PIG DESTROYER – The Underground Men
Pig Destroyer (l-r): JR Hayes, Adam Jarvis, Scott Hull and Blake Harrison
Richmond, Virginia-based grindcore metallers Pig Destroyer began authoring a fifth studio full-length during 2009-10. Kicked out of their practice station, the quarter convened at a new practice station: the home of guitarist and co-founder Scott Hull. At that time, Pig Destroyer opted to build a studio where songwriting and recording sessions could take place. In early July 2011 however, it emerged that drummer Brian Harvey had parted ways with the group.
“Brian had a lot of things going on in his life that prevented him from doing what we aim to do,” discloses Blake Harrison, samplist for Pig Destroyer. “As everybody knows, we’ve been in a pretty bad economic state lately. There was some issue with his job and stuff like that, and he just wasn’t really able to give us the time and energy that we needed.”
Blake hasn’t spoken to Brian since his departure. “I guess everything is okay,” he muses. “He’s definitely been a friend of mine for 15 years. We don’t have any personal problems with him, or anything like that. Me and Scott still talk to him every now and then, but I don’t think he’s really interested in being in another band. He’s just working, and doing that.”
Misery Index sticksman Adam Jarvis was revealed to be Brian’s replacement. “We talked to Dave Witte from Municipal Waste and 500 other bands first,” the samplist remembers. “Dave had some issues with scheduling because music keeps him pretty busy, so we actually jammed with Dave a couple of times. We’ve known Adam for a long time. I live in Baltimore, and Adam also lives in Baltimore. When Dave bowed out, we asked Adam if he had the time and the energy to do it. He was very excited. Not just an all-round cool guy, he’s an incredible talent. He’s just got a rigid blast beat (laughs). He’s a very aggressive drummer. He’s in Misery Index as well, so he’s always in shape and always ready to play. I think he just brings a little more energy to the band. I think we’re very lucky to have him, and very lucky to be working with him.”
October 2012 effort Book Burner marks Adam’s inaugural recordings as a Pig Destroyer member. “We started with Brian as a drummer in mind, but then we parted ways with him,” Blake notes. “We got Adam Jarvis eventually, and then we started writing a little more. To a certain extent, we’re all involved in songwriting. Basically Scott comes up with the riffs and does the basic drum patterns, and then we learn it and take it from there. The bulk of the work is definitely his, but we all have a hand in arranging everybody’s stuff. We have a hand in arranging JR’s lyrics and helping him out, and a hand with the drums, and with what I do. We all contribute. We say ‘This doesn’t sound good here, so let’s move that,’ or ‘Let’s play this a couple of more times,’ or ‘That’s cool, but I think we’ve done that enough.’
“We really didn’t start digging into it until about a year and a half or so ago. So yeah, there was a long time between records but there was a lot of mitigating circumstances that held us up at the time. With this record we wanted to go a little more nasty, a little more lean and mean, and a little more grindcore – back to our roots. We wanted to stay away from longer, four-minute songs. A lot of songs nowadays are like five minutes but with this record we wanted to go for short and sweet, and just bring songs to the point. I think we achieved that. We made a conscious decision to try to make it a little more stripped down. I guess everything is just leaner and meaner, and just has a rawer grindcore sound.”
Blake’s contributions towards Book Burner very much form part of a team effort. “You should always know where to play,” he reckons. “Doing samples, I wanted to contribute to the overall mood and tone and theme of the record, but I didn’t want to step all over it. I don’t want to ruin what’s already been written, so it’s just trying to find that space where I can contribute without taking away. I basically try to set a mood, like a dangerous mood or a dark mood. Anything like that.”
Situated at position eight on the track listing, ‘Book Burner’ is the title cut of Pig Destroyer’s fifth studio full-length platter. “We were tossing around the idea of record titles, and JR presented the story ‘The Atheist’ for us to see if we wanted to record it,” the samplist recalls. “We didn’t come up with anything that we really liked, so after reading the story I think it was Scott who said ‘Why don’t we just call it Book Burner? It does tie in with the story.’ That just clicked, and that was it.
“Without giving too much away, it’s basically a story about personal liberties and personal freedoms. It’s about the fact that there’s people out there who make art, music and all kinds of things, and that these things are to be respected, and that they are under threat. Especially with the climate right now, it’s a little more relevant… Maybe not so much since Obama got elected. The song and the story don’t necessarily co-exist. Well, they do co-exist but I wouldn’t say there’s a direct correlation.”
‘Book Burner’’s title suggests 1953 Ray Bradbury novel Fahrenheit 451 was an inspiration, but this isn’t actually the case. “We’ve got that question a bit, but no, not really,” Blake corrects. “I don’t think that was an influence on JR, but it makes sense that people would think that. I don’t know if there is a correlation or not, but there was a period in US history where a lot of people were doing that as well, like the Fahrenheit 451 sort of thing where books were burnt because of their content.”
Misery Index vocalist Jason Netherton guests on ‘The Diplomat’, while Agoraphobic Nosebleed alumni Katherine Katz and Richard Johnson appear elsewhere on the album (Kat guests on ‘Eve’ and ‘The Bug’, Richard guesting on ‘The Underground Man’). “JR was really interested in having ‘Eve’ come from a female’s perspective,” the samplist augments. “We talked to all three of them, had them all in the studio on the same day, and they just kind of knocked it out. They all did quite great. Misery Index is little more of a political band, so I think ‘The Diplomat’ suits Jason a little bit more.”
