The Wire

In Writing

Lightning Bolt: full interview transcript

June 2005

BC: "We played our first Lightning Bolt show as a duo in December of '94. And then a month later we got a singer, Hisham, and so the second show was as a trio, and that went on for a year and a half. We were all at Rhode Island School of Design..."

BG: "Fun stuff (laughs)."

BC: "I was a junior, I was drumming with this guitarist and we lost our bass player, so Brian was a new freshman, and we heard this new freshman was really good at bass. So we played a few times with him and it didn't gel very well, so we sort of stopped. But I stopped playing with the guitarist and so the next semester me and Brian tried it out again, just the two of us. I don't even know if we were looking for a guitarist..."

BG: "We played once with Dare, who was a guitarist, which was ok, but we decided to do it as just the two of us."

BC: "Did we know Godhead Silo back then? I'm sure I heard Ruins and Godhead Silo, the two bass/drums bands which introduced us to the fact that we could get away with just being bass and drums. He had just one cabinet, and it just seemed so loud at the time (laughs)."

BG: "I had a 15" aluminum cone Hartke speaker combo amp (has 4 speakers now)."

BC: "And I had probably the same drum set. I'd been playing drums all through high school, and had come to college and played in a few little bands, I was really into playing drums, I played as much as I could.."

BC: "Our first show I think we played one really tight song (sings the riff), one really loose song (vocalizes the rhythm) and two others just whatever... so it was pretty loose.."

BG: "We probably have all that stuff on tape."

BC: "(points at wall of cassettes) This is all... we've been four-tracking everything from the start. So, everything (laughs) some of it's really good. I have our first show, up there. Then when Hisham joined, we were still pretty loose, and we saw Le Savvy Fav play their first show - they were another RISD band, with some success, and they were really poppy and tight, and we were like "holy shit, we gotta write songs!" So we ran back, that same night, we ran out of the show and recorded like (sings drum part). So then we came up with like a whole eight or nine song set with Hisham, it was all real tight. We kinda went full u-turn from our first 3-6 months, a year and a half of not much improvisation. And we've kind of ping ponged around since then. For our first record (Yellow), we recorded five songs, and then ditched four of them and put on stuff off the four-track that we liked, that sounded more interesting to us. And kept like one tight song for that record I think. Hisham was singing with delay and effects and stuff, and he was playing drums a little bit. We went into a studio and recorded all that stuff, at Brown University, this kid recorded us... I don't know, some of that stuff's alright, but... some of that stuff's not... alright."[page break]

BG: "It had like a funk element... I hadn't started looking at effects yet, and thinking about my tone, the way I sound... I was really just into being a good bass player, I didn't really think much more about what kind of sounds I could get. It just sounded real funky, I thought. I was slapping... but it was also really dark and noisy in this really nice way. And you were playing with a tribal... you were slower and more heavy."

BC: "Yeah, I don't know what I was listening to, Neurosis, or the Unsane, I really liked the early Unsane, and Crash Worship, the four drummer band, I was into that stuff, at that point. Caveman-ish punk/metal."

BG: "(two handed tapping) (laughs) Pretty much that came from just noodling around, pretty much. I do all that stuff on the banjo string. I was pretty dorky when I was in high school, I was doing a lot of Billy Sheehan stuff."

BG: "I was listening to a lot of Philip Glass stuff and when I was playing bass I was trying to do a lot of finger-tapping arpeggios that were really repetitive. I was into the way that stuff sounded, even though it was orchestral. But that song "The Faire Folk" (Ride the Skies) definitely has that Philip Glass... I mean, it's totally different."

BC: "I didn't know you were listening to Philip Glass - it all makes sense now (laughs)."

BG: "I don't seek out my own music very well, I just get influenced by friends who play me stuff..."

BC: "Hisham would go back to Japan for the summers, and sometimes the winter parts, and we would just play the two of us at those points, we spent more time doing that, at some point, than playing as a three-some."

BG: "I remember fall of 98, which was my senior year, having my last practice with those guys."

BC:(BC gets on ladder to get poster for first Clutters show) "When they very first started, I was playing drums with them, it was like a metal band, or hardcore, thrash."

BC: "Their first 7 inch was basically that same stuff."

