Child Bite: Interview
“The good Lord has not slapped me on the wrist yet.”
The three fuzz-faced men of Child Bite meet me at a Baskin Robins/Dunkin’ Donuts hybrid at half-past 10 p.m., each of us shifting our bony bodies onto hard, unforgiving plastic chairs; one of us having a chocolate donut, one having sugary orange juice, and the other two rubbing their eyes a bit as they unwind after a post-tour/pre-album-release practice. The Detroit-based trio tumble out a noise-tinged, fire-blown rock and freaked-kartwheeling punch pop — heavy on rhythm and roaring bass, and fervently teased and whirled by strident (yet swaggeringly hooked) guitars, all led by a yowling barked lead vocal.
Singer/guitarist Shawn Knight formed the loose freak-jazz affair back in 2005 with drummer Daniel Sperry and guitarist Zach Norton. While their early shows saw them bobbing, herking, and jerking across the stage with side dancers in body-sized eyeball suits, they eventually got down to business and released both an LP and an EP. They added Sean Clancy (formerly of Rescue) in 2007, with Christian Doble (of Kiddo) soon to follow, and set to release another LP and tour their bearded heads off.
Now, with the regrettable (but amicable) departures of Norton and Doble, the three have forged on with a revolving door system (recently with guitarist Brett Siler, and drummers Brandon Moss and Brandon Sczomak). Child Bite talk to Tiny Mix Tapes about their newest LP, The Living Breathing Organ Summer (on Joyful Noise and Forge Again), about when they’ll ever choose a side between straight-rock and straight-crazy, and about how invigorating it can be when reasoned recklessness winds up working.
So what is the status of the band?
Shawn Knight: The official status is: it’s the 3 of us and Brett Siler is one of the rotating cast, currently.
Daniel Sperry: It started out as three people, so…
SK: Right. We did the last tour in fall 2009 with just the three of us. We got some compliments, or, maybe people were blowing smoke up our asses. But, I think it didn’t make any difference, really. The thing I’ve noticed is that it was less, well, obviously, there’s less stuff going on so you can focus more on the elements that were happening. Which is cool, but it’s also cool to be –crazy-whirlwind, too!
I wanted to ask about the recent Midwest/East Coast tour with Zoos of Berlin, but, since that was 2 months ago, perhaps I should ask, what’s currently on your minds, right now?
Sean Clancy: I bought a bunch of records on that tour, which was a bad idea, ultimately. I mean, awesome! There wasn’t really a bad record I bought, so that was great, really. But, where I’m sitting at, currently, financially … I should have been a little more thrifty. I was in the moment, though! It felt like vacation! We were all vibing off of that vacation-y feel, (raises hands and shouts), “let’s go to every record store!” And, the shows, even the lame ones were really fun.
And, you two, with Danny back in Michigan for that tour, took three “fill-ins” with you: Brandon Moss, Brandon Sczomak, and Brett. How did that go?
SC: It was very exciting, it felt great. It was very fast, we played all the songs extremely fast. That was sort of, in part, due to Brandon Moss’ energy. But, it felt good.
DS: Brandon Moss is always on the edge of…
SC: He’s more like a jazz odyssey.
SK: Especially during our song, “Don’t Do What Your Body Tells You To,” it became regular that Brandon would disassemble his drums and kind of roll over them, that’s how it went down at the Southgate Show in Newport … just, madness. Brett Broke a string and was trying to get his other guitar out of the case but it was locked even though he never locked it before so there was this whole big thing of him trying to find another guitar and we just kept going in this sort of Pink Floyd-meets-Merzbow thing and that was the beginning of the set, so it set the tone for the whole night.
SC: It was strange to be a part of.
Child Bite always seem to thrive on this just-about-to-ride-off-the-rails feel; do the shows of the last year, from the wrap up of 2008’s Fantastic Gusts of Blood, still feel that way?
SK: I guess they’ve always been that way.
SC: It’s sort of like a runaway train that’s barely gripping onto the rail. We’re not flying off the handle but it’s definitely teetering on one wheel sometimes.
SK: But it’s a healthy amount.
DS: It’s been that way for most of our existence.
“We’re not Spoon and we’re not Lightning Bolt. We’re kinda somewhere in between.”
So, and I like that you use the word, implying ‘healthy,’ because a freaked up, sort of noisy, spilled-out, crazy live show might conjure like, self-destructive edges — so, you still do consider it “healthy” … and if so, what continues to attract you to it?
