A smattering of Nine Inch Nails tracks aside, the melding of dance and metal is a pretty horrifying amalgam.
So it was something of a surprise when the press release for The Body’s new full-length appeared a couple of months back, promising ‘80s dance music, “Beyoncé-style bass-lines” and a desire to create “the grossest pop album of all time”.
There was, of course, a knowing disingenuity at work. Over the last decade, Rhode Island natives Lee Buford and Chip King have established themselves as a singular unit in the metal and avant-garde underground, plying noise-inflected, end-of-times sludge that’s grown increasingly disparate in its influences and construction. The Body is (still) a nihilistic band at its core, but in framing their harrowing sound with long choral passages, flickers of plaintive instrumentation and a broad approach to collaboration, Buford and King have set themselves apart from the insular genre-worship of their peers – a ramification they welcome.
Their blistering 2013 album Christs, Redeemers presented a new avenue for the band simply by being released on the decisively non-metal Thrill Jockey. Split releases with Sandworm, Thou, Osaka’s Vampilia and Krieg followed, but their net was cast wider still with 2014’s I Shall Die Here, co-produced with Bobby Krlic’s superlative drone project The Haxan Cloak and released on RVNG Intl., the eclectic Brooklyn label also home to Bing & Ruth and Holly Herndon.
No One Deserves Happiness, out on March 18 through Thrill Jockey, sees the band take a further leap in conception, scope and delivery. Working again with producers Seth Manchester and Keith Souza, aka Machines with Magnets, and utilising the lush vocal talents of Maralie Armstrong and The Assembly of Light Choir’s Chrissy Wolpert, Buford and King have produced a record that segues between crystalline slowburn (the Low-recalling ‘Wanderings’, ‘Adamah’), hip-hop-influenced tumult (‘Two Snakes’) and faultless exercises in doom and sheet noise (‘Hallow/Hollow’, ‘The Fall and the Guilt’).
The stylistic references mentioned in the press release are heavily abstracted and exploded: 808s snap, vocals soar (though King’s still cauterise) and something like groove lurches out of the mire – but this a Body record through and through, with all its grim connotations. (Even that pilfered Beyoncé low-end, on opener ‘Two Snakes’, is put well through the industrial wringer.)
FACT spoke to Buford to discuss the new record, being terrible musicians, collaborating with The Bug, and how the world’s most harrowing metal band really hate heavy metal.
“We were really trying not to make a metal record.”
It’s fair to say that the cited influences on the new record – 808s, ‘80s dance, Beyoncé – were pretty unprecedented. Can you tell me some more about the change in direction and how they’ve seeped into your sound?
I think they always have [been there] in some degree. I mean, even with the first records there’s drum machine stuff here and there, and we just accepted that. We realised we’re never going to be able to play these songs live, so we just went full force into [that] territory.
Chip is 41 and I’m 38, so we grew up with Depeche Mode and all that stuff. I listened to that before any other kind of music. Adam and The Ants is a pretty good influence – the drums and percussion he would use. That probably plays out more than anything, but we were also trying to make it less angry. We went at it like, “Let’s use drum machines and keyboards, but let’s try to make pop songs.” That’s where Maralie [Armstrong] comes in – it’s the first time you can tell what any lyrics are on any Body record, which was definitely intentional. And it’s the first record we’ve done to a click track.
Is there much of a house or techno influence going on? That’s what first came to mind with the increased use of 808s and electronic details.
Yeah, there’s a lot of that stuff. Seth [Manchester, of Machines with Magnets], who works with us on the recording, he loves GAS and all that stuff. I don’t know how much of that plays out in The Body’s stuff but I love Regis, that kind of thing where it’s danceable but still super harsh. We pick and choose from a lot of different things.
A lot of it was influenced by modern hip-hop – you know how spooky modern hip-hop beats are nowadays? I feel like a lot of hip-hop gives a lot of room to the 808 to breathe, so I think we were just trying to capture that a little bit.
Did you want to pull away from the blackened metal and sludge you were playing before?
