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  SENSER: A MEETING OF MINDS
By Pippa Lang
11th April 2011
pippa lang

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As Senser's new single, '2, 3, Clear', is released as a free download today (with a mix of 'seismic proportions'), Pippa Lang chats to singer Heitham Al Sayed about philosophy, reality tunnels and authenticity. Oh, and there's some superficial banter about women getting pregnant when they should be on tour, too. Mix it up!

Ah, 1994: Senser's 'Stacked Up' blasting its contagious dub-Metal fusion from my Brixton suitcase all summer; bouncing on the beach with my mates, our Album Of The Year! Not only ours, but enough genre-crossing hard bass fanatics to send it jumping in at UK No 4.

I've been away from Senser's life since then, occasionally cocking an ear to rumours from the underground: singer Heitham absconds to form Lodestar... Heitham defects to France to 'find his voice'. So I haven't missed much. Senser, it seems, remained static with 'Stacked Up', an album that united Metal, dub and hip-hop in one dancin', bangin', pumpin' no-exclusion zone. Hybrid joy.

Then, at the arse-end of 2009, a new album, 'How To Do Battle', 'Stacked Up''s follow-up at last – never mind the two in between. Senser have popped out of a time capsule, it seems, and I'm in hot pursuit, along with a plethora of like-minded, infinitely patient Senser-tive types (ouch).

After the accompanying tour, they were greeted like prodigal sons at Download last year, confirming that, yes, it was worth waiting fifteen years for their return 'home'.

Senser are the same as they ever were, although there is a notable, temporary, absence on their current tour.

She-of-the-ethereal-lungs Kerstin (pronounced 'Sherstin') is on maternity leave, so singer iMMa is standing in for her:

"A: She's gorgeous, B: She sounds great... no... A: She sounds great, B: She's gorgeous!"

Heitham corrects himself, obviously unwilling to appear like some drooling neanderthal (of which there are plenty here at London's Kick Out The Jams Festival, lolol – get on the MetalTalk.net Forum, you know the drill). Neanderthallic is about as far from the tiny firebrand's psyche as you can get, by the way. He clears his throat, swivelling brain to matters of a more serious, maternal nature:

"Yeah, it's gonna be Kerstin's third baby, so we really couldn't expect her to bounce about onstage..."

Ah, the old pregnancy tactics, I joke, recalling my guitarist having to back out of a gig at the Bulldog Bash years ago, because his wife was about to drop. Some women, honestly.

"Yeah, I think Kerstin did it on purpose!" Heitham joins in on the joke, and we spend a coupla minutes bitching about women deliberately planning births to disrupt tour schedules. Just joshing, Kerstin!

We're chatting amidst (or, rather, shouting over) the backstage hubbub of the indoor noise festival at the 229 Club. Heitham, known for being a bit of a hothead, warms to my ancient experience of the band, and we nod sagely about the old times for a while. I'm proud to have championed my fellow Surrey dwellers' corner in '94, fighting to get this predominantly hip-hop/dub, albeit juggernaut-heavy band into the biggest monthly Metal mag at the time.

Later tonight, he allegedly tells one young journalist, "don't you know who we are?!" Quite possibly not, considering a whole generation has been born since 'Stacked Up', some of whom are now testing their wings as fledgling journos ('research' being a whole new concept, ahem).

This brings us to the new single, '2, 3, Clear' which, it transpires, some may be too young to understand - although lack of life experience is, of course, only temporary, whereas music is indelible, and thus constantly re-experienced... Yes. Philosophy lesson about to begin. Are you sitting comfortably? Let Heitham begin:

"'2, 3, Clear' is like a stream of consciousness. In the context of this band, I think about specific things, but sometimes I just let a stream of consciousness grow in this kind of mystical way. Like comic book writer Alan Moore will sometimes just open up and let this stream of consciousness loose on a multi-dimensional level. I guess Burroughs would be a good example of getting ideas and cutting them up, but I don't actually cut them up, I just let them go.

"Philosopher Robert Anton Wilson, for example, talks about how each person has their own reality tunnel. Imagine, say, a fundamentalist Muslim and somebody who's into Burlesque, for example - their lives are so disparate, there's no point at which their reality tunnels touch. I'm at an ideal psychological place now, where I can widen my tunnel so all these different ones cross mine, and I can see all these points of view. There's never gonna be enough time to grab all these different viewpoints, but they're all in here (Heitham taps his head)."

"In the context of the band, I've got loads of ideas going on musically, different ideologies, influences, and things that've happened to me in the past, when I was a teenager, my first musical experiences, first drug experiences – all these are sort of conjoining. It's extremely personal, and I feel quite weird about sharing it with other people, because I don't know how they'd take it, it's probably too abstract!"

