click here for more
Lightning Bolt

Lightning Bolt

Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Monday 21st October, 2013 1:17PM

Noise duo Lightning Bolt return to New Zealand for shows in Auckland and Wellington this week.  Stunning audiences for nearly two decades, we caught up with drummer/vocalist Brian Chippendale over email to discuss how they've developed as a band over the years, Brian's many and varied creative outlets and their latest EP Oblivion Hunter....

You recently released an EP called 'Oblivion Hunter' that contains a selection of 'lost' tracks from throughout your career. Can you explain a little bit about where these songs fit into your career and why you chose to put these particular songs together on a EP - why did they suit sitting next together on a tracklisting?

The songs from Oblivion Hunter were recorded around the same time as the Earthly Delights LP was released and came from just a few cassette taped practices. I tape everything we do and remembered a few really good days around the fall of 2009 when we had gotten back together after over a year off. We started a bandcamp site in 2012 and I was mining practice eras that I remembered as strong for new bandcamp Eps and I just hit a really rich vein of material.

Apart from 'Oblivion Hunter', you last released 'new' material in 2009: have you been working on anything in between 'Earthly Delights' and now and if so what are you interested in exploring at the moment?

We released a new song this summer called Barbarian Boy through Adult Swim’s website, and we did recordings in both 2011 an 2012. maybe even 2010. We have enough recordings piled up to put out a pretty massive box set of valid stuff, but nothing has been really knocking our socks off. It was more the recording style than the songs themselves. I think we hit a wall with our recording process and it’s taken a few years to break free of this process and change up the engineer we have historically worked with. The Adult Swim recording this summer was with new people in a studio called Machines with Magnets in Providence. Great guys, friends for a while but Lightning Bolt has never worked directly with them before. I recorded a solo record under the name Black Pus there that got released this year and I had a really positive recording experience. I think this new relationship will help break down the wall that’s maybe been stopping LB up the last few years. But we have been touring some in the states each year and rehearsing new material. Just not recording. The past year I devoted to solo work with Black Pus as well, touring the states and Europe with it.

Your career has spanned well over a decade now. Firstly, has your approach to both how you create music or the kind of music you want to create changed during that time? Can you look back and note any moments of monumental shift or realisation that changed the way you approach your craft?

We will hit 20 years as a band in 2014. The root of the music over all the years has been fairly consistent. There was a switch maybe in the early 2000’s when we had become somewhat established after our album Ride The Skies came out, bass player Brian Gibson finally could afford enough equipment to be heard better over the drums. Ride the Skies to me is a very percussive album, where since then the direction has been more riff based. I think we have gotten a little less weird, less sharp turns, more drawn out movements, more depth and space in the songs. We have gone from “art rock”, to “art metal” to “art psychedelic rock” maybe. But at it’s core it’s still energy music, based in forward momentum, connecting my physicality on the drums and his kind of blissful bass playing.

Secondly, the "industry" has changed a lot during that time. How has this affected you guys the most and what are your thoughts on the digital, single-oriented way a lot of people consume music today?

We have seen album sales go down even as in many places live shows remain consistently or increasingly attended. I guess we are old fashioned in still thinking of albums as albums, collections of music. Even in releasing 2 bandcamp albums they were still 20 minutes apiece with the idea that they could be an LP side. We have never been a market driven band, so the changing of the market washes over us for the most part. People have always focused in on certain songs and passed them around and divorced them from their album sources, so I wonder if things are changing that much really.

Being in a two-piece creative project for that long must be a pretty intense experience: can you pinpoint the qualities or talents in each of you that you think makes the two of you work so well together / create such fruitful output?

One important thing is that we pace ourselves. We walk away from it when we need to because after a break the ideas have a tendency to flow very freely. We have had hard times when the two-ness of us was really a problem because there was no third vote to break deadlocks. But luckily, through it all we have managed to remain friends and give each other the space we need to feel pretty satisfied with our own end of the band. We work pretty hard at it when we are working and also luckily we have been accepted and supported by people, so when times get tough on the creative end the support of still there on the financial end. If no one had liked our music for the last 20 years we may not have gotten this far. We have a funny relationship that just clicked, a little bit of an extrovert introvert/opposites attract situation. Lots of luck involved.

You have become renowned for both the unexpected nature of and the intensity of your live performances: when you started did you decide this had to be an important part of Lightning Bolt's deal and if so, why? How has it changed and developed over the years? You interact with the crowd a lot: obviously that is an incredibly powerful experience for your fans but what makes you so drawn to this interaction?