BG: Yeah they kept doing that for a little bit. Then Hisham took over and I quit cause Lightning Bolt... I couldn't really handle practicing with both bands and being in school it was too much stuff

BC: Fort Thunder started in September of 95 so we were practicing at the school for almost a year, and then we moved to Fort Thunder, which was a bigger space than all of this and that went until 2001. We were practicing there the whole time, and we both lived there some.."[page break]

BC: "First record came out in 98. It took us a long time. The first two years kinda just got shelved. After Hisham left we wanted to start fresh, so in a weird way it was like we just started again in 96 or 97. We did a 7 inch in 97 split with Forcefield. We just went through a lot of songs, and the idea of recording records and stuff didn't really occur to us for a while, we were just playing. We probably had a lot of notoriety in this town way before we ever had a record, we had already gone through multiple sets, song shows, improvised shows. Until Ben showed up and said hey do you guys want to do a record. We went around the country in 97, five weeks, playing like ten shows (laughs), lost shitloads of money, drove around... it was one of those kinds of tours you'd never ever do again, the country was just like this great adventure, just driving down the road was the most thrilling thing. So playing one show every five days and just driving around, but yeah, didn't really work financially. We've toured every year since then.."

BG: "Back then it was way more haphazard. We hadn't come up with a principle like... let's have a bunch of songs that we play. When we went on tour in 97 we played that one song for like the first fifteen minutes of our set.."

BC: "We played this one riff - we tried to play it for twenty minutes but it would probably end up being like ten, we did some recordings of it where it was twenty minutes. And then we played that (sings drum part) which just got ditched of which we have an 8 track recording somewhere, and then we had a space for improvisation. And then I think we had something else which was sort of improvised but we sort of knew what was going on. So it was almost half and half. We played so much around town. There was bands like Landed, they were doing this thing where every show they would have a brand new set, and they would play once or twice a month - even whole new instrumentation, even. Same people, or sometimes they'd have some other people, but that was a new thing, for a lot of people in town, and I think we got caught up in that sort of thing. Cause I remember trying to get new shit for every show, playing some shows where we'd have one, two-part riffy thing and then make up two-thirds of the set there. But it was real simple improvising, repetition, we'd just seek out the most simple thing we could seek out and then just beat it to death... that was the early days. We just play and play, and tape it, and then listen back to what we're doing."

BG: "If I come up with a riff on my own, which I used to try a lot more, but I've sort of given up because the way he plays drums I have to come up with riffs that are built around his beats, and usually I can't imagine that when I'm playing by myself, cause he's got his own accents and stuff.."

BC: "Even 'Bizarroland', this kind of arpeggiated thing."

BG: "A lot of the riffs that I do are way simpler than stuff I would come up with - if I sit in my room I'll come up with really complicated things that might have a lot more subtlety within the riff, and I'll come in and everything just gets so simple when we're playing together, it's so much just about this... force..."[page break]

BC: "Sometimes you come in with stuff that has these weird time changes and I'm just like "What?" It's way more proggy 'Captain Caveman'."

BG: "Cause it's so much distortion and bi-amped all this sub-low coming out of the 18s, anything I do has so much force, it's really nice. I do think that's such an important thing, that's the problem with most bands that I see, is actually getting your equipment to sound good live. It just seems like people neglect that, and they think way more about what they're playing and what's happening in the song, in theory, but I think the reality of it is that people are gonna be just hearing something initially that's purely sonic and either sounds when it hits you or it doesn't. It's funny cause I feel like we're a really un-dynamic band... but there's a few moments where there's a dynamic thing that happens so it really stands out but we're not very dynamic (laughs) it's for the most part all one volume, full volume. We've gotten better at going from high parts to low parts or switching certain things compositionally so it always feels like the changes are dramatic - on my end.."

BC: "It's pretty easy to sound sort of dynamic too when there's only two of you. We can fake changes all the time.."

BG: "when you have more people in the band, the guitar can stop but the bass can keep going, the bass player can stop, the drummer can play by himself, there's so many more dynamic options than what we have."

BC: "There's only a certain range of ploys we can use to... It's like nine minutes, the second, two thirds of it is like high sonic delay stuff, really pretty."

BG: "I felt more comfortable sounding like metal, letting a little bit of that stuff into what I'm doing. Especially just the sound, I turned up the midrange a lot, and I've been doing that lately, I just think it sounds more... aggressive. But it sounds like shredding guitar more, but I'm kinda getting into it, cause it actually works, it sounds more mean, more intense.."