A matter of perception. As far as Senser's concerned, Heitham is open-minded about other people's opinions of their music. So, 'youngsters' may not get '2, 3, Clear' or, indeed, any of 'How To Do Battle' until they're older. Like reading 'Alice In Wonderland' as a child and as an adult, there're nuances (and smoking caterpillars) that the child just cannot see. But:

"I really don't care if they get it now or when they're older! Everything's in there, in the songs, if you listen to the words, you'll get it. You know, how long should you wait for people to understand something. If you don't understand it, Google it!"

(Does Heitham have shares in Google? I wonder.)

What I mistook for petulance when I interviewed Heitham in Southampton in '94 (at a gig interrupted by some twat who triggered off the fire alarm) is, I'm now realising, merely a reluctance to give Senser's songs to people on a plate – why should the band do all the work? Another misjudgement is his 'ego'. Far from flaunting Senser, he absolutely hates hearing his own music in public:

"It feels weird! I hate walking into a party and somebody's playing Senser, it feels really awkward..."

Maybe that's one of the reasons he left Senser for a while: his loathing of sycophants. He's a fierce advocate of authenticity – whether it's in those who create music or those who listen to it:

"My best friend's not really a big fan of the band, so when he came to see us and said he really enjoyed it, I knew he meant it. I don't like people coming up and going 'oh man, you're really great', just for the sake of it."

A man who can't take compliments then. So, he broke away, first to the ill-fated Lodestar, then hopped around a few other bands, including Entronaut and French group Fiend (Heitham commutes between France and England a lot these days), the latter gleaning rave reviews. But there was another reason he left. He wanted to learn to sing properly:

"I wanted to learn to really use my voice coz I was always shouting. Vocal training makes you realise what your voice can and can't do. For example, I can't do that death Metal screaming, but I can do an Einsturzende Neubaten scream – you just open up your throat and all this white noise comes out. But I think the best kind of voice is when a singer sings with melody and a bit of grain.

"But I did the learning too publicly with Lodestar. The band were formed too quickly. It was amazing, very passionate, very intense, but we went straight out on tour with no build-up, so it blew out really quickly."

So, after his enlightening sabbatical, he returned to Senser, armed with both vocal and life experience. Like standing away from a painting to see the full picture, he must've seen, and missed, Senser's rare collaborative spirit...

There is no one 'composer' in the band; songs begin life as individual concepts from different band members ('streams of consciousness' in Heitham's case, presumably). They don't sit down and hold a meeting about an album's 'concept' before recording, like some bands too:

"We can't. There're so many different ideas coming from different directions, so we can't draw a line through the whole thing, find the link, until afterwards. At that point, after we've decided what works and what doesn't, everybody chips in and we say 'okay what's the common thread in all this?', and that's really good fun, the joy of making something stick together."

No room for egos fighting for provenance, then. From the point at which ideas get flung into the band's blender, they're no longer anyone's personal property:

"You have to just let your own personal ideas go, and allow them to become part of Senser. And when recording's over and the songs are out there for anyone to listen to, they become public property, they're not yours, they're not even the band's anymore. They belong to everybody – and everybody will gain a different experience from each song."

Watching the band later, pounding out their irresistible beats, I note the disparate groups in the crowd: the older, so-solid 'Stacked Up' crew bobbing and weaving together, safely in the middle; the youngsters who've created a moshpit at the front from the juggernaut bass and, of course, the apathetic standing at the back.

It's all a matter of call and response. Senser talk to us in word, rhythm and beat – Heitham is such an eloquent ranter! - how we respond to that call is up to us. I know what my reply is: good to see you again after fifteen years – '2, 3, Clear... back to life!'

And remember what Uncle Heitham says: "If you don't understand it, Google it!"

For your free download of '2, 3, Clear', click here for http://www.senser.co.uk/ now!


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This dynamic band has been taking critics by storm with their inimitable brand of melodic hard rock...

the more i see THE MORE I SEE ANNOUNCE OCT/NOV TOUR WITH SAVAGE MESSIAH AND BULL RIFF STAMPEDE
Featuring world renowned guitarist Gizz Butt, the band always deliver incredible live shows that combine passion, energy and breathtaking musicianship...

devin townsend DEVIN TOWNSEND REVEALS Z DETAILS AND ANNOUNCES SPECIAL ROYAL ALBERT HALL PERFORMANCE
Devin Townsend is extremely pleased to announce the release of long-awaited new double-album...

blastfest AT THE GATES, DARK FUNERAL, ROTTING CHRIST AND MORE ANNOUNCED FOR BLASTFEST 2015
Bergen, Norway, former home of the legendary Hole In The Sky Festival and considered thee black metal capital of the world...

exodus EXODUS REVEAL SPECIAL GUESTS ON NEW ALBUM 'BLOOD IN, BLOOD OUT'
Bay Area thrash Metal provocateurs Exodus proudly announce the special guests appearing on their latest showcase of unrefined rage...

