No matter how many people think black metal has gone mainstream or become hip because a few dozen bands from Brooklyn have small label deals the reality is that the vast majority of the population doesn't know a thing about it. They're listening to .38 Special or Lana Del Rey. If there is a black metal musician they've heard about it's Dani Filth, known to family and friends as Daniel Lloyd Davey. For the past two decades Filth has traveled the globe and shocked generations with Cradle Of Filth and his Gothic-inspired blend of black metal. Filth recently reunited with early collaborator Paul Ryan (no, not the Republican congressman) to release the collection of early Cradle of Filth rarities Total Fucking Darkness. He talked to Decibel about his upbringing and career and the back story of arguably the most infamous shirt in metal history.
A full stream of Total Fucking Darkness follows the interview. As you learn a bit more about Dani's past spin the music he helped make twenty plus years ago.
How did you get interested in music?
I’ve been in bands – some of them awful – literally since I was 14. There was a punk band called PDA and a rock metal band. The Lemon Grove Kids were sort of an indie-skater band that did a few dates with some big indie bands. I always wanted to do something heavier. I lived in a very picturesque, quintessential English village: it was a tea on the lawn, "Hello, Vicar" kind of place. When I went to sixth form I got in with a different group of people. I grew up on thrash metal and that obviously progressed to bands like Death, Bathory, Celtic Frost and Deicide and all the Morrisound bands. What influenced Cradle of Filth was Morrisound on one side and the Scandinavian assault like Cadaver, Carnage, Dismember, At The Gates and those things on the other. In England, we had the Charlotte Brontë vibe with Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride. We added keyboards and cherry picked our sound.
You mentioned tea on the lawn and Hello Vicar. It reminds of the movie Hot Fuzz where a secret group of Satanists try to win a town beautification contest every year. Is there something about an environment like that that leads to a band like Cradle Of Filth?
I know that town. I visited it by complete accident with my wife and daughter. We were sitting in a pub and it was the same view as one of the shots in the movie. I was having weird déjà vu and on my way to the toilet there’s this plaque with the actors and the landlord. What I liked about (Filth's hometown) Hadley was a great school and kids. It had everything you need to enjoy yourself as a kid but it was shut off from the world. You’d need to get a bus to the bigger towns. We all went through a skateboard phase and a metal phase. There was this witch craze vibe because it was one of the villages the Witchfinder General used. There were things like gallows hill and a monument to a Protestant priest who was burned. That vibe rubs off on you. My wife and I lived in a house that was frequented by (Witchfinder General) Matthew Hopkins. It was built in 1615.
How did the ideas for Cradle of Filth come to you?
It was like brutality and melody combined with dripping Gothicism. I’ve always been into the occult and knew two girls in school who said they were practicing witches. So it just became my life’s path. As soon as the second wave of black metal came we were the only people in this country to embrace it. We were always shirked by the Norwegian contingency. But things were growing and it was exciting. We eventually became good friends with the guys in Emperor and Immortal. But we were the only band, really, from our country. There were a handful of other bands but they never got on the map.
This band has sort of been bred in isolation. Most of the band members grew up in little villages that were like satellites around larger towns. Whenever we’ve recorded we’ve always been happier in out of the way places. Nothing has ever had the same atmosphere as being locked in the countryside somewhere concentrating on your art. We thrived on isolation.
Was there a point where you think the band really took off?
It was probably about 1996. Vempire came out. The Principle Of Evil Made Flesh came out and it was a slow process and a year of that we were in court (Eds: more on that later). Vempire got a massive response and got us a really good manager. We went out to headline a tour with In Flames and Dissection and Dimmu Borgir opening. Those two albums were like fired out of a black metal cannon.
As your band was taking off the whole Scandinavian scene was kind of shutting down.
We did our own thing. There was a tour (Gods Of Darkness II) a few years later with Gorgoroth and Old Man’s Child. So I guess even though we were rebuked at first we never gave two fucks outside of the people we know. We went on out on our own tangent. I think our records were different. Everyone else was brimstone and fire and we were part of that but we were more cinematic.
Vampires are now part of the cultural currency. What about them fascinated you?
Well, this is pre Twilight and Buffy and all of that crap (laughs). Growing up my main love was English literature and I was going to be a journalist. I took a year or so out, a stopgap period. My girlfriend and I lived in a creepy old Georgian manor. Part of the study of English literature is to read the 19th century, people like Stoker and Stevenson and Oscar Wilde. I was also into Poe and Lovecraft later.
I grew up on Hammer horror movies. You also have to remember around 1992, when the band blossomed, was the year of the Gothic horror blockbuster: Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Interview With The Vampire. Because of those huge films a lot of others got made. All of this rubbed off on us.
Do you believe in ghosts?
