There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
In the glow of blinking Christmas lights, Pig Destroyer’s vocal-cord-shredding singer JR Hayes is picking at a plate of fried calamari at El Paraiso, a Salvadoran restaurant on 14th Street NW, near U. “We built a computera supercomputerlike in WarGames,” Hayes says over the din of mariachi music coming from the jukebox. “We’re going to blow up the world a bit later, but first we’ve got to get the album done.”
Hayes and his Dos Equis-swilling bandmatesguitarist Scott Hull and drummer Brian Harveyhave ventured in from Northern Virginia on this unseasonably cold December night to chat up their new compilation CD, 38 Counts of Battery, and their upcoming sophomore full-length, tentatively titled Prowler in the Yard. Both records are part of the grindcore trio’s new contract with influential Pennsylvania indie-metal label Relapsehome of Neurosis, Dillinger Escape Plan, and Arlington’s Deceased.
Despite Hull’s blur of tattoos and faded Melvins shirt, long-haired Harveywho received props on U Street for his spiked leather jacket and Repulsion T-shirtis the only member of Pig Destroyer who looks metal enough to be recording on Relapse’s dime.
“We basically took all the advance money that we got from Relapse and built a studio, because I’ve got experience,” Hull says, clarifying how the trio blew its four-figure check. “I’ve been recording bands for a lot of years.”
Hullwho also makes impossibly fast Conlon Nancarrow-style drum-machine grind as Agoraphobic Nosebleedmet Hayes and Harvey in Boston, where he was engineering bands at a friend’s studio. “I was in a band called Anal Cunt, and they were in Enemy Soil,” Hull says. “They came up to my studio in Boston to record.”
Abandoning a never-completed doctorate at Boston College, Hull moved to Alexandria in 1997 and hooked up with Hayes, a 24-year-old native of Sterling, to play in short-lived “political” hardcore band Treblinka. “JR and I decided we had the same ideas about music: just ultrafast, ultra-in-your-face, ultraloud,” Hull says. So after “internal turmoil” split Treblinka, Hull and Hayes got together with drummer John Evans to form Pig Destroyer. “We started Pig Destroyer,” Hull says, “trying to come up with the vilest name possible without it being ‘cunt,’ ‘ass,’ or ‘ball sack.’”
“We wanted to come up with something that would be more punk-rock,” Hull continues, “because that’s the kind of ethic we have. A lot of our stuff is kinda metal, but we’ve basically got a no-pretension, no-posturing punk-rock attitude.”
Harvey joined when Evans left for school. “Do we really want to go into this?” Hayes asks. “We’ll just show what bastards we are,” Hull says. “We fabricated a breakup, [supposedly] because I had a job and [Hayes] had a job. The next day we re-formed with Brian.”
Propelled by Harvey’s breakneck blast-beats, Pig Destroyer recorded two Carcass covers for a split 7-inch with Isis, the Explosions in Ward 6 full-length, and a split CD with Gnob (which includes a reimagining of the Stooges’ “Down on the Street” as an homage to the Amphetamine Reptile catalog).
“Our records are always six, seven months behind at the time, so I think how everyone perceives us is never how we perceive ourselves,” Hayes says.
“I think we have grindcore songs and elements of grindcore still, but it keeps going in weird directions,” Harvey adds. “We have elements of almost every type of music.”
As evidenced by 38 Counts of Batterywhich comprises everything the band has dropped to tape except the Gnob splitPig Destroyer’s musical diversity manifests itself as miniature epics that play out like chaotic, minutelong roller-coaster rides. Hayes, Hull, and Harvey raise the grind stakes, combining the genre’s typically brutal guitar crunch with atypically nonembarrassing lyrics (“Her face is a heaven littered with dead angels”), hi-tech fretwork, and unexpected rhythmic shifts. And it’s even hooky: Your average Pig Destroyer track packs more killer riffsfrom blistering avant-rock shrapnel to stoned slo-mo chordagethan most rock bands can muster in an entire album.
Regardless of what you want to label Pig Destroyer’s brand of rock, if there were ever a sound that could
liquefy a swine, it’s Hull’s overdriven Gibson SG. “I play live out of a bass amp, and it’s like a thousand watts, and I turn it all the way up,” Hull says. The low-end qualities of Hull’s monster rig render bass guitar superfluous. “I figure, with a bass amp you’ve got enough headroom,” Hull says. “Seriously, there have been shows where I can’t even hear Brian. I can just hear me and that’s it.”
“There have been shows we’ve played with bands that have two guitar players and a bassist, and they still say that we’re louder than they are,” Hayes adds. “They’re probably not lying. When he turns it up, it’s absolutely deafening.”
When Hull hits 14th Street in search of tobacco, conversation briefly turns to such nonmetal subjects as Birthday Party, Joy Division, and PJ Harvey (one of Harvey’s favorites). Although these guys are true fans of extreme music of all kinds, they seem wary of being backed into any idiomatic corners. “I just wanna say that we’ve played with a really diverse group of bands, like Thrones, Frodus, and all the way up to death-metal bands,” Hull says. “We’re not pigeonholed as a metal band like we probably will be in the coming months.”
Because Relapse is still widely perceived as a death-metal label, Hull’s fear is justified. Hayes is also concerned about gore-infatuated tattoo artist Paul Booth’s as-yet-uncompleted Prowler in the Yard cover art, which is to depict a poor sap in the midst of self-dismemberment. “I’m nervous, because a lot of his work is Cro-Magnon,” Hayes says. “I just hope our cover doesn’t show up and it’s just some gratuitous orgy of violence.”
“Metal getsI don’t want to say it’s a bad rap, because I think it’s deserved most of the time,” Hayes says. “People think it’s a bunch of lunkheads who probably didn’t even graduate high school singing about Satan. But it’s pretty hard music to play.”
“So what does that translate into?” Hull asks, smacking his new pack of cigs. “That translates into a rebellious form of music that also takes itself way too seriously: That’s what metal kinda is.”
“I really don’t care about that,” Harvey responds, leaning forward. “[Metal]’s here to stay.” Brent Burton