BC: "You actually used to be against sounding mean."

BG: "Yeah I still feel that way... I don't wanna have a rule. There's just certain types of mean where you just instantly get lumped in to something... I felt like we needed to be pushing to the next level. But that's kind of why we've been so quirky and... vague for a while too.."

BC: "It's less quirky and less playful, to some extent, than some of our other stuff. [Yoko Ono's "Greenfield Morning"] I haven't heard it... but I'm sure I've heard something, by somebody, who has heard it (laughs) that I've since picked up. The new album has live delay on it, for the first time. He got a delay pedal and I got the same thing, for my vocals. There's less squirrelly, chipmunk singing. It's a darker world than 1998. The first, yellow record was half four track, quarter 8 track and a quarter just walkman. And then the second one was half inch tape in a studio, Wonderful Rainbow was two different two inch studios. The new one was half two inch 8 track and half here, live to two track DAT. [page break]So we played in that room and our friend Dave Auchenbach sat here, with his DAT machine and did live mixing but he couldn't hear what the hell he was doing cause we were so loud over there. Half the new one was really press record and play. We did 13 takes of the first song, 10, 11 takes of #5 . We did some recording in my old place a year and a half ago, we did about 11 or 12 hours of improv, where he was in the other room doing live mixing to a quarter inch two track machine. We wanted to repeat that process, but it was more difficult not improvising but trying to play songs, we had an idea of how they're supposed to sound, it was kind of chaos, and it was grueling. Some of the best stuff is the stuff we recorded on the DAT machine. We wanted to lay down our songs and then just improvise stuff. We screwed up, didn't schedule enough time in the studio, so we really only had like five days there, and the sound was a little strange for our volume. So we did that stuff, and thought about it for a couple of days and decided no, we need to subsidize it with more stuff, so then we came in here for two and a half weeks, every day. Song 3 & 4 we just made up in the studio, and the final fifteen minutes or so of the record is stuff we just made up here. I think some improvised stuff has snuck into every album, but this one has more, and it's featured more. That's what we were kind of shooting for the whole time, in a way. It's sort of the most obnoxious stuff. But hopefully that will be a bridge to new stuff. We've being doing sessions like that we've improvised, and had Dave kind of mixing on the fly, sort of trying to destroy the mix and save the mix all at the same time. We haven't really played the craziest stuff live. Cause a lot of it was so dependent on the mix. But the new album is pretty much our live set. We did three and half weeks to warm up for the recording, with just that new stuff. We played three old songs at the end of the set. Everyone had the same exuberance, for the most part.."

BG: "The music isn't a problem except it can drive some people to be aggressive, and then that person will bum other people out because it gets too male, aggressive."

BC: "There's definitely a bigger audience now, our initial audience was our friends, and it grew to our friends and people in other cities who could have been our friends who we didn't really know yet, and now it's grown to all those other people (laughs). Not to insult our audience. We did the SPIN article, which we argued about, we didn't want to do it, It seems like one of the exciting things about playing music is you're almost introducing yourself to people, like a big loud "Hello" this is who I am. So your introducing your music to this whole new set of people, with a SPIN article or whatever, and it's like, I don't know if they're people I really want to meet. I don't know, maybe I'm just being a jerk. People identify with us who maybe a) have a lot of energy, basically, football teams are going to show up at some point, and identify with something. But not everything, and I think there's enough elements to keep them away. We're a fringe element of popular rock music, we're not gonna change our aesthetic as a live band, which going to limit our popularity... I guess. We're not changing our recording technique to emphasive the more conservative elements of our music or something, so it seems like we'll safely stay on the fringe.."

BG: "But I hope our music changes. Who knows, I'm not gonna predict what it'll be like.."[page break]

BC: "We've been playing the stuff on the new album for the last two years. The last stuff we did was probably our most poppy and our most obnoxiously dissonant, the easiest and harshest listening stuff. I don't know if we did that in reaction to what we already had, to form a well rounded thing, or if we're just getting more and more schizophrenic, which may be the case.."

BG: "We had a couple of shows in England."

