked them. So, I told her about my idea of creating GALLHAMMER. Then, without any idea of how to do so, we decided to form the band. In looking for our drummer, we wanted someone who had never played the drums before. We didn’t even care if they were into metal or not. The only condition was that they liked the music we played for them. In fact, the people who said they wanted to play metal backed out when we played them music like AMEBIX, HELLHAMMER, BURZUM and VON.Then we discovered Risa. I had known her since ‘94; she originally liked techno music like KRAFTWERK, YMO and LIBECH. At the time, I was into more experimental junk music like noise avant-garde. When I asked her if she knew anyone who had never played drums before but wanted to try, she said that she’d be up for it.

APESHIT: How did the name GALLHAMMER come about, especially considering how similar it is to HELLHAMMER?

Vivian Slaughter: Yeah. At the time, I was really into HELLHAMMER’s early demos. The strong image of Triumph of Death attracted me, so one day when I was drinking with my friends I told them, “I’m going to do an all-girl copy band of HELLHAMMER and call it GALLHAMMER.“They all told me to forget it, that it wouldn’t work. I wasn’t even sure myself that I’d be able to find band members. So for about a year after that as I met lots of people I’d tell them I wanted to start this band called GALLHAMMER and to introduce me if they knew anyone who’d be interested.

APESHIT: Most musicians need years to learn their instruments whereas you guys learned your instruments in a year before putting out your first demo. Was it pretty easy to learn all of your respective instruments for GALLHAMMER?

Vivian Slaughter: After I got all the band members together, we only had one month to learn before our first live performance. We were only trying to be a HELLHAMMER cover band, but since none of us could play anything, we couldn’t even cover HELLHAMMER.So, we did the best we could considering our musical abilities at the time and we managed to crank out four original songs for our live performance. Three months later, we made a demo CD-R. We were having fun and we didn’t stress about things we couldn’t do anything about.I’d say we still haven’t mastered our instruments.

APESHIT: With heavy music being so male-dominated, was it hard for other to take you seriously? Has the band experienced any sexism due to the male-dominated landscape?

Vivian Slaughter: Not really. In Japan there are a lot of girls in bands, so it’s not so unusual. I had always kind of been in bands since I was 16, so it was a natural thing for me to do.It’s not like I was trying to prove myself to males or make something equal to what they had been making. I wanted to create a unique feeling and emotion in my music through a sound that only a female band could create.

APESHIT: The backing vocals on “Blind My Eyes” (a song from Ill Innocence) is pretty unconventional for heavy music. Who does those vocals? How did the idea come about to incorporate this style into the song?

Vivian Slaughter: Risa does those vocals. We wanted to add something else to the song, and we came up with the idea of adding something that sounded like Dirt or Crust. Since Risa has such a high and unique voice, we thought it would be cool to have her do it.This song originally had some New Wave elements to it, so we thought her voice fit well with the song.I had always thought that it would look really cool at live performances if there was a three person band in which all three band members were doing vocals, and that’s something I’d always wanted to do with GALLHAMMER.

APESHIT: Both Gloomy Lights and Ill Innocence use white colors in the artwork to express the imagery and meaning of the albums whereas black is the conventional for most extreme metal bands to use. What is the significance/meaning of using white?

Vivian Slaughter: When talking about the color of fear and evil, most people first think of black, but to me white is a very frightening color. If you were locked up in an empty room with just white walls, don’t you think you’d go crazy?White is often taken as the color of hope, but it is also the color of nothingness.Black encompasses everything, and it is a strong color if nothing else.White is the color of both despair and of hope. It is also the color of nothingness.

APESHIT: Besides the obvious that influences by bands like HELLHAMMER and AMEBIX, there is quite an important new wave/alternative part of your sound. Can you please tell us more about those influences?

Vivian Slaughter: It was quite natural; Risa and I both like New Wave music.I like AMEBIX; their sound resembles that of KILLING JOKE. I also really like THE MOB and JOY DIVISION. We’ve also been influenced by BAUHAUS and CHRISTIAN DEATH.Mika originally liked cheerful music like THE OFFSPRING, but she’s been heavily influenced by the guitar of AMEBIX, so it is pretty natural for her to sound a bit New-Wave-ish.As for the alternative part, that probably comes about as a result of the three of us mixing our styles together.

APESHIT: In many ways, it seems like there are no boundaries to your music. What do you foresee for the future of GALLHAMMER’s sound?

Vivian Slaughter: I’m not consciously moving toward any particular sound when we make music. Basically, I create the riffs and the three of us work together on it from there. I have a basic image in mind of what I want to create, but that image always changes depending on how I feel, so I never know what to make until that time comes around. As we play around with the sounds, I keep what fits and the music just gradually takes form by itself. Then the other two arrange their parts around what comes out of that.

APESHIT: When can we expect GALLHAMMER’s next album? Is there any new material written yet?

Vivian Slaughter: We want to start recording our next album sometime next year. We are always making songs though. There are a lot that we never finish. Little by little, the basic image and concept behind our next album is coming together.

APESHIT: What is the underground black metal and punk scene in Tokyo and Japan in general like? Is GALLHAMMER just the tip of the iceberg? Can you tell us about some bands that fans outside Japan should watch out for?

Vivian Slaughter: GALLHAMMER is just the tip of the iceberg. There are a lot of cool bands in Japan. A lot of them have been around much longer than we have.There are also a lot of female bands. The underground scene in Japan is really something special; it feels very free and unbound by anything. I’m glad that I grew up in Japan.

APESHIT: What has the experience with being signed to Peaceville Records been like so far?

Vivian Slaughter: A lot changed, in good ways and bad.Up until now, we’d done everything by ourselves, we had a lot more freedom, and we didn’t have any time constraints. Now that’s all totally different.However, I’m happy about all the experiences that it’s brought us, such as the opportunity to perform overseas.

APESHIT: How was your first European tour?

Vivian Slaughter: The tour lasted 13 days; the first three days were in the UK, the next four were in Finland, and the last six days were the SKITLIV Tour. We didn’t have any of our GALLHAMMER staff with us on the tour, so it was pretty crazy. They didn’t tell us hardly anything in advance. In the UK, it was tough because a lot of things came up that we weren’t used to dealing with. But in Finland, everyone was great, including all the staff; it was lots of fun.After that, it was 6 days with just the bands and no staff, we had to travel long distances and we were really busy, but we had always done everything by ourselves in Japan, so it wasn’t a big deal. That was actually the most relaxing and fun part of the tour. On the last day of the tour, I really wanted to just keep going; it felt like it ended just as we were getting used to everything. But by that time, one of our band members had bronchitis and another had a broken bone, so physically it would have been pretty tough. Next time we’re going to have to take care of ourselves better.

APESHIT: Are there any plans to tour the U.S.?

Vivian Slaughter: Nothing is set yet, but we’d really like to perform in the U.S. soon!

Interview translated by Chris Bishop.