Intestinal intensity: Dan Guts (left) wields his Strat while Ben Guts lays into a hollowbody Gretsch Streamliner. Dan sticks to the treble side of the sonic spectrum, while Ben handles the lower guitar voicings. Photo by Ian Coulson/IC Media
The next time you visit England (because who doesn’t hop across the pond on occasion?), take a trip to Brighton, a small coastal city just south of London. Brighton is something of an artistic enclave and boasts a thriving poetry scene, alternative art spaces, and even world-famous street art (like Banksy’s “Kissing Policemen”). But Brighton isn’t just galleries and pretentious cafés. Hidden amongst the poets and beautiful people, you’ll find the scruffy, noisy, yet eminently lovable extreme mathcore band, the Guts.
The Guts play guitar-centric metal and feature the twin-guitar attack of Dan and Ben Guts. Dan and Ben are not brothers and “Guts” isn’t their real last name, but the Guts see themselves as mathcore’s answer to the Ramones. They may also be mathcore’s answer to Sly and the Family Stone, in that four of their five members take turns singing lead. The rest of the band is composed of drummer Weezey, bassist Joe, and keyboardist Connor.
Dan and Ben like it loud and fast, and their live show is relentless. They stand in the pit, in front of the stage, and are usually in constant motion. “We were playing a show in Blackburn, or Darwen, which is in the North of England, and I finished the gig outside the venue, still playing, in front of the bouncers,” Dan says, which also explains why he uses a wireless unit. “As soon as I got one, everyone else in the band got one as well. They were jealous of the fact that I could just move around.”
Dan plays the band’s upper register, fingernails-on-the-blackboard guitar parts and generates his sounds via a Mexico-made Fender Strat. “We were working with a producer about a year ago,” Dan says. “He said, ‘The less you can be a cliché metal band the better.’ It’s a bit more fun to go to a metal gig with a cute little guitar that’s going to make screechy noises. I used to play a big Jackson with a Floyd Rose and it was just too much work. The Strat is fun and makes all the noises that I like to make.”
Ben, on the other hand, plays a mutant 5-string hollowbody Gretsch Streamliner. “I’m still building up the confidence to take the machine head off the guitar,” Ben says. “To wear it on my sleeve and be like, ‘You know, I like playing five strings.’ I have no interest in using the high E string. I don’t really try to get good with jazz chords or things like that. Not because I think they’re useless, but because I am too preoccupied doing my chuggy shit.”
Their new EP, Flesh, was recorded at Small Pond Studios in Brighton and the guitar parts, although overdubbed, were recorded as complete takes. The goal was to keep the energy live and heavy. We spoke with Dan and Ben and discussed how they write—and remember—their complex, intricate music, how they approach being a two-guitar band, and why Ben can’t seem to get enough feedback.
Did you take guitar lessons?
Dan: I took lessons for about two years, but from then on I was self-taught. I became more obsessed with songwriting than learning the ins and outs. I would rather discover what sounds good for myself than learn instructionally. But I did have a teacher who was very good and he taught me a lot of the basics that you need when you start. I started playing drums first. I was taking drum lessons from the age of 10 and, at some point, I either got bored or I realized I couldn’t write songs with just drums, so I figured I would do a little bit of guitar. And then guitar just took over.
Ben: I took lessons for a year or two, however, I’ve always had a really rubbish work ethic—really shitty attention span. I’m dyslexic as fuck as well. I didn’t go to a lot of my guitar lessons and I didn’t try very hard at obtaining a lot of the music theory teaching. I just wanted to build a relationship with playing guitar and find a way to express myself through it.
Although the Guts tracked their new album, Flesh, layer-by-layer in the studio, Ben and Dan played their guitar tracks as complete performances for each song, with minimal overdubbing.
The reason I’m asking is because whenever I speak with someone who plays complex, intricate music, I’m curious to learn where that came from—was it organic or were you music school nerds gone bad?
Dan: I think it comes from the drumming. The mathcore genre—the subgenre everyone’s calling math rock these days—is stuff that’s rhythmically interesting. I never wanted to completely drop the idea of drums and it was always way more fun to screw around with rhythms than to become a master shredder or anything like that. It’s always been about rhythm and that attests to the fact that I learned drums first—that was a good skill to take over to guitar.
Ben: As a young person, my influence was about vibe more than figuring out the right guitar parts to play or figuring out where a guitar would work or how to use it. In this really heavy, aggressive music, my love for playing guitar was all about how to use it to create this huge, monstrous, musical vibe, and guitar was my instrumental choice for getting into that. Like Dan, I actually started on drums and guitar playing has always been slightly more of a rhythmic and percussive affair than actually finding the notes, keys, and modes.
Your rhythmic concept isn’t so much about working in odd meters, like doing a jam in 7. Really, it’s rhythmically fluid.
Dan: I think we have short attention spans. We’ll be jamming a section—it might just be 4s, but let’s say it is in 7—but even then, after about four bars we’ll think, “This is getting a bit boring now. We should throw in something else.” As long as it still kind of grooves a bit, we’ll throw in something that makes it fun for us. If we enjoy it, other people will. I think that’s probably where it comes from.