I think so. I think I’ve seen a few. I saw a woman on a bridge who disappeared. We used to live in the house I mentioned. The house was split into three properties and was pink. You might laugh -- “Dani lived in a pink house” -- but it’s Suffolk pink. It was made by mixing paint with pig’s blood. My wife would sleep in the front room. She swears to God that she woke up and it was absolutely freezing and she could see her breath. She was frightened and hid for an hour. The cats went crazy there. We had a cat called Lilith who would sit and look straight into a corner and hiss. We had friends who came over who saw shadow people walking around…
Did your parents talk about ghosts?
Well, back in the 70s people embraced it. The big Devil craze was going on. It was all about "Satan Wants Your Children!" and Dennis Wheatley novels. People were thinking about demonology and Satanism and it was everywhere. The Daily Mail was uncovering covens of witches. Most it was bullshit but people really fell into it. And I was an impressionable child.
I remember the first time I saw a "Jesus is A C--t" shirt in the mid to late 90s. It was pretty hard to shock me with a t-shirt but it succeeded. How did that shirt come to be? Even if people don’t know the band they know that shirt.
We had one prior to that which accompanied Total Fucking Darkness which said “Fuck Your God.” We were young and we weren’t going out of the way to shock. If you read the lyrics on Principle, Vempire or Dusk they are very ornate. But sometimes we do get out of bed on the wrong side and want to be uncouth. That was one of those moments. We were sitting on the lawn of (Cacophonous and Mordgrimm records founder) Frater Nihil's house. I think our old drummer said “Christ, he’s a cunt.” He was a talking about someone. And I just said “Jesus Is a Cunt.” It was out of context and everyone laughed. We thought it would be a shocking background for a show. That was it, really.
That seems to be the story of Cradle Filth. Press a small volume of a demo or a shirt and they go all over the world.
People in East Anglia are very superstitious and small town and not quite as liberal as London, especially back then. My wife was working at a t-shirt place and we still couldn’t find anywhere to print these up apart from this small place in a village called Woodbridge. They snuck the production out the back door and told us not to say anything and have cash in hand. We had 150 at best, black and white.
If the story is true and I end up with Peter at the gates that will be the thing that tips the scale to Hell. “Remember that t-shirt?” “No.” “Bye!”
Have you ever played a show where you haven’t seen at least one of those shirts?
Probably but I can’t remember.
When you go back and listen to this old material how does it sound to you decades removed?
Paul Ryan left the band in 1995. We had literally split in half because of legal wrangles with Cacophonous. That was the last time I saw Paul except at festivals. In the interim he’s become a renowned agent. A mutual friend got us back together over a few beers and a curry. We got kind of nostalgic and he suggested we reboot this for the times. A lot of people had asked for it and he had material no one had heard. We were only going to do 666 copies and a double vinyl with a bunch of photos and rare flyers. Since then the whole thing has just grown. It was an important release because it got us a booking agent. Back then, there was no Internet and no one except on the stock exchange had mobile phones (laughs). We sold more than 1,000 copies and for an underground that’s a mean feat.
Since the split was acrimonious what was it like to bury the hatchet with Paul?
It’s in a good place and he’s actually co-manging my other band Devilment. He’s negotiating a deal on our behalf. We kind of got close again. He said “if I was flipping burgers I would have some resentment” but like I said he’s become a prolific booking agent. He left us back then to manage our way through this legal wrangle but we’ve laughed about it. Who cares; life is too short.
It’s funny to hear that Cacophonous thought there was no future for the band.
Well, it’s not that they didn’t see a future but that we thought they were ripping us off. We took them to court over it.It was so complicated because we had two managers. In 1995 we recorded Dusk...And Her Embrace. But it’s not the Dusk people know. It’s a version that hasn’t seen the light of day. We kind of won the legal dispute. They asked for Vempire with a different lineup than the three people who left. We gave it to them as our settlement. It enabled us to have the rights to the songs on Dusk so what came out was a totally different version.
You live close to where you grew up before you became famous. Do you run into people you knew? Are they cordial? Is it comfortable?
It’s very comfortable. A few years ago they did a poll about Suffolk County. It was an icon thing – who will represent us prior to the Olympics? They were looking for someone to represent the county and I won it! It was all over the news. And there were pictures everywhere that said: “would you vote for this guy? He looks horrible!” The poll was a bit of a farce but I got more recognition out of it.
People are always asking why I don’t live in the London where the action is. When I come back from tour the last thing I want is action. My wife and I have a nice big townhouse but we are looking to move ever further in the country. Right now we are in Ipswich. We literally want to live in the village where we grew up.
That poll probably helped crank the ratings up.
It made the news nationwide and they were debating it all over the radio.
Has your daughter taken up music? What’s family life like?
It’s cool. She’s probably heard Bathory more than anyone except Quorthon. But she’s not into it at all. She’s a teenager and is into Mumford And Sons. We have a mutual understanding. Our house is like the Addams Family house anyway. She is very good at art.
If Dani Filth is your father do you just go the opposite way and conform?
(laughs). It’s just like any other family, really, just a bit different. This all could become embarrassing to her though.