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INTENSIVE SQUARE – Rocking Anything That Moves
Anthony Morgan
June 2015

Intensive Square (l-r): Rich Lewis, Mathew Barnes, Tom Shortt, Chris Haughey and Joe Harvatt

Formed in Pembrokeshire, Wales, progressive metal outfit Intensive Square boast the following personnel in their 2015 line-up; Chris Haughey handling vocals, Mathew Barnes supplying guitar as well as saxophone, Joe Harvatt providing second guitar, Tom Shortt occupying bass, and Rich Lewis stepping behind the drumkit. While Chris remains in Pembrokeshire, Mathew, Tom and Rich live in Cardiff while Joe lives in Bristol, England.

“We’ve been playing together for about ten years now,” discloses Mathew Barnes, guitarist for Intensive Square. “We’ve all been playing music together for as long as we can remember. We’re all from the same part of the country, so the band just came about through that really. We’ve been through a couple of line-up changes; we’ve been through a few singers because we didn’t feel that the other guys suited our sound properly, but a close friend of ours said he would be interested in doing it a few years ago. As soon as we heard his voice, we just snapped him up and went for it, and Chris has been in the band ever since. It’s taken a while to get the sound right, but we’ve got it now, so we’re happy with it.”

The Intensive Square moniker closely resembles the words ‘intensive care’. “It was a friend of mine who actually came up with the name,” the axeman shares. “We didn’t even think of the pun that’s inherent in it initially, or anything. It just sounded heavy and cool, so we went for it. There isn’t a great story behind it, no, unfortunately. We just think of it as meaning a big, heavy thing, which is kind of what the band is.”

A variety of metal subgenres inform Intensive Square’s musical style. “We don’t like to pigeonhole the music too much, but that’s not to be obtuse or anything,” Mathew explains. “It’s just these days, there are a lot of different subgenres flying around everywhere, and it seems like every new band that comes out has a new subgenre. We just class ourselves as metal. We don’t really like to describe it any further than that, because there are so many different influences that go into it and what comes out is reflected in all or none of them sometimes, so to call it some specific subgenre I think would be inaccurate.

“We’re into loads of stuff, though. There’s loads of death metal influences, like Cannibal Corpse, Necrophagist – even some black metal influences. Our primary influences come from… We’re massively into Pantera and Meshuggah; those are two elements of the sound that people always seem to pick up on. There’s loads of other stuff that goes into it, as well. We’re all really into jazz music. That goes into it, and loads of other stuff influence the music, but you might not pick up on it. We listen to a lot of hip-hop, and we’re all heavily influenced by computer games and films as well. All of that stuff goes into the music, but to pinpoint any one of them in the sound might be difficult at times.”

The jazz influence perhaps arrives in the form of the musician’s saxophone contributions. “It comes in from that, I guess,” he ponders. “I just picked it up one day, and brought it along to practice. It sounded cool, so we just kept it. It started off as just an experiment, but then we actually realised you can get away with making some pretty offensive racket on the saxophone, which perfectly suits our style of music, so we kept it. It’s just a sound that we really like. We don’t like to overdo it, but we do like it being in the band if the song suits it. So yeah, we chuck the odd sax solo in. Going forward, we’re planning to maybe use the sax in other elements. At the moment, all of the sax bits are improvised, so we might get some riffs going or something like that in some of the new stuff that comes out. At the moment though, it’s all just completely improvised.”

During August 2011, Intensive Square racked up an appearance at Derbyshire, England-based metal festival Bloodstock. In addition, the ensemble has supported several more established artists through the years. “We did that Metal To The Masses thing, and that was a good laugh,” Mathew remembers. “That was before Chris joined the band though, unfortunately, so we didn’t get to ride the wave of that one. We went through a line-up change, and we kind of went off the radar for a bit at that point. We supported some pretty cool bands in the past; we played with Shining from Norway. They’re a really cool band that we really like, and they were the most together band I think we’ve played with. They were just incredible, like mesmerising. We’ve played with Xerath. Black Breath, they’re wicked – we played with them. Soilent Green, we did that in Cardiff. That was a wicked gig, in the old Millennium Music Hall. That’s closed down now, unfortunately – I think they’ve turned it into a bowling alley, or something. That was gutting, actually. That was an amazing venue. Yeah, that was a wicked gig. We really enjoyed that one.”

