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In Extremis

Infectious Virulence: An Interview With Divorce
Kevin Mccaighy , December 14th, 2012 06:04

Glasgow noise-rock quartet Divorce make a hellish, high-frequency no wave racket. With their self-titled debut recently released, they speak to Kevin Mccaighy about touring, spontaneity, and why noise for noise's sake isn't good enough

Formed in the early part of the last decade, Glasgow-based noise rock outfit Divorce are one of the more exciting bands to have emerged from the UK extreme scene for many years. Comprised of Jennie Fulk (vocals), VSO (bass), Andy Brown (drums) and Vickie McDonald (guitar), the group possess a brute force strength comparable to their Scottish compatriots Desalvo, allied to a high frequency no wave assault that has earned them praise from the first lady of noise Lydia Lunch, who described them as "a bloody smear of nasty mutation oozing a sickly runoff of infectious virulence".

Following their breakout national tour with the fiery noise duo Comanechi in 2010, Divorce have become a fearsome live act, and this autumn made another triumphant sweep of independent venues throughout the country.

With their self-titled debut LP recently released, the Quietus spoke to the band's Andy Brown and Vickie McDonald about the importance of independence, legacies of extremity and underground touring in the 21st century.

How did the band first get together?

Andy Brown: It was pretty much a combination of being old friends, meeting each other through mutual friends and random encounters at house parties. Some of us had played in other bands in the past; others had never played in a band before. We never had to resort to placing 'musician wanted' ads anywhere, thank god.

Vickie McDonald: We were all on the same page of wanting to make a big filthy racket too - that was enough!

What is Glasgow like for bands like yourselves? What the advantages and/or disadvantages of being based in that city?

AB: Glasgow and Scotland as a whole has had a long history of creative autonomy from the industry centralisation of London. For the last few years there's been a really strong underground/experimental/DIY community in the city, with lots of bands and promoters who share a common attitude working together regardless of what styles of music they make.

Ironically the one disadvantage for an active touring band like us though is that same isolation; it takes that bit more time and money for us to make our way down south to play in other places, so we can't always play a lot of the great shows we get offered and with being broke-ass jammers we also haven't got the deep pockets needed to take the financial hit of playing out of town as often as we would like to. Real life hassles suck, but at least it keeps the band enjoyable for us; we treat the tours like holidays rather than 'work', which means we always look forward to our next trip.

VM: Another thing that's great about Glasgow is how intertwined all the different 'scenes' (a term I use very loosely!) can be. People putting on gigs, exhibitions, parties or club nights are all aware of what else is happening, and there are a lot of crossovers because of that. Gigs tend to have pretty varied line-ups, which can lead to an exchange of ideas with folk who approach things differently.

I first saw you play in 2010 when you toured the UK with Comanechi. How did that collaboration come about and what are your memories of that tour?

AB: That came about basically through mutual friendships and a love for each other's music. We've been and still are huge fans of Comanechi so it was a real honour to have worked with them. We played their album launch in London in late 2009 and they came and played some Scottish shows with us in early 2010, after the fun we all had with those gigs it only felt right to preserve our stinky love affair on record!


VM: I mostly have great memories from that tour too; we met loads of bands and promoters that we hooked up with again after that, like the Gravy crew down in Norwich that ended up releasing a 7 inch of ours. Also getting to see Comanechi play every night was a winner!

How did you come to collectively cover 'Death Valley 69' by Sonic Youth for the split 10" release on Merok?

AB: I guess since we were doing the split 10" with friends rather than just a random band we didn't know, we thought it would be nice to do something a little special. We all knew and loved the song, plus it would be easier to do a cover rather than a new song since the practicalities of getting both bands together were always going to be a bit tricky.

I remember that we had rehearsals with both Simon and Akiko separately in the weeks running up to recording, the only time we were all together in the same place was the day we recorded it. We had 6 hours to get the whole thing nailed so we practiced it maybe twice, did all the instruments in one go, overdubbed vocals and were out of the space without 5 minutes to spare. Listening back to the recording I think that urgency comes over in the finished song; it's a really filthy, aggressive version, no bullshit. Pretty proud of that!

