Brian Chippendale (Black Pus): Interview
“The whole point of music is that it is separate from words, really.”
Okay, my initial questions are done. Let me preface my next set of questions by saying that if I actually called you with my real number, you would probably ask if I lived in Cranston or something.
What, you have an area code of 401?
Oh. You use to live here? Where are you now? You said you were in California…
I grew up there, in Rhode Island.
So yeah, needless to say, I’ve been aware of some developments in Providence, so these questions are related to that. First, I want to talk about an obvious subject. Few weeks ago, peeps were all, “Hey, some club burned down in West Warwick 10 years ago, it was such a tragedy, etc. etc.” But the thing is, a lot of shit happened afterward. I heard bits and pieces here and there, but talking to Dan Deacon and a few others with some connection to what was going on, the general thing was, I get the general sense that the fire ruined Providence. It was on the way out, yes, but it was still a last nail-in-the-coffin sort of situation.
A little bit. When that happens, shortly after… I was living in this building, and there was a whole bunch of people in that building and the building next door. We all got cleaned out of there shortly after that fire. The fire marshal people went looking for anything. In one swoop, they just knocked out this huge chunk of the underground scene in Providence. I mean, Providence has a history of going up and down with its underground scene, like having a place to have shows and then just having nowhere to have shows. Or, having places like AS220, which are always really steadfast.
But there were a few years after that fire where you couldn’t do anything, really. Everyone was so scared. Then, we would feel that reflecting on things. I think we were playing in New Orleans or something, and the place had just installed a bunch of stuff because of the fire in West Warwick. The laws had trickled down to all these other cities, these new protective laws that were pretty stifling to some extent.
But the fire was insane. It’s hard to know what people are supposed to do after that. One of the craziest stories ever: Lightning Bolt played in Milwaukee, no, Minneapolis. The next morning, I woke up, and I needed drum parts, so we Google’d some stores, and there was some store at the edge of town. We drove out there, waited till it opened, maybe like 20 minutes, and this guy shows up. Probably, I dunno, 30s or 40s or something, a healthy-looking drummer guy. So we go into the store and get the stuff we need, and I gave him my credit card or something, and he was like, “Oh, Rhode Island.” Then he gets kind of quiet. And he goes, “I was the drummer in Great White that night at the fire.”
Yeah, it was insane! Like we went to this store, and this was the guy. He was the drummer in that band. He was there that night, playing drums. He lived in L.A. and was a drummer-for-hire. He wasn’t even in the band; he just had a freelance contract-for-hire with them for that tour. But he was there. He was playing, and he saw some smoke, and he just got up and walked out the door right next to the stage, and was smoking a cigarette out back and really didn’t even know what was going on: That there were piles of bodies by the doorway, melting, right around the corner from him. He didn’t even know. He was all, “Oh, gotta get out of here.” So, that was pretty wild to meet him.
[He] really didn’t even know what was going on: That there were piles of bodies by the doorway, melting, right around the corner from him.
Wow. Gah, that has got to be the most random thing. Especially after what happened to you guys.
It was so random. And now it’s the 10-year anniversary, so it’s kind of in the news again. People have been talking about it a lot. It’s just a crazy story. I think there was just another fire in Brazil: 250 people died in a nightclub just two weeks ago or something. I’ve been at so many shows in so many places and thrown shows in so many places that one move could have been a huge tragedy. That’s what underground music can be, and in general nothing ever happens, and nothing will ever happen in those things. It’s life, to some extent. But I definitely think about it. Like last night, at this show I went to, it was a small show but it was packed at a friend’s building. There was a part of it where an artist lit a plastic bag on fire — which was kind of gross, but still really good, the way he was doing it — and I definitely… many years ago, I wouldn’t have thought about it. I would have just been like, “Yeeaaaaah, rad!” But last night, I definitely looked around for the exits. When that happened, just a little thing like that, it’s on my mind. I’ll still go to a weird hole in the ground with only one door and barely any lights and bad wiring and play a show. But I try to know where the exits are, if anything.
It’s an interesting point. Going back to being cleaned out though… It’s funny you say that; I remember one of those sweeps, and it made national headlines because it was… it was the following winter. There was one building that got cleaned out… I don’t remember where it was, but it was close to Eagle Square, and the timing was awful, for it was the coldest night on record in the last 30 years or something…
Yeah, that was me and our building.
It was 13 degrees all week, and they gave us three days to leave. It was January. There were maybe 60 or 70 people in these two different buildings, but they made this L-shaped complex. Yeah, it was in Olneyville, right behind Wes’ Rib House. I’m in another building now, and I can see where that was. It was so aggravating, because the building I was in, it was made of cement or concrete: Like a steel structure with concrete walls. I could not have burned that thing down, no matter how hard I tried. Yet, I was kicked out because of fire safety issues.
Yeah, it felt like they were looking for an excuse.
There was a little bit where people thought of suing the landlord or the city or something, but it just didn’t happen. And we just didn’t know what the hell was going on, and not believed in lawsuits. But it was just one of those things where you say, “Really? You really believe that kicking 60 people out in 13-degree weather is better for their safety? Do you really believe that?” [laughs] “Well, we’re definitely not going to burn to death out here on the street in 13-degree weather. I guess you’re right: You saved us from burning to death.” I mean, nobody froze to death, so they don’t have any regrets or something. But it was traumatic, and really, it sucked.