June 2015 effort Anything That Moves marks Intensive Square’s debut full-length. “Some of those tracks have been around for a long time,” the composer divulges. “We have a set way of writing – we have a way that it usually goes – but it does change, and this isn’t set. At any one time though, we’ve got loads of riffs lying around. We’ll just pick one up, either try to put it with some other riffs we’ve got, or jam from that point. Me and Rich the drummer usually tend to do the bulk of that work. Joe the other guitar player, he sends us riffs sometimes that he’s written. They’re usually completed sections of music that we don’t really have to do anything to; they come across and they’re usually great, so we just slot them into what we’re working on. Once we’ve kind of got an arrangement together, we’ll then all get together at that point and butcher it, pull it back apart, put it together again, and add in little details.

“Then I write all of the lyrics, and we usually try to phrase them. That’s usually the last thing we do, but the newer tracks on the album we kind of phrased more as we went along. We like that, so we’re going to stick with that going forward, I think. Maybe getting the lyrics first and foremost, and trying to write from that point onwards. We don’t really have a set way of doing things as such, but that’s the way it kind of went this time around.”

Anything That Moves’ lyrical content was inspired by a number of sources. “There’s loads of different stuff on this album,” the axe-slinger cites. “Some of it’s just weird science fiction stuff; the song ‘Trials Of The Ubermann’ is loosely based on the film Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989), which is a weird Japanese science fiction film from the late 80s. It’s about a bloke who basically turns himself into a robot by adding mechanical devices to his body, so some of the songs are like that. The single we are releasing – ‘Vegetarians’ – is about vegetarians. It’s a satirical song, really. I was at my girlfriend’s house, and her parents are both vegetarians. I’d been there for about a week and I hadn’t eaten any meat and I was pissed off, so I wrote a stupid song about her mum and dad. That’s what it came from, but it actually went on to be about just torturing vegetarians.

“It’s all a bit daft really when you talk about it out of context, but in the song it’s pretty heavy and pretty weird. Yeah, we write about anything. We don’t stick to one subject. It’s just whatever comes out, really. We’re thinking about a theme for the next batch of stuff. There might be a bit more of a unifying concept, but at the moment that’s still in the very early stages. The songs on this album, they were written over such a long period of time that they’re all about really different things. Yeah, I could speak about that all day, to be honest (laughs). There’s a lot in it.”

A music video was filmed for the aforementioned composition ‘Vegetarians’. “There’s a performance element in it, but we filmed a pretty heavy narrative as well,” Mathew describes. “It took us a long time to get that video finished, because we did it on next to no budget. We just called in a load of favours from a few people that we’re very grateful to that worked hard on it, and we’re really happy with it. It just looks great – a lot of work has gone into it.”

And as well, a line from ‘Vegetarians’ lends the inaugural outing its respective title. “The actual line is a quote from a film called Blue Velvet (1986),” the lyricist credits. “There’s an amazing scene at the end of it where the guy in that film – he’s played by Dennis Hopper, and the character is called Frank Tooth – screams at the whole room ‘I’ll fuck anything that moves,’ and I adapted that for our song ’Vegetarians’ to ‘I’ll eat anything that moves.’ When it then came to choosing a title… We’ll do either; we’ll fuck or eat anything that moves (laughs). We just reduced it down to Anything That Moves and left it at.”

Recording took place at Foel Studios in Llanfair Caereinion, Powys with producer Chris Fielding. “It was great, man,” Mathew enthuses. It seems like a while ago now – it was. It was September 2012, I think. We’ve just been sat on it for quite a while, trying to get a decent platform to release it on, hence the delay. But yeah, it took a bit longer than expected. Yeah though, the actual recording was done across 15 days. Chris is awesome. It was our first time in the studio, so we didn’t really know what to expect. It was really relaxed, but he got the job done really efficiently. He got our sound, and really brought the best out of it. It came out way better than we thought it was going to to be honest, so we’re really happy with that. We’d definitely work with him again. Obviously because Rich is in a band with him (Conan), we have a connection with him, so we got to know him quite well. So yeah, we really enjoyed recording with him.

