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Escape Velocity

I Think People Get The Wrong Idea: An Interview With Sightless Pit
Bernie Brooks , February 19th, 2020 08:26

Ahead of their debut LP, Grave Of A Dog, Dylan Walker and Lee Buford of Sightless Pit talk to Bernie Brooks about club bangers, small details, Seth Manchester, Skyrim, and more

Sightless Pit by Jeffrey Lee Beaulieu

"Someone could make a soundboard of my voice and get away with it," says Dylan Walker, probably best known for his work as a member of the mutant grindcore outfit Full Of Hell. We're talking about his latest band, Sightless Pit, a trio of friends rounded out by Lee Buford of The Body and Kristin Hayter, aka LINGUA IGNOTA. You could call them a supergroup. You know, if you wanted to be that guy.

"I enunciate less and less with each record. I just try to make the gurgliest noises I can," Walker continues. "The lyrics become more of a placeholder, and the voice its own expressionistic instrument. Why not try to do something really extreme with it?"

I hope I'm proven wrong, but I bet "extreme" and its many synonyms wind up as primary descriptors of the group's debut, Grave Of A Dog, and yeah, I can see why they would. But to those accustomed to noise and metal and the ecosystem of sub-genres that surround them, the album's shared DNA with experimental electronic, ambient, and even avant-classical music will be readily apparent, revealing Sightless Pit to be from another distantly related biome.

Grave Of A Dog often revels in its own beauty and in the small details brought to the fore by its lengthy contemplative midsection and a piano-forward, Hayter-sung finale, 'Love Is Dead, All Love Is Dead', that feels oddly reminiscent of an early Nick Cave number sat atop a bed of heartbeat subs. When the record is "extreme" in a conventional sense, it's always deeply purposeful, as on 'Whom The Devil Long Sought To Strangle'. After two minutes of queasy ambient clatter and rhythmic, thudding clangour, the track abruptly culminates in just over a minute of Hayter and Walker absolutely going for it, shrieking over a squalling tempest of heavy industry.

"I'm sure it's an acquired taste," Walker says. "When Thrill Jockey premiered the first song, I had a ton of people telling me how harsh and insane and crazy and blah, blah, blah it was. Admittedly, I'm around it all the time. Like, actual stuff that I consider to be super harsh, but yeah," he concludes, "I don't feel like the record is very punishing."

The LP's rich low end won't come as a surprise to those familiar with The Body's recent work, but here the programmed drums feel more in tune with the club than industrial dub. When the album bangs, it bangs. A maxed-out choir of pitch-shifted Hayters kicks off 'Kingscorpse', before a hard, stuttering beat breaks the door in, making way for a glitched-out Walker, siren synths, and some trap snares for good measure. Yes, it's intense, but more than that, it's fun as hell. Ditto the claps and Vangelis-on-barbiturates, free-jazz-sax vibe of 'Immersion Dispersal'.

"I think people get the wrong idea," says Walker, "it's not always supposed to be violence and harsh punishment."

I spoke with Walker over the phone in late January, while Buford chimed in later via e-mail. His comments have been edited into the conversation for readability. Check it out below.

How did this project come about?

Dylan Walker: I met Lee years and years ago through Full Of Hell, and we became really close friends pretty much immediately. Over the years, when we did these collaborations and tours, we always talked about how cool it would be to do a band, and a couple of years ago we finally figured we'd pull the trigger, because Lee had some studio time already booked for a Body record. He went in and started working on beats, and Kristin happened to be there. And he, Lee style, asked Kristin to contribute something to the beats.

Lee Buford: I went in to start recording for Sightless Pit, and Kristin was at the studio, so it made sense to have her in there, too.

DW: When I got the first drafts of the recordings he was making, it just seemed like Kristin already had such a strong role - she seemed more than a guest to us - so, we asked her to be in the band.

LB: It's a pretty relaxed project.

There's this locus of collaboration that exists between the bands and projects that you three are involved in. Where you can have, say, a Body track that has the vibe of a Body track, but Chip King and Lee will say they didn't play anything on it at all. There's this rich collaborative feeling that kind of cross-pollinates all the work...

DW: Oh, yeah, man. I feel like the centre of The Body's unspoken ethos is collaboration, that The Body is this giant collaborative band, and we all kind of fit. We're all capable of contributing to records in this little circle, and Chip and Lee are the centrepiece of this thing that they built through instinct.

LB: I think, living in Providence, there are so many talented friends we have. It's easy to collaborate and build musical connections with your friends.

DW: There's almost like a mini-culture around Chip and Lee. And they've had a ton of influence on everything Full Of Hell has done, and I'm sure that Kristin would agree that they've influenced her tremendously. They've changed the way we make records, really.

There's this old, bogus notion that there's a puritanical approach to both listening and music making in metal circles. Grave Of A Dog is one of those records that puts that notion to bed. It has a lot in common with electronic music circles or even club culture...

DW: I was always into the dancier dub stuff that bumped shoulders with metal when I was younger, like JK Flesh for instance. When I started hanging out with Chip and Lee, I realised that I did have a taste for techno and dub and stuff. I never really listened to a ton of metal to begin with. Now, I'm not listening to much at all.

To do a project with Lee where we just got to make club beats - because we were really trying to do that for at least a few of the tracks - was just really refreshing. On the one Body collab, we got really into gabber stuff for a minute, and we made Lee make the closest thing to gabber that we could figure out how to slam into the record. Yeah, it's definitely had more of an influence on Full Of Hell in recent years, whereas with Lee I think it's always been a thing he's been into.

LB: I'm more motivated with things out of the metal world than in it. I think all of us kind of play in a weird world that can't really be described as one thing genre-wise, so it makes sense this would follow that same path.

