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Lightning Bolt

Lightning Bolt

Monday 9th August, 2010 12:58PM

Possessing one of contemporary music’s most incendiary live shows and a clutch of critically acclaimed albums, Rhode Island duo Lightning Bolt have earned wild praise from some of music’s bigwigs (the likes of Steve Albini, John Peel). Their drum/bass set-up might sound limiting, but the uncompromising music and textures they create are anything but. They have just recently released Earthly Delights, their fifth album, and first since 2005’s lauded Hypermagic Mountain, and is further example of their unclassifiable sound. Their music straddles genres such as metal, noise, punk, prog, and favours textures, rhythms, and riffs over easy listening. Drummer/vocalist Brian Chippendale was kind enough to answer some questions about their m.o., and the new album via email.

There’s a physicality to your music which is kinda like the textures/images of avant-garde cinema, (or other bands like the Boredoms etc – what attracted you guys to conceive of music as more than an aural thing? Does having backgrounds in other forms of art help?

As the drummer the design of my instrument is based in physicality. And I am lucky and grateful that I stumbled into this instrument. I was a pretty physically active young person that began playing in bands (I wanted to be a singer but I lost in a sort of coin toss) and I was able to channel my athletic needs into making sounds. I also have never had much of an interest in drug use generally, but enjoy the possibility of a sort of creative mental expansion, and physical activity is in some way the poor mans amphetamine. Entering into a kind of "early man/berserker rage" and then returning to reality loosens you up, it cuts through certain illusions the world puts forth.

Was ‘minimalism’ an intended m.o. (e.g. by becoming a two-piece)? How important were minimalist composers e.g. Satie, Glass etc. in showing what could be done with very little? Or is this whole labeling process (words like minimalism, noise) itself limiting/frustrating for you two?

I would hesitate to call a band that employs 8 speaker cabinets and at times 6 amplifiers minimal. But, aside from that, we do have limitations, and limitations make what you have stronger. Maybe it’s the theory that if you take a person’s eyes away, their smell becomes more acute. Brian G experiments with new effects pedals from time to time and I switch my drums around here and there and dabble with electronics, but most of the time, the things that stick in our head and graduate to songs are the more primal things, the simplest things. Lots of bands at some point in their career return to their "roots" and just try to rock out again. We sort of return to our roots every night that we practice, eventually abandoning everything to rock. Oh, and I hum Phillip Glass over every song, but you just can't hear it! I think lately I have been humming The GoGos.

Your music requires loud and expansive speakers especially live – in the time you guys have been together, the way we consume music has shifted considerably to things like mp3s and i-Pods – has this technological shift affected the way you’ve constructed music, or affected the way that your audiences have approached your music?

If anything the shift to tiny speakers and the anonymous nature of downloadable music has strengthened the need for our, or any, live show. But we really haven't changed the way we are creating things. When putting together our latest album it was built with LP sides in mind. Which is at this point pretty arbitrary, but we stick with it. We will probably get with the program in terms of "the end of the album" just in time for "the end of the post album" phase we are in now. Its good to try and stay one or two steps behind technology, which at times is just a giant blind man stumbling though the woods. Though at other times that giant blind man can stumble upon a pot of gold.

Has being so renowned for your live shows proven problematic when it comes to recording in the studio – can you approach it in the same improvisational way as a live show given that it’s a ‘permanent’ recording? I’ve read that your albums have quite frequently ended up being a bit of both live and studio recordings.

Everything we have released on album has been played live in a some sort of studio. There have been a handful of overdubs. We generally go the route of recording several takes or versions of our songs and picking the most interesting one for the record. The newest record was entirely recorded in a small studio a friend of ours set up in our practice room. So we had a lot of time with no real studio expenses. Any recording is strange in that a week later you may play the song a new better way. But that’s how it goes. There are a few videos online of live takes of our songs that are cooler than the albums. We play tens of shows a year and release one album every 2 to 4 years, so you can see where our priorities lie. Though we generally jam in our studio hundreds of days a year, so that’s number one. Just jamming for ourselves.

Your music relies on happy accidents – is it hard finding these kind of spontaneous accidents while touring day-in and day-out, or while rehearsing in the studio? How do you keep things fresh?