‘The Diplomat’ spawned a music video, directed by Phil Mucci. “Phil came to us with the idea,” Blake details. “We discussed it with him, so initially it was actually him. We didn’t really have too much to do with it. I think it’s great, and I think it’s about time we actually had a good video. Our other videos are okay but they’re kind of standard, just the band playing in a room with some images. It’s a take on 1970s movies in tone with the colour, and things like that. The Diplomat is the main character, and he comes to a new planet. It actually ties in pretty well with the lyrics; it’s basically what the lyrics are about – mankind’s nature, and how history repeats itself. Most people make the same mistakes, and that’s basically what it’s about.”
Pig Destroyer’s decision not to appear in the music video was a conscious one. “100%,” the samplist confirms. “We’ve done that type of thing, and who’s to say we won’t do it again in the future. We aren’t actors, and we don’t really wanna do that. Actually, I think the video is much better because of that.”
Some might feel the collective are somewhat adverse to publicity. “At the end of the day we like doing music, but we don’t like doing all of the stuff surrounding it necessarily,” Blake laments. “That’s more what the label wants, but you know, we have to do it. It’s just something that we do. Given a choice though, I don’t know if we would ever really choose to do that. I think the video is great, and plus we’re not in it.”
Book Burner’s compositions share “the common theme of desperation or something like that. ‘Baltimore Strangler’ is basically about a serial killer. JR went through a couple of versions of that song; he wrote it from both the female’s perspective and the stalker’s perspective, but he didn’t like that. He then wrote it from just the serial killer’s perspective. There’s not really a thematic thing. ‘Book Burner’ ties in with the story a little bit – there’s the deluxe edition which includes a short story by JR. That’s about personal freedoms, and the fact that they can be taken away relatively easy and they’re always threatened. I wouldn’t say that there’s a common theme. It’s a Pig Destroyer record; JR writes what he writes.”
Deluxe edition versions of Book Burner include a bonus disc of punk covers, the interpretations amounting to seven in total. “It took us awhile to get to a point where we felt happy with Book Burner, because we had so much going on leading up to that,” the samplist divulges. “After recording the record, we wanted to do something fun. They’re American hardcore songs that were influences on us. We did toss around a bunch of ideas, but we cut them down from there. Recording them was a lot of fun. Those are songs that we all grew up on and love, and it shows some of our other influences that some people might not obviously think of. With the record industry and the current climate, you’ve gotta have these special things to move records. We did those covers, and we thought that was great. I’m a record collector too, so I love the idea.”
Cover artwork duties were handled by Chris Taylor, the man having previously designed covers for January 2004 compilation Painter Of Dead Girls and October 2004 third full-length effort Terrifyer. “That was a picture he had done a number of years ago,” Blake reveals. “JR saw it, and really liked it. We asked Chris if he still had that lying around, and he did. It was tweaked a little bit of course, but most of the colours and stuff were there already. I don’t know if we know who that is (laughs).”
On November 9th, 2012, it was revealed that Pig Destroyer had opted to ink a new contract with Relapse Records. “It’s great, man,” the samplist enthuses. “They treat us amazing; we have a very good working relationship with them. They don’t expect us to get out on the road and tour non-stop, and I think they promote us well. Actually, we love working with them. We’ve never had a problem with them. Some bands do complain about their labels a lot, but we have no reason to. It was time for our contract to be renewed, and I don’t think there was ever really a question that we would go anywhere else. Our worry is that another label would want us to tour non-stop, and that’s not how we’re set up to run.
Pig Destroyer (l-r): Blake Harrison, Scott Hull, Adam Jarvis and JR Hayes
“We all have day jobs. JR is married and Scott has two kids, so we’re pretty busy people. That goes for touring too. A lot of people ask why we don’t do that. It’s never something we’ve done, or something we’ve been interested in. We like to do little stabs here and there. We don’t work at the band, so it doesn’t become a job to us because of that. When we go out, it’s a lot of fun. I don’t want to make it sound like we don’t like playing shows.
“We’re very grateful to be able to go to where we go, like this year. I think we did two festivals in Europe (Brutal Assault XVII in Czech Republic on August 8th and Leperfest 2012 in Belgium on the 10th), a festival in Calgary, Canada (Noctis V Metalfest on September 29th), four shows in Japan (August 22nd-25th), three shows in the UK (November 1st-3rd), a show in New York (October 19th in Brooklyn), a show in Baltimore, Maryland (on October 19th) and we’re going to Miami, Florida (December 15th) at the end of 2012. We have loyal fans; we’ve had kids fly from Alaska to Seattle to see us. We just played the UK, and there were some kids who came from Ireland and Norway. That’s pretty flattering. It’s crazy to me that someone would do that; I live probably about a mile from a club in my town, and there’s a lot of times I don’t make it there because my couch is right here (laughs). We do like playing though. It’s just our lives and our day jobs make it hard to get out there and do that full-time.”
At Union Transfer in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on January 19th, 2013, Pig Destroyer will perform as a part of Decibel magazine’s 100th Issue Celebration Show. Attendees will receive a limited edition live Pig Destroyer flexi-disc. “It’ll have five songs, I think,” Blake ventures. “We’re just finishing that up. I believe we plan on doing another with them which’ll come with the magazine, but I don’t really know when that is planned to happen right now. I think it’s a cool format. They used to do that a lot in magazines when I was young, and I always thought it was really cool. I think it’s really cool of Decibel to bring that back. I know they had a hard time finding someone to make them (laughs). Even if you don’t enjoy the bands on these discs, it’s cool to own something that is pretty unique and very limited.”
Book Burner was released on October 22nd, 2012 via Relapse Records.
Interview published in November 2012.
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