Yeah. Modern metal is terrible. It’s the worst. And the thing that bothers me about it is that it’s like, “We play metal and we’re influenced by other metal bands,” and that’s it. That is so boring to Chip and me. We were really trying not to make a metal record – we always hope that it won’t be picked up in that world and I feel like we’re not really a metal band.
Chip screams and stuff, and it’s loud, but so is Swans – I don’t think they’re a metal band. And the subject matter of most metal stuff I think is far different than the subject matter we deal with, especially nowadays. So that’s always the intention and we just went all in on this one to really distance ourselves from that world. As far as a genre, there are just so many things I find an issue with that I just don’t want to be associated with it.
“The Body is anger built out of love”
How did that mindset affect your writing process?
There’s songs where Chip doesn’t even sing, which is kind of new. I think that takes away from the more metal style, as I think Chip’s singing is what people consider as the metal part of the band.
Also not going into the trope of, “Alright, now we’ll get really loud, like it will be slow for a while.” And if it does do that, I think the horns and cello help out a lot. If there is a part like that, there’s melody to it so it’s not as brutal. It adds some sort of harmony. We’ve had violin and double bass and stuff before but never a cello, so we wanted to try that out. Then the horns – I really wanted to have a Philly soul, Delfonics horn sound. I was pretty adamant about that. And a lot of the guitar stuff is almost shoegazey on this, which I was surprised about.
Lyrically and thematically, how does this record differ to your previous work – is there a theme that runs through it?
It’s hard to say what Chip’s lyrics are about for a lot of it. His dad died a couple of years ago.
I think a lot of stuff is about that and about the frustration of trying to live in the world when you obviously don’t belong. A lot of loss and dealing with that. Either a true frustration or complete anger. My lyrics are the same kind of thing but maybe a little bit more hopeful than Chip’s. That’s six to one though I guess!
I guess the identity of The Body has always been based on that sort of negativity.
Yeah, I think so. It’s a negative but it’s also a hopeful negative, I guess. Some songs that I’m assuming are about Chip’s dad – they’re negative, but he loved his dad you know? It’s not a tough guy angry style – it’s never angry to just to be angry. That seems counterproductive. It’s anger built out of love.
What does the passage on ‘Prescience’, from Édouard Levé’s novel Suicide, bring to the record?
That book is brutal. It’s insane. I think that passage got to me the most because he’s talking about the duality of your life and how things can be so different inside yourself. I guess it’s the point that you could be something and something else. It’s so disparate in your own psyche.
Are you anticipating a fuller musical overhaul in the future?
I think it’ll be gradual. At least it feels like that to us, maybe not everyone else, but it’s also down to the means of what we can do. When we made All The Water Of The Earth Turned To Blood with the choir and everything, at the time that was the music we listened to. Chip and I love the Beach Boys and Electric Light Orchestra and stuff, and those records were made out of a million different things.
It didn’t seem that crazy when we made a record like that, but people were surprised that we had all these extra people. But people have been making records like that for like 50 years! It’s held down by what we can actually logistically do. It’s not the conception and the creativity bothers me, it’s more like, how can we logistically pull this stuff off?
Have you ever been tempted to shift and do something completely removed from The Body, even if it were with Chip? Something with a completely different sound, ethos or take?
I don’t think so. I’ve done stuff in the past – a thing called Dead Times with my friend Steve [Vallot], that’s more noise, industrial style. No real instruments, just keyboards, drum machines. And me, Chrissy and Seth have a pop thing, with a straight modern pop style. But with Chip, the good thing is we can pretty much do whatever we want. I still don’t have the ego of “I’m not on this song, I won’t do it!”. There are plenty of songs I don’t do anything on. There are plenty of songs Chip doesn’t do anything on! If you think about it like that, it’s a fluid thing. There are songs without either of us on, and Chrissy is the only person on it! If we couldn’t do that I doubt we would still be doing it.
Shifting to your growing body of collaborative work, how do you choose who to work with? And has this process become an integral part of the band’s identity at this point?
