22-year-old guitarist Hayden Pedigo embodies the type of wily self-determination that growing up in a small town requires, especially if you're an experimental musician living in Amarillo, Texas, a smaller city in the panhandle of the Lonestar State. Outside of major metropolitan areas, there are fewer cultural offerings—but there's also a bit more freedom. Unburdened by the distractions and financial restrictions of life in a big city, musicians like Pedigo have the chance to slow down, branch out, and get a little weird if they want to.
I met Hayden through the internet, and over the years I've come to appreciate the_ weird sort of idealism that funnels into every aspect of his musical career. His optimistic wheeling and dealing has made him one of the most interesting (and well-connected) experimental musicians in the country—even though he spends most of his days working at the central branch of the Amarillo National Bank. Pedigo has already collaborated with experimental godheads like Robert Rich and Faust's Werner _Zappi Diermaier on his solo records, and formed a drone duo with Mac DeMarco's live drummer Joseph McMurray called Dumas Demons.
His latest project is a strange one even by his standards. With the help of his friend Stanton Coldiron, he's launched what he believes to be the first-ever harsh noise band ever in the small Texas city, calling themselves Maggot Death as a joke before settling on the more permanent name Plastic Mayan Staircase. Pedigo and Coldiron decided that they'd become something like noise evangelists in the town—seeking to provide a visceral, emotional outlet for any of the town's many young weirdos, and hoping to spark a new experimental scene among their friends. Read on for discussions of baffled crowds, drunk cowboys, and cockroaches—oh god, the cockroaches.
Hayden Pedigo: There's never really been experimental noise music in Amarillo. The city is a bit different, a bit more conservative. There's art here, but it's not the most experimental kind of place. They're used to seeing standard bands.
I've had the idea to perform noise here for a while, but I've been nervous to actually do it because of what people might think. The spark came in part from one specific video of Wolf Eyes from 2001. The description on YouTube claims that they're playing a high school house party. I was intrigued by how the audience, who was moshing and going nuts, reacts to them making noise—they were willing to be a part of something weird. But nine times out of ten, the people we play to have never listened to that kind of stuff.
There was one experimental group in the 70s called the Onions. They only played three times, and all their performances were shut down by the police for noise violations and being a public nuisance. The idea behind Plastic Mayan Staircase was to continue and to advance what those guys were doing back when they were just fucking around with tape echos, cheap microphones, and acid.
Amarillo actually had a big hardcore scene for a while from like 2008 to 2011. I never got to experience it firsthand, sadly, but I've seen pictures and videos, and was inspired by by how visceral it was. But people moved away and the music wasn't in in Amarillo anymore. When those types of scenes dry up, it has a devastating effect in smaller towns because a certain freedom is just gone. I wanted to take experimental music and do something here that was just as cathartic—to put that kind of energy in a performance.
I had always seen my bandmate Stanton Coldiron around at shows and he was actually really involved in the hardcore scene. One day he posted on his Facebook about wishing that people in Amarillo were into darker, louder, noisier music. I sent him a message saying we should start doing an experimental noise project in Amarillo. He thought I was kidding! A week later, I made up a fake name—Maggot Death—and got us booked on a hardcore show in a backyard. The first time we ever played together was that first performance—it was 100% improvised.
The show was on a Monday night at essentially a head shop called the Music Box in a weirder neighborhood in Amarillo. Danny Clark, the founder of the Onions who's now in his 60s, played with us. I was doing tape loops on a tape player run through a cheap amp, Stanton was playing a broken guitar through an amp, and Danny was playing an old Hewlett Packard oscillator through a Randall half-stack. Everyone was drunk or bored enough to stick around for our set.
Five minutes into our set, I shook my amp too hard and it broke. I was dead in the water. I unplugged my amp and threw it seven feet behind the stage, completely crushing it. The promoter ran up on stage angry because he thought I was destroying someone else's rig, but when I explained what was going on, he laughed and told us to keep going. The set went for two more minutes then we were greeted with complete silence—no clapping, no booing, nothing. But somehow, we weren't blacklisted, and got booked again to play there next week!
Things got stranger from there. The next week, we drove out to the Frying Pan Ranch, one of the oldest ranches in the Texas panhandle. It was in the middle of nowhere, and we played for 20 minutes to a crowd of about 15 people, some of them repeats from the first show. Yet, kids got into it, and said our show had a really hypnotic effect.
The very next week was one of the weirdest shows. A girl whose parents were out of town invited us to play a party at her mansion. Her only requirement was that she was having some rappers open for us—as a joke. I cringed a bit, not knowing how that was going to turn out. That night, we set up in the living room, with a projector playing The Shining. Right at as we were about to start, we blew out the power. I'm thinking the gig is over, but all of the kids said, "Let us carry your stuff upstairs to the dojo." Turned out that in the upper part of this family's house they had a private karate dojo room surrounded with mirrors. I didn't know that even existed. Restarting our set, we decided to completely blast them, and they loved it. We learned that the odder the crowd, and the less informed about what they're getting into, the better a reaction we tend to get. People ask questions. They come into it not having any notion of what the performance is.
On a recent Friday night, Stanton suggested going to a park and playing an impromptu set at a statue that had an power outlet on it. We headed over, and even though the show was so impromptu, a bunch of kids still showed up. That elusive quality might actually be what gets an audience: "Oh hey, there's a show in five minutes, be there." But just when we were about to play, we plugged in, and realized the outlet was dead. So we went to another park, but all the outlets there had been vandalized like someone had taken a hammer to them. The only working spot we could find was at the base of the gazebo. There were cockroaches everywhere and the ground was kind of disgusting. In the end, we played for nine minutes, everyone clapped, and we went home.
So far, [playing weird noise shows in this small town] has been completely fun. I thought we'd have a way harder time getting shows, but we have two shows next week in a row. Still, I want to be cautious about how we proceed from here, because I want to introduce noise to people in a way that they could get into it, as opposed to playing for drunk cowboys at a bar that are just going to get pissed off and leave. While being purposefully off-putting can be an interesting form of noise-terrorism, we want to draw people in. We hope that kids come to the show and think to themselves "Hey, I can do that too." But it hasn't happened yet.
Amarillo is conservative, but when weird things show up, people—especially young people—tend to flock to it. The artist Stanley Marsh put up these road signs on nearly every street in town that say things like "Art is the tool man uses to understand himself." Or, "Lubbock [another Northwestern Texas city] is one of the wickedest cities on Earth." People here like these random bits of fun. Amarillo has been surprisingly receptive to experimental noise because it's the same idea: bite-sized pieces of the absurd that everyone can get something out of.