It is probably close to 11:30 at night. I am standing outside 924 Gilman Street in Berkeley, CA. The surroundings of the club are sparse and industrial, though just miles away is one of the most prominent tourist locations on the West Coast. Judging by my deep-seated, suburban fear of all unfamiliar urban settings as being “bad areas”, I figure if I were alone, I would probably be terrified of being mugged and stabbed to death anytime now. Across from me is a series of large electrical towers shooting out from behind an old chain link fence.
The wires cut across the sky in every direction, all converging to this location and connected to the tops of the towers, as if it is some giant electrical nerve center. I am near the side entrance to the club and across the street, standing next to a large white trash bin, under a streetlight. The weather seems a comfortable -6 degrees, violently shifting gears down to -20 or so every time the wind blows. I am fittingly dressed in a T-shirt and jeans. Standing in front of me and dressed appropriately are Scott Hull and J.R. Hayes. As two of the founding members of PIG DESTROYER, they are of one of the most talented and engaging grindcore bands to emerge in musical history since the inception of the genre sometime in the early to mid 1980’s.
Somewhere in mid-interview, Scott notices my shaking, mini-cassette-recorder-gripping hand, though by this point, I don’t even notice it anymore.
“Here, man. Take my coat. You look cold.”
It doesn’t seem fitting that the guy who lays down some of the most sick guitar tones in the Western Hemisphere should be this sincerely admirable; it completely reinforced my initial notion of what these guys are like. Down to earth, modest, intelligent, and genuinely in love with what they do. In talking to them, you would discover this as I did. They exude confidence and unquestionable excitement about their music and all that surrounds it with an almost child-like innocence. It is just that sense of joy they give off when they talk about their work that makes them all the more sincere; and, ergo, deserving of any praise and good fortune that might come their way.
Their second full length release, “Prowler in the Yard” was released July 24th, 2001 to rave reviews and an already rabid fan base. The album only pushes them further into our collective psyche like pieces of a lucid dream or a strange, surreal nightmare from some point in the depths of our childhood.
For those who haven’t heard, “Prowler in the Yard” it is time you were informed. It is an amazing album throughout. Brutal and enigmatic; as beautiful as it is terrifying. This is one of the best albums to come out in 2001; quite possibly one of the best grindcore albums ever.
They have just finished up a devastating set to a sold out crowd here in Berkeley, their first show ever on the West Coast. The place was packed. So much so, that it seemed that people spilled out into the streets. Now outside, show finished and the entire crowd reduced to smoldering ash, Scott, JR and I chat for a while about the new album, their work with the now infamous tattoo artist Paul Booth, books, and the whole institution that is music….
So, how did you guys meet in the first place?
Scott Hull: Well, he was in Enemy Soil (motioning to JR). When I lived in Boston, Enemy Soil came up to my studio to record, and that is when I met him. He had just started singing for them. So, it just turned out that later on, when I got a job down in Virginia, I just hooked up with him, and then we started the band. Well, actually, we had another band before that, something he was working on with a couple of other guys. I dropped into that, that fell apart, and then he and I started Pig Destroyer. We were like, “You know what, we’ll just find a drummer, it will just be the three of us. It’ll be fuckin’ loud and fast, that’s it. It will be cool.”
JR: I think it starts how most grind bands start. You start out, you have this really pure vision of grindcore. Like, “We’re gonna be the fastest, heaviest, most obnoxious band ever! All of our songs are going to be 25 seconds long; it will be just complete absurdity!”
SH: Which is where the name actually came in. We were sitting on line waiting to get on a roller coaster, we were thinking, “What’s the most absurd, punk-rock name we can come up with? Cop Killer? Cop Destroyer? Too obvious. Pig Destroyer! That’s somehow not so obvious.” So, Pig Destroyer. It made more sense then, we were more political at the time. Now, it’s just a name. It doesn’t really mean a whole lot, it’s just a name.
What was the process behind your signing to Relapse?
