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In Extremis

Sludge Maelstrom: An Interview With Prizehog
Toby Cook , February 5th, 2015 14:19

Following the release of last year's Re-Unvent The Whool album, the metal trio of face-melters-cum-Simpsons aficionados talk to Toby Cook about the record, how relocating Portland has liberated their sound and why Saved By The Bell's Mr. Belding was an unlikely kindred spirit

"Look Smithers, 'Garbo' is coming!"

There's a great episode of The Simpsons where for several weeks the residents of Springfield are repeatedly bombarded with the name 'Gabbo' and informed by billboards and Kent Brockman alike that 'Gabbo is coming!'; everyone, it seems is "saying 'Gabbo this' and 'Gabbo that'" until the moment Gabbo is finally revealed to be a ventriloquist's dummy, whose variety show antics captivate and enthral the entire town. Given, then, that the band are self-confessed Simpsons fanatics it seems somewhat fitting that it was in similar circumstances that the Quietus first became aware of the psyche-bludgeoning exploits of Portland-based trio Prizehog.

It started about nine months ago, as most things do these days, on Facebook. Little by little, the odd mention here and there - "Prizehog this" and "Prizehog that"; "Prizehog are melting my brain"; "Look Smithers, 'Prizehorg' are coming!" and remarks of that nature seemed to be popping up in newsfeeds with some regularity, but it was only once the band's debut album, Re-Unvent The Whool, appeared that all the chatter and claims of brain-melting made sense. The trio, made up of guitarist/vocalist Rion, keyboardist Vern and drummer Zakk, had previously released a couple of under-under the radar EPs but with Re-Unvent The Whool they hit on something different: the sludgy maelstrom of Melvins-esque riffs and the squall of synth noise and disorientating vocalisations leading us to compare it to the effects of teenage sleep deprivation, and remarking that it sounded like "what the Melvins might sound like if Joe Preston was the main creative force and added galloping, squalling keyboards to everything, and insisted on washing everything in layers of disorienting echo".

With our ears still ringing and our entire brain cauliflowered, then, we thought we ought to track down the perma-touring trio to find out just where in the hell Prizehog came from, what this Simpsons obsession is all about and what exactly did happen the time they met Mr. Belding from Saved By The Bell.

Where in the hell did Prizehog come from?

Rion: Prizehog started writing songs in Santa Rosa, California in 2007 - we got a 'practice space' in a bomb shelter that was a huge underground tube buried under a mound of grass located alongside an old army barracks, which had been repurposed into a punk squat/artist workspace. We were in there almost every day, essentially every minute we could be and were able to play as late and loud as we wanted to. In that year we played no shows and wrote a lot of music, including some of what would be our hour-long first self-release, Alive & Well.

Vern: I grew up in the Bay Area and had always wanted to move to San Francisco; throughout my teenage years I would try to go there as much as possible to go to music shows, art shows and the like. We moved to San Francisco in March of 2007, knowing there was much more to offer as far as shows and inspirations. We lived there for six years and played tons of shows with amazing bands such as New Thrill Parade and Wildildlife (to name a few), were lucky enough to put out a couple of records and went on a few tours around the western United States. As time went on, we really wanted to try to spend as much time as possible on Prizehog. We decided to move to Portland in January 2013 so we would have more time and space to go on longer tours and finish the set of songs that were to be recorded in Sun Valley, CA in November of that year for Re-Unvent The Whool.

Speaking of Re-Unvent The Whool… What's that all about then?! What does the title refer to, if anything - is there a particular concept behind the record?

R: It's a quote from an episode of the Simpsons!

V: We recorded the album with Toshi Kasai, who, like us, we found is a huge fan of The Simpsons. Every moment we weren't tracking, we had a great time talking about all kinds of things and telling fun stories, and almost every conversation we had throughout the week would lead back to, "Yeah, like that time in that episode of The Simpsons...". We realised that our love for that show is a pretty huge part of us all involved in the album and thought it also really summed up our whole experience recording and putting the album together.

R: Totally. By the time we were done recording, nothing could have seemed like a better idea than using it as the title of our album. As far as there being any concept behind the album, I'd say each song has more of a concept of their own. But the name of the album, it's all about reinventing the wheel, but taking that idea and bringing it a few steps farther with a definite detachment from reality.

The artwork for the record is about as nuts as the music contained within - what's the story there? Who is responsible for creating it, and does it relate to the music in any specific way?

V: An old friend of mine, Chris Jehly, did the artwork for the cover of Re-Unvent The Whool. He's always been one of my favourite artists; he's a professional artist and professor at Columbia University in New York. Over the years we had lots of conversations about us collaborating, so when the time came to make cover art for the album, we asked him right away. We didn't have any direction for him but to make sure that whatever he did, that it would fit on the cover of a record. We sent him the rough mixes from recording and said with his total creative freedom in mind, just listen to that, and do what you want! In the end, he sent us "Doppelganger Dad" - the cover of our album.

