Porcine Pre-eminence: An Interview With Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs
, February 7th, 2017 11:17
In the wake of a blistering debut LP and a trio of incendiary live shows, Patrick Clarke speaks to Newcastle's Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs
All photos by Jose Ramon Caamaño
"It's a joke that's gone a bit too far!" laughs Matt Baty, frontman of Newcastle's quite phenomenally named Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs. "We just want to play fun riffs," adds guitarist Sam Grant. Along with his fellow guitarist Adam Ian Sykes, we're speaking backstage in the affably dingy basement of Manchester's Soup Kitchen, the final leg of a three date tour that proves the fivesome to be something truly unusual.
There is, of course, that name, inspired by cabin fever after a 'particularly shit day' spent doing very little at Newcastle's Blank Studios. "We were like, 'let's start a band called fuckin' Pigs. Actually, let's call it Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs and it'll be really obnoxious on posters,'" recalls Baty, yet it's what lies beyond the moniker that really sets the group apart. Debut album Feed The Rats, released on Rocket earlier this year, is a stormer, a vicious, unruly blast of ultraheavy sludge, metal and doom administered in 20 minute doses, laden with twists of tempo and time signature, face-clenching riffs and Baty's titanic, satanic howls.
It's a pummelling experience, yet when performing live the group find a whole new level. When we speak before the gig Baty is quiet, casual and relaxed. He's a man transformed when, bare footed, garbed in only football shorts and an open shirt (soon removed entirely), he takes to the stage as a bristling unit of concentrated intensity, roaring into a throng captivated as if by sheer terror. It was a similar story the night before, as a crowd smattered with pig masks was shattered to smithereens at London's The Lexington, while their sold out Newcastle album launch saw its venue upsized for, in retrospect justified, fears of the band's sheer volume, whereupon it duly sold out again.
They are, in short, an unequivocally outstanding live force. Yet what's perhaps most interesting of all about Pigs X7 is that despite being completely uncompromising, should the reaction to their tour be anything to go by they're becoming something of a populist semi-sensation. All five of the group have been playing among a number of groups in Newcastle and beyond for well over a decade – ongoing hyper violent noise merchants Khünnt, for example – yet none have had the same sort of impact as Pigs X7. As to why that's happened, the band don't seem to be questioning it. It is perhaps their defining philosophy not to think about these kinds of things.
"It's pretty raucous and it's pretty heavy. We're playing music where we try to push ourselves and experiment, and in those situations you're a bit blind," says Grant, who co-runs a studio alongside the band. "To hit upon something that people get a buzz off, you can't set out to do that if you're trying to just experiment amongst yourselves. We just got a bit lucky that we did something that suits a broader base. I'm regularly recording more traditionally commercial music, bands who are going down that traditionally commercial route of press shots, singles, all the marketing and stuff. They all have this concept of seeking that space. We just write in a way that it feels, we aim to find that magic space where it's catharthism and release. It's all a laugh really, I mean, we are called Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs…"
The group's first release, and the genesis of the commotion that now surrounds them, was a split 12" with The Cosmic Dead in 2013, to which they contributed the suitably bombastic 'The Wizard And The Seven Swines'. "I think it took off just because of The Cosmic Dead," says Baty, "I think everyone should do a split release with The Cosmic Dead. Just every band."
Their first gig was a similarly auspicious start, supporting Swedish psych titans Goat at only their second British show. "The only thing they'd put out was the 7" Goatman single, and that came out and people went nuts for it," says Baty. "I got hold of a copy because Paddy from Gnod, who I'm friends with put a link to the video on Facebook. I got in touch with Johnny [Hedley, Pigs bassist] and we thought 'let's see if this band's touring, let's see if we can put them on'. It sold in a fucking heartbeat. What a fucking way to start, it was busy as hell."
Putting on the gig was the group's first introduction to Rocket Recordings, the label they now call home. "We got an email from Chris [Reeder] at Rocket saying everything's going nuts around the single, they've not done any gigs yet but ask them if they want to come up to Newcastle'. After that we kept sending them stuff here and there, and even early on they'd reply just to say thanks for sending it. I think that's nice. Common courtesy really."