BC: "We just get stuck sometimes in really big rooms, even though we try to stress to people that we want smaller rooms. And it seems like if we're gonna say yes to something in a bigger room we should kinda be prepared to deal with more people. And then I thought that maybe that (using video) was a way to do it. Have a camera project what's happening in front so people in the back can get a sense ."

BG: "The only other band that made me think that might be what we're like is seeing Friends Forever in NY, when they played that Polish place and they were playing on the street. Part of what I realized is that it's really exciting to not know what's going on, to hear something happening but not getting all the information, and knowing that you could fight your way to get it, but you're getting all these different kinds of information, you're getting all these people's reactions, you're seeing that people are going crazy in front, when they were playing there was smoke and fireworks and stuff which also added a lot, and they play out of their van, you could see their van shaking. You're getting all this different information than what you would typically get at a show.

BC: It's so fun, to be watching a band and just sitting down there waiting, and just knowing... if you're playing onstage and the band stops and they take their stuff down and then you bring your stuff up and then you get ready to go, but to have your stuff ready to go and a lot of times I'll be standing there watching the other band, it just allows my personal momentum to really build up so you're so ready to go. That doesn't always work. We play in some of these places now where there are so many people packed in there we can't even set up our stuff on the floor, there's not enough room. Which again is, if we took a firmer grip on not allowing so many people in the club or whatever, there's ways to put our foot down, but we're not exactly a putting our foot down kind of band. I do wonder if it's a bummer sometimes. I've been at the back of rooms at floor shows, you can't see it, everyone's muffling it to some extent, doesn't sound as good... I wonder if it's going to bum out more people than it makes happy.."

BG: "It might bum people out in a really obvious way but it might excite people in a really not-obvious way. It might not always be the best way, but it's just different and it works.."

BC: "We've carved out our own set of memories for people, maybe it's just a marketing plan, man, like you remember the Lightning Bolt show cause of that aspect.."

BG: "When you play shows you want to be as exciting as possible, and create a space and a world for people while you're playing.."[page break]

BC: "In Providence, there's been shows for years and years where everybody plays on the floor, in different areas. At Fort Thunder that was something we just did, a band would play in this room and then a band would play in that room, there weren't stages..."

BC: "Mat Brinkman is from Curville TX, which is outside of Austin, (in 97) we played in Austin and then we pulled into Curville for a couple of days cause we had nothing to do, and Church's Chicken had this weird stage in the parking lot where he had seen bands when he was a kid play. So we called them up and said we were local bands and they said yeah, come on down and play. So Forcefield and Lightning Bolt played a show to two kids who walked out of the park, and one fifty year old dude walked out of the woods, and the last thing he had heard was Jimi Hendrix, he was blown away by us (laughs). On this last tour in Baltimore, the club Talking Head, we were set up to play there and it got really packed really fast, so we set up in the alley in the back. We played back there and a light rain was falling, and then the cops eventually showed up after about 25 minutes."

BG: "That show was amazing because of the threat of the rain and the threat of the police."

BC: "But we made it, we got through all the rock, we didn't quite get to the abrasive psychedelic stuff (laughs). The tour before that, in Seattle we played on the street, we showed up and they had booked it in this tiny art gallery, and we could fit forty people in there, and a hundred people showed up so we played outside, which we can do because of our setup. And that lasted thirty minutes before the cops came, people come out of their condos, people in trees. So that element is still there We don't have a booking agent, we don't ask for guarantees. I just end up emailing some weird kid who has a weird plan and that's what happens (laughs). ."

BC: "We did the Oops tour which was organized by Skin Graft, Locust headlined, we played the whole thing and Arab on radar played the whole thing, Wolf Eyes, Orthrelm, Hella, Get Hustle, Blood Brothers all did sections of it. That's what that SPIN article based its whole thing on. We did a month with USA is a Monster, it's good to go with a friend's band, I don't think it's good to go with a package tour. It's too much of the same thing and you don't get to meet any local bands or anything. We have a lot of similarities with that band that's playing tonight, USA and I'm totally fine with it cause I think they're a great band. But the SPIN Article lumping us in with Mars Volta who I've never listened to..."