Most of happy accidents come while jamming day to day. We record everything we do on cassette tape and go back and listen/take notes on as much as we can, which isn't nearly even half of what we record. We have probably have forgotten 90 percent of what we have played and worked on 10 percent. If even that. Most of the music we create goes the way of the wind. And some of it is probably the best stuff we have ever played. I think the freshness comes from taking time to do other things, to have experiences outside of music. So we have something to say.

Your music feels very democratic – in the way you two interact musically, and the fact you play within the audience which adds a different level to the audience/performer dynamic – was it ever as thought out as that, or is that just the way it works for you guys?

Not much was thought out in terms of concept. It was more following intuition. playing on the floor grew out of us having grown tired of having the same experience in clubs, seeing bands in the same venue over and over and getting into a sort of rehearsed reaction to things. Standing in a certain corner, hanging out at the bar each night. Bands tend to have a certain sound coming out of the PA that homogenizes them. At one point I saw a band set up in the middle of the room, right next to me, and it blew my mind. We took this as our approach and it became ritual for us through lots of small informal warehouse parties in our hometown. Our floor style also grew out of playing empty rooms in the beginning and having to chase the tiny audience around. Things have changed some now though. In come places we have hit a wall with the floor show as the audience has grown beyond a comfortable size. Forcing us to reconsider the stage and look at its good sides as well. At some point an intimate event can be considered an elite and alienating activity. And a homogenized stage show can be seen as a tool for communicating to more people, people that may not seek it out but need it nonetheless. We are hoping to work on both levels.

Hypermagic Mountain sounded much tighter/more polished (relatively speaking) when compared to your early work (e.g. Lighning Bolt) – how much planning has gone into structuring your sound as the band has progressed over the years?

Again, it has all been fairly intuitive. At some points in our career it’s been fun to make more improvised music and at others it’s been great to tighten up the songs. We also have been careful about what we put out as formal recordings. We have hours and hours and hours of tapes more in the vein of the first record. Which was mostly cassette jams from practice. I have recorded every practice since that 1997 record on the same kind of Tascam 4 track machine with good old Maxell XLII 90 minute tapes. Some day the floodgate will open and everyone that wants to will hear 50 more "the yellow album" Lightning Bolt records.

How have you approached Earthly Delights – it’s taken four years to come out, what was the reason for the length of time taken for this record to come out?

Earthly Delights is really a continuation of the approach of Hypermagic Mountain. It’s all recorded in our practice space to a pretty simple recording setup, and much of it was mixed live as we played by our engineer/friend Dave Auchenbach. It took a long time to come out because we had such a long busy half year preparing, touring and recording the record, we just got tired of hanging out. So we took a year and half off and then recorded a couple more tracks for it. I wish we could say we are presenting a thing that we have been working on for 1400 days but it’s not the case. If it was it would sound much different.

Is there also a link to the Bosch painting [The Garden of Earthly Delights]?

That Bosch painting has been lurking around my subconscious for years, but the only real connection is in the name and actually one very subtle character reference in the artwork. It was more us feeling the need to put an earthy word in the title of what felt like a more grounded, rooted record. And then we have a little "Lightning Bolt Album Name Maker" machine we hook up that concocts the other "wild" word. Like Delights, Hypermagic, or Wonderful. Ther’es about ten more words left in the machine so we are good for 20 more years.

And as for Bosch, the name was a slight nod to the painting but really just felt like the best thing we could make using our 2 person democratic procedure. It had the ideas we were looking for with what felt like a more grounded, earthy record. We have been pretty overt about the names of our things. There is one little thefted item in the artwork from the Bosch painting but it’s hard to find.

On a slightly tangential and final note, one of my favourite American films from recent years was Ben Russell’s Black and White Trypps Number Three in which you guys have a starring role but the audience was the main focus – what did you guys make of the film, and its thematic preoccupation with the ‘transcendence’ of spectatorship (Russell’s words)? Did you expect your audience to actually look/behave like that?

I enjoyed the film and like all three films I have seen in that series. But I felt that film betrayed the audiences trust a little, and it is (as most effective art is), manipulative. Any band’s front row audience is probably pretty into the music, and if you slow down time, it will appear to a group of people lost in contemplative joy. Ben Russell realized that and made it happen, it was a good concept for a film executed well. But that’s the last time that specific group of kids will get up front and feel comfortable with themselves. Next time I see Russell with a camera pointed at me I may hide!

Brannavan Gnanalingam