Tonight one of my favourite bands on the planet, Lightning Bolt, are playing at the Zoo. Here is an interview I did with maniacal drummer and all round rad dude Brian Chippendale a couple months ago...
BRIAN CHIPPENDALE – Hey man how are you?
SONIC MASALA – excellent! How’s your day been?
BC – Hmm, how’s my day been? Well it’s been a beautiful day here, in the 70s or so, sunny (laughs). I went and saw a bit of a band from Providence which is where I live called Human Beast who just put an album out on Load Records which is actually Lightning Bolt’s normal label. They were doing this four hour performance at a local museum, so I went and took in an hour and a half of that. That was one of the things I did today…
SM – (laughs)
BC – I wanted to do the full four hours but I want to come home, relax, have a lil snack before talking on the phone…
SM – Sorry to take you away from that man!
BC – Hey, no problems, I'm pretty sure I got the gist of it anyway (laughs) It’s really interesting to me though; I don’t know how after an hour or three, three and a half hours what they were doing originally (laughs) Something spaced out, I’d assume.
SM – For sure. I was going to say, that wouldn’t be something Lightning Bolt would likely tackle anytime soon – the four hour show would be impossible to maintain?
BC – Oh no! (laughs) We couldn’t do that. Well, not at our normal clip…I was actually thinking about that when I was over there, thinking “God this would be so cool to do, you know, and record it.” You know, you would inevitably get really weird. Obviously your energy would go down, your physical energy anyway, but then your mental energy might spike at different times. But then I thought “We can just go into our room and record for four hours whenever we want.” (laughs) But the performance would be pretty special. I don’t know, we could do something – not four hours though. I reckon we could do three; that extra hour, it makes it an even number, we’d need an odd number.
SM – Are you superstitious?
BC – No, just because it’s an odd thing to do! (laughs)
SM – (Laughs) Plus you might lose your mind even more, beyond what is retrievable, into the fourth hour…
BC – Yeah, that is the concern (laughs). I was talking to the guy who put this on, he put on this little festival, this local thing, a couple years ago called Bummerslam, and it started at 8am and ended at 8pm. The concept was there were going to be 12 bands and they’d each play for an hour, and everyone who wanted to go had to be there by 8am and just stay in that room for the whole 12 hours. You couldn’t leave. I played first, and I screwed the whole thing up by not starting til 9, and people started coming and going, so it didn’t work out quite to the plan. But the idea of turning these musical performances into this sort of physical happenings is conceptually interesting to me. (Laughs) It could make for the most boring of days, who knows?
SM – (Laughs) Well, Lightning Bolt itself started as an art project between yourself and Brian Gibson almost two decades ago, so you have been toying with performance and the art of performance for quite a while now. That kind of extrapolation isn’t all that far-fetched really.
BC – Yeah, we’ve always had that interest in the physicality of the performance, the weird inclusiveness of performance and all of that. For me on the drumming side pushing myself physically in some ridiculous way would make sense. Most of our shows are compacted, so it’s as if four hours went by because its 110 degrees in the room and there’s zero air, so everything’s compressed.
SM – Every Lightning Bolt show then, if we’re not talking lateral time, if we’re just talking about expenditure of energies, you pretty much meet the quota, four hours into one!
BC – That’s funny. Maybe that’s why people like music shows. We’re getting into deep stuff real fast here (laughs). But maybe that’s why people like music shows, because you’re judging it on energy expulsion, you’re dealing with three hours of time in a forty-five minute set or something. Everything is heightened by the energy levels. Maybe that’s obvious, but I’ve never thought of it like compressed time before.
SM – You learn something new every day, and there’s something new to chew over! (laughs)
BC – (Laughs) Yeah, you learn from your bullshit every day.
SM – (Laughs) Well those staples that you have developed as the duo, ensuring that live shows are in amongst the people, in amongst the crowd, which again builds that heated atmosphere; you’ve got the mask which in a practical sense it’s there to hold the microphone, but has become the symbolic element of the band, and then there are the vocals which by necessity as much as practice has to become this staccato rant, due to the way you play as much as the way you sing – these things that have developed over time as staples of the Lightning Bolt experience, they aren’t particularly lateral things either, they have developed in a weirdly organic fashion…
BC – The process has made them, or reinforced the themes and steered the ship in that direction, for sure. That is one thing that I am grateful for from playing on the floor (as opposed to a raised stage) for so long is that it’s made me become a much more physical drummer than I was. I mean I have always been fairly physical about it, I’ve put everything into it, but it’s stopped me from getting lazy. There are many shortcuts for a drummer, but if you are on the floor, not willing to use a PA and really need to go for it to properly fill out a room, there’s not a lot of shortcuts left.