I think so. [But] with our [solo] records, thematically that’s where I feel like we’re the most honest. The collaborative stuff is more experimental. It’s not like we don’t care about it, but it’s much more improvised. Also, Chip and I are terrible musicians – a lot of times we’d think, it’d be cool if we could do this but we don’t know how to play that stuff, so let’s do this collaboration and then we can play all the stuff that we always wanted to do but don’t know how! It’s a way to push ourselves musically without actually learning how to play instruments!
Originally we did it with Braveyoung, they do post-rock stuff so it made sense to work with them. With Thou, they’re basically just our friends. The Haxan Cloak was the only person we hadn’t met, but we’re friends with Matt who does RVNG Intl. He was the mediator to get it going, so even then it was still like working with a friend. And Bobby [Krlic] is super nice, so it worked out really well.
How did your new collaboration with The Bug come about, and how you see the project developing?
He wrote us. Well actually, he wrote something like “The Body is this new band I found on Pitchfork,” or something. I think Ken [Li] at Thrill Jockey saw it and was like, “Yo, get in touch, do a collab!” And then he wrote us and said, “Hey, would you guys be into this?”
I don’t fly, we have to drive everywhere. So I said, “We’re driving back to the studio in a couple months, we’ll start working on stuff to send to you.” We’ve been back and forth since. We’re not too stressed priority-wise for it. It’s kind of a slow process, but not in a bad way.
Have you discussed what form the record will take? Have you talked about how much of a meld of your disciplines you’ll work to?
Not really, it’s pretty chill so far. He’ll send us a couple of beats and we’ll kind of go over it, change some stuff and then send back to him. He’ll ask if we can double up this or do this or that. So it’s pretty laidback so far. I’d like to start working on that a lot more! Just because I don’t think it’ll be like anything else we’ve sounded like. I think it’ll be pretty interesting.
“We would never want to be one of those bands that just play the songs”
Outside of that, is the process generally truly collaborative? Do you tend to write in a studio with the other bands, or is it more a case of sending things back and forth and working on parts separately?
For band stuff it’s us in a room together figuring stuff out. With Thou, we usually go and hang out for a week. Get stuff down. With [grind/noise unit] Full of Hell we just went in the studio with ideas and figured it out, all of us playing together.
How does that work? Do you have two drum kits going at once and everyone just piling in?
It would be like that, or a lot of times I would have a programmed beat, I’d be like, “Alright, we got this beat – Dave [Bland, FOH drummer], you go animal style over it!”
Will you be playing any of that on Converge’s Blood Moon tour over here in April, given that you’re both supporting?
Nah, that one will be totally separate. In August or something I think we’re going to do some shows where we are just doing the collaborative stuff. I reckon it’s going to take us a bit to figure out, because it’s like kind of like reverse engineering everything.
Of all the collaborations you’ve done, do you feel any single set has been particularly successful? Or has particularly impacted on your purview as The Body?
The Haxan Cloak. That one definitely helped out the most and also put us in a world where people didn’t see us just as a metal band. I’ll be eternally grateful to Bobby for that!
What was your creative process working with Bobby?
We wrote skeletal structures of songs but we just didn’t finish them out, and sent those to him. He would add his stuff, and send some of it back and be like, “Is this cool?” And every time it was perfect, like, “Oh yeah you just do whatever you want to do!” That was the first time we’d done something without them being in the same studio as us.
Because it’s The Haxan Cloak, we weren’t really worried about anything. We were like, this is fine, whatever we send him it’s going to turn out better than what we do! So I think that helped. If it was someone we didn’t really know that well or didn’t know their catalog we might have been a little bit more worried.
Are you planning to contact anyone else?
Nah, not planning. Because I always feel like we’re a really small band, so anyone I think of I feel like there’s no way this person is going to do this! So I don’t know – maybe that’s what I should think about! Just going for it.
As for The Body in 2016, is there an ethos or credo you’re working under at this point?
Yeah, I think to keep staying creative. We would never want to be one of those bands that just play the songs, rehashing that for 10 records in a row. Just keep pushing.