panzer PANZER STREAMING LYRIC VIDEO FOR 'THE LAST MAN ON EARTH'
Brazilian thrash/stoner act Panzer have just released a new lyric video on for the second track of the album 'Honor'...

bush BUSH ANNOUNCE OCTOBER 20th RELEASE FOR 'MAN ON THE RUN'
Multi-platinum alt-rock band Bush have announced an October 20th release date for their highly anticipated new album...

absolva ABSOLVA RELEASE VIDEO FOR 'LIVE FOR THE FIGHT'
The video features Luke Appleton (Iced Earth) who is playing bass for the band on the forthcoming European Tour...

giants of rock GIANTS OF ROCK FESTIVAL: FIRST BANDS ANNOUNCED
The reformed Family and pomp rockers Magnum will headline the event...

weapon uk ESTRELLA TO SUPPORT GILBY CLARKE ON TOUR AND ANNOUNCE A NEW SINGLE
The band are currently gearing up for a thirteen date trek with Clarke that includes dates in Wakefield, London and Edinburgh...

weapon uk WEAPON UK ANNOUNCE TOUR DATES FOR NOVEMBER
Weapon UK have tour dates confirmed in support of their critically acclaimed album 'Rising From The Ashes'...

amulet AMULET DEBUT ALBUM 'THE FIRST' RELEASED IN SEPTEMBER: FIRST TRACK NOW ONLINE
The album track 'Mark Of Evil' has just been uploaded to Soundcloud. Raise your fists and bang your heads on this one...

michael schenker MICHAEL SCHENKER'S GUITARS STOLEN FROM GERMAN RECORDING STUDIO
German police are examining evidence and the studio for fingerprints and DNA evidence to help catch the criminals...

jimi jamison JIMI JAMISON OF SURVIVOR PASSES AWAY AGED 63
Jimi Jamison, lead singer of Survivor, very sadly passed away on Sunday night...

distorted harmony DISTORTED HARMONY UNLEASH FOOTAGE FROM 'CHAIN REACTION LIVE!'
The Tel Aviv quintet are looking forward to bringing their show to Europe this November...

ensiferum ENSIFERUM TO BEGIN RECORDING SIXTH STUDIO ALBUM NEXT MONTH
"We are convinced that this will be a ground breaking album for us and the whole genre. Modesty? What's that?"...

les-fest wildfire LES-FEST WILDFIRE ANNOUNCES FURTHER ACTS FOR SUMMER 2015
Max Raptor, Anihilated and more join the stellar array of main stage bands...

mystery deeexpus THE HOUSE OF PROGRESSION & THE MERCH DESK PROUDLY PRESENT MYSTERY & DeeEXPUS LIVE
It's a night of Prog at The Borderline on Tuesday 9th September, one of three chances to see this unique pairing...

butcher babies BUTCHER BABIES ANNOUNCE DETAILS FOR UPCOMING 'UNCOVERED' EP
The breakthrough Metal act have chosen five of their favourite tracks to get a makeover...

avenged sevenfold AVENGED SEVENFOLD RELEASE NEVER BEFORE SEEN ORIGINAL VIDEO FOR 'UNHOLY CONFESSIONS'
Take a fresh look at the 2004 track taken from the essential 'Waking The Fallen: Resurrected'...

reckless ambition RECKLESS AMBITION AND DIRTY LIONS TO PLAY THE ROCK PATCH THIS SATURDAY
Anyone who hasn't seen Reckless Ambition, then you are in for a real treat...

meshuggah MESHUGGAH ANNOUNCE 25TH ANNIVERSARY SHOWS IN EUROPE
Celebrate 25 years of musical deviance on this tour which includes a date a London's Roundhouse...

mr big MR. BIG CHANGE RELEASE DATE FOR NEW ALBUM "...THE STORIES WE COULD TELL"
The original line-up are back with some of their most powerful material to date and their signature hard rock sound...

well eavy 'WELL 'EAVY - VOL. 1' COMPILATION TO BE RELEASED BY HANGMAN - AMULET'S OWN LABEL
Get down to the free entry release party in Camden on 29th August...

slipknot DEF LEPPARD TO PERFORM NFL PRE-GAME SHOW AT FIRST LONDON NFL GAME OF 2014
Joe Elliott: "I know what the atmosphere in the ground is like for 'our' football so I'm really looking forward to performing there before the NFL game..."

slipknot SLIPKNOT REVEAL NEW ALBUM AND TOUR INFORMATION
'.5: The Gray Chapter' will be released on October 21 followed by US dates with Korn...

hard rock hell HARD ROCK HELL 8 ANNOUNCES MORE ACTS
The Vintage Caravan, Blue Pills, Horisont, Spiders and Santa Cruz have been added to the line up for November...

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