“We recorded at Foel Studios, and that was wicked because we were holed up in the mountains in mid-Wales for a couple of weeks. There was a beautiful atmosphere and there were no distractions, other than having a pool table, an old, knackered organ, and the band area. We just had to get to work, and I think that was really good for us. It took 15 days to record the album. We ran into a bit of a hiccup, and so we had to do a little bit extra a couple of months later.

“He’s moved up to Skyhammer Studios, so now he’s got his own place. We went there to do the mixing, and it’s awesome up there. I’m assuming he’ll still be there by the time we come to record again, so hopefully we actually get to record there in the future. That’d be wicked.”

Anything That Moves’ cover artwork was designed by bassist Tom Shortt. “I don’t really know what to say about it…,” the saxophonist muses. “He has studied a bit; I don’t know what qualifications he has, but he has studied art a bit. I think he wants to continue, but he’s been drawing and painting forever – he’s really good at it. A few years ago, we did outsource some artwork to another artist. We liked what he did at the time, but we just liked Tom’s artwork better, so we thought we’d keep it in-house this time around. The back cover, we said ‘Can you draw us a cool picture of some cannibals?’ and that’s what he came back with. We think it’s fucking mental; we were just like ‘Yeah, that’s amazing. Perfect.’ The front cover is like a collage thing that he made out of loads of different body parts.”

It should be noted that no authentic body parts were used to design the collage. “I don’t know mate,” Mathew quips. “You’ll have to ask him about that (laughs).”

Intensive Square (l-r): Chris Haughey, Rich Lewis, Tom Shortt, Joe Harvatt
and Mathew Barnes

Issuing Anything That Moves happens to be Black Bow Records. “The place where we mixed the album – Skyhammer Studios – is owned by Jon from Conan (Jon Davis, vocals and guitar),” the guitarist begins. “Black Bow is his label, so we’d obviously met him there when we went to mix the album. I don’t know, really. Once the album was finished, we kind of looked at our options. We kind of already made a connection with Jon, and he had put out some really good stuff. He put out an album by a band called Bast (2014’s Spectre, in vinyl format) that we really liked, and they seem to be doing pretty well. They were one of the first labels we approached really, and yeah, Jon said he liked the music. He said ‘Let’s go for it,’ so that was it really.

“A lot of stuff on the label is doom, but he said himself that he doesn’t wanna pigeonhole and just be a doom label. I think that’s part of the reason he’s taken us on, because obviously we’re not a doom band. As much as we like that kind of music, we do listen to a lot of doom and it does influence our music, but I don’t think anyone would ever classify us as a doom band. We’re kind of on our own on the roster at the moment, but I don’t think that’s going to be the case for very long. It’s not like he’s just put out one or two things. He’s put out some really cool stuff; he’s got some cool bands on that label as I mentioned, like Bast, a band called Torpor. He’s done Undersmile, Headless Kross.”

As referenced earlier, sticksman Rich Lewis is a member of Merseyside, England-based doom concern Conan. Meanwhile, guitarist Joe Harvatt handles bass duties, for Swansea, Wales-based stoner metal assortment H A R K. Having outside commitments could arguably cause scheduling conflicts. “Not at the moment,” Mathew clarifies. “It’s been pretty cool. I think in the past, it’s been easy to get bogged down and go ‘We need to be working on this all the time.’ As we’ve gotten older, we’ve kind of realised that that’s not actually true. We are constantly ticking over and constantly coming up with ideas and stuff, but I don’t think there’s any harm in taking breaks now and then, and having other musical projects – I have other musical interests, as well. It’s good to go away and play with other people, definitely.

“For both of them, they both enjoy being in those bands. It’s good for them as players, as well; it widens their palette and their experience, which can ultimately only be a good thing for our band – when they come back to write music for Intensive Square. It just broadens their influence. Scheduling, it hasn’t come up yet. The worst case scenario is one of those bands is going to be on tour, and another band is gonna have to say ‘I can’t do that date.’ We’re all mates, though. We’ll work around each other. I don’t think it’s gonna be a problem.”

Anything That Moves was released on June 29th, 2015 through Black Bow Records.

Interview published in June 2015.

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