5 Electronic Albums That Taught the Body How to Make Noise-Metal
The Portland-based makers of the year's strangest metal records explain how they were inspired by drone masters and Nine Inch Nails.
The Body were never trying to be a metal band. Pretty much since they emerged from the sickly sludge of Providence, Rhode Island's belching noise scene around the turn of the millennium, the now Portland-based duo have been misunderstood. Guitarist/singer Chip King and drummer Lee Buford have been rightly celebrated for their soured instrumentals, generally downcast outlook, and prolific output—they released three full-lengths last year and are plotting two more this month—but critics and fans alike tend to overlook just how wide the band's interests and influences skew.
As Buford admits during a recent phone call, they do play slow and they do play loud, but as of late the Body's musical world has taken an ever greater turn toward their more digitalist impulses. On 2014's I Shall Die Here, they worked with the Haxan Cloak to rip apart their had their grueling compositions with sub-bass thunder and scalpel-noise freakouts, and they've recently taken to slotting in totemic 808 kicks alongside Buford's codeine-drenched drum work and King's near-synth squeals. They're working with a broader palette than most of the bong-toting bros that make doomy music adjacent to theirs—their compositional approach is a reminder that instead of just painting in blacks and greys, mixing every pigment at your disposal will give you the same bleak effect.
Just last week Buford and King released No One Deserves Happiness on Thrill Jockey, and on March 25 they'll issue a collaborative LP with Baltimore powerviolence act Full of Hell on Neurot. The twin records each mark their most adventurous and all-encompassing material to date, compressing dead-eyed choirs, distressed electronic squalls, and blown-out drum machines into roiling, seasick compositions.
Over the phone from a tour stop in Los Angeles, Buford took a moment to look back at five electronic records—from Nine Inch Nails' Pretty Hate Machine to De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising—that have influenced the Body's polyglot approach to making music. As Buford puts it, growing up listening to these pivotal albums taught him an important lesson: "It is possible to throw a million different things in a song. Making it work is hard."
1. Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine
The first CD I bought was Pretty Hate Machine when that first came out. I got a CD boombox and that and Steve Miller band's Greatest Hits, in the old longbox style. I was 15. That was my first introduction to heavy music. I grew up in Arkansas so it was tough to get stuff. I'd seen the video [for "Down In It"] on 120 Minutes. I'd never heard anything like that. I was 15. The hits on Pretty Hate Machine were so good. At the time I was like, oh this is so crazy, it's real dark, even though I didn't totally understand it. Anything I like, I try to learn everything I can about it and it led me down this whole long road of other stuff, but that was definitely the catalyst for exploring like Ministry and Skinny Puppy.
2. Ministry, Psalm 69
I was in Driver's Ed when I was 15 and a kid had written Ministry and Husker Dü and stuff on his shoes. So I was like, oh this dude's cool. So I became friends with him and [started] my first band with him. When you grow up in a place like that and you want different music you just grasp at everything. Psalm 69 was a big record for me. That one is so heavy. A constant barrage.
I saw them at the second Lollapalooza and it was insane, one of the craziest shows I've seen. They look like total freaks and it was to this day the loudest show I've ever seen in my life. When they first started I was at the bathrooms at the very back, and it was outside too, and I was just like, "Oh my god, this is so fucking loud! What the fuck!" Then I saw them last year and it was the worst show I'd ever seen.
3. De La Soul, 3 Feet High and Rising
As a kid I listened to some metal but I didn't really listen to that much. I listened to a lot of punk, but a lot of my childhood was just listening to hip-hop, I was obsessed. The Yo MTV Raps!-era I was glued to it every day, so that's honestly where my love of machines came from. Even when I play drums I mostly try to play like hip-hop beats. For a while I think hip-hop got kinda bad, in the early 2000s, but it's really exciting again. Hip-Hop got real dark, like Travis Scott, Future. It's really depressing. It's refreshing to see dudes who are rich go "eh, life still sucks." Musically they're going way out there too, which most other modern music isn't doing. The metal scene is the worst about it, it's like come on guys, you can't keep doing this shit [over and over].
3 Feet High and Rising is one of my go-to records. I heard it when I was really young. I was like Jesus Christ this is so insane, the amount of sampling is just ridiculous. This is fucking crazy, how many samples they can fit. This amalgamation of hundreds of types of music in one thing is definitely my kind of thing. It's very musical and very poppy. 3 Feet High and Rising from start to end is conceptually concise, everything flows really well. It was very inspiring. Growing up listening to this kind of stuff almost gave me permission to do whatever I want. It is possible to throw a million different things in a song. Making it work is hard.
4. Work/Death, Phone About To Ring
We met Scott [Reber, the man behind Work/Death] when we lived in Providence, Rhode Island. It's criminal how little Scott's known. To have such an easy access to harness all those emotions when you're playing a 30-minute set—I don't know how he does it. It's so fucked up. Every release he does he knows exactly when to hit things. It's real impressive. That's what also frustrates me, when people call him a noise dude. He's like a real composer.
Our approach is more haphazard, we don't have nearly as much musical talent as Scott. We make records more like hip-hop records. Scott is like "This is what I'm going to do and how I'm going to do it." We're like "well, we have one idea, let's see what we can get from that." We just experiment.
5. Yoshi Wada, Earth Horns With Electronic Drone
When I first heard that, maybe five years ago, the thing that got me about it was that so many people say they love drone, like [intercontinental metal act] Sunn O))) and all that stuff, but here's a dude that did it decades before. We saw him two weeks ago and it was amazing. There was a dude playing two bass drums, his son was playing harmonium and [Wada] had all these school bells and alarms spread all over this gallery space. Then he started playing bagpipes and these two high school girls in Scottish regalia come out with him. It was intense.
[It's frustrating] to see someone do something like that that gets repeated so many times in music but never get credit for it. And to see people doing stuff in a much less meaningful way. It's like, come on man, do some research. Sunn O))) is just two dudes playing guitar real loud. That's what I get from it. I don't get anything else from it. And then they're wearing cloaks and stuff. I can't tell if you're making fun of this or what. They can do whatever, but the people who listen to it think they're the best. And then there's this dude who's way better [who started 40 years ago].
We get labeled as this brutal, loud sludge band, which I don't think we are at all. People connect with the intensity, but not the reason for the intensity. All the lyrics come from a place of loneliness and sadness and stuff. People take it as this macho thing, but that's not what we're going for at all. I feel like we get lumped in with a lot of metal stuff, but I don't feel like we have anything in common except that we are loud and sometimes we play slow. All the time people are like "oh this is so heavy," but it depends on what you mean by heavy. We always saw ourselves as more of a noise band than anything else.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.