Crazy Yellow Sunglasses: An Interview With Black Pus

Lightning Bolt's inimitable drummer Brian Chippendale returns this month with a solo album under the name Black Pus. He speaks with Ian Maleney about the joys of unpredictability, mood-affecting music and "barely knowing what any of the lyrics are"

Alongside his main gig as the drummer/vocalist in Lightning Bolt, Brian Chippendale has been releasing solo work under the name Black Pus since 2006. For the most part these releases are blasted lo-fi experiments in rhythm and texture, recorded onto battered four-track cassette and distributed mostly via small runs of CD-Rs. They sound, in short, like the name Black Pus would suggest. Using a minimal setup to achieve colossal results, Chippendale combines his drum-kit with a squelching, droning oscillator and a host of effects pedals to create an overwhelming rush of sound. The oscillator and his looped and effected vocals produce weird melodies and distorted, bass-heavy textures, while his famously energetic drumming keeps everything moving forward at a frantic pace.

This year Chippendale has teamed up with Chicago label Thrill Jockey to release his newest Black Pus album, All My Relations. The release is the first Chippendale has made in a professional studio, and it sounds great. At times it’s not a world away from Lightning Bolt – and fans of one will certainly find much to enjoy in the other – but there is a kind of manic dark energy to it, the feeling that this is the product of one man’s mind and body, marking it out as something different. The record has the feel of classic New York post-punk and no-wave, with the directness and almost anthemic (or at least deeply positive) force of the Parts & Labour-led Brooklyn underground of the last decade.

Huddled around an electric heater with his three cats, waiting for a promised blizzard to hit America’s east coast, Chippendale talked the Quietus through his "serious" album.

So you went into a proper studio for All My Relations. Was that a big decision for you, coming from more of a home recording background? Did you go in with the idea of making a record?

Brian Chippendale: Going into the studio, I didn’t have any plans or anything, I think I just had more money that summer or something. I just wanted to try it out. It was partly for Lightning Bolt too, because Lightning Bolt has been recording in this one way with this one guy for a really long time, and it felt like we’ve got a little stuck, so I was trying to investigate other areas without having to take Lightning Bolt as an entity in there. I could just go in there and investigate and see what it was like to work with these guys in this studio, because it seemed like I had less to lose just doing it myself.

The actual sound of the record is quite different too. You can definitely tell it was well recorded, even though it is still pretty distorted and blown-out.

BC: Yeah, maybe after enough time, you just get kind of tired of a certain sonic quality. Maybe I’m just becoming a little more mellow and I have enough patience to sit down and be like, ‘Ok, let’s mix this now’, rather than getting a rough mix and going ‘Cool, it’s done, sounds great’, which is sort of how I used to be. A lot of the time we’d just do a recording and then [stick with] the way it sounds at the end of the night, almost just fall in love with that initial recording. Now I’m maybe just a bit more mellow, so I can listen to it then have the mental space to come up with some things to change it. But it’s also expensive too. I usually do home recording stuff, so this was the first time in a while that I’ve done any kind of studio stuff. It was interesting that way, in that if you wanted to do some mixing, you’d actually have to go in and rent the time. So that was working against getting too deep in there.

That’s the thing with home recording, you can really get mired in the endless choice. Doing one more take, or a hundred more takes, or mixing for days on end.

BC: Yeah, you can sink in, it’s like quicksand in there. There’s got to be a limit to some extent. I put a Black Pus thing out on Bandcamp this past year and that was all home recorded. So I could have worked on that until I was blue in the face, but that probably had even less mixing going on. I think the studio sometimes captures such a dry sound, you have to do something to it, whereas my system is so old and cruddy – I record on cassette tape, so there’s just something really satisfying about the sound to me. With those recordings, I just put it out the way I recorded it, because they sound so blown-out and there’s not a whole lot of space to maneuver.

You’ll obviously be taking these songs out on tour, but given that it’s been more than a year since you recorded them, will it be tough at all to get the same energy up to play them live? Have you moved on at all since you recorded them?

BC: I probably won’t play a lot of the songs, I’ll play a couple of them. It’s funny, I don’t know if it’s because I’m a drummer or what, but I can generally get really psyched about any song that I’ve ever been involved with. Even with Lightning Bolt, the other Brian sometimes doesn’t necessarily like playing old songs, but I’m kind of all for it. I think it may be because there’s a satisfaction in the drumming, like you can play almost anything and chemically you’re going to become involved with it just because you’re hitting things. It’s not like I have to get the energy up to believe in the lyrics or something. For one thing I barely know what any of the lyrics are, so I just change them around anyway. Because it’s just me, the songs live are kind of more amorphous and I can change them around as I see fit. I don’t have to make arrangements with anyone about how we’re going to play this song tonight. Black Pus is still kind of new to people so it’ll be exciting to play those songs, and even older songs, because a lot of people haven’t experienced it yet.