They're casual when it comes to the early days, but surely they can't continue to ignore the rapture with which they've been received, and the hype that's brewing under the surface? Grant seems reluctant to acknowledge it. "At one point with Pigs we had an element of surprise. It's mint when you go on stage and no one really knows who you are. That has gone a bit, with all these reviews it's a bit of an inconvenience. Because my job is recording and producing music, it's good for my need to exist, professionally, that it gets received well, and it's quite good to know you're on the right track and you're connecting with people, but it places expectations. I'm really socially anxious. I wouldn't lament it if we were just playing in front of 20 people every night."
The laissez-faire approach that seems apparent when it comes to any driving force behind the band can feel at odds when it comes to the potent, direct assault of their music, yet that too was born from simple practicality. Baty's vocals, it must be said, sound a lot like Lemmy's for example, yet he's not fazed by any claims he might be derivative: "My voice sounds like that because we practice at the same volume you'll hear tonight, in a room about the tenth the size of here, and I'm just trying to hear myself on this small, shitty PA system. That's just what my voice sounds like. I could sound like the singer from fucking Creed or something. I fucking love Motörhead, so being compared with Lemmy is OK!"
There's more than a touch of Black Sabbath, too; Pigs' Sweet Relief makes clear reference to Ozzy and co's Sweet Leaf, for example. "We just wanted a name for a song and, well, it does sound really Sabbath-y." It's noticeable that Sabbath are playing across town at the Manchester Arena that very night. "The thing is once they've played, everyone's already heard our set…" jokes Grant.
In essence, Pigs X7 do what comes naturally to them, they play the music they want to hear, however that's not to say they've merely stumbled upon their success. The reason such tremendous noise comes so effortlessly to the band is that they're voracious consumers of all things esoteric. Speaking of their influences beyond the obvious Sabbath and Motorhead inflections they light up as they rattle off their early inspirations: Sleep, Noothgrush, The Stooges, At The Drive In and more.
Above all it was a chance encounter with Gnod's Paddy Shine that was a significant marker in their development, particularly for Baty. "I was in this post-rock indie band in Manchester for a bit and I got a part time job in a health food shop. They had a kitchen downstairs and a café where Paddy from Gnod worked while I was upstairs flogging people vitamins and shit. I remember hearing this fucking amazing sound coming from downstairs after closing, this reverby steel kind of drum sound. I walked downstairs and Paddy's sat at one of the tables playing this instrument that I've never fucking seen before in my entire life.
"It looked like a UFO, sort of a steel drum with rivets round it you hit with your thumb," he continues. "It's all tuned, it's fucking amazing. I was talking to him and told him I was in a band, and he said I could come along to the next practice. It was fucking class, I played with Gnod for a good couple of hours, recorded some of it on tapes and listened to it. This was a long time ago, just before [Gnod's own success on Rocket Recordings]. They were just burning CDs and tapes. For me it was a huge deal, that this band's just brazen enough to do this and be so free. They got me into a bunch of music they were influenced by, all this krautrock stuff, Faust and Cluster and Hawkwind and all that stuff."
Even Sykes, silent for the length of our interview, lights up at those names. "Fucking hell man, if you're gonna mention any influences, mention all that." "It was this world of music I'd been totally ignorant to, I was fucking hooked by it," Baty continues. "It just seems a really, really pure form of music when it's done right, it needs the right people to have the right chemistry. I can't explain what that is, and I don't think there's a formula to it, but Gnod are one of the prime examples of it happening. They've got a load of in-and-out members and collaborators, but they're very good at finding those people… there's no words for it!"
The loose, unhinged sludge of Pigs X7 might seem at odds with the fine-tuned discipline of Krautrock, but as Baty explains: "You know when it's right and you know when it's wrong. We've not done a shit gig for a while now, but you just know when there's something not there. It's nothing to do with sound or technical ability, I'll happily watch bands that can't play their instruments for shit. I think we've got that."
It's to be expected, perhaps, that when it comes to concluding our interview with a question of how far they see the project taking them, the band are characteristically coy. "We're writing more stuff, so I don't see why we wouldn't commit it to recording. We've got our own studio so it makes sense…" says Grant. Is there anything they'd like to add before we wrap up? "Er… thanks! I guess…"