How does working at Machines With Magnets with Seth Manchester affect the group dynamic and the projects you make there?

LB: It's a huge factor. I'm more of an idea man as opposed to a technical musician, so to have Seth figure out how to actually make things work is extremely helpful. We're on the same wavelength musically, so if he has an idea, I don't think it's ever something I'll disagree with. He's definitely a member of The Body at this point.

DW: Yeah, Seth is a genius. I think he's just a good listener, period. I can try to articulate something and he knows what I'm going for even if I fail, and he can help me find my voice properly and make the idea come to life. The environment at Machines is so organic and creative. It's really potent. Everybody feels heard, and we're all working towards this thing that we don't even know what it's going to sound like. I don't know if it would work with anybody but Seth. He's got this nice, little area where he's able to reside where it doesn't feel like he's got his hands all over everything you're doing, but he's just finessing everything so well.

He's essential to The Body's DNA, and by relation, essential to Sightless Pit.

It took about two years to make Grave Of A Dog, right? How did it evolve?

LB: When we had extra time at the studio, we'd work on this too. There were probably only a couple of actual studio days to make it.

DW: I would say it took a lot of time, but not a lot of work. We have such insane touring schedules that none of us could get to the studio at any given moment. And when we did the final, big session, we were really scared, because Lee was out in Oregon, and he can't fly, so Kristin and I were going to the studio with Seth. And Seth was like, "I don't know if it's going to work without Lee." We had the base layer of all these songs, but they needed to be fleshed out. It was just one of those things where I think we were on the same wavelength, and every decision that we were making we were sending over to Lee. And he was super stoked on everything.

But it did take two years to get around to it. The positive was that we were able to sit on stuff for a long time and examine it. It was one of those things where I felt like I couldn't adequately prepare for the studio, aside from bringing as many tools to make sounds as I could, and writing a whole bunch of lyrics, because I didn't know where the record was going to go. I didn't know what the record was going to sound like, really at all, until it was almost done.

There's this tendency to focus on how harrowing and abrasive these kind of records are, as if listening to them is akin to self-flagellation. But for me, when I listen to Grave Of A Dog, the songs work on a pop level.

LB: I don't think it was intentional, but I think we did want to depart a bit from what we do on our own. Otherwise, what would be the point? I think all of us love certain aspects of pop - some more than others - I think it comes out naturally.

Grave Of A Dog seems to flow like an epic pop album proper, from the club-inflected tracks up front to the mellower - maybe that's the wrong word...

DW: That's the exact word. I would hope that someone would say "mellow". The middle - it's supposed to be palate cleansing. There's a track called 'Ocean Of Mercy' that's a little longer, and it's so soothing to me. It definitely doesn't feel like a punishment, the record. It's not meant to feel like that. At all.

One of the voices I feel like Sightless Pit is supposed to be, to make it kind of derivative, is club bangers. But the middle is supposed to be therapeutic, open - there's not supposed to be a lot going on. You're supposed to be able to focus in on these small instruments, these small sounds.

For instance, there's an instrument in 'Ocean Of Mercy' that I played - it's just a bunch of metal rods into an active pickup, and I played it with a violin bow with a bunch of reverb and tremolo on it. It's really subtle, but we loved it when we had it in the studio. Sometimes, there are these little sounds on records that I remember from when I was a kid, that I loved, that I felt like were intentional. Like pops and clicks and just little extra noises. I wanted whole tracks to kind of look at those little sounds.

There are heavy emotions on the record, but it's supposed to be more cathartic.

I'm wondering if there ending up being any sort of thematic through-line on the record?

LB: Musically, I don't think so.

DW: In a way, it all came together through happenstance. I was living through a really horrible, super brutal-ass winter when we started working on the record. I was obsessed with that story of Ezekiel and the burning wheel. I was really focused on a human being living on this frozen farm, just trying to survive, and the idea of Ezekiel walking away from that wheel, and maybe the parallels between those two paths.

I actually don't know what tip Kristin was on, but her lyrics ended up meshing really well with mine. There's a lot going on, but it's not super focused.

Is this going to be an ongoing thing?

LB: Who knows? That's kind of the beauty of it. I don't see why we couldn't do another record at some point if everyone's schedules work out.

DW: I think it's going to keep going. It was unsure for a while what we were going to do when the record came out, if anyone would care or whatever, but I think we would like to play live someday. That brings up a key difference between our bands: Full Of Hell will play pretty much anywhere through any piece-of-shit PA, but I really want Sightless Pit to be able to play a room with adequate sound, because it's so reliant on the programmed drums and all the sampling. I just want it to be really, really crushing.

So, I think we're just going to be sitting still with it for a while, and when Lee is in proximity, we'll try to play a show. And after, maybe we'll write another record. It doesn’t have a timeline, and that’s what’s really cool about it. Because all of our bands, to one degree or another, are extremely intense, and have extremely busy schedules, but Sightless Pit is allowed to exist exactly as it is.

Sightless Pit, is that a Skyrim reference?

LB: It is. Dylan named it.

DW: Yeah, it came from me. I was saving it. I've played through Skyrim like so many times over the years, and there was always this location on the map called the "Sightless Pit" and I just thought it was such a beautiful little pair of words, and I wanted to use it for something. But there's no Elder Scrolls DNA in the band at all besides that.

I was like, "Are you guys sure you want to use this name?" Because they definitely liked it, and I couldn't not tell them it was from Skyrim, because they would've been upset with me if I didn't mention it. I don't know how Lee didn't notice that immediately, because he plays more video games than I do.

LB: Honestly, I didn't catch it even though I've played Skyrim multiple times through.

DW: But yeah, I don't know. I'm that guy now.

Grave Of A Dog by Sightless Pit is out via Thrill Jockey on Friday

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