SH: We played a Discordance Axis show in 2000 at CBGB’s in New York; Earache (Records) came up to us and said “We want to sign you guys.” We were like, “Wow…Earache!” So, Earache really wanted to sign us. They wanted more grind bands on there, and they wanted somebody to re-invigorate the label, and they saw Pig Destroyer as the band to help them do that. We were going to sign to them; they courted us for about 3 months. In the meantime, I thought, ‘Well, I work with Relapse (Records) all the time on Agoraphobic (Nosebleed), and I have for years.’ I have no complaints whatsoever about Relapse. They’re great. They’re fuckin’ incredible people, in a business sense and on a personal level. So, I was like, “Well, we better try talking to them.” These guys were already convinced that Earache was the way to go, because they’re really cool, they’re really nice people. It seemed like, you know, we’re getting on a good label, we have a chance to breathe new life into the label; it blew our heads up like this (he gestures). We were like, “We could bring Earache back from the dead!” But, it became evident that, they are not Relapse. The person who has the purse strings is not as cool as the people who hold the purse strings at Relapse. So, in the 11th hour, everybody’s signature is on the Earache contract except his (points to JR). At the 11th hour, we were like, “No, fuck it. Relapse!”
JR: Yeah, they wore me down. (laughs)
SH: So we signed to Relapse, and it’s been incredible ever since. They put out “38 Counts… (Of Battery)
JR: Best decision we ever made.
SH: Yeah, absolutely.
Since “Prowler in The Yard” came out, how has it done, sales-wise?
SH: Great. Incredible! We don’t have figures yet, but Matt (Jacobson; President of Relapse) said he was surprised at the response.
Yeah, I know out here, people just really flip out over you guys, which must be really cool, especially since this is your first time playing on the West Coast…
SH: Unbelievable! I would have never dreamed that we could have done this.
JR: Because we are so isolated, you know, we don’t get out very much, so we don’t get to see reactions. We don’t know anything about how people in Europe like us, or how people on the West Coast like us; we don’t know how anybody likes us except for the people in our immediate area. Our friends will come back from tour, and they’re like “Oh, they were asking about you guys.” I’m like “Really?”
SH: It’s just weird. Is it the name? The artwork? I guess it is just a combination of everything…
So, the Paul Booth situation: How did it come about having him design the artwork for the album?
SH: That’s all me. There were a couple things in that. Today is the Day’s In The Eyes Of God came out with Paul Booth’s artwork and I thought it was great, so I thought ‘OK, maybe I could get him to do the cover for my band; and then, potentially I could get a tattoo out of this.’ So, it was kinda selfish, I was kinda sneaky about it. Originally he was supposed to do the cover for Frozen Corpse Stuffed With Dope (the forthcoming Agoraphobic Nosebleed album), that is when I started talking to him about it. So, we kept going back and forth, finally Prowler was ready and I was like “Paul, I have another band, we’re on Relapse, and everything is going really well. Can you do the artwork for this? This is my idea…” The concept, which was actually my concept for the cover, was totally separate from JR’s lyrics. I had never read his lyrics.
It fits really well with them, too.
SH: Yes. It’s serendipitous; really strange how that works. So, I had the idea, and Paul was like “This is fuckin’ great, let’s do it!” So, a couple of months later, he did the artwork. The model in the picture, who people think is me, it’s not. You know who it is, though? This is a good piece of trivia. It’s Bobby Steele, the first guitar player for the Misfits. He just happens to be a friend of Paul Booth’s, and Paul was like “Hey, you’re a skinny weird dude with a ganked foot!” I guess he’s got a foot with toes missing and stuff like that. So, we got him as a model; shot the artwork, and just pieced it together. At some point in all of that he was like “Hey, why don’t you come up and I’ll do some work on you.” I got a full piece on my leg out of it.
So, the album is kind of a concept album. One of the great parts about Prowler, compositionally, is the story that starts it out and continues through to the end. Is the concept something you came up with specifically for the album? I mean, just the use of the computer voice in the beginning, it’s creepy as fuck…
SH: Yeah, it’s weird how things get creepy. You can’t be deliberate, you have to sort of come in from the back side, to get the effect that you want. I mean, if you think about it, why? It’s just some guy laughing, and a computerized voice, what is so creepy about it? It is, because you don’t
know what to make of it.
I thought it was great, as opposed to your average movie sample which a lot of bands use.
SH: Yeah, that’s contrived and you don’t get anything from it.
