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Most bands break up for pretty silly reasons—money issues, personality conflicts, longstanding arguments about whether or not to play free-jazz.

North Carolina trio Fin Fang Foom, on the other hand, has encountered some very real and serious obstacles. The band’s original drummer, Peter Enriquez, passed away in an automobile accident. In 2004 guitarist Michael Triplett spent several months in the hospital after being diagnosed with spinal meningitis. But the group has endured none the less. And its newest record, Monomyth, is among its finest works—full of glacial riffs and cascading instrumental crescendos. Washington City Paper spoke with guitarist Michael Triplett about making music, getting sick, and keeping a band together.

Fin Fang Foom performs tonight at Big Bear Cafe with Buildings and The Fordists
1700 1st St. NW
7:00 pm

Washington City Paper: There was a pretty big lag between records, four years between With the Gift Comes the Curse and Monomyth. Do you guys work on the band on a consistent basis?

Michael Triplett: We do. I think what happened with this record—we toured the last record, and then we took a break, and time flits away. Then I got sick. And that took up a good solid year. And at that point it changed a lot as far as the priorities, too. As far as being a band and putting out a record and touring, working in that sort of way. But we’ve stayed productive. We’ve always been writing music and practicing really consistently.

WCP: How have you priorities changed?

Triplett: Just as far as going through the constant cycle—practice, record, and tour. There’s less appeal to that.

WCP: When did you get sick?

Triplett: It was 2004-2005. I had spinal meningitis. Then that turned into encephalitis and then one of my lungs collapsed. I had a 12 percent chance to live. I woke up paralyzed from the waist down.

I was in hospital for two months. They told me I’d never walk again at one point. After all that, the band becomes more about us in the practice room playing, about us being together, rather than recording a record just to keep touring.

I mean, it changed my whole approach to life. I started to think, “What are all the things I want to do?” I went back to school and finished my degree. As a band our focus changed as far as our personal lives. We’re just playing music to enjoy it—the art of it. That’s why we’ve had a band for so long in the first place. We still like to hang out together. We still enjoy practicing. The playing is what I enjoy most.

WCP: Did that experience change the way you guys wrote music at all?

Triplett: The approach has actually been pretty similar. The music is written collectively, which is the same way it’s always been. But there is a level of intensity that unconsciously gets translated into the music—three people wanting to make it happen, the energy in the practice room, us being together after all that. For Eddie and Mike, I’m sure after them coming to see me on my deathbed and for us to be playing again, the bond is stronger.

When I first played a show and I was standing up with no cane… there’s that energy that’s pretty great after you’ve gone through all that.

And the punk rock community supported me while I was in the hospital. People would go play all these benefits for me. It was awesome of them. I just felt like, this community I committed so much of my life to, it’s all worth it.

That’s the most rewarding things about playing in a punk rock band—having that ideology behind it. That community.

WCP: Did you have insurance to help cover the hospital bills?

Triplett: I had insurance, but it was pretty crappy. My mom and I tried to figure out the total—it was something like $750,000 in hospital bills. I got funding from the Musicians Care foundation. I also ended up getting funding through a hospital through UNC—you send them your W-2s. They ended up writing off most of my hospital bills. It ended up pretty well as far as not screwing me. But it took a long time before I could actually work. It’s pretty incredible how it all worked out. There’s nothing worse than being stuck with all that. I ended up paying $10K in the end, but compared to what it could have been…

WCP: After all this, was it physically difficult to start performing again?

Triplett: My hands were fine. I spent a month in rehab and had my acoustic guitar. Some of those riffs [from the new record] I made up in my hospital bed. After three or four months it got better. I went from not being able to walk and slowly got better. I’m pretty fortunate that I’m pretty close to 100 percent now.

WCP: What about touring, does it take more of a physical toll?

Triplett: For sure. It’s harder for us to do longer tours because of that. Residual stuff from nerve damage makes it hard to be on the road a long time. It also took a huge toll on my immune system. I get sick pretty easily. I have to be careful to take care of myself on the road. I watch what I eat and make sure I’m sleeping. But we’re still doing it.