The Body, the devastatingly heavy two-piece band generally filed perhaps incorrectly under the umbrella of “metal,” perform some of the bleakest music in the history of, well, music. With Lee Buford pummeling death marches into the drum kit, vocalist/guitarist Chip King screaming in unintelligible, frantic anguish, and videos that consistently show the horror that can lurk even in the corners of everyday, mundane human existence, the entire experience of The Body is designed to be unsettling. The duo moved to Portland around four years ago, when they famously sold their AK-47s to relocate from Providence, Rhode Island, where they both lived after growing up in the DIY punk scene of Fayetteville, Arkansas. Since the move, they have continued touring tirelessly, recording full-length albums and adding to their long list of collaborations, which includes a roster of Thou, Krieg, Haxan Cloak, and Braveyoung.
Last Friday, the duo released their new, cheerily titled full-length, No One Deserves Happiness, which is full of industrial-inspired electronic drums and samples of knee-weakening clean vocals alongside their signature shrieks and crowbar-bending guitar noises. That softening of their sound, even temporarily, caused the band to joke that they set out to record “the grossest pop album of all time.” Considering how open the two are about blasting Taylor Swift in the van, and the fact that they both attended the Carly Rae Jepsen show at the Wonder Ballroom a few weeks ago in Portland, it isn’t as shocking of a direction as one might think. Today, however, also marks the release of their nightmarishly heavy collaboration with Full Of Hell, titled One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache, a nod to the infamous, knife-to-the-heart lyric in Hole’s most successful single, “Doll Parts.”
Now, considering the huge week, and month, for that matter, The Body has had, there are approximately five hundred other interviews and articles you can find on the Internet in order to get a history of the band and an idea of the direction they’re going. However, I heard “grossest pop album of all time,” and a reference to Hole, so I decided to take The Body to Mary’s Club, Portland’s historic first strip club in downtown Portland, where Courtney Love used to work in the early 80s, and talk to them about pop music.
Before the guys arrived, I introduced myself to the very friendly and welcoming bartender, Cherie, and got a little tour around the club. As we walked by, the dancer onstage—a gorgeous blonde with a mohawk and tattoos named Berlin—put “Doll Parts” on the jukebox and started doing her routine. When she finished, I told her I was about to interview a band called The Body, who named their new album after that song, and though she was a little protective of someone using Courtney Love’s lyrics for their own art, we both laughed at the coincidence. Portland, even amidst its recent changes and miles of condos as far as the eye can see, never ceases to be a warm and welcoming place with killer taste.
When the band got there, despite their reputation for surliness and huge frames (I am 5’10” and drummer Lee Buford made me look like a child) the two were full of smiles. Nothing like seeing naked ladies with tattoos in the middle of the day to put a grin on anyone’s face. Even though the two were nothing but amiable, full of laughter, and open about their love for all things bubblegum pop, it was still hard not to shake my head in disbelief when imagining the two of them singing along to “Call Me Maybe” alongside seas of teen girls at a Carly Rae Jepsen show.
We settled into a table next to a wall of photos of past employees (including a photo and postcard from Courtney Love that reads, “I bought my first guitar showing my teeny little titties here & y’all were very nice to me”) and chatted about pop music, things that drive them nuts, and why most metal bands should just cut the shit already.
Noisey: So you guys have been living in Portland for awhile, but this is your first trip to Mary’s. What are strip clubs like in Rhode Island and Arkansas?
Lee Buford: Never been to one! First strip club I ever went to was in Portland.
Which one did you go to first?
Chip King: Sassy’s. We heard it was the best burger in town, so we went. It was good. We also went to the Acropolis, for the steaks.
How were they?
Buford: I guess it says something that every strip club we go to, we just go for the food.
The reason I wanted to do this interview here is that this was the first strip club in Portland, and also where Courtney Love worked in the early 90s. Considering the Hole reference in the title of your collaboration with Full Of Hell, it seemed fitting. How did you decide to call the record One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache?
Buford: I love Hole! I was like, “It would be great to name something this.” And I felt like I could probably get them to do it. I didn’t know if Chip would be down, but…
King: I don’t care.
Buford: But [Full Of Hell] is also super young, so they didn’t even know who they were.
King: They were like, “Who’s Ho-lay?”
Buford: [Laughs] It’s a great line!
It is. It’s one of her best. In fact, a lot of people argue that she made Kurt Cobain a better songwriter, and not the other way around. Where do you guys land in that debate?
Buford: I’m in the wrong camp, because I don’t really like Nirvana. I mean, I like them alright, but lyrically, Hole means more to me than Nirvana ever did. When I was a kid, I loved Nirvana—I mean, I was obsessed with them. But, you know, as far as a long-running favorite goes, I’m gonna go with Hole. Which is not the popular opinion.
King: I don’t care about Nirvana or Hole. I mean, they had a good song.
It seems like, in musical debates, Courtney often gets the short end of the stick. And I don’t like to take sides since I wasn’t there, but she was an excellent songwriter, even before she met Kurt. And if you’re living under the same roof as another songwriter, of course ideas are going to be exchanged all the time, but it seems like his songwriting got poppier and stronger in the mainstream sense after being with her.
