Interview: Brian Chippendale (Black Pus, Lightning Bolt)

So you’ve done a couple of dates in Holland already? 

Yeah. Amsterdam, Tilburg and then over to the UK. So this is day six of 22 shows.

And how has it been so far? 

It’s been nice. I think I’m in the swing of it now. The first couple of dates are always a little shaky because I rent equipment, so just getting the feel for all that stuff, and then just getting into the groove of playing…because I play all the time but I don’t play shows all the time, so shows just ramp up the physicality of everything. Days three and four felt really good. Last night I was in Leeds and I felt pretty good, but there was a little bit of a Sunday night feeling.

So you still get that on tour?

Yeah. It’s weird because on tour it doesn’t matter what day it is for the performer – it’s just like “it’s another night, I’m performing” – but there’s something about Sundays that’s just…maybe it’s because people are more psyched on Saturdays, so then I get caught up in it even though it’s just another night. Sunday’s always a bit of a recovery day. I thought I played good, but I just sensed a different vibe in the room. But now it’s Monday. Which might be worse than Sundays, so…

First day of work is down, people are right in the thick of it…

Yeah, Monday’s like the worst day there is. We’ll see how it goes – we’ll be fine.

You must feed off the audience more than most performers, seeing as you play on the floor.

Yeah, although tonight I’m up on that big ass stage.

Oh really?

Partially just to separate Black Pus from Lightning Bolt a little bit, but also just to try it out. I kind of had an argument with myself about how I should do it in this room, and I know that they sold about 200 presales…I don’t know, I just want people to be able to see, because it is a bit of a show. If swinging arms is a show. So yeah, tonight I’ll be on a big, giant, monolithic stage.

Have you played on a stage much before?

I’ve done it a little bit. Lightning Bolt has actually started playing on some stages in some places. We played here once before and we didn’t play on stage.

I was there, actually.

We found these weird cube boxes and built these sub-stages. In my mind, that was one of the craziest shows that Lightning Bolt has ever had. People were wasted and crazy, and I hit somebody on the head…

I’d completely forgotten about that!

There was some really huge dude. He went over to Brian [Gibson] and started hitting Brian’s bass, and then he came over to me and was punching my cymbals. I just got fed up and was like, “this guy sucks”, so I basically just started playing drums on his head, and he was bleeding…I’ve never had an outburst like that, but this guy was just being too dumb. So yeah, that was real. Obviously it’s going to be a different vibe tonight, but that show was wild.

Do you feel as though you have a “zone” you enter when you play?

Yeah, a little bit. I’m totally aware of myself. I get really wound up when I play, but I’m control of what I’m doing. I’m not like, out of my skull. But it’s one of those things where you don’t know your own strength – like if you’ve been exercising a lot, and you pick something up and it’s lighter – so you get a lot of adrenaline and stuff like that. I don’t get wasted or anything, but I do get caught up in the moment, and sometimes some stuff happens and I’m frustrated for some reason. It can go in a bit of a dark direction maybe.

When you’re playing so close to the crowd, I get the impression that they can become quite dangerous almost – you’re feeding so purely off of them and vice versa. 

Yeah, it can get a little hairy in there, but usually you’re fine. That time that guy was just too wasted and too big, and he’d decided that he’s in the band. I think that’s where we draw the line; I mean, a lot of the time people will get a stick and hit the drums and I really don’t care that much, but it was the way he was doing it. I think I remember saying something like, “if you’re gonna hit the drums you’ve got to hit it on beat!” And then he didn’t so I was just like, “well, I tried to ask politely and get you in the band…” He was just out for trouble that night.

I hear that your sound check tonight was loud. Like, loud loud. 

Yeah, loud loud. I have to have a talk with the sound guy – maybe it was too bassy. It’s so hard to tell. I was going to have the main sound engineer on All My Relations come over with me and do sound all the time, which would have been so cool. He really understands what I’m doing. But then he couldn’t come. Most of the time sound people are great, but you’re always at the mercy of them.

That’s why I was thinking of playing on the floor – the sound system is so huge, and I have all the equipment I need to play on the floor. Over the past couple of years I’ve just become really sensitive to people saying, “I couldn’t see anything” over and over again. The thing is with Black Pus is that it’s an opportunity to play on the floor with a clean conscience, as it’s smaller audiences and I could make it work. But because I knew they sold a couple hundred presales tonight…it’s been funny struggling with it over the past couple of years. How do you approach these shows? Like, we’re in the pit and playing and it’s all crazy, and there’s no women or people under 5ft 6 anywhere to be seen. You’re really excluded if you’re a certain physical type. So that’s the struggle.

Given that All My Relations was produced in a proper studio, I’m half anticipating the difference between your recorded and live sound to be more drastic than usual.  

Yeah, it’ll probably be a bit more of a switch. We’ll see – I don’t always know what it’s going to sound like out there. From where I’m sitting it’s not that far from the record, because the sounds are pretty pure; it’s just vocal, oscillator, drums. It’s not a super-complicated setup. But yeah, there’s a lot of detail in that new record – some of the fidelity will be lost.

