Lightning Bolt Interview: Earthly Delights & The Quest For The Mask

John Doran sat down with Lightning Bolt's Brian Chippendale to talk a life of noise and how he retrieved his stolen mask

Rhode Island Providence power duo Lightning Bolt exist as temporary royalty in the realm of the senses. Not just their nomenclature but album titles such as Ride The Skies and Wonderful Rainbow give you an idea of the elemental kingdom they oversee. Brian Chippendale plays drums and sings simultaneously with a microphone in his mouth while Brian Gibson plays bass. From this deceptively simple set up they create, marshal, amplify and then unleash a projectile jolt of heavy metal that nods briefly to hardcore, punk, psych rock and black metal as it hurtles past. Speeding like a Japanese bullet train constructed of whale carcasses, stalactites and diamonds.

Of course they don’t deal in idyllic, sylvan or even red in tooth and claw notions of nature but that of vast weather systems, tectonic shifts, batholithic ruptures, cave collapses, mega tsunamis. Gibson’s bass is run through an impressive array of FX units that conjure up a massive sound out of which solidifies battleship-heavy riffs and surprisingly user-friendly hooks while Chippendale’s octopodalic drumming forms not just a rhythm but another layer of fizzing texture. While the pair are often described as noise or as having a very ‘difficult’ sound, their latest album Earthly Delights (out now on Load) shows that they are more then capable of producing righteous rock (‘Transmissionary’) and gentle aqueous ambience (‘Rain On The Lake I’m Swimming In’) when they feel like it. However, mainly their noise is akin to a single span suspension bridge in a violent earthquake – the roads rippling and buckling as the giant cables snake free.

Despite this billing, in some ways the group are a victim of their own uniqueness. For most of their 15-year career they have insisted on playing off stage and amongst the audience wherever possible. Brian Chippendale explains that this was partially to break down barriers between the group and the crowd but adds: "When you first play in a club you look out from the stage and your ten friends are across the room and you’re like ‘This is ridiculous. We’re over here and they’re over there. Why don’t we pick our stuff up and go over where they are?’ In the beginning people didn’t know what to make of us and we were literally chasing them round the room! We were trying to scream into people’s faces a little more. After a time it became a comfortable thing. But it has changed because 15 years ago we were 20-year-olds playing to other 20-year-olds and now we’re 35 and still playing to 20-year-olds, so there is a bit of a disconnect there in that way, which is a little bit strange."

So their gigs can often be unpredictable, riotous affairs that see not only audience members but sometimes the two Brians as well getting knocked flying. And this sense of weirdness is only amped up by Mr Chippendale’s mask, which looks like something a retarded serial killer clown might wear.

But it’s not just there to hold his mic in place and scare people; it also holds an almost transcendental amount of significance for some fans. During an ATP gig about four years ago, he announced that he had to fashion a new mask out of a pillowcase after some light-fingered fan had made off with the real one.

He sounds serious when this incident is mentioned: "I try to keep an eye on where the mask is; especially after that incident. It was just one ‘crazy’ British guy… [laughs] He just had to have it!"

Then unfolds a tale which is part Murder She Wrote, part King Of Comedy, part Phantom Of The Opera, part When We Were Kings: "I got it back. You see, I had a suspect in mind. After the gig when it was stolen we watched some footage that someone had recorded and said ‘I think it’s that guy’. I didn’t sing on the final song and he held the microphone for me. He was the most enthusiastic fan of all time. I remembered that I’d seen him before. I was like ‘Wait a second, that’s the guy from the ICA from two years ago who tried to trade his baseball cap for the mask. That’s the guy who wanted my mask last time we were over!’ The people who took the footage were like ‘Oh we know that guy, his brother works in a bar near here.’ So we got his brother to go into his room a couple of months later and the mask was tacked up to the wall. Apparently there was something of a wrestling match over it but eventually his brother got it out of the room and gave it to some promoters who knew me and they mailed it back."

He pauses for a second and then resumes the tale in a sinister manner: "The mask now has a tear across it which was sustained while it was being rescued. I never wore it again. I just wanted it back. So he couldn’t have it." [laughs]

There’s obviously a massive disconnect between what Lightning Bolt do live and their recorded output; but when it is suggested that the band try to narrow this gulf by doing all of their records live in the studio he disagrees saying: "I think it’s less a product of trying to capture the live sound and more a product of our relationship. We don’t like to sit round in the studio and spend time together thinking things up we usually just come together, do this thing and then separate. Because after 15 years there’s only so much time you can hang out for. We talk about trying to do a more studio style album where we build things up in layers for some time."

But perhaps the pair are preparing to narrow this gap and finally get people to focus on the music for a change. Brian confesses that they may be finally ready to take the stage: "We’re getting a little bigger now so at some shows we have to play on a stage. It seems like sometimes we’re like a trampoline for people to bounce on to have a good time. Some don’t care about the music so much as they care about the idea of what the event is supposed to be like. But I can’t even make a judgement on that. But now that we’re playing on stages more I think these ideas will align more. Some people will be watching us and go ‘Oh, they’ve been playing songs this whole time?!’"

This article is reprinted from the current issue of The Stool Pigeon, Britain’s finest music newspaper. To read the whole of the most recent edition, visit the newspaper’s internet news stand

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