Buford: Yeah, I don’t know. It’s a good question. It bothers me, and it’s also kind of offensive, when people are like, “Well, she’s good, but this is why she’s good.”
“Must have been because of her husband.”
King: Yeah, women can’t write songs without a man.
Yeah, I mean, all these interview questions were written by a man, too. And a man is actually controlling [the photographer, Alyssa]’s hands while she takes photos.
King: I figured. I mean, Courtney was an FBI plant to mellow out Kurt. Keep the kids calm in the country.
Buford: I mean, even if you take away the music, just lyrically, Courtney Love is a much better lyricist than Kurt Cobain. In my opinion.
Do you think she killed Kurt?
Buford: No. That’s another thing that’s offensive. To think that someone can’t be depressed enough to kill himself. Or like, “This guy’s got a lot of money, so there’s no way he killed himself.” “This guy’s a famous musician, so there’s no way he killed himself.”
King: Yeah, famous people like Robin Williams never kill themselves.
In the interview you did with Willamette Week, you’ve mentioned that moving to Portland has soured you on metal because it’s “cool” here, which takes that angry misfit authenticity out of it. What trend do you see most when you go to shows that drives you crazy?
King: I don’t even think it’s specifically Portland. It’s the same thing all over. But I feel like here, maybe people have it too easy. It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of emotion a lot of times, in any way. It just seems kind of boring. Just people going through the motions with nothing behind it.
Buford: It’s also tough because we lived in Providence forever, and I feel like musically it’s more diverse. And here it’s not like that. It’s kind of boring to me. But I mean, I feel like a lot of music is like that.
In that article, you described a lot of modern metal bands putting on a persona of being “spooky dudes doing a scary thing.”
Buford: Yeah, that’s what bothers me. The image of spookiness. Anything fake or insincere, I have a problem with. Like, come on, man. If someone’s a spooky dude, it’s like, alright, whatever, that’s your thing! But don’t, like, play spooky.
King: When I like heavy music, I like to be pretty much just heavy, for heavy’s sake. Like Whitehorse. They don’t have any style, it’s just heavy only. And they’re great! Because it’s not like, “Oh, we’re rocking a doom riff.” They’re just playing the heaviest thing that could possibly follow the thing they just played each time. That’s the main heavy stuff I like now.
Buford: To me, it’s more the context of it than anything else. If, contextually, it’s like, “This is what I’m about, and this is what I’m doing!” then I’m going to gravitate more toward it than “This is what I feel like I should be doing!”
So basically just finding an aesthetic that’s genuine, and not just a cloak you’re putting on that day.
King: Puttin’ on the jacket.
Buford: And that’s what I hate.
You guys also set out to make “the grossest pop album of all time” with No One Deserves Happiness, the full-length album you put out last week.
Buford: That was kind of a joke. [Laughs.]
Though the album certainly has elements that pop music employs, like electronic beats and some sampling of beautiful singing and whatnot, it’s still very extreme and uses the same screaming vocals that makes The Body so dark. What does the concept of “pop music” mean to you?
King: Sometimes you just want something to be easy.
Everyone has their own idea of what “pop” means, but the overarching definitions usually have to do with singalong-ability or infectious hooks that get stuck in your head. I mean, you guys are huge Carly Rae Jepsen fans, right?
[Both men nod.]
I wouldn’t get a song by The Body stuck in my head like “Call Me Maybe” would get stuck in my head. So would you say that your personal definition in the case of referring to your new album as “pop” is simply that it’s more accessible and less extreme than the previous ones?
Buford: Well I think nowadays, pop music is more adventurous, musically and lyrically, than the underground stuff. So I think that’s probably part of it. Like that new Weeknd record. It’s sold a billion copies, and it’s a dark record. I feel like that’s more sincere than most metal stuff I hear nowadays.
What about the term “gross”? There are many adjectives that come to mind when listening to a record by The Body—“painful,” “heavy,” maybe even “violent”—but the word “gross” has never come to mind. How did you arrive at that descriptor?
Buford: I think we wanted to make it extremely musical, and extremely non-musical.
King: I feel like I just talk about how I want my guitar to sound gross all the time. I don’t want it to sound like guitar, just like large metal stuff breaking or something.
Buford: Especially how stoner stuff got so big with riffs and stuff. It just gets tedious. So we went the other way with it. We try to go with less guitar.
You’ve mentioned that it’s confounding to watch other people live really happy lives because it’s a foreign concept to you. Yet you guys talk about blasting Taylor Swift and other pop in the van and go see Carly Rae Jepsen live. Is there any cognitive dissonance there?
Buford: Nah, because most pop songs are like, breakup songs, usually. I’ve always been able to relate to that more than most metal stuff.
King: Oh, Satan?
Buford: Yeah. I feel like I can definitely relate more to breakup songs than I can to Satan songs. [Laughs.]