Where do Prizehog find their sound?

V: It's a combination of many things. Thinking about things and people that I love, hearing the sounds of a plane or a giant machine and trying to copy the sound later on my synthesizer, then make it sound more like how I would want my space ship to sound - if I had one. Sometimes we will just be getting started at our practice space, warming up, and all of a sudden our collective volume rumbles through the floorboards, and makes our eyeballs shake... those moments always make me want to experience more of those moments.

You've recently upped sticks and moved to Portland. What were the reasons behind the move?

V: Portland is 650 or so miles north, up the west coast of the US from San Francisco. We really wanted to find a place where we would have more space and time to work on our music, and live in a place where we could afford to take time off of work and go on long tours, work at a job as little as possible and, really, to play music as much as possible. Something like that is not nearly as easy in San Francisco, especially if you want to do it all the time. Also, it's a very beautiful place - there are trees and plant life everywhere and just on the outskirts of the city there are lots of beautiful places to go explore in the woods and along the rivers. I haven't had too many chances to get out and go exploring, but the few times I have, it's been truly beautiful.

R: Exactly what Vern said: time and space. Portland just seemed more capable of giving us more of those to be able to do what we want. I don't feel right when we aren't able to play music as often as possible, so that leaves no room in my life for too much downtime for our band. It's turned out to be a great change, letting us play and tour more.

Certainly from an outside perspective Portland seems to be a real hotbed of great music and musicians at the moment - YOB, Red Fang, The Body and yourselves to name but four (and I'm sure there are many more too!). What is it about Portland, do you think, that creates such a fertile environment for all that great music?

V: Well, I think many people move here for the same reason we moved here: affordability, and the time and space to be able to create more. But really, there are lots of really cool bands all over the country, and places to cater to that. I don't think I would say that Portland is particularly special in regards to being a breeding ground for great music. In fact, most aspects of this area are not dissimilar to other parts of the country. I think it just happens to be in the spotlight at the moment.

R: Portland does have a lot going on right now, but really, it's just like most other small American towns; a suburban grid with a lot of old-rooted racism, dirty drugs and seedy liquor living, boring work weeks, and a lot of interpersonal dramas. To use those things as an inspirations seems generally easy to do. I'd guess any level of stepping beyond some of those things and actually creating something could also feel like a fairly huge accomplishment. But really, you can make cool stuff anywhere, and people are.

From what I understand you guys are almost permanently on tour, and certainly from looking at the pictures on your website it looks like you cover a lot of miles too. I think, here in the UK especially, we sometimes have a romanticised idea of what it's like to tour the US - I think we often imagine it as this sort of nobly impoverished existence, bands gladly suffering for their art on some sort of Kerouac-esque adventure. I'd guess that for a band like Prizehog the reality is quite different?

R: That's not too far off. For us, with touring and playing music, it's not just going on this wild journey to see the country for a change of scenery or sense of poetic adventure, it's also to share with friends, family and strangers what we have worked hard on creating together. It's important to let the people you love know that you're alive and well and giving it all you've got. There's also the awesome schedule of waking up, driving, arriving, unloading, playing, loading, sleeping and repeating that. It's the best job in the world with the shittiest pay.

From the video on your website I'd guess that one of your touring highlights was meeting Dennis Haskins, who played Mr. Belding from Saved By The Bell?! How did that meeting come about?

R: We met Dennis Haskins at a bar we went to in L.A. one night after finishing up a day of recording Re-Unvent The Whool. Toshi [Kasai, producer] had told us he was a regular there, and he totally showed up while we were there! The guy was down to earth, really, about the ideas of being a creator of sorts, brutally honest, and into talking about making music more than anything.

V: When we spotted him at the bar, I just got so excited - I had a really hard time trying not to shout 'HEY HEY HEY HEY! What's going on here?!' when we talked to him, but thankfully I held it in.

And how about one of your touring horror stories?

R: There really aren't any. Sure, we have stories of craziness and insanity, but none of which really put a bad spin on the tour or us so much.

There was the time we met a kid who spent/lost $700 at the bar and on coke, on the one night we were in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was new in town, fresh from Idaho. The weirdest part is he was obsessed with Taylor Swift (who I only know about because of that kid!). He even had love letters and poems for her saved on his phone (which he also lost!)

V: Yeah, he also made it impossible to get to sleep. I tried to hide behind a couch to fall asleep with earplug in, but he was so messed up he kept tripping over the couch and stepping all over me. I eventually snuck out to the van while he was in the middle of one of his weird rants and fell asleep. I love the van.

R: Yeah, I love the van. We all made our way out to the van that night eventually for the same reason!

What're the chances that we might be able to catch Prizehog live in Europe sometime?

R: The chances are great!

V: We hope to be there sooner than later.

Re-Unvent The Whool is out now via Eolian Empire

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