A Boy Named Sue.....Nope, not in this duo. It's Noko and a guy named Mary! Meet "Am I Dead Yet"
By: Kreig Marks
Am I Dead Yet is the new musical project from Pop Will Eat Itself & Gaye Bykers On Acid frontman Mary Byker and Apollo440 founder-member, Magazine guitarist & long-time collaborator, Noko. The pair first worked together way back in 1992, when Noko produced the album Metaphasia by Mary’s first post-GBOA band Hyperhead. They later re-charged their creative batteries in the surf-jungle live band Maximum Roach, they formed in 1996 with drummer Paul Kodish.
Soon after, Mary was invited to join Noko’s other band, Apollo 440, as frontman and this re-energized line-up took them chart-bound with their genre-busting “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Dub” amongst others. Their collaboration. ‘Stop The Rock’, hit world-wide and, nearly 20 years after it’s release the track recently flew into a stadium near you on Budweiser’s global FIFA World Cup ad.
Apollo 440 tracks have appeared in countless Hollywood blockbusters (The band were also commissioned to record the themes of 'Lost In Space' and 'Charlie’s Angels 2000’ movies), or mega-selling video games (‘Gran Turismo’; ‘FIFA’; ‘Forza Motorsport’ ; ‘Spider Man’ etc ) alike.
Noko has played on countless records by other people and collaborated with artists as varied as Jean-Michel Jarre and Jeff Beck, his early non-440 previous includes work-outs with ‘The Cure’ (bass), Buzzcock Pete Shelley (bass & guitar) and Luxuria, the band he formed in 1986 with Magazine’s Howard Devoto.
Noko joined the re-formed Magazine in 2009, replacing the late John McGeoch and recording 2011’s “No Thyself” album. More recently he played bass with Japanese “Kill Bill” superstar guitarist, Tomoyasu Hotei. Noko has scored a number of feature-films, notably Éric Valette’s French-language noir thrillers, 'Une Affaire D’Etat' and ‘La Proie’, plus Darren Cavanagh’s feature-length 2017 “Ex-Dominatrix” documentary.
Mary’s previous includes vocalising for psychedelic-grebo leg ends, ‘Gaye Bykers On Acid’, industrial monsters, ’Pigface’, and Black Country indie perennials, ‘Pop Will Eat Itself’. He even delivered on ‘Nervous’ with DJ Fresh and took it to #1 in the BBC Radio 1 dance chart. Mary still, to this day, fronts the Gaye Bykers, Pop Will Eat Itself and Magnetic Empire with Former apollo 440 DJ and Maximum Roach alumni Harry K, and like Noko, Mary has composed film scores most notably for Brazilian Filmaker Cavi Borges & TV documentary soundtracks for ARD in Germany.
It’s this shared love for the dramatic, the cinematic and the smell of the popcorn, that sets the tone for their new work together in Am I Dead Yet?
TRR: What is the origin of your band’s name? Is this the original name or have you changed it before?
Mary: We took our name from a painting by Deborah Griffin, which was hanging of the wall of No Kontrol studios where we recorded the majority of the album. It kind of chose itself. I'm really interested in the idea that a lot of people are just on cruise control and treading water, not really living life to the full, just existing until their last breath, as it were. Just asking the question, Am I dead yet? I think is a cool concept.
Mary: Myself, Mary Byker, on vocals and Noko, who is the musical maestro responsible for crafting our sonic universe, on guitar, beautiful harmonies and bongos.
TRR: How did you two meet?
Mary: Noko was introduced to me by Karl Leiker who was a bass player we had both worked with. Karl and I had a project called Hyperhead which was what I did after my first band, Gaye Bykers on Acid, had split. Noko produced the album "Metaphasia" and we have collaborated ever since.
TRR: (laughing) Gaye Bykers on Acid. These band names. (laughing) How would you classify your music?
Mary: Not metal! I think that our thing hopefully transcends specific genres. I think we weave a magical mixture of Cinematic orchestration with traditional song craft, dark and interesting lyrics and wall of sound that wouldn't sound out of place on a Phil Spector production.
TRR: If you weren’t in a band, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
Mary: Probably selling hats in a Chapeau shop.
TRR: (laughing) An interesting answer! Who are some of your musical influences?
Mary: Our musical influences are many and varied we both share a love for classic metal, punk, post punk, techno, minimalism, prog, folk and soundtrack music. The list is endless.
TRR: That’s one hell of an eclectic mix of sounds. What do you think makes your band stand out from others?
Mary: I think its important to try to be true to yourself and in doing so, your own unique personality will help your music stand out. That's what we try to do.
TRR: What other bands would you like to tour with?
Mary: The London Symphony Orchestra and Napalm Death.
TRR: Napalm Death?! (laughing) I didn't see that one coming. (laughing) Maybe you guys could do a collaborative remake of 'Suffer the Children!'
Mary: In the style of Bacharach, that would be fun!
TRR: How do you write your songs? Is it collaborative?
Mary: Our process is totally collaborative and pretty simple. We both bring ideas to the table. It’s fair to say in general I’m the main lyric writer and Noko is the musical magician, however, Noko comes up with complete songs with both lyrics and music. I’m more than happy to sing Noko's words if they are good and I can’t improve on them in any way. All the lyrics have to go through our joint filter system. Other times, there may be a chord progression, a groove and a couple of lines of words which we’ll both add to until we have something special. In some cases, Noko will take my basic song idea and turn it into something more beautiful. Sometimes we sit down with lyrics already written and Noko gets the guitar out and we work that way. There’s really no set way of working.
TRR: That's a great way to compose. There's a lot of bands where there are 4 or 5 members but only 1 or 2 songwriters in the band and that's how it is. It's great that you both work together on the songs. What is your most memorable show?
Mary: With this band, our launch gig with our expanded line up of Cliff Hewitt on drums and Derek "Hoodlum Priest" Thompson was pretty memorable. I've been lucky enough to play at many iconic venues and festivals over the years with various bands from small clubs like CBGB's in NYC, The Marquee in London, all the way to Glastonbury. Each is memorable in its own way.
TRR: What has been your craziest fan interaction?
Mary: I had my penis plaster-casted in Chicago by Cynthia Plaster Caster. As fan interactions go, that's pretty crazy!
TRR: (laughing) I hope that was several years ago! Cynthia has to be in her mid 70's by now. I imagine you popping a few Viagra's
and asking for a magazine to help "set the mood" for the plaster!
Mary: Ha! It was back in the late 1980's so I'm not sure if Viagra even existed then! Cynthia remains a dear friend. She certainly looks nowhere near her age, whatever that may be!
TRR: I Googled her. She's 72 but you're right. She looks great. What’s on the table for the rest of the year?
Mary: Hopefully food!
TRR: (laughing) I left that one wide open. Anyone you’d like to give a shout out to or thank you to?
Mary: I'd like to thank you for giving us this exposure and my mum for having me.
TRR: You’re very welcome and thank you for being part of this interview. Kudos to your mom!