Why do you think pop music gets wrongfully tied to happy-go-lucky feelings if the subject matter tends to be so dark?
Buford: I think musically it is pretty happy. I mean, back to that Weeknd stuff, they’re songs that totally sound poppy, but they’re pretty grim songs.
King: The way it’s marketed, also, it kind of makes it seem like it’s an advertisement. You’re listening to it and you’re like, “Man, this is so cool, I could be dancing to this at the club!” And then you’re like, “Ah man, it’s about addiction.”
When you guys work on a collaboration with another band, it’s a way of fulfilling a creative project that you couldn’t do with just the two of you. You’ve also mentioned a sincere desire to collaborate with pop stars like Robyn, Taylor Swift, and The Weeknd. What would each of those bring to the table that you couldn’t create yourself?
King: Have talent.
Buford: That’s the main thing. There’s just two of us, so we can pretty much add whatever, or take away whatever, and we could still call it The Body. So we’re in a better position, I think. We’re luckier than a lot of other bands. And I don’t care if I’m not on a song. Chip doesn’t care if he’s not on a song.
[Chip scoffs and pretends to get up and leave.]
King: Everyone we’ve collaborated with has pretty much been friends of ours. Luckily we have a lot of friends who are incredible musicians, but collaborating with someone entirely based on musical ability would be different. But it might be interesting.
Okay, totally frivolous question: Let’s say you were putting out a series of dream collaborations all in a row, that one after another were Taylor Swift, Robyn, The Weeknd. What would be a concept with each one individually that would work with your music?
Buford: I don’t know. I feel like, even lyrically, it’s not that far off. I mean, all of our songs are about loss in some way. So it’s not that atypical of us to be like, “Okay, this is what we do,” and leave it up in the air for what they’re going to do.
King: Trying to get my metallic fart guitar sound onto a Taylor Swift song would be pretty awesome.
Buford: The Weeknd, I mean, there are some songs that are just straight Weeknd songs that we just copied the drum patterns [laughs]. So it would be curious to be like, “Here’s how we ripped you off. What are you gonna do about it?”
King: I guess it would be interesting to see if, I dunno, like, famous pop-star-y people live in a world completely not like our world. So it would be interesting to see what would happen.
Buford: I think that’s the interesting thing about collaborative stuff. I guess we do with mostly people who are friends of ours, so it’s kind of in the same realm. That Haxan Cloak one was different, because we hadn’t met him. But that was cool because it was like, “What’s this guy gonna do?”
[The dancer onstage starts dancing to a slow, pop/electronic cover of “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac.]
King: This is a Fleewood Mac cover! Took me a second.
Yeah, aren’t you guys big fans of Fleetwood Mac? How do you feel about this cover?
Buford: I don’t mind it!
King: Yeah, I’d like to find out who this is!
Speaking of Fleetwood Mac, when do you think modern rock‘n’roll music lost its ability to have pop hooks?
Buford: I don’t know. That’s a good question. I don’t know when it was, but at one point, it stopped being like, “Oh, I listen to all this music, but I also like to make heavy stuff.” Throbbing Gristle still listened to [popular] music of the time like Bowie and stuff. So I don’t know what point heavy stuff started being influenced by other heavy stuff and that’s it. But whenever that happened, it was terrible. The worst thing.
That’s a great point. If heavy music is only influenced by itself, it’s eating its own tail.
Buford: That’s my main problem with most music anyway, when it’s just like, “Alright, you listen to this. So that’s all you can listen to.”
King: So you just have one record.
When do you think that started happening?
Buford: [Laughs] I don’t know. I think probably when the Internet started making stuff so accessible. Which is weird! You’d think people would branch out more. But I feel like it just did the opposite.
King: Now it’s just like, “I want to start a band that sounds just like that.” That’s the mission. It’s not like, “Let’s start a band and see what happens.”
Not to mention you can look up what amps and pedals were used in order to attain that exact tone and copy it completely.
King: You can buy two thousand dollars worth of pedals, five thousand dollars worth of amps, and you’re set!
Buford: So that’s another thing, too. We try to use the shittiest equipment we can. Because what does it matter? The gear-worship stuff? That’s another thing I don’t like.
What can pop learn from metal?
Buford: I don’t know. These days, since pop takes more chances than metal, probably that. That’s the thing about pop. They can say, “I’m going to take this thing from this, and this thing from this,” which I think metal does not do.
Who do you think is the most nihilistic pop star of all time?
Buford: Oof, that’s a tough call. If we’re talking depressed, I always go with Brian Wilson. Pure, total isolation, weirdo freak-style. But nihilistic? I don’t know. I’d go with Brian Wilson for most depressed. But the most nihilistic pop song is John Denver’s “I’m Sorry,” which is the most depressing song ever written. But, you know, I wouldn’t consider John Denver’s whole catalog to be that.
How can we get this new generation of musicians to understand that you don’t have to be just a metal band? Or just a pop band? Aside from making two-piece extreme pop records with screaming, that is.
Buford: I don’t know how to go back.
King: Backstreet’s back.
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