A Ripple Conversation With Ste Arands From Boss Keloid

When I was a kid, growing up in a house with Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, and Simon and Garfunkel, the first time I ever heard Kiss's "Detroit Rock City," it was a moment of musical epiphany. It was just so vicious, aggressive and mean. It changed the way I listened to music. I've had a few minor epiphany's since then, when you come across a band that just brings something new and revolutionary to your ears.


What have been your musical epiphany moments?


I too grew up in a house where music was a big part of the daily entertainment. My dad has an absolutely huge music collection, and a quite a wide range of tastes, so I was exposed to a lot from a very young age. Most of the time there was an album playing, and if I liked the sound of it, I only needed to walk over to the stereo to see what was spinning. That being said, my dad never listened to anything remotely heavy. Even the sound of a distorted guitar was enough for him to be put off at times, so that side of music was completely foreign to me for the majority of my childhood. When I was around 10 or so, I was at a friends house, and he told me about a band that his older brother had started listening to. The album sounded "angry" he said, and "fast & loud". I was intrigued, but we weren't able to listen until his brother was out of sight and we could steal it from his bedroom. The album was Master of Puppets by Metallica, and it was the first time I'd heard anything like it, so you can imagine the impact it had on me when Battery kicked the album off! I was immediately hooked, and it expanded my tastes massively from that point on.


Talk to us about the song-writing process for you. What comes first, the idea? A riff? The lyrics? How does it all fall into place?


In the earlier days of the band, the writing process was a lot different. Paul (Swarbrick - guitar) and I would often work alone to refine and piece together different ideas of Paul's until we had the complete, but basic form of a song. At that point, the music would be sent to Liam (Pendlebury-Green - bass) to put his parts to, before finally being sent to Alex (Hurst - vocals) who'd give it a vocal melody and write lyrics. Generally Al's first reaction would be something along the lines of, "What the fuck am I going to do with this?!", but he always made it work in the end. Alex has always amazed me with his ability to not only come up with a melody over the madness of Paul's riffs, but to use that melody to make the whole thing sound far more cohesive and planned out. His vocals tied the songs together perfectly in my opinion, and made them far more memorable and easy to digest. These days, writing is done more collaboratively, with everyone pitching ideas for different parts of a song throughout the entire process. Ideas generally start as they always have, with one of Paul's signature crazy riffs, but the rest of the parts are formed alongside each other now, and that has definitely improved our sound as well as making things a bit more efficient. We've always taken a long time to write anything though, because we're very hard to please, and we all have to be 100% happy before calling anything complete.


Who has influenced you the most?


Speaking of personal musical influences, it would be far too difficult to pick any one band or artist - it tends to change every week - so I would have to say my father. I don't think I've learned more from any one person on any subject than I've learned from him about music. His knowledge is vast, and the constant and varied barrage of music he exposed me to as a kid did a lot to shape my tastes and attitude to music. I think it went a long way to developing my ear too. As a band, it's even harder to pick out any one influence, as we all have quite varied tastes individually. There are obvious overlaps in our tastes, which helps us to work towards something we're all happy with, but we all learn from each other as a result too, and end up pushing each other out of our comfort zones. Each of us likes music that the other 3 hate too, but when those influences creep into our writing, I think it helps to keep us all challenged and help us grow as a band.


Where do you look for continuing inspiration? New ideas, new motivation?


For me, and I'm sure the rest of the lads, this generally comes from listening to as much music as possible. I find that I dry up and my motivation gets a little drained when for one reason or another I haven't had chance to listen to anything new in a while. I'm always trying to hunt down new stuff I've never tried before. It's another reason that us having such varied tastes from one another helps so much, as we're always recommending music to one another.


We're all a product of our environment. Tell us about the band's hometown and how that reflects in the music?


We all grew up pretty close to a town called Wigan, and this is where the band is currently based although Paul now lives in Liverpool. Our rehearsal space is in Wigan, and it's where we did a lot of our first shows as a band. I can't say that Wigan has any impact on our music though I'm afraid, at least nothing I'm aware of. Not the most interesting answer, but it's the truth!


Where'd the band name come from?


The name Boss Keloid is taken directly from the title of a song by UK band Iron Monkey that features on their 1998 album 'Our Problem'. Musically we have very little in common with that band but the song title is weird, humorous and puzzling which are the cornerstones for how we've always approached titling our songs. 'Boss Keloid' could be interpreted as meaning 'good scar' (boss is slang for good in some parts of the UK, keloid is a type of raised scar) and thus to 'wear your scars with pride'.


You have one chance, what movie are you going to write the soundtrack for?


That's a tough one, but one film that comes to mind is 'Dead Mans Shoes'. It's incredible. It would be so hard to do justice to a movie that good, but it would be a great challenge. It's quite an intense film, with a very emotionally heavy story at the heart of it, and Shane Meadows (director) manages to keep the whole thing so real and so gritty and intense that you're invested from the off in all of his characters. He was famous for 'This Is England', but if anyone reading this is unfamiliar with Shane Meadows' other films, please do yourself a massive favour and get watching immediately. You will not regret it!


You now write for a music publication (The Ripple Effect?).  You're going to write a 1,000 word essay on one song. Which would it be and why?