SM – What about drumming itself as something that is something… (trails off)…fuck, I should learn to use my words…
BC – No one knows whether I've been using mine for decades! (laughs)
SM – Let me try again (laughs). The art of drumming for you – how does it signify you as a person, not just as Lightning Bolt, because you’ve got other avenues through which to express and connect, your artwork and your comics, so as a drummer – the art and action of drumming – how does that signify who you are?
BC – I’ve been noticing this week actually, I played a solo show on Saturday night (Saturday 10th August @ AS220 as Black Pus). For the last two years the elevator in the building where Brian and I practice has been broken, so after I play, say, a solo show, I’ve got 700 pounds of really awkward equipment to carry up these three really long flight of stairs. When I take it down it takes a day, it’s like twenty-three trips or something up and down these stairs (laughs). But then that night after the show I’ll get a few things upstairs, because it’ll have been a long day, then the next day I’ll take the rest up. But this week I was lazy, so it took me two days to get it all upstairs, then set the shit up on the third day, and I felt kind of depressed for those couple of days. Then as soon as I got it all and set it up and sat down to drum, I felt good again. As the years have gone by, for better or worse, I've become addicted to the act of drumming. I mean, I could probably switch over to running or something; it’s a form of exercise. It moderates my brain and moderates my energy levels, it’s great for that sort of thing. It’s a great exercise routine for me, and it’s important – it’s survival, like my daily dose of mental stability. Not that I go crazy otherwise, but it’s a healthy way to get through a lot of stuff.
SM – It’s funny how that becomes a part of you. I’ve seen you play a few times now, especially when living in Europe in 2008 to 2011, and there’s nothing to me that is like a Lightning Bolt show, seeing you and Brian going at it, and it’s sort of funny because I guess whether it’s also the fact that the artworks you create are these garish, quite cartoonish ways of drawing – the way you play is quite violent and visceral, but it is all rather cartoonish to me also. That isn’t some sort of backhanded compliment either, something flippant, it’s just that you do get put into the noise rock pigeonhole because people feel they want or need to pigeonhole what you do, a place they can then identify with, and the abrasive rock element allows that comparison, and there is a cathartic element to the live experience, but there is a great deal of humour and cartoon violence in the delivery. I never get the sense that you guys are particularly serious, dark people you know? (laughs)
BC – At the very beginning I think we were very much that way, and I think over time we lost a little of that. OK (laughs), it is not that exactly, definitely not as people, but for some reason the music has lost a little of that sense of humour, I sometimes think. Maybe even my vocal stylings have gotten a little more serious whereas before it was a little more chirpy? When we started though I felt really cartoonish, and when I listen back to the first couple of albums we did, especially our second album Ride The Skies, it’s all super jerky and quick changes and loads of starts and stops, and it feel hyper, like kids. It was a really long time ago, well it feels a long time ago now. There is this element of cartoonish energy, cartoonish aesthetic, I mean I put on a freaking mask! (laughs) It’s this strange balance; some of our shows can be quite aggressive, which then turns the set into something pretty dark. But at the same time it feels weird, I mean, c’mon! This is Lightning Bolt! We’re not Slayer or anything. For the most part people are there to have a good time, and whilst the music can go to a dark place – we both really dig dystopian science fiction, but we’re not dark people, you know? So the cartoonish aspect comes from aggression rooted in positivity. (laughs)
SM – (laughs) Well, the ‘Barbarian Boy’ single that you have just brought out on Adult Swim. That group marries well with the positive aggression, cartoonish mayhem vibe that you guys embody. The song itself is one of the most direct that you have delivered in some time, Was that a deliberate factor, seeing what you were releasing this on, or was the track written before they approached you?
BC – We actually just went into the studio and made that up. It was a one day wonder, that one; we went in, jammed, came up with this idea and ran with it. I think the studio atmosphere helped. I had used the studio for the last Black Pus record (All My Relations) but it’s not something that Lightning Bolt has used. So that song came from being in a studio and recognising what was possible in the studio. Most of our music is written through jamming at home, which I then record on a cassette four-track, and that process probably emphasises totally different things. Yet in the studio, they are super good at capturing drums, so I could identify this beat and it sounded cool, straight away. We have taken a lot of time off this year too, I've been doing a lot of Black Pus stuff, so that song was us getting back together again after that break and it was a lot of fun.
SM – Is that gonna bleed into a new album?
BC – Man, we have so much stuff recorded for the next album that we just haven’t sat down and organised or finished yet. We’ve been talking about it forever, and I think what’s going to happen is we’re gonna come back from Australia and clean out the winter so there’s nothing going on, and just get it done. There is so much stuff in different states of disrepair; it’s coming, it’s just down to whether we’re gonna be idiots or not, get our brains together or just keep jamming in the house and not think about anything else.
Come to The Zoo @ 8 - life changer, right here.
Come to The Zoo @ 8 - life changer, right here.