I guess because this is pretty much the first really widely available Black Pus record, you won’t have people expecting certain songs or anything like that.

BC: That’s how it feels with Lightning Bolt a little bit, people hankering for their favourite song from their favourite record or their favourite record. That’s a weird dilemma, when you age through music and people, a lot of times, they just love the point when they joined up with it, the first record they heard or whatever record affects them the most. Black Pus is kind of fresh, so it’s right at the beginning of that arc. Then they’ll realise the songs will never sound right anyway! They can want it really bad and the note will probably come out wrong because my little oscillator thing, who knows where it’ll land? The tunings are pretty changeable. I won’t ever give someone the satisfaction of it sounding just like the record! That’d just be way too easy. Or, in my case, way too hard.

Like with Lightning Bolt, you’ve also done the artwork for the record. Were there any central themes or ideas to that element of the release?

BC: There were themes with the record cover. If you see the LP, there are three panels of artwork and they all kind of coincide. It’s these two figures and they sort of melt. I remade the image three times at different levels of decay, where the figures are kind of meshing into each other. One aspect of what I was thinking about was the title being All My Relations, and these two figures melting into each other and melting into their landscape. I felt the record is quite diverse in what’s on there – again, some people might think that’s not true at all – but compared to some of the Black Pus stuff I’ve put out already, this one felt a little more sonically diverse. And with the title I was maybe saying something that would help bind them all together, in a way. So the cover art in a way was supposed to be – this could all be forced conceptual maybe, possibly bullshit – it’s this glue that binds them together, holds the record together in a way.

The video for ‘1000 Years’ is really interesting too, it has a real child-like innocence or playfulness to it, something homely. Which isn’t how the song itself is, or the album is, at all really.

BC: The album is kind of serious in a way, there’s not a lot of humour on there. Like, I consider myself a serious person, but I have to joke a lot, in a lot of venues. I draw a lot of comics and stuff and they’re always serious, but there’s a silliness to them too, which is nice. I’ve been thinking about this video forever, I just didn’t know where to land it. I’ve been carrying around these flip-books my whole life basically, that I drew when I was a kid, so it finally just made sense. I also knew [that] the record was coming out in three months and it was going to take me about three months to scan all these drawings so I just started working on it. I’m really happy with it too. At first, I was actually sad because I had to take apart the flip-books to make it because they were still bound, these little notebooks. But you can actually see it better as an animation than you ever could as a flip-book. I mean, they flipped ok but they weren’t great. So it’s an improvement.

The basic nature of the video is kind of similar to how you write and record, just having a couple of choice elements and using them to their extremes.

BC: Yeah, I’m still in this phase of my life, which might last my whole life, where I’m into a certain primitivism. We’ll take a few fundamental elements and we’ll amplify those things, we won’t shade them or colour them a whole lot, just really put it in your face and make you feel the weight of it or something. There’s some kind of melding or mixing happening amongst the sounds, even at such a high volume, but you’re not going to hear strings far off in the distance. Not yet anyway. I like that, it’s a pretty primal sound, kind of base in a way. I think it provokes a reaction because it’s pretty simple in nature. If people are into that thing they respond to it because it’s pretty instinctual.

People use that in their daily lives too, like putting on some crazy music on their headphones when they’re walking to the shops or whatever. It can add drama and a certain vitality to whatever you’re doing.

BC: It’s crazy what the world looks like when you listen to music like that. You just get out of bed, get ready, walk outside and pop on something aggressive or crazy or psychedelic or washy or really anything, if you provide a soundtrack to something mundane, suddenly it really opens like a whole new dimensional door or something. It’s sort of like putting crazy yellow sunglasses on, the whole world gets really trippy. Sometimes it’s bad, I’ve definitely wandered around listening to really aggressive stuff and felt like everyone is my enemy. You know, you’re just looking for trouble when it’s just not there. And who knows, you might do something stupid if something stupid were to happen. People definitely use music to get psyched up to do bad things, but they use music to get psyched up to do good things too.

I was talking to a friend earlier who said that if he listens to Lightning Bolt in the car, he always drives faster. Not sure that’s a good thing though.

BC: Ha! We went on tour once where we had only one tape in the car. It was called Sick Hour and it was put out by Gods Of Tundra. It was Hair Police, their label. Mike [Connelly], he put it out. I think it was actually members of Hair Police, just two of them. It was just sound, really ugly, liquidy sound. Kind of synthesiser but super distorted, not sloshes of noise or white noise, but like a bad dream soundtrack. And we just played that pretty much for a month. Maybe not every day. I remember coming into Chicago in a storm with it on and being like, "Oh my god, this is crazy!" and then driving through a field somewhere with cows around and being like "Oh my god, these cows are so fucked up!" It was just us, not being on anything, but just this music, whatever you put it on, whatever canvas was in the background, it just made it seem so crazy and wrong and kind of sick. Like sick hour. It was the perfect soundtrack to its name.

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