Another very difficult question, but I'm going to say 'Nevermore' by UK. I found UK quite late in life, as they were one of those bands I'd heard of time and again, but just never got round to listening to for whatever reason. When I finally did, I just couldn't believe what I was hearing. I like surprises in music, and the less I can predict what's coming next, the more I'm turned on by it. I've listened to that whole album (self titled) so many times now, and it still makes me feel like an idiot. I love that! Plus, I've always enjoyed a close vocal harmony, and this song has some unbelievable vocal parts. At that point UK were also as close to perfect as a band could be. Allan Holdsworth on guitar was a player the likes of which the world had never seen before, and I doubt we'll ever get to see again. John Wetton is incredible on bass and I've always thought was massively underrated as a vocalist. Eddie Jobson's keyboards are so huge on the whole album, and his solo on this song blew my tiny mind. And Bill Bruford on drums is one of the most unique players I've ever heard. You can always tell when it's Bill playing, and that was and still is very inspiring to me.


Come on, share with us a couple of your great, Spinal Tap, rock and roll moments?


We once turned up to a gig and saw that the whole sound system was wired up wrong. The drums were only partially miced up, and the speakers were all connected to the wrong channels on the desk. After some asking around, we found out that the sound guy - although a very nice chap - was deaf, and admitted quite openly that he had "no idea what he was doing". He was politely asked to go and grab himself a pint whilst Alex and a couple of other people re-wired the whole rig before the show. As baffling as that was though, it turned out to be a great night.


Tell us about playing live and the live experience for you and for your fans?


I love playing live. As well as having the chance to meet a lot of new people, I find that our songs evolve over time whilst playing them live, and they tend to get more enjoyable to play with each gig. We try to put our all into each performance, and leave everything on the stage, and in doing that we feed off the energy of the audience quite a lot. It feels almost like a collaborative effort between the band and the audience to make each night special, and we have a great bunch of fans who really get involved at our shows, whether that's singing along at deafening volumes or just generally going insane.


What makes a great song?


For me, a great song will surprise me and go in directions that I didn't expect. That's the thing I look for in all music I listen to as I tend to get bored pretty easily if music sounds like it's treading old ground, or not very inventive. That's not to say that it can't be simple, it just has to be unique and new in some way. I also like it if a song makes me ask questions, or makes me consider things in a new way.


Tell us about the first song you ever wrote?


This was Spurt Reynolds written in 2009 and features on our first album Angular Beef Lesson released in 2010. Paul (Swarbrick - guitar) wrote the bones of this with Chris Thomason (original drummer) and Paul Thomason (former guitarist) in Chris' bedroom. The song came together very quickly based around several grooves possibly inspired by the likes of Botch, Pantera and the Melvins. Alex joined soon after adding his vocals (some parts are sung on the record through a megaphone) and then Liam added his basslines. The meaning of the lyrics are about those people who rely on the interpretation of an ancient book to guide them through life rather than deciding what's right and what's wrong for themselves.


What piece of your music are particularly proud of?


I really like how 'Smiling Thrush' from the latest album turned out. Paul did a great job with the lyrics on that one. It's really emotionally driven, and I really like how well the music was able to match the emotion of the lyrics in each section of the song. It was written at a particularly challenging time for Paul, and I'm incredibly proud of him and what he managed to achieve with that song. To be completely honest, it's hard for me to ever listen back to my own playing without cringing or wishing I'd done something differently, but I don't think I played too badly on that one!


Who today, writes great songs? Who just kicks your ass? Why?


I've always been a fan of Steven Wilson, since his days in Porcupine Tree. I think he's very inventive, and keeps challenging himself and his listeners with every project. His recent album 'The Future Bites' is a completely new direction for him again, but it's still really interesting and layered like all of his music, and has a very deep message to it. Opeth are another example. They're constantly improving in my opinion with every new record. I remember listening to 'In Cauda Venenum' at Alex's house with Paul after it came out and my jaw nearly hit the floor. Mikael Akerfeldt is just brilliant. His arrangements, his sense of melody, and his lyrics are all so good. On the other side of the spectrum completely, there's an artist named Lianne La Havas who's self titled 2020 album I recently got. She (with writing partner Matt Hales) does what I would describe as pop with a soul sound to it (although I'm sure some would disagree.... I hate labels!) and it's some of the best pop writing I've heard in a while. Plus, she's got an unbelievable voice.


Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?


CD for me. I always liked vinyl for the whole ritual of it. Vinyl forces you to be more of an album listener instead of being able to skip and choose between songs, but the clarity and quality of sound from a CD can't really be argued with, and there's so much less maintenance involved - a major benefit to someone this lazy. I've never been a fan of digital personally, and other than a bit of dodgy downloading in the good old days of Limewire, I never owned much digital music. I don't own a smartphone because I can't stand the things, and I never liked the idea of paying for information over a physical product, so CDs have always remained my format of choice.


Whiskey or Beer?  And defend your choice


That depends on the situation for me. If I'm sitting down to listen to an album, I'll have a whiskey. If I'm socialising, normally beer. I'm not much of a drinker though, so I don't really have much of either to be honest or I risk turning into a dribbling, depressive idiot pretty quickly. I much prefer a smoke instead. It doesn't stop me thinking, music sounds better, and there's no hangover!


We, at the Ripple Effect, are constantly looking for new music. What's your home town, and when we get there, what's the best record store to lose ourselves in?


One of the greatest record stores in the area, and probably the country, is X-Records in Bolton. It's independently run, and the selection they have is absolutely insane! Steve the owner is brilliant, and his almost encyclopaedic knowledge means that he can chat with anyone and point them in the direction of something they'll love in no time. I miss record stores like that. So many of them have closed in the last decade, so we need to try to hang on to and support every one of them we can!


What's next for the band?


At the moment we're focusing on the promotion of our latest record 'Family The Smiling Thrush', which we plan on touring in November 2021 if Covid allows. Following that, it'll be back to the studio to carry on writing and creating new music. We very quickly get bored, so there's always something new in the works. We've actually already made a start on some new tunes already, and I'm loving the direction it's going in.