It’s the strangest thing, too, because it was one of those things from my time where I was just like I remember that specific detail. It really changed my perspective on Providence for a long time, and the thing is, a lot of people have left. Come to think, you moved to Pawtucket, if I’m not mistaken…
No, no, I’m actually still in Providence. I almost moved outside of town, and then it didn’t work out, and then I stayed. I live literally two blocks away from that same building. But I was lucky enough to find it: A lot of my roommates had rented another space around the corner, so I was lucky enough to land into that space. But I was furious. There was a book I made called Ninja that came out before If ‘n’ Oof, and there’s a whole section that I drew right around that time. I was so furious, so pissed.
Going back to people leaving Providence and all that: From what I’m hearing back and forth, you’ll hear people saying that things are getting better, and then you’ll hear someone leaving. I mean, on the one hand, I got a close friend from Troop Of Echoes who is leaving for Toronto in the coming months because they need to be in a different scene. On the other, I have heard from Father Finger and others that something is getting back together. Do you think things are starting to get better now?
Since that eviction in 2004, there have been some places that have been pretty fun. But there was about a year and a half that ended about a year ago — so maybe 2009-10 or 2010-11 — where there was another heyday. It was actually in this building that I am in now. The whole second floor opened up: The landlord, who’s been trying to sell the building, started renting to all these kids on a whim. It was a solid year of totally amazing shows and stuff again. It was a big venue, with people playing at all these different spaces downstairs, and it got really crazy. It really felt like another Providence heyday, and that was awesome. It felt really strong. But then that whole floor got shut down, and everyone was kicked out again. That was in November 2011.
But I think that because that was there for a while, it strengthened the community again. So, it has. It’s busy here; there is a lot of stuff going on. There’s been shows every night, almost all this week. And there is a bit of an identity in some of the music; there is a scene. Then again, just this week, I heard some people leaving. But there’s always people coming too, so it’s hard to gauge. I still believe that some key players are still here. Some new really interesting people have moved here too, so it’s… I dunno, it stays relevant to its own history. It’s still an interesting place. But there were definitely some dark times in the mid-2000s. It felt pretty dire.
You’re right in that people come and go. There’s people like Father Finger, and then there are your contemporaries, like the Copelands, and Hisham [Bharoocha], who I think is still in New York. Got married last year, even.
Yeah, yeah. He’s totally still in New York.
Which brings me to my final question; with that creative vibe still in place, is that the reason why you stay?
I think it is. I know I am definitely a creature of habit. The situation I have now is amazing: I have this huge space, it’s really cheap. It’s always threatened on some level: The building did recently sell, and it’s gonna get gentrified or updated or something, and I won’t be able to exist the way I do, which right now means being able to play drums for 24 hours a day and not bug a soul, which is awesome. I have a room for every activity: I have a room where I do drawings, and I have a room where I play drums, and I have a room where I have shit scattered around and I make collages and stuff like that. Of course, half the building leaks all this water through the roof when it rains. For me, Providence still has these spaces that are affordable, and you can still find them for the most part, and you can spread your wings a little bit. In a lot of other cities, you’re just paying a lot more for a lot less in terms of space. So the town for me offers enough where there’s stuff to do, if you want to do it, but it doesn’t smother you or starve you. It’s a good, small city.
Then there are some really good artists here, and it’s nice company: You can go and find someone to talk to about what you’re doing or look at something inspiring if you need to. There is not a ton of stuff; it’s definitely small, you can get tired of seeing the same group of people that you always see or something. But if you can amuse yourself, and you have a lot of energy to make stuff, it’s a good place to be. I’m happy here. But I may leave someday, too, because I have been here a long time. I dunno, it’s a big world.
It’s weird, because now I’m starting to think of leaving the Bay Area because it’s starting to lose its luster. In our situation, it’s basically a lot of people from Silicon Valley who want to turn San Francisco into a bedroom community, as it were.
And they’re kind of having a second boom, too, aren’t they? So there’s just a lot of shit that the city is dealing with for being a tech playground.
…And you see all these unmarked white buses, and you wonder whether it’s Google or Apple dropping off some of its employees.
[laughs] You know, you want to see success, you want to see companies have financial success in your area that are unrelated to you, but you’re like, “Hey, we’re all in the same city. If you’re doing good, that’s awesome.” You want to feel that. But a lot of times, still, it’s like the housing boom and bust. You hear people that say, “Oh, it’s so horrible, the market crashed, and everyone’s leaving their houses, and house prices are falling,” and it’s this great American tragedy. But I’m on the other side of being like, “Oh wow, maybe some day I’ll be afford a house soon, then.” But it’s just weird that there isn’t just this simple way of looking at the economy of American cities. There’s always at least two sides of the coin. Someone else’s success, even unrelated, can complete result in your own failure because, yeah, you get pushed out or just something happens. It’s not that simple.
… It’s funny with Providence. As a person who’s still here, it’s sort of like, when someone leaves, you’re like, “Noooo! We need you!” We need everybody to stay, because it’s such a small community. At the same time, you gotta leave. You gotta go to places and see things and live in other places.