SC: It took me a long time to get used to it. The band I was in before (Rescue), we were, I don’t want to say rigid because we were still very emotive, but we were very exacting. There was no (shrug-) ‘fuck-it’ attitude; it was about being super locked in. And Child Bite is locked-in but it’s in a very different way, ya know, so that took me a long time to get used to, mentally and emotionally. Now I feel like a better player because of it.
SK: You definitely have to end up reacting to curve balls more. When something goes wrong it’s not un-expected, not totally wrong even, but if things get hairy or questionable, or if the sound of the place is crazy … we’ve just surpassed those types of things because we’re used to …
SC: … our own problems.
And then, to have your sort of very energetic presentation alongside tour-mates like Zoos Of Berlin who have a very, maybe as you said, exacting approach, very focused on the song, the harmonies, the rhythms, a tight delivery …
SK: There was sort of a Jekyll and Mr. Hyde/Beauty and the Beast tour thing that was happening.
Ever have voices in your head that ask when you’re gonna be the Beauty?
SK: Yeah, I dunno. I feel ilke in this band, for the most part, unless somebody’s just like, puking on themselves — drunk, then, we’re all pretty much, generally: (nodding) ‘that was a good show.’ But, in this band, I’m tethered to a microphone most of the time so that’s helped me to be somewhat restrained, so I’m a little more boxed in while I’m trying to do stuff, I can’ t just go run off somewhere. So that is a funny thing for me to be in a crazier band but where I’m the least of the crazies …
How should we define this forthcoming record?
SC: It’s very colorful.
DS: It’s got shades … it’s got hues.
SC: Sonically, it’s mixed way more intense than all the records.
SK: A little more gnarly, I think. It might be the most representative of how we sound live.
SC: Cuz it’s kind of a full-force!
SK: We spent almost double the studio time on this than (Gusts). It was mixed in Detroit with Chris Koltay and recorded in Baltimore with J. Robbins.
With the departure of original member Zach Norton and then Christian Doble, paring you down to three right after the record, this must feel like some kind of chapter-closer.
SC: I think it has to be. So, whether we continue as a 3-piece or get another guitar player or do-whatever-the-fuck, it’s going to be significantly different. And that changed because of Zach leaving, which is, instead of being a first step somewhere, it’s probably more like a closing … Whatever we do next, is the next step.
SK: I think it’s probably our best, the best thing that we’ve done. It sounds the most developed. I feel like the last batch of 7”’s seemed a little more straightforward than other stuff, or than Gusts. Even when we were doing our press photos then, it could have been, not saying we would be generic or anything, but it could’ve been some other band, like a more-regular rock band. Or, I guess it’d be the closest we’d get to it; whereas this new album is more of a turn back to some stranger things happening. A lot of the lyrics on this album are similar to Gusts in the way that I was, well, Gusts was all these mythological stories that I was tangling around, twisting them to interpretation. This time around I was coming up with my own stories but still a little vague and kind of bizarre and open and some are centered around characters that I would say would be God-like …
So the mythology tract continues a wee bit …
SK: Yeah, but, just going straight from whatever was stuck in here (points to head) as opposed to researching it.
DS: … the mythological resin?
SC: Brain resin.
…and the album’s title?
SK: The Living Breathing Organ Summer
SC: Which is notable because it marks the first time that one of my suggestions for album title not only won but even cracked our top-7-choices in our voting. So, the “Organ Summer” is a song on the record – and it’s not instrumental – but the only words are “organ summer.” I liked the idea of referencing the instrumental song to encompass the whole record. I don’t know why I came up with “… living, breathing.”
You say, “Organ” and I can’t help picturing the blood flowing around it and through it … and you just had a record called “Gusts of Blood…”
SC: It wasn’t part of some grand plan. Maybe a lot of other bands work that way. But, the songs are crazy! They’re insane. It’s not a passive listen. It’s mixed really fucking in your face, the songs are really in your face. It’s 40 minutes. It’s a real commitment. But, it’s kind of shrouded in the black-and-white artwork on the cover — very stark. The idea is you open it up and all the sounds come up and it’s overly crazy but not … there isn’t some grand plan or anything.
You mentioned the voting, which is something very characteristic of your band – the decision-making process, members submitting suggestions — it’s not outrageous but it’s a little quirky. Can you talk about the way your band was named?
