Part Chimp: South London Noise Mongers Are Off The Wall
, September 16th, 2009 05:17
"Unruly amplifier worship with feedback gushing like claret from a decapitation victim", says Noel Gardner. Where do we sign up?
Youthfulness expressed through music can be great, of course. Yet when a record or a live performance crackles with the hedonism and abandon commonly thought to be the preserve of the young, but is in fact created by people approaching middle age – that’s capital-G Great, trampling a load of daft received wisdom as it does. Part Chimp are a London-based quartet who have mostly been in active, and actively noisy, bands since the early Nineties. They are shortly to release Thriller, their third studio album (again on Mogwai’s Rock Action label), and it’s fair to suggest they’ve never rocked harder: unruly amplifier worship with feedback gushing like claret from a decapitation victim, their riffs coalescing and climbing to create a paradoxical micro-micro-genre of euphoric doom metal. It is probably mastered at higher volume than almost all records you own; don’t touch that dial. The Quietus spoke to vocalist/guitarist Tim Cedar and drummer Jon Hamilton about (among other things) being older than young people, metalhead credentials and if maybe they could turn that down a wee bit?
The title of your new album is most commonly associated with Michael Jackson. When he carked it recently, did you feel any twinges of pleasure, worry, guilt or any of the other Catholic emotions? What, in fact, was your reason for choosing the title?
Jon Hamilton: My biggest regret about the album title is that it wasn’t scheduled for release the Monday after he died; that would have been ideal. Obviously we chose the title a while back; the idea for it came from a friend at my work, who suggested calling it the name of a really famous album. My initial thought was Dark Side Of The Moon, but someone suggested Thriller and the whole band burst out laughing when I told them...
Tim Cedar: We are still going ahead with the plan to float a forty-foot golden statue of me down the Thames to promote the album.
Back in the day I recall reading a bunch of articles etc on Part Chimp that really focused on how loud your gigs were. More recently, people haven’t gone on about this quite as much. Is this because you’ve stopped making it such an integral part of how you present yourself? Or was it never that big of a deal in the first place?
JH: I think it might be because we haven’t played that much for a year or two. We’ve literally been quiet. We’ve never made that big a deal about it, but it is quite an easy tag for journos to stick on you... when they're not saying we’re ‘post-rock’.
TC: After everyone made such a big deal about us being loud, everyone else turned up. Maybe we turned down a bit. I might turn it up again though. Or I might just leave the volume where it is. Actually, the volume knob on my amp is broken so I can’t turn it up or down. Maybe that’s why everyone else got louder. If I could afford a wall of Sunn amps I would probably not spend it on Sunn amps.
Ye Olde Chimp: 'New Cross'
What do you think about the use of volume in music – do you find that a lot of bands use it to cover up deficiencies? Can you think of other bands that use either extreme loudness or extreme quietness really well in their performances?
JH: “Cover up deficiencies”? Sounds like something my dad would say! I guess it wouldn't be too bad to be made deaf by your favourite band, but I really don't want to lose my hearing due to a band that I think suck. The one loud band which I would really like to have seen was Swans, before they went quiet. That early stuff is really ugly sounding and their reputation for punishing volume and extreme slowness seems to have finally permeated into other bands after 15 to 20 years. Same with Earth.
TC: I don’t think volume hides deficiencies, it probably magnifies them. I think there are many more creative ways to cover up a lack of talent: a spazzy haircut here, some nifty trousers there. But that has always been a part of it as much as the music itself. All the Sunn 0))) related stuff is pretty big but leaves me kind of cold. Our loudness developed quite organically from having to compete with a savagely loud drummer.
I personally feel that on Thriller, the riffs have become a lot more... defined, and more in line with heavy metal and doom. Do you agree and to what extent does this reflect how your tastes have evolved over the last seven years or so?
JH: The production this time round is a bit cleaner; that's why it sounds more defined, I reckon. It wasn't really a big plan to write a different kind of record. To be honest, I think we’re probably listening to a lot less of that stuff than in the past – I remember Jerusalem by Sleep was a big influence around the time of the first album. With the second album, some reviews mentioned Krautrock, but I think that might have been because Joe from Kling Klang was in the band at the time.