BG: "I always get the sense that people want to believe that there's something happening or there's something big that's happening, there's all these bands that kind of have the same agenda or there's some kind of specific point of view that emerging that's going to change everything... whenever bands get lumped together I always feel like they make it seem like all these different musicians have some kind of cohesive idea and they're working together to change things, I don't like that stuff. [Old Tyme Lemonade] it's a real dark side of Providence comp this guy put out, who's on tour with Wolf Eyes now. Providence has been a rich, lively place... it had good bands when I moved here in 91, I feel like Fort Thunder kinda ushered in or coincided with a bit of a heyday, where the art school really met the local scene, that was the first time that the snobbery between the two broke down and people started interacting. And it's kind of been lively ever since, there's always new stuff. The venues come and go, and when you have a good venue you feel like there's more bands. We're in a bit of a dark period now with venues there's been some things closing, and evictions, and this and that.."[page break]

BC: "50% musicans 50% artists. Which is kind of a pain in the ass, I feel like I'm kinda doing both, instead of fully doing anything. And for some reason Lightning Bolt seems more fully realized than almost anything else for me.."

BG: "Lightning Bolt does seem like something that ties us together in kind of a cool way. I think we're both visually into making little worlds, little places that have their own reality, their own rules and stuff... cause its really hard to figure out exactly what we're doing when we're playing Lightning Bolt, we don't really talk about it, and when we try to we always just get confused.."

BC: "But it's pretty grounded in reality. That's what makes Lightning Bolt powerful, it's taken us who are pretty fantasy oriented characters and shoved us into this thing that has to deal with people... It's fantasy that can have a real instant impact on reality. But we do live in our kind of dream worlds. Providence, one of its great things is that it's always been a cheap place to live we can afford a room to practice in, play as loud as we want, not share it, spread out, have our own places to make... it promotes fantasy world living to some extent. ... In the beginning it was more music than art, but now it's more art than music. Fort Thunder was like fantasy world headquarters for us, and it was a slap in the face when we all got kicked out, and it became an unused parking lot for Staples (laughs), extra parking lot for a Staples that nobody even goes to anymore. I think the Boredoms had a big impact on my art, and Fort Thunder, like Eye as an artist. Not to give him credit for everything but that was definitely something that people were listening to way back. It was just like holy shit, they're dressed up in these weird suits and they're going nuts! That was the origins of dressing up in weird suits. I also think Pee Wee's Playhouse, Gary Panters sets... I know that had an influence on Mat. We went to Gary's studio to see the shadow play, I went to sign the book and Art Spiegelman was the guy right before me, I was like whoah! To me he's almost like a mythological comic book character. He was playing Forcefield stuff..."

BC: "I'm really excited about it, because I feel it's the first one to capture the live experience closer, I think, but maybe I'm wrong, it has more of a streamlined energy through the whole thing, the other ones felt more processed, less naturalistic. They're more beautiful, the new one feel rawer and more harsh. Maybe it's that kind of thing which I think happens to all bands, which is you finally reach your vision, and nobody likes it (laughs), they just like your mistakes, you know? That's kind of how it's designed, it kind of lures you in under false pretenses that it's going to more of the same, and then it sticks you with these 9 and 10 minute songs, that you just have to sit there for, whether you like it or not. Which is kind of how our sets have been lately. It's weird to be a band, we've been a band for ten years now, which for some people is nothing. We've gone through a lot of errors even between Wonderful Rainbow and the new album, we had fairly worked out sets that we ditched because we forgot it or (laughs)."

BG: "Sometimes we get excited about stuff in the practice space and we play it live and it doesn't stick, for some reason..."

BC: "We're kind of slow. We're just not going to fall for any of the pacing that bands are supposed to deal with, cause freshness is the most important thing. If someone says you gotta do 10 interviews we'll be like no, we're gonna do one."

BG: "Music doesn't take that long to do, even if you practice every day, for us it's like an hour out of the day, but it does take a lot of energy..."

BC: "We'll play and then listen to what we played that night and try and learn something for the next night, and then it turns into two hours... I was reading the Sun Ra biography, where he's doing 14 hours a day between the practicing and the writing. I read that and I was utterly inspired - but then reality kicks in. For me drawing is important, meditation as much as drumming, riding my bike, trying to figure out how to pay next month's rent factors in there as well... between all that, we do as much as we can..."

BC: "Mindflayer's me and Mat, we've been roommates since freshman year of college, 91, we met in the dorms, then we started Fort Thunder together, so Mindflayer's always been this weird extension of me and him, it's drums and electronics, it's generally all improvisational."