Child Bite : Interview
“When you tour it’s all about those 30 minutes… I don’t want to waste my time or anybody else’s.”
Child Bite are comfortable in chaos. They sprout from acidic soils, detached and giving a gracefulness to the flail of the metal-freak. Functioning psychos effectively communicating their artistic inclinations through “loud” and “weird” ways always make for good interviews, so Tiny Mix Tapes tapped the shoulders of Detroit’s neo-industrial-noise-rocked quartet to discuss their mutated post-punk evolution, their collaborations with David Yow of The Jesus Lizard, their five-volume American Hardcore Tribute Series, the endurance of The Melvins (and Municipal Waste), and their very first European Tour (entirely self-booked).
Singer/guitarist/keyboardist Shawn Knight is, essentially, the lead scientist on this “experiment,” birthed from his art-school days in Detroit more than seven years ago. Also a brilliant graphic designer and illustrator, he’s the in-house merch-artist (and the dude who has to cold-call random Germans, Brits, and French dudes for booking dates), while Brandon Sczomak joined two years ago on lead guitar, so he can provide a bit of an outsiders perspective (even though he’s firmly assimilated, now, along with bassist Sean Clancy and drummer Ben Moore).
So let