Soon after the 2010 tour, the band underwent a significant line up change, moving from a five piece to a quartet. What were the reasons that led to these changes?

AB: No great drama, just a change in what different people wanted to do musically. We'd managed to achieve a lot in the two years that first line-up was active and it had been a hell of a lot of work too, but if the work overtakes the fun then it's only right to re-assess. 

VM: We wouldn't want folk to be in the band if they didn't want to be, making music should be enjoyable, and once that stops there's no point in continuing that way. Since then though Sinead and Hillary have started some great new bands like World Peace, Aggi Doom and Phat Trophies.

You're on a roll of touring at the moment. What have been the highlights of this latest round of tours?

AB: We're pretty dedicated to getting out of Glasgow and touring as much as our real-life commitments will allow. We've always organised all our own UK tours with independent promoters around the country and we've build strong friendships with people, promoters, other bands and people making it along to see us, which makes it much more fun and less of a 'job' when we're planning on heading out on the road again. All we can hope for is that the trend continues and we're able to keep touring and keep the band afloat as an enjoyable, self-sufficient thing. Humble goals, but we're a humble lot.

VM: For me, doing a few shows with Ultimate Thrush in March was a favourite – they're our total bros and it was great to go away with them again!
 On our last wee tour we hooked up with a lot of bands we've played with before which is always awesome, like Tide of Iron down in Newcastle, and playing with Bitches and our Glasgow pals Neighbourhood Gout down in London too, that was a pretty messy show, with our singer Jennie throwing herself about so much she had to go vomit outside while we were still ringing out the last bit of feedback! Also playing Drop the Dumbells in Liverpool was probably one of my favourite shows, it was a gig and exhibition party in this DIY space, that was pretty fucking wild too, lots of jumping about and bum notes.

Sofia Stavropoulou's video for your track 'Aids of Space' is one of the most extraordinary visual spectacles I've seen all year. How did this collaboration come about?

AB: We're still absolutely stunned by what Sofia did with the video; it's an absolute head-fuck! She is a close friend of the band who we met while she was in Glasgow studying at art school. She wanted to experiment with a few different visual techniques and see how far she could push it, so rather than her making us a more typical or traditional music video, it was an outlet for her to go nuts and try out ideas she wants to further explore in her work. We left her to interpret the track any way she wanted, there was no input or any 'brief' from us, which in hindsight was lucky as we would never have been able to imagine or interpret anything as crazy or chaotic as what she created herself. I remember having palpitations and nearly throwing up the first time I saw it.

VM: Couldn't have wished to get a more mental video made for us. I make videos myself but some of the stuff she did I have absolutely no idea how she did it, and that feeling is awesome - an insanely sick mystery!

As a group famed for your intensity, which bands/albums are your favourites when it comes to noise/extreme music?

AB: Making noisy, extreme music isn't any harder in essence than making generic indie-rock. I'm more likely to enjoy more any band that couples extremity with invention. These days bands like Ultimate Thrush, Sightings, Child Abuse, No Babies, Zs, the late, great AIDS Wolf and anything Weasel Walter is usually involved in can be guaranteed to fry my brain. I also have a lot of time for bands that can evoke an intense, extreme atmosphere or intent without relying solely on volume. New York bands Extra Life and Normal Love can evoke dread and confusion without solely resorting to jackhammering your senses. Both recent albums by Swans are absolutely fucking astonishing for all the reasons explained above.

VM: Bands like Child Abuse, AIDS Wolf, Doomsday Student, they make the most absurd, grating racket which is just perfect! I've been listening to a lot of noise stuff like Hair Police and Winters In Osaka recently, and stuff that leans more towards the electronic side of extreme like Cut Hands, Pete Swanson and Emptyset. And an unhealthy amount of sludge.

Finally, what does the future hold for Divorce?

AB: So far next year is shaping up to be pretty busy. We're returning to Europe for a tour in the spring and getting ideas together for some new songs, the hope being we'll have new recordings ready sooner rather than later. We're wanting to push ourselves in more aggressive and experimental areas than before, just so you've been given fair warning!