Features I by I 09.04.14

The Torturers: what happened when FACT introduced The Body and The Haxan Cloak

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Matt Werth, owner of the Brooklyn-based label RVNG Intl, has a skill for bringing together like minds.

In the last few years, through his FRKWYS imprint, he’s curated a number of excellent collaborative projects, bringing together neo-New Agers Blues Control with ambient legend Laraaji, and sending Sun Araw and M Geddes Gengras out to Jamaica to record with vocal reggae group The Congos, culminating in 2012’s excellent Icon Give Thanks.

RVNG’s latest release, however, is a match-up of a rather less blissed shade. I Shall Die Here is a six-track meeting between The Body, a Portland-based extreme metal duo signed to Thrill Jockey, and Bobby Krlic, aka Tri Angle’s dark soundscaper The Haxan Cloak. The Body are not your everyday metal band. Blending sludge dynamics with a shrill, visceral horror, their early shows took place with the duo covering their heads with burlap bags, nooses fastened round their necks, while their 2010 album All The Waters Of The Earth Turn To Blood featured a 24-piece choir and a lyrical predilection for doomsday cults; one track sampled the eerie sing-song of Shoko Asahara, leader of Aum Shinrikyo, who carried out the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo underground in 1995.

The Body are no strangers to collaboration, having recorded an album, Nothing Passes, with the noise act Braveyoung in 2012. But for I Shall Die Here, they took the admirably hands-off move of recording a new album’s worth of material and handing it over to Krlic, who holed up in a Brooklyn studio for a week, subjecting the songs to a variety of sublime electronic tortures.

Prior to now, Krlic and The Body had only communicated over email. FACT got them together on a Skype call to discuss alienation, shared aesthetics, and the appeal of operating outside of genre.

So, you were both matched up by Matt from RVNG. Presumably he saw something in The Haxan Cloak and The Body that would aesthetically complement each other?

Lee Buford [The Body]: I think so.

Bobby Krlic (The Haxan Cloak): I don’t know Matt’s thinking behind it, but it was a kind of a weird process. I’m pretty insular, the way that I work, so there wasn’t even any correspondence even while I was making it. Me and Lee only spoke over email for the first time a few weeks ago.

So this is probably an interesting experience – to get inside each other’s heads?

Both: Yeah.

So where are you both at present, what are you up to?

B: I’m just at home in London, I’m working on some music stuff.

L: I’m actually at my mom’s house in Arkansas. We’re midway through a tour – we’re in the US until March 28 and then we’re taking a boat over to Europe.

B: That’s going to be crazy. Have you taken a boat before?

L: No, I’ve never been to Europe. It’s our first time. It’ll take between eight and 11 days… but I don’t fly at all, I hate flying.

B: I feel that. Flying terrifies me. I get this feeling, even in cars – this anxiety of being in vehicles not under my own control. I don’t trust other people.

L: I’m fine in cars. If I can get out of something, I’m OK. But if I can’t, that’s a problem. [laughs]

Were you both familiar with one another’s work before?

Both: Yeah, definitely.

Bobby, when did you first hear The Body?

B: A while back – it was the album before the one that just came out on Thrill Jockey [last year’s Christ, Redeemers]. I thought it was fucking amazing, so brutal. It appealed to a lot of my older metal sensibilities. I think there’s a lot of metal around at the moment that’s pretty safe, rehashing a lot of shit that has been done many times before. The Body, from what I can tell was pretty uncompromising. That’s something I admire in other people.

Bobby, do you have quite metal tastes? Obviously now you’re on Tri Angle, but your first album was Aurora Borealis, a leftfield metal label.

B: I’ve grown up listening to metal, playing in metal bands – that’s my upbringing, really. My older brother, he used to come home with Slayer, Anthrax, Napalm Death. It was a really exciting thing for me, as a little kid, to hear. The first concert I went to was Slayer, Pantera and Machine Head.

Lee, had you heard The Haxan Cloak stuff? Do you have pretty broad tastes?

L: I think I got into Bobby’s stuff when Pitchfork did that review of Excavation. I don’t listen to too much new stuff, it takes me a while to get round to new things. But I listen to a lot of electronic music – I like Skinny Puppy, industrial stuff. It’s weird, because I play drums, but I’d much rather hear drum machines than real drums.

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How did you feel about The Body being… remixed, if that’s the right language?

L: I think it’s a great collaboration of ideas. We’ve not solicited remixes before – we’ve done collaborations before, but it’s always been in the same room. This is the first time we’ve recorded with the intention of giving it to someone else. So it’s been interesting.

Was it all fresh material, written for this specifically?

L: It was all fresh material. When we went into to record Christ, Redeemers, we finished that and started on this. It was a different take on it, just because we knew so much would be added to it. We had to rethink how to play stuff, to avoid making it too full, I guess.

So when did you pick up the material, Bobby?

B: I went to New York to do it. Matt got me a room at the Gary’s Electric studio for a week to work in. It was a crazy time, as I’d never been to America before. I flew in Sunday evening, met up with Matt at 10am on Monday morning, and we chatted a bit, got to know each other. He explained where he thought the project was going, and it turned out we were singing from the same hymn sheet. Matt would come down at the end of the day and have a listen, give me his opinion. And I think he was chucking stuff to you guys at the same time, Lee?

L: Well, not really. I mean, I was familiar with Bobby’s stuff, and it’s rare someone can capture a feeling the way he does. My approach was, just let it ride. I was more than comfortable letting him do whatever. If you trust someone’s vision, you let them go for it.