JR: We have used samples in the past, and on this album we decided not to use them. Most people use samples from movies, a lot of people hear the sample and it generates a different kind of relationship for them. If they have seen the movie and they relate the sample to the movie, it kind of takes them out of the record.
So, you’re getting a lot of recognition for the lyrics. What was your main inspiration for them?
JR: Well, I think a lot of it was emotional/ sexual issues and thoughts. I don’t like writing about things in a very literal sense. So, if something happens to me like, just to use as an example, your girlfriend breaks up with you, or you’re lusting over somebody you can’t have; the kind of stuff everybody goes through. What I like about music and writing is that there are no rules, and you’re not playing by reality. So, I can do anything I want, I can take it as far as I want. Those kinds of things always fascinate me; the connections between sex and violence, beauty and ugliness, and the overlap of the two.
Do have any long term goals as a band?
JR: Number one goal is having fun. Once that stops happening, then, there is no point in doing it. I am just looking forward to doing more records, and progressing with this band. I look at it as a challenge to try to keep up with what the other guys are doing. You know, they do the music, and they do it really well. I think of myself as adding the color and texture to the record, that’s my job. I can take the lyrics and the stories and kind of paint over the record and give it an aesthetic that it wouldn’t have. I look at my job as adding textures, giving people stuff to look at the album in different ways. To provoke thought.
SH: Obviously, I am interested in producing something musically that I am very proud of. I work hard at doing what I do. Now, I’m really interested in creating something that has lasting appeal, lasting value and substance.
What is the usual song writing process?
JR: Well, we do it differently than most bands, so we hear. Scott and Brian just sort of get together, write music and record it. I’ll write lyrics and overdub vocals.
So you’re not there when they are doing the music part?
JR: Well, I have input; but I’m not a musician, I don’t play anything. So, they tend to look at things in little pieces; I tend to view the songs as a whole, not from a note for note perspective.
SH: Yeah, it’s a strange process, it definitely is.
So, as a band, you’re a bit iconoclastic?
JR: We’re a very weird band when it comes to most of the things that bands do. Bands out where we live, they’ll be together for a week and they’ll already have hooded sweatshirts, bottle openers and all this ridiculous merchandise. We’re like, “Merchandise, we don’t want to deal with that. Shows? Sure, we’ll play a couple shows.” We have to fight to see who is going to sit behind the merch table at our shows. We all just want to watch the bands. We treat the shows we play just like the shows we go to. We’re slackers, basically; on everything except the music. When we played the Milwaukee Metalfest, there were people handing out flyers in the bathroom for their bands, putting flyers up on the walls. I thought ‘We have never really done that.’ I don’t think we have ever put out a flyer for our band, which is a sad thing. It is kind of pathetic to think about, it almost makes me feel kind of guilty. I mean, all of these really cool things keep happening to us, and we’re doing everything we can to make sure that they don’t. We have just been really lucky.
What are your thoughts on music as a whole at this point in history? Promising, depressing?
JR: Well, I listen to every type of music that I can imagine. I like country music, goth, indie-rock, emo, etc. Probably the thing that I listen to the least is metal and hardcore. Lately, I listen to Nick Cave, Lou Reed, Velvet Underground, all of that — that is the stuff that I live for. I mean, if something is good, I don’t give a shit where it came from, I don’t care who put it out, what label it is on. Music is music, and if it moves me, then I am into it. Variety is the spice of life, so they say. The one gripe that I do have is that, at least in the United States, the media doesn’t seem to cover that much good music. I find out most of the stuff that I listen to through European magazines, and not just the underground stuff. But, at the same time, if MTV started playing that stuff, then it blows up, and all of these shitty copycat bands come out. Music is better when it’s low key.
I don’t have a girlfriend, I don’t have anything other than my music. I come home, and my records are there, and that is what it’s all about. I don’t play video games, I don’t watch that many movies. I just listen to my records and write.
Any last thoughts?
JR: Listen to music that you feel has passion. That is the most important thing to me. I have listened to a lot of music, and I think I can tell when somebody really loves what they’re doing, and they really writing music that they feel really strongly about. That is they type of stuff that I connect with. Life is too short to listen to shitty music.