Is it a technically difficult record to play live?

Some of that stuff I can’t play. I’ll play “Marauder” tonight, and that was pretty much recorded live. There might be one edit in there where I switch to a different take or something. A few of those songs were just experiments in the studio, so they couldn’t really be played live. With Black Pus it’s never quite the same, because there’s no samples or pre-programmed stuff. So with some of the loops or melodies that come in – like vocal or oscillator or something – I just record them in the moment, right before I play the song. So they’re always different, which is what I want Black Pus to be – the records are maybe a guideline to go by, but I’m not trying to mimic it. With the tools I have I couldn’t really do it.

I think it’s probably difficult when your band has a super-hit, and the room is full of people that want to hear these one or two songs. But until that day…if it’s some song that I can’t play, that’d be a problem I guess. At least from a marketing perspective.

You must experience that with Lightning Bolt to an extent. You guys have a couple of “hits” now.

Yeah, but we can play all of that stuff, because that’s all pretty based in how we record. We’re going to do some recording this winter in the same studio as the Black Pus stuff, so it’ll be ramped up a bit fidelity-wise, but it’ll still be based in live stuff.

Does hearing your material in the clarity of the studio change your perspective on it?

It does a little bit. Lightning Bolt put out a song a couple of months ago called “Barbarian Boy” – we went and jammed in the studio, and then picked out something that sounded good and replayed it. That’s how we write songs when we practice, but those songs are usually taken on tour or recorded in my space on a cassette recorder. In the studio the drums sounded really thick and heavy and good, and so the song we picked was sort of like a studio song. I think studios just highlight different things.

But the record we’re making now has a lot of live songs on it. There will probably be a bit of writing in the studio, but it’ll mostly be documenting songs that were put through the wringer of the live shows. We’re going to try our best to get a…not a hi-fi sound, but just a studio version, you know? Not settle for almost good enough.

On the last couple of records we’ve had this engineer come over to our studio and capture stuff there, with no real separation. With some of the songs he was mixing as he went, so we’d play a song and then he couldn’t tell if there was bass drum in there, so we’d have to play it over and over again. And we’d play it well, but he’d have to keep changing the mix until he finally got it right.

So he couldn’t really assess the quality of it until he played it back? 

Kinda so. It was practically live to record. This time we just wanted to go a different route – like, “let’s just play in a really nice studio, and if we need to change a little thing it’ll be easy”.

Can you divulge much about the material on the new album? 

We’ve been playing some of the songs live. There’s a song called “Horsepower” that’s on Youtube a lot, and I think that sounds kind of like a Motorhead song. We’re been playing that the last couple of years. There’s another song on Youtube called “8 Note” – that’s not going to be the final title – and that’s more classic Lightning Bolt where it’s like [taps his knees really fast] bass drum beat, and then a pretty straight-up eight-chord progression over it.

Gibson’s putting some more wah in there – there’s more psychedelic moments and stuff like that. The vocals might be a little more present, for better for worse. We recorded this song called “Dream Genie”, which we played on one tour and not even that much. We did a really rad take of that with our old engineer, and I’m hoping we can use that as it’s a really cool song with a bunch of different parts, and it’s one I don’t really feel like relearning to do in the studio. A few songs might have a different texture because they were recorded somewhere else.

I get the impression that you experimented a lot more with production techniques on your last full length, Earthly Delights.

Yeah, there’s some different textures and stuff in there. But because the new one is going to be mostly in the studio, we should be allowed more control over that whole process. We’re going to do something we never ever do – which we did do with “Barbarian Boy” – and have drums in one room and guitar in another. We’ll play at the same time, but we’re going to have separation.

Any particular reason for that?

Just to see what it’s like to have more control over the sound. In a weird way, it’s to make it more powerful. Who knows – maybe it’ll be this horrible spiral, like when a band gets to that point where they go, “we’re finally doing what we want to do”, and it just sounds horrible. What band hasn’t gone down that route?

You must be quite reflective over Lightning Bolt at the moment, given that you’ve been together for so long. 

We just need a sonic change. Our records all sound a little different, but we just need a change. The stuff we were recording with the old guy was sounding like Earthly Delights in a way, just because the equipment we were recording on was the same. So we were like, “let’s just go to the studio”. If nothing else, it’ll sound like a new band, even though I have no intention of destroying most of the fundamental elements of Lightning Bolt. It’s going to be powerful and aggressive rock, and hopefully totally crazy at times. It should just have a new palette of sound, and hopefully capture more of the density of Brian’s bass sound.

I could hear a lot more dirge and powerchords coming into your sound on Earthly Delights, particularly on the first couple of tracks. 

I love some stuff on that record. With the engineer that we’ve worked with forever, and with the weird ways that we did it, these amazing things happened. Who knows – maybe we’ll do a record this way and then go, “nah – let’s go back to the old system”. Because he recorded everything: Ride The Skies, Wonderful Rainbow, Hypermagic Mountain and Earthly Delights. Some of them were partially done in studios, so we’ve done stuff in studios with him, but we just want to change it up with this one and get a new perspective on stuff.


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