“I looked through YouTube to find loads of different torture videos, cut out torture sounds and layered them underneath.”

So Bobby – it was your first time in the States, and you spent it all locked in the studio?

B: It felt pretty mad. And the record is pretty brutal. I’ve got a pretty rigid work ethic. I was in the studio for 9am, every day – I treat it like a regular job, keep normal hours. And after spending 8 hours a day hammering away, I’d come out into New York, blinking, like, “Wow, this feels fucking weird.” I’m a bit of an odd case, really. When the opportunity came up to do this, I was really excited. But I’m also quite nervous about doing stuff in front of people. Production stuff can be really boring to watch, it can be quite slow. The first thing I said to Robin [Carolan, Tri Angle] was, I’d really like to do it, but do people have to be there? Because I’d feel really odd, with someone looking over my shoulder while I’m tweaking the automation on a synth. So I was like, I’ll do it if I can do it on my own. It was cool that those guys trusted me to do stuff. My studio is my bedroom, so it’s nice to go somewhere and be detached from everything.

Lee, is there anything the material is about, thematically speaking?

L: What we write about, it’s all the same theme really. The stuff Chip [King, guitarist/vocalist] sings, it’s pretty vague – dealing with depression, the way the world is, not really understanding your place. Alienation, really. Chip turns 40 next month, and as we get older, that feeling comes even more to the forefront. We started playing in ’99, and being in a touring band that will never be really popular or financially stable, we’re suspended… like, living like 20-year-olds. Sometimes you get off tour and go back to your minimum wage job like, ugh – I have the same skillset of, like, a guy at high school. That realisation is unsettling sometimes.

Where are you based?

L: Right now we live in Portland, Oregon. We lived in Providence, Rhode Island for 11 years, and that’s still where we record.

That’s quite the distance…

L: Yeah. Especially when you don’t fly. [Laughs] Our friends have a studio there, called Machines And Magnets. They’re kind of like the third and fourth members of the band now, it’s really easy to work with them, we can stay there.

Is that connected to the Fort Thunder stuff in Providence?

L: Not really – most of the kids who did that are gone. Brian Chippendale from Lightning Bolt is still there. Our friend Matt who did the cover for Master We Perish, he was one of the guys in Forcefield, and he lives in Denver. We saw him the other day. But a lot of them are scattered around, doing different stuff.

That Fort Thunder stuff, at one point, seemed to be some of the most interesting experimental music coming out of the States – the Load Records stuff, Lightning Bolt and Prurient…

L: Yeah, the thing about Providence that was so great – and it’s still like this – it’s such a small town and there’s no difference between scenes. I’d go to shows and Drop Dead would play and then Prurient would play. And it’s like, that wouldn’t happen anywhere else. I think it definitely helped us out, realising you don’t have to do one thing. You can do music that still has the same feelings or emotions, but work outside of genre. I don’t think a lot of people understand that.

What sort of audiences do The Body play to at the moment? Being signed to Thrill Jockey do you find yourself playing to indie-rock crowds?

L: Not really – the worst thing is we sometimes get lumped in with stoner rock stuff. Which is, in 2014, the most boring music – rehashed Electric Wizard riffs, 20 years too late. We’ve played with a lot of noise bands, which is definitely preferable. We just played with Youth Code in LA, I like their stuff a lot – a dance-industrial type thing.

Bobby, can you talk us through the process in the studio?

B: Well, the Mexican Summer studio is incredible, they’ve got amazing equipment. I pulled out some of their old synths and played stuff over the top, then got some of the stems and ran them through amps and re-recorded them. Some of it was actually just restructuring the songs – taking certain passages that jump out, looping them, removing other parts. There’s one song where I looked through YouTube to find loads of different torture videos, cut out torture sounds and layered them underneath.

Something I like about the Haxan stuff is it has a real spatial sense – there’s the feeling of stuff moving, or a sense of distance or closeness.

B: Definitely. I try to make stuff that feels tactile, in a way. Like uh… I like the feel of something physical. That’s something I always go for.

Lee, what did you make of the mix when you first heard it? Were there bits you wanted to change?

L: No man, I loved it all. It was very different to what we sent to him. But it’s like the same feeling is there, but intensified. That’s probably hard to do.

Has it made you think about your own music in a different way?

L: Maybe this is presumptuous, but I feel like us and Bobby – you listen to The Haxan Cloak stuff, and it has the same kind of feeling. I feel like as an artist, your whole discography is to tell a story and not to venture off that story.

B: Yeah.

L: It’s the most challenging thing about making music, but also the most fulfilling. My favourite records, you put them on, and the atmosphere is just so perfect. That’s what we’re trying to convey.

B: As a listener, I like when you really get a sense of integrity of the artist behind it, for a whole record. There’s nothing worse than listening to a record and hearing chopping and changing. The main thing for me is trying to avoid doing something that feels like a genre exercise, really. If I feel like I’m doing that, I immediately try to find my way out of it. I feel like the real talent behind making music is knowing how to restrain yourself and not giving in to every impulse.

Finally, do you think there’s any way you might play I Shall Die Here live?

B: It’s been spoken about. I would jump at doing it, but it’s about working out the logistics. Just because you’ve made a record together it doesn’t mean you could do a brilliant live show. If we were going to do it, we’d really have to rehearse. There’s no point unless you’re really going to blow people away.

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