We first became aware of punk poet Noel Anderson, aka Death Knell’s Steel String Thing, via his label, Crocodile Laboratories London, formed by brothers Finn and Toby Kidd of long-term Joyzine faves Hatcham Social, and were immediately drawn in by his bare bones vocal and acoustic guitar sound and the twisted narratives of the tales woven within the songs.
His debut album Set West, Raising Hell, adds extra instrumentation from Finn and Hatcham bandmate James Fry and Sam Davies of Great Silkie as well as vocals from labelmate Amy Studt and production from Toby. It’s been released as a digital download and accompanying lyric zine featuring handwritten annotations by DKSST, stamped with three sigils. The sigils are designed by DKSST and correspond to the album name & titles for sides A (It’s Not a Tree Butter Seed) & B (The Star at The Heart of The Soul).
We asked Noel to give us a guided tour of the album, track by track.
I tell a bunch of the story behind this song in lyrics zine we released as initial physical artefact for album release. We did this to emphasise the centrality of words to this project. Something I didn’t write there was that this song has two voices & there’s a deep residual conflict within. This begins getting itself worked out as I start making DKSST songs (this was the first I wrote).
I wanted to record this album quickly, so had my parts down but think I’d only managed to baffle other bandmates when I showed them songs (other than Sam who was living in my basement bunker, who began baffled but via many drillings had them beaten into his brains). First day of studio time, we were jamming songs & as Finn/James played together in Hatcham Social, the process was pretty painless. We had Amy in on the last day after I’d done vocals & I think it appropriately awry that she enters the record on offbeat ‘THIS IS TOTAL WAR’. The outro melody she sings repeats three times, which is a crucial number for the album. Hence ending w/ a waltz…
Kill Kill City
I’ve always pitched this project to people as ‘Richard Hell meets Leonard Cohen’. If the first track is my early impression of the latter, this would be a loose attempt at the former. Sam Davies of Great Silkie was living w/ me at the time & think his guitar kills it on this recording/kills kill kill city.
330 Kingsland Road 7
In my head, this track really reverberates the space we recorded album at. BARK Studios has had an unbelievable list of influential artists who recorded there for such an unassuming, small-ish studio. Producer Toby uses the place a lot so has some kind of sweetheart deal. The bongos were maybe on Screamaedelica, Felt/many Lawrence projects & My Bloody Valentine have recorded there etc. The first chorus lyric in this song is an absurd & ominous text that drug dealers would send daily to captive addicts’ phones. The next chorus line I also dig: ‘But you couldn’t see a thing from there/you couldn’t feed yr kids on air’.
Searching in the Dirt
This was the first to get a video & funnily enough, it was filmed before 2019 was over & long before we recorded the album. This was an earlier song I wrote (3rd) & I’d gone filming w/ Tom Hall, who is an excellent weirdo. I didn’t really know how to do the idea I had at the time so gave a v. shy performance & when excellent weirdo made excellent video, I felt embarrassed that I’d underperformed. One thing that felt vaguely synchro-mystical putting this album together was when the recorded track matched exactly how I’d played before, ending at 3:33 w/ Tom’s added in&out-tros. Sam & Amy’s haunting/haunted BVs really make this one too.
I was delighted to see this track start coming together as we jammed it in the studio. Before recording, it was feeling a little like two distinct songs crammed into one. I think James & Finn giving a shade of Fugazi helps it a lot, I also think Sam added a tiny bit of Blur to chorus’ that I’m surprised to love. Weird rhythm changes are something I’ve really dug playing w/ writing songs myself. The first lyric holds key to whole song: ‘Crisis, faith & fact’.
This track ends Side A (IT’S NOT A TREE BUTTER SEED) & both this, along w/ the next, are my favourite two songs on the record. When it kicks in around 1:47 could be my favourite part on the album. This song also has a story that I’ve told a few times before in places that should be easy to find. Sam is in some kind of capo/Keith Richards-tuning combo. I also shot a video w/ my flatmate Nathalia Bruno of Index for Working Music/DRIFT fame, set in my bunker bedroom. Imagining myself as Jackie Kennedy while working at Whitecross St. food market is a funny point in the song.
A Worker From Afar
THE STAR AT THE HEART OF THE SOUL (or Side B) begins here! Throughout the album, Amy’s vocals have a beautiful quality that I could never muster myself. I originally thought it’d be good to have like a girlgang doing the BVs but evident in this recording, one person who can really sing was probably better call for this album than a bunch who kinda can. I did do the girlgang for release show & it kicked ass! Maybe the next album can have both…The song title/chorus lyric are both things I’ve read as possible translations of HEKATE; goddess of crossroads, boundaries, the liminal & witchcraft. This is the big ballad of the album: ‘The desperate say ‘do or die’/pealing past pretences, fearing what you might not find’
This song was originally called ‘Threads2America’. I’m a big fan of writing occasional songs these days; quite early into starting this project, I did a session for Threads Radio & wrote this for that. I was also about to visit my dad in California. The second verse references his quite weird living situation at the time. I’d been listening to Rust Never Sleeps a lot & maybe that can be heard in chorus riff. The final repeated lyric is actually borrowed from first album I was on (State Run, my younger teens punx band from Wales). I suppose it still says something to me about the promise of potential. I think Sam said his favourite playing on this album was the last three notes of his solo in this song.
Dreams to be Bullshit-free
Recording the middle freakout bit of this one was super fun; also kudos to James & Finn who come back into the song like a tight band that have been playing together a while (as opposed to two day veterans of the SWRH WHRS). This was my first foray into actually long songs, it’s now a habit I need to quit. But hell, I am a fan of songs telling stories.
Psychick Sunday Waltz
Everyone who’s read this far should listen to Subliminal Jihad from the beginning. When I released the Fortune St. video on my 33rd birthday, it coincided w/ their SUS-CHECK on Genesis P. Orridge – which felt like another cool synchronicity. In the album zine, I relay the ‘Psychick Sunday’ side of this song’s story; I also wrote earlier that threes were crucial to this record (Amy’s closing vocal round recurs three times). It also has the album title in the lyrics, which I chose ‘cause I dug how that line echoed both setting suns & the birth of our modern madness. One ambition I have w/ this project is to help in the re-radicalizing of folk music that is surely imminent. This is an idea that came to me after recording this album, though the seeds of which can be heard throughout. ‘It’s not a tree but a seed’ (from third song I wrote!)
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Introduction by Paul Maps