There was never a preconceived concept for how we approach the live shows or the band as a whole. We practice intensely. We practice surprisingly. But it all comes pretty natural. I think if it had been something we mapped out from the start it would have fallen apart by now. I know as a drummer I am drawn to fiery performances, and I need to play in a loud aggressive way or I’m not all there. The intensity makes me feel very present in the music. So anything that comes across in the live show is just a pathway to get us present in our music. It’s what we are about. Hell I start to get wound up just answering these questions. I just get wound up when I am outputting. As for interacting with the crowd, moving our show to the floor was something we did way in the beginning and it was a success. I think keeping things feeling like a house party for a really long time informed our playing, it informed my drumming. It made me play harder because it was just natural drum sound trying to move this crowd. These days some shows are too big for this approach and we have moved to the stage in some venues. But its been so many years of pounding away on the floor, we were built in the crowd.

You studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and the visual accompaniment to work is significant. Tell me about how you approach creating the accompanying visual artwork for your sonic output and why do you think the visual accompaniment is an important part of the Lightning Bolt experience?

Its interesting because here in New Zealand and in Australia we will be working with rented equipment so some of the visual elements, the decorated drums and cabinets will not be present. I’ll still have my mask which holds my microphone, which is hand sewn and very personal. The art aspects of Lightning Bolt are again less of an additional added element and more of the world we live in. My studio, were we practice is covered in stuff, collages, drawings, prints. Since the equipment is rented and will probably look quite “black” the band will look pretty “bandlike” so maybe live the visual element is not that important. But the album covers and other art that surrounds us that I create comes from a similar place as the music does, a place of energy building up and new worlds being explored. They compliment each other, but don’t depend on each other. Maybe when we first started they were more connected, but back then we never strayed too far from our home. Now perhaps art and music can exist separately. But we are at our most powerful when they all come together, but you probably have to catch us in our studio if you want to feel that.

You're also a visual artist working across a few mediums yeah? How do you think music and visual art communicate ideas differently? Do you utilize the mediums to communicate particular, separate things?

Live music gives the listener an ungraspable instantaneous moment of creation. It’s formed in that moment and gone in the next. So it’s alive in a way that a lot of visual art aside from maybe theater isn’t. Visual art can be created in a similar spontaneous way but it is viewed at the pace and leisure of the viewer most of time. And generally the artist isn’t there making it in that moment. Even if you are watching some kind of live action painting the artifact remains after. The artifact of a musical experience is either memory, which is interpretive, or some kind of recording, which is also interpretive depending on the machine, and won’t ever mimic anyone’s memory of the performance perfectly. So they are different. I like them both. I think you can apply creative forms from one to the other, pattern, repetition, depth, layers, all that stuff. But they will be absorbed by people differently so it’s something to keep in mind. People will stare at a painting or a drawing for a long time but generally don’t listen to one small blip of a song on repeat over and over, but those two things sit in a kind of equality of time.

You're a prolific graphic novelist, too. What drew you to this art form? The monthly local newspaper "Mothers News" that you contribute to sounds particularly interesting…tell us a little bit about creating a monthly comic and the kinds of subjects you draw on?

I’ve always been into drawing. Since I was a little kid. So it’s just a matter of keeping it up. It’s a great way of organizing ideas, drawing. Getting things out of your system that maybe you didn’t know were building up there. I do a lot of free drawing, just closing my eyes and moving my hand around, and then fast drawing where I try to move quickly on the page and surprise myself with that marks. Also jotting down phrases that come to mind. My comics work generally comes from the sketchbook pages. Where current events from the news, stuff that happens to me, memories gurgling up and hopes or designs for the future all combine with random marks on the page. So the comics work is the next step in organizing the chaotic elements that you juggle in your brain day to day. Making collages or larger works is an extension of this organization of daily chaos. I’m not necessarily a great drawer, or artist. But I enjoy the process and I practice. Like drumming. I just practice and do it and find ways to enjoy it so I improve and can express myself in these forms.

Your'e coming to New Zealand again - what did you take away from your last live experience here? Is there anything in particular you're looking forward to seeing / doing when you return?

I’m here now! I just got some sleep which is great after the 33 hours of travel. We have two days in both Wellington and Auckland so I am excited to walk around and see some stuff. Just understand the cities a little better. Psyched to be back!


Lightning Bolt 2014 New Zealand Tour

Monday 21st October, Puppies, Wellington
Tuesday 22nd October, Puppies, Wellington
Wednesday 23rd October, Whammy Bar, Auckland
Thursday 24th October, Whammy Bar, Auckland

Click here to buy tickets.