Tag Archives: crust

More extremes in all directions: an interview with Brainoil

Brainoil are a long-running band from Oakland who bring together sludge, crust and filth-slicked metal like few others. ‘Singularity To Extinction’ is their third full-length in something like 20 years, and it’s also their mightiest release to date.

This interview was conducted by email with Greg Wilkinson (bass/vocals), Nate Harris (guitar) and Ira Smith (drums) as they readied themselves for a nine-date Japanese tour.

Listen to the new record while you read the words.

Okay, so let’s start off with a history lesson: how, when and why did Brainoil get together? What was the original impetus, and what did you hope to achieve with the band?

Greg: I started the band under the moniker ‘Mrbrainoil’ with the intention of creating a noisy sludge style band wrung through a punk filter. A few shows and some rare comp tracks occurred in this phase. This was over the period of ‘98/‘99. The intention of expanding the project into a full band was always the point once I was able to find likeminded people. Nate, who I was in a very short lived crust band with, first joined up later in ‘99. Shortly after, word got out that Grimple was throwing in the towel and Ira was looking for a new project. We snagged him fast. We were up and running in ‘00 with a demo tape as “Brainoil” and playing shows / recording our first two split releases in ‘01 as a three-piece.

Nate: I met Greg in 1997 through Ty, the drummer of a short-lived Oakland Swedish-style D-beat band called Squalor. That project dissolved after a couple years, and meanwhile Greg had started solo jamming on new ideas that blended heavy music with more rock and roll. I had always played and written guitar parts for punk and crust bands but never anything with a bit more rock ‘n’ roll influence and I was into the idea. We combined forces, writing songs with a drum machine at first and then became a full band with Ira on drums by late 2000. We continued on that thread to this day, making heavy music with no preconceived genre constraints, just concentrating on writing songs with interesting riffs and less-than-typical time signatures and song arrangements.

Ira: I joined the band after a mutual friend told me that Greg and Nate were looking for a drummer for a project. I was considering selling my drums at the time, but after listening to their drum machine demo and playing through the songs I realized that Brainoil was exactly what I was looking for.

What can you tell us about ‘Singularity To Extinction’? What went into the record and made it the way it is?

Greg: It’s difficult to say honestly considering we spent a seven-year course writing it. We trashed a few songs early on once we discovered the sound we wanted. We made a concerted effort to blend the first two LPs while adding more extremes in all directions, including tempo, genre, production, and vocal styles.

Nate: Singularity to Extinction is wider in scope and more polarized. The fastest and the slowest Brainoil material is on this record. There is a little bit more old school 1989 death metal and crust influence, but it is not a death metal or crust record. Singularity to Extinction as a recording is also a showcase for some of the best studio engineering work we’ve had to date, thanks in large part to the evolution of Greg’s recording skills at Earhammer. I dumped a lot of resources into getting exactly what I want out of guitar tone over the history of the band and this is the first release where we really nailed the guitar tone.

Ira: Lots of practice, arranging, rearranging, re-rearranging…

Did you face any particular challenges or issues when it came to writing or recording the new album?

Greg: Not really. Everyone in the band has a very specific style and contribution to our sound. Brainoil sounds like Brainoil because of the combination of musicians and songwriters. There is a specific swagger our songs tend to have no matter how far we try to push the limits. If you ask me, it’s quite favourable when considering a discography. It allowed us to expand our sound and production quite a bit without sounding like a different band.

Nate: The opposite of challenges and issues, for the first time we were able to take our time and record it exactly how we wanted to. For example, on tracking day we had more time to record multiple takes of a few of the tracks to get the tempo just how we wanted it to be, or rearrange microphones, drum heads or switch out pieces of the kit as we started tracking to get the best drum tones possible out of everything we had to work with. The same for guitar tone, bass tone and so on. Leading up to the official recording we also did scratch recordings every rehearsal for three months on my 18-year-old 16-bit digital 8 track – the same device we did our original demo with. Having those reference recordings really helped in completing vocals, fills and fine-tuning song arrangements. In short, we took more time beforehand to go into the session well-rehearsed and more time in the studio to document it exactly how we wanted to.

How have the seven years between ‘Death Of This Dry Season’ and the new LP affected or altered the band?

Greg: I don’t think it has considering the gap between the s/t and ‘Death Of This Dry Season’ was also seven years. The only thing I can think of is it gave us time to expand our songs with more craft while juggling a lot of responsibilities in our personal lives.

Nate: Seven years is the average span between all of our LPs, so the total perceived difference between the s/t and ‘Death of This Dry Season’ is probably equal to the difference between that album and ‘Singularity To Extinction’. There is change in each case, but the core Brainoil sound is still there. I think the next LP will be a similar rate of change but maybe not seven years from now until we get there. So by deduction, does that mean the next record will sound closer to this last LP? We’ll see.

