Photo: Bill Henson
It’s hard to imagine how a band making songs played at either hyper or glacial speeds (never midtempo) with two basses and song titles like “Screwdriver in the Urethra of Thomas Lenz,” all played through speakers made out of salvaged junk, ever failed to be anything other than huge in the early 1990s. What else was everyone listening to? Pearl Jam? Technotronic? Fuck.
Eric Wood’s work in a bunch of bands from Pillsbury Hardcore and Pissed Happy Children through to Man Is the Bastard and Bastard Noise helped define hardcore punk music’s most extreme shapeshift over the last, say, 15 years. The West Coast-centric powerviolence movement changed everything, and Wood was a big part of it.
Backed by the totally never-heard-that-anywhere-before weird noises spilling out of Henry Barnes’s homemade speakers, Bastard Noise projects always stood apart from their contemporaries. With a brutally simple aesthetic and politicized sloganeering, Wood’s projects maintained a tireless work ethic that allowed them to stride along for years while their contemporaries gurgled and quit. Like Crass before them, Eric’s bands offered a self-sustaining alternative to a modern world gone to shit. Maybe in 50 years time in an alternate dimension they will be granted their dues. For now they can remain the most important band that way too many people have never heard.
Vice: There is a constant sense of intense brutality in everything that you have done. Why so angry?
Eric Wood: Listening to things like the metal-era Agnostic Front, Rest in Pieces, and Antidote made us want to play—and play really fast and hard, and make the bass prominent and hyperdrive the rhythm section. Listening to and watching Infest was also an influence in terms of that high level of uncompromising brutality and sheer velocity.
How’d you end up playing in Neanderthal with Matt Domino from Infest?
We had played shows together and just knew each other. You have to remember that at that time there was a very small group of people involved in that kind of music. The night Pissed Happy Children and Infest played Gilman Street in San Francisco to record the split flexi-disc for Slap a Ham Records, there were nine people in the room.
Is it true that you guys actually coined the term “powerviolence”?
Matt did. We were practicing one day and talking about how we had to give what we were doing an identity and Matt came up with it on the spot. He was really good at that: great, quick, perfect ideas.
At the time was there a sense of the whole thing becoming a big movement?
It was always more about a sense of community. That is something that there isn’t so much of anymore. I’m not joking when I say that half the stuff we made happen back then communicating by letters was ten times better organized than half of the shit that goes on today with “ease” on the internet. Just do it yourself and do it right.
The most obvious thing that set Man Is the Bastard apart from your supposed contemporaries was simply not sounding like any of them.
We have the boxes to thank there. Henry and his boxes. They are a force of nature. They aren’t even government safety- checked. Apart from the cones, every part of those things is built by hand and they will fry almost any in-house PA.
How did you meet Henry?
Around town, he was known for being this weird guy who built bikes out of other bikes. That was his thing: making new things from neglected old things. These bikes were insane, like choppers with the big wheel at the front instead of the back. We ended up working shifts together in this bakery and one day he invited me to his house saying I had to check out these speakers he’d been making. His place was like a junk laboratory but once he played me the speakers I knew immediately.
What was the first thing you heard through the boxes?
I think Henry played me these noises he had been working on to try and communicate with the birds that sat on his window. I can honestly say he is one of the greatest souls and a true friend. The whole band would have been shit without Henry. He gave it that distinct sound naturally because he built the boxes for the love of building the boxes. And Henry’s main influence was his dad’s TV-repair shop as opposed to Merzbow.
How did you come up with the stark imagery that gave the Bastard Noise projects such a distinct identity?
I was aware from the get-go how simple logos like the Flag bars, the Infest logo, and the Crass circle could give things an immediate persona. You can put something that simple on your record and you immediately have a visual thing to go with the sound. I went to a library, found the skull in some medical journal, flipped it, made all the fonts super bold and brutal, and that was it. You can go into all these realms of complicated presentation and the message can get lost. Basic is brutal.
Your discography is like the ultimate collector’s nightmare. What inspired that work ethic and level of output?
I can point immediately to two acts: Merzbow and Agathocles. Both pump out a high level of high quality. Nonstop. That is the key: high level and high quality. Matt Domino was also inspiring for that. He could come up with a riff of staggering quality in seconds. Plus I have this hunger inside that I can’t even explain, it’s like a voice that drives me. I started playing bass again recently because I was going to see shows and it was like this voice going, “Hey, Wood, better get playing. There’s only so much time.” Just listening to records stirs the hunger. I was listening to Rorschach the other day, just hearing it made me want to bang my head on a wall it was so intense. You know the guitar player doesn’t even play now? He just sits at home and watches the tube. I can’t understand that mentality. That just makes me want to bang my head through the fucking wall.
Your projects have consistently been preoccupied with man being the vilest, most fucked-up animal on the planet.
Yes. Man IS the bastard. Man’s folly and plunders will be our downfall—poor decision-making by the worst animal on the earth. You just need to look around to see it is true. My father forced me into the US Navy at an early age, and the 20 months I spent there allowed me to view things in a totally different light. In addition, I have never been a massive reader, but working night shifts in the bakery I would be listening to spoken-word lectures on KPFK public radio in LA. That was what really got me going. I was hearing Terrence McKenna and Noam Chomsky and all these people filled with wisdom and I was taking it all in and being repelled by the political system we are subjected to in the US. I was staring into this big oven, loading the big steel trays with bread or whatever, and getting angrier and angrier.
You had a lot of similarly named projects running simultaneously. Were you just trying to confuse people?
To an extent they are all separate and distinct but at the same time they are sister and brother. Charred Remains was thrown in there to keep people on their toes. The main difference was that Man Is the Bastard had all the instruments and Bastard Noise was just the boxes. When Man is the Bastard came to an end, the focus shifted to Bastard Noise.
Why did Man Is the Bastard quit?
Let’s just say that aside from cannabis, drugs can be very dark and destructive things. But those people are still my brothers. In fact I have some exciting news I can exclusively share here.
What’s the scoop?
Bastard Noise will now for the first time be incorporating live instrumentation. I just had that hunger again to play, and R.D Davies, who played drums on Infest’s No Man’s Slave LP, has stepped up to play drums. Leila Rauf who plays guitars and synths with me in Ion Channel will also be contributing.
So Man Is the Bastard has been born again through the Bastard Noise?
Now that you've caught up with Eric, how about watching this episode of Practice Space with fellow Man Is the Bastard veteran Henry Barnes?