TC: I think the tunes on Thriller are a bit more defined, because they were written over a longer period. We took a big break after touring the last album where we played the odd show but not a whole lot else. I don’t think they are more in line with anything other than what Part Chimp songs have always been, though. I think we’re more moody than doomy.
Has playing with bands like Isis also been an influential factor (I’m not saying they’re the most metal band in the world but their audience’s core is in that scene, I guess)? Have you found yourself surprising a lot of people who didn’t know what to expect and suspected you might not be that heavy or abrasive?
TC: Not really. As I said before, many of these bands are a bit soulless and way too cerebral. I would like to think we make music of a much stupider ilk. Most of the people who see us ‘by accident’ when they go to see their favorite metal band are mostly indifferent because we aren’t following the rules of metal. Usually, we’re on those kind of bills because we have been asked by the band, who know we’ll get that sort of reaction from their audience.
JH: After we played with Pelican, we sold a shitload of merch to people who'd never heard us before which was quite weird. They were asking where we were from and do we ever play in London; at the time it was pretty much every couple of months.
What happened to the split single with Torche that you had in the works? That would be a good pairing. Are you pleased and/or surprised that Torche have become as successful as they have?
JH: The single didn't happen cos we were having a hard time writing the album. If everyone involved still wants to do it, I guess it could still happen. Who knows!
TC: That sounds like a good idea, especially now they are doing so well. Holy shit, get me Torche on the phone! We met them when we were on tour in America; we played a backyard show in Florida with them. We kept tripping the power but it seemed to happen in all the right places so when it came back on it was right in time with the song.
Ye Olde Chimp: 'War Machine'
In terms of being in bands, most of you go back to the early 90s or at least the mid-90s – Loveblobs [Tim’s first band] were a bit before my time but I guess their peers were Silverfish and the other noisy Wiiija bands. Over 15 years on, there are a lot of new London bands that are being deliberately noisy and abrasive and in some cases ‘grungey’ in a pre-Pearl Jam type way. What are the similarities and differences for young bands starting out now in the realms of indie/punk rock/DIY, compared to how it was in the early 90s?
TC: Hmm. Basically, I have done the same schtick for my entire life. I like messy music and it's good to see so many bands around at the moment doing it. I don’t think anything has changed much, there's just more of them. But a great deal of them, as far as I can tell, are shit. I sound – am! – like an old geezer when I say that it used to be you had to go to gigs to find out whether or not you dig a band. Now you can check them out on Myspace or whatever and decide if they are or aren't not-shit enough for you to get off your arse and go and see them. It's just another example of how nothing much new happens, it just goes around in cycles of about 15 years. So it was inevitable that the indie-noise/check shirt/shoegaze/Jim Reid haircut/riot grrrl twee thing should come round again; we did just go through the electropop/new wave/Eighties dayglo thing after all. I guess it's just a generational re-discovery thing – I did the same thing myself listening to 60s and 70s heavy rock and punk.
A question regaridng Dropout Studio [Tim’s own recording space, where Thriller was recorded; other bands to take advantage include Fuck Buttons, Shit & Shine, Kling Klang and The Archie Bronson Outfit]: what were your reasons for starting it and how has it developed since you set it up?
TC: Up until recording [second Part Chimp album] I Am Come, I had pretty much zero interest on how things were recorded. When we got booted out of our previous rehearsal space, we found a new place to practice; it just so happened that there was a nice little tape machine and a desk knocking about and I just started using it and it exploded my mind. it just grew from there.
What are influential studios and producers for you?
TC: Mostly people who got the most amazing sounds out of what equipment they had at their disposal. People harp on about records sounding so good in the Sixties and Seventies, which is true – but they were mostly using stuff that was of the highest spec for the time, which today would cost thousands per day. People like Joe Meek and Lee Perry were using whatever they could get their hands on, fucking with it and recording in sheds and bathrooms. That’s kind of what we try to do at Dropout. We even have a shed.
What do you have planned for the rest of 2009?
JH: Tour dates announced soon. UK in September and Europe in October. I think we're going to do either a single or an EP soon – some re-recorded tunes off the album and other bits and pieces.
TC: Touring Thriller.