SC: It’s a good rule of thumb for dealing with Child Bite and, I think, a lot of art in general, that: literal is not necessarily the rule.
SK: We voted, like our other album titles. I guess it could be like: what is a child bite? If you were gonna go there. Is it: like, a bite on your body from when your toddler just did that to you? Is it the act of nibbling on an infant? Is it, a call to action by a Cave Man to his Cave Baby, like: “Child, -Bite!” telling him to bite a pig head or something? Um. The band name is one of the first things you do when you’re making your band and it was the very first of the voting and that was mine. I won the first one.
Talk about … “crazy.”
SK: OK …(motorboats tongue and mouth mimicking speaking-in-tongues)
Just that, the tract of noise-pop means walking a fine line – there is pop and rock in your sound, there’s an intricate musicality and a tightness in delivery (on record), but often, here in Detroit and around, people pick up on your crazy, herkin’-jerkin’ live presentation.
SK: Right. Then, there’s a lot of the bands that we listen to and like, where I feel they’re way crazier a lot of times. I feel like we’re a band with some sort of confidence. We’re not Spoon and we’re not Lightning Bolt. We’re somewhere kinda in-between. I guess I keep waiting for us to pick a side. The closest we got to picking a side was the 7”-songs, it seemed to lean towards more of a rock sound.
Well, you mention getting up there and just rolling like a runaway train, but it somehow holds together and works and you come through the tunnel on the other end all intact. Maybe this is just a preternatural freakdom.
SK: I think when we started the band, Danny and Zach were in another band and I literally said just do what you guys do from that band and then I’ll do my thing on top of it. This band I was listening to at the time, The A-Frames, they were on Sub Pop, just at how sparse that band was and how the vocals, well, my vocals aren’t anything like that guy but I remember listening to that and it gave me confidence that it could be something, that you could have a song where it’s mostly just drum and bass and the guitar could pop in and off and you could just repeat something.
Can you talk about your vocals – often high and a bit yowling to where they might be indiscernible, but there is some heavy stuff going on – like on Gusts when it detailed mythological beasts and fantastical scenarios.
SK: I’ve always had stories or certain ideas I was trying to get across. But, the only difference that time, (with Gusts) was a concerted effort at the beginning, to have all these things tied together. It’s kinda like how some bands — their artwork always looks the same. That’s awesome. I kinda wish I could go back in time and do that, but, sometimes, you naturally progress and you don’t have like a super-strong master plan at the beginning. But, yeah, that was the idea at least for Gusts and I guess it did set me on the path for Organ, to intentionally have some consistence, as opposed to stuff in the past being a little more sporadic, lyrically …
“He’s more like a jazz odyssey.”
And, even lyrics aside, there are a lot of your songs that seem to insert, amongst the slightly strident tones and wild wavering, a very anthemic feel, with rousing hooks and singalong-able chants.
SC: I’ve always had a soft spot for that kind of stuff. Growing up in Detroit I was really influenced by, not musically but vibe-wise and just out or respect, I was into Small Brown Bike and some of those bands that weren’t necessarily Fat Wreck Chords-whatever type bands, but just like basement punk bands that were doing weird things. So I push that thing. And I like it in the context of the bigger picture of Child Bite ‘cuz it’s sort of a noisier, crazier, somewhat alienating sound. But I like the idea of having that abrasive, alienating song but there’s vibe where I wanna be a part of it.
But it seems sometimes people hear weird-sounding bands or bands that are a bit abstract in their album art in their sound … and it gives off the air that they don’t take themselves seriously … back to that whole “exacting” thing.
SK: I would say, I was a late comer to their material, but, early DEVO, after getting into them, that there was some really strong awesome songs there, but everybody just thinks they’re the weird guys in the weird hats.
Future plans, what’s the rest of 2010 like?
SC: Trying to tour on the new record. It’s gonna be at least the three of us.
SK: Things are up in the air. The new album’s coming out and we want to do something, if not more than what we did with the last album and really support it; to go out there and keep on chiseling away. We have our own discussions to get to, in regards to, are we gonna get another guy to play in the band or not, who’s in the band, who’s not, what are we doing?
The look in your eyes and tones of your voices though, has this sort of “que-sera ring” to it, like, it’s all gonna work out anyway.
SK: Oh yeah. It always does. I’m very reckless with my life … how things just always seem to work out. So I’ve not yet learned otherwise. The good Lord has not slapped me on the wrist yet.