Ira: Over the last seven years, I have been listening to more death metal, thrash and lots of punk. I think those influences come through on the new album.

To me the crust influences have been brought even more to the fore with this album. Was this a conscious move, or just how the songs evolved?

Greg: Both. Brainoil is its own living organism. It does what it wants. We are just along for the ride.

Nate: Not a conscious move, it happened naturally while writing songs for ‘Singularity To Extinction’. If you think of crust as punks playing slightly-sloppy, less-technical death metal, that is not a thought we will reject! We had a few different threads going in writing stuff for this release and some worked better than others across multiple songs to make a cohesive LP. Some of those other ideas were completed songs that we worked on over weeks or months, but ultimately shelved for now. I played crust and death metal influenced stuff with Destroy back in 1992 and then again with Stormcrow in the mid-2000s, to have a little bit of that style again with Brainoil is a welcome return. For me personally it is things coming full circle, and an opportunity to expand on and enjoy again playing a little bit more of a style that was the beginning of playing live music for me.

Ira: For me it kind of just naturally happened that way.

What do you think it is that makes crust and doom such comfortable bedfellows? The tone? The riffs? The general sense of dirt and desperation?

Greg: Not sure. We all listen to many forms of music and many sub factions of that. If you break riffs, production, gear, vocal styles and song treatment down to an unplugged guitar, you will notice these are no more than an outfit for the song. For example, I feel like you could have Bolt Thrower and Asunder play an identical riff and it would still in the end sound just like the respective band performing it cause of how each band treats the riff, tones, tempo etc. That being said, both genres do have a gnarly vibe and underground cult energy that do sleep well together.

Nate: There’s a natural tension/release between both crust and doom and when the two styles are mixed on the same LP it accentuates that tension further. I really enjoyed blending different guitar and bass tones to highlight the differences in some cases and meld them together in others. And that range of tones is something you will hear us recreate live with multiple guitar and bass amps. To your last point, yeah I will say there’s probably more than an ounce of dirt and desperation and frustration as part of the equation too.

Ira: Crust and Doom are complementary styles. Adding the right tones and riffs makes it complete.

In the time you’ve been together, both doom and crust have gone from being total outlier genres to (slightly!) more above-ground ones. Has it been weird seeing the terrain change like this, and has it had an impact on what you do with Brainoil?

Greg: Not really on either realm. The underground scene in regards to whether you discuss music, art, beer, film, literature, etc. will always become popular once it’s discovered and used by major label bands. The internet just makes all this become easier and work at a faster pace than before. As far as impact with Brainoil, I would say none. Stick around for 20 years and you get a lot of time to process things.

Nate: It is enjoyable in some sense to watch the styles change and for more people to get into it but I don’t personally read too much into it and I don’t think the band does either. I don’t think they will ever be fully above-ground genres and that’s fine.

It seems like Brainoil always makes us wait a good ol’ while between releases. Why the lag, and what is it that tends to bring you folks back together to make music?

Greg: In reality we practiced almost every week in between these two albums. It’s just we want a discography that is balanced. Not more of the same, but still keeping a consistent statement “this is Brainoil.”

Nate: Even when you don’t see a new release from us we have not been silent. We continue to play local shows, work on new material or just experiment with ideas. We won’t force something just to get a release out.

Ira: We continually practice and play local shows. We also set aside time for writing where we don’t play out as much. I can’t really explain the lag other than “time flies”!

You all have various other projects on the go, so what sort of itch does Brainoil scratch that your other bands/outlets might not?

Greg: The combo. I write very similar riffs across the board. Although, not super fast stuff for the most part in Brainoil. But every band will translate them so different. If you reference Deathgrave, for example, we don’t sound like Brainoil cause it’s a different filter. I alluded to this earlier how music gear and delivery is just an outfit. This is a strong example of that. No other band would sound like Brainoil without these members.

Nate: Brainoil is it for me at the moment and I am OK with dumping my guitar playing energy into this band. Brainoil has its parameters but they are not fixed, for me there’s a lot of room to try new guitar riffs and parts without specific constraints. Someday maybe I will decide again that I need a different outlet but maybe if I did it would be something very different like playing drums again. For now I’m happy not to be juggling two or more different band schedules.

Ira: Brainoil is my only outlet nowadays, so it scratches all the itches.

Greg, the work you do outside the band at Earhammer must bring you into contact with stacks of hungry, gnarly young bands. Do you think your work as an engineer filters into what you do with Brainoil, either in a proactive (e.g. “we should do this…”) or preventative (“we definitely shouldn’t do this…”) way?

Greg: In a way to both. But not in a marketing “the kids are into this so let’s incorporate that” sense. I write and record my own music to help me understand and work through obstacles I encounter while working other bands sessions. It’s usually inspiration that brings me to this. Some of these ideas wind up in bands. Song writing is a conversation. So if I wonder how can I get this fast riff to cut through some bands production? I may try recording myself playing fast stuff. With that, I am able to think “Brainoil needs a fast part and this one would fit them” so I will bring it to practice and bounce it off them. Oakland has a lot of inspiring musicians, bands and people in the scene which really keeps me writing frequently (obviously not only for Brainoil since we do take our time between albums).

Both crust and doom tend towards a negative, nihilistic world view, and it has to be said that records like ‘Singularity To Extinction’ serve as an effective soundtrack for what is a screwed-up and terrifying moment in human history. Do you think there’s any scope for hope right now, and what are the things that get you through the day as a band?

Greg: Although there are many great humans out there, the human race as a whole always resorts to greed and power. Right now it looks bleak as racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, nationalism, etc. are becoming more acceptable in this country (and world). But I really can’t predict. Escape through the underground community, culture, arts, and beloved friends deliver a temporary reprieve from the harsh reality. My practice spaces, studio and wife are my sanctuary.

Nate: The insanity will inevitably continue in one form or another, a comment not to be confused with hope or fatalism. And a troubling majority of people will continue to be complicit with the status quo, no matter what type of lies, discrimination and abuse becomes normalized. Any frustration and anger in the music for me is not coming from a place where it is a binary question of one person on the outside looking in and pointing the finger at others with simple answers. We are all in the middle of it and all complicit on one level or another. That anger or frustration becomes its own creative outlet, for me that’s playing and listening to heavy music and brewing and drinking beer and I’m lucky enough to be privileged enough to indulge my creative energy in those, at least for now. So if Brainoil connects with people as some noisy product of that greater dysfunction, awesome. I have no illusions about that though either.

What are your immediate plans for Brainoil, and is there anything you’d ultimately like to achieve with the band?

Greg: On a plane to tour Japan at the moment. That’s the most immediate. It’s hard to predict what will come after that. Guessing would only put the cart before the horse. At minimum, it would be great to play some west coast dates next year.

Nate: There is no specific push for lame growth metrics or some achievement goal schedule. Brainoil will continue on a path where there is room for us to do even more with the foundation we have, but on our terms. That might mean a tour here and there in places we’ve never been before, or it may mean working on a new release sooner than later. First and foremost, Brainoil has to be true to itself without being fixated on a specific strategy. This is not a business for us. Unfortunately, surrounding us obsessive, competitive strategy has become a way of life for many everyday people in the SF Bay Area, that complicates things for us to do as much Brainoil as we want to do. Thanks for this interview as it helps people know we are still alive and kicking.

Ira: We are on our way to Japan for a nine-show tour with Black Ganion. This has been a life goal for me and I’m glad I can share that experience with two of the best bandmates one could have.

After the sacrifice: an interview with Asschapel

 

Asschapel! A mighty band merging heavy metal thunder with roaring, crusty filth! They released a clutch of neat releases but were seemingly little-loved during their brief, explosive lifetime. Ad Fleet (who had the great fortune to see them live ‘back in the day’) and I frequently rue their passing, so when Southern Lord announced a discography it seemed like a fine time to get the lowdown on these Nashville smashers.

Questions are by Ad and Alex, all answers are courtesy of guitarist Dallas Thomas.

So, tell us how Asschapel came about: how did the band get together, what had you been doing beforehand and what was the initial aim?

Asschapel pretty much started when Erik [Holcombe, vocals]  and I were living together with a bunch of other dudes back in 1998. We a had list on our fridge of the worst fake band names anyone could think of and ‘Asschapel’ is the one that stuck and actually became a real band…

You hailed from Nashville, Tennessee: a place steeped in musical history and where brilliant musicians allegedly loiter on every given street corner. What (if any) kind of influence did your hometown have on the band or your playing?

Yes we were and yes it is… We all came up from the All Ages/DIY punk scene though, and I would say a collective influence of ours was a repulsion for the pop-country, nu metal and Christian metal that was common in Nashville at the time.

It was always struck me that there was a real fucking intensity to your music: it had this bold, invincible-making quality that makes me think of His Hero Is Gone playing ‘Ride The Lightning’ riffs. Where were you coming from as a band, and what did you want to be/sound like?

You pretty much nailed it. A fusion of crust punk and corporate rock/metal… ha! His Hero Is Gone and From Ashes Rise pretty much paved the way for us to get out of Tennessee. When we first hit the road we kind of got written off a little bit in that scene because of our name, which really pissed us off and looking back made us play more furious and harder as a band.

Despite being rooted in hardcore, the sound, imagery, song titles and lyrics were very metal-focused. I mean, you weren’t CROM or something, but they were still pretty ‘out there’. Was this a serious gambit, humorous/ironic, or were you using this aesthetic to mask something more serious?

Erik wrote all the lyrics so I can’t speak for him, but I feel it is/was all of the above… humorous/ironic/serious and then back again. But I will say it was always a cathartic release for us a band to poke fun at religion, violence and hate. However, when someone comes to you and say they just got back from a tour in Iraq and say that they were listening to Asschapel during a bombing raids it is a different pill to swallow…

Where did you feel Asschapel fit in while you were a going concern? You were your peers and allies?

We didnt really think about it we just went and did it on our own dime. Back in the day, we played shows with Mastodon, Baroness, Kylesa, Municipal Waste, and Black Tusk when they were all starting out. They all got pretty popular and we fell to shit but, hey, that’s the way it goes…

What kind of crowds did you draw? Were you conscious of any sort of dividing line between metalheads and punx?

At the time we were a band, we were half and half with both the punks and metalheads. But towards the end we also attracted people that didn’t like punk or metal.

Ad points out that, in later days, the merging of metal and punk would become pretty de rigueur with all the Japanese and MPDS stuff like GATES, Doraid etc. doing the rounds. Do you think you were maybe a bit ahead of the curve (as opposed to ‘born too late’)?

Yeah maybe. It’s hard to know… When people started finding out about us we were so broke and sick of each other that we broke up…

Who were the shittiest bands/people you had to deal with as a band?

You know I can’t really remember… We were probably the shittiest band and people that other bands had to deal with…Ha!

You covered ‘Raining Blood’ on your Satanation 7”. Bit of a bold move, that. How do you think it came off? Did you try your hand at any other thrash covers?

That was our only cover. It was always a crowd pleaser – here we are ten plus years talking about it!

What do you remember about your European tour? What were the high and low points for you and how were you received in the UK? What are your fondest – or weirdest – memories?

It was all a blur. We did two EU tours and the UK only once. Breaking down in the snow in north Sweden was not fun. Getting to play in Bosnia, Serbia, Macadonia, and Greece was a pretty surreal experience for sure.

What were reactions to you like in the punk press (MRR, Heartattack, Punk Planet, whoever) at the time?

If I remember correctly hit or miss, but usually we were kinda written off for our name and for being a non-political band. Like I said, that kinda pissed us off and made us a better band in the end.

Ad points out that you were touring at a point when it was still pretty common to have not heard a touring band before seeing them. While it was possible to be bowled over by an unheard-band, do you feel that this worked to your disadvantage? You obviously had the hook-up with German label Flowerviolence, but I’m not sure how well distributed you were this side of the pond before that?

Yeah, we were for sure in the last generation of bands to tour without cellphones and GPS! We never had any formidable backing, promo or distro while we were around. We just said fuck it and hit the road because that is what we all wanted to do at the time.

What put an end to Asschapel? Was it a slow death or quick and virtuous?

In my opinion, pretty much what made Asschapel great was what ultimately destroyed it. We didn’t start Asschapel as a business – we were just some pissed off friends from Nashville who wanted to play some catchy thrash-prog-punk. But when the money crunch comes in and everyone is broke and their personal lives start falling apart it’s hard to keep it fun and everyone on the same page… Looking back we would have been a band longer if we would have been little more business-minded and had better luck with vans – we broke down every tour…

What kind of a legacy do you think the band left behind? Is there anything that you would change, if you had your time again?

That’s hard to say so I won’t… But I think the legacy of Asschapel will now be solidified with Southern Lord releasing our discography to expose a new generation of pissed off kids to the Chapel of Ass…

How did the Southern Lord discography come about? Were you pals with Greg at the time, or did this only come about later by virtue of the Pelican connection? What kind of memories did putting the discog together dredge up? Were they all positive?

It’s kind of a long story… But, yeah, positive for the most part to look back 10+ years later with some objectivity and realize how much crazy stuff we pulled off and that people still talk about and care about Asschapel… About Two years ago, our original bass player JRob sent our first cassette demo to our old friend superfan Dan Emery at Black Matter Mastering to clean up which we put on Bandcamp. That really got us Assdudes all talking again. Fast forward about a year or so when Pelican toured, Goatsnake Greg from Southern Lord and I realised we had a mutual friend in Brad Boatright (From Ashes Rise/Audiosiege Mastering) and that, in a nutshell, is what ultimately led to Southern Lord Releasing the Asschapel discography.

What did you all go on to do after Asschapel? How would you say the band informed your latter endeavours, and did the experience ‘teach’ you anything?

Erik went on to play in the Nashville band Hans Condor. Chris the drummer plays in the Nashville band Tijuana Goat Ride. First bassist JRob plays in the Seattle Band Witch Ripper and Tom, the Moog/synth player, went on to play bass in a band called Ayebawl. Second bassist Nygard retired from music after Asschapel and started a family. I moved to Chicago in 2008 and started doing session work for Sanford Parker, started a band called The Swan King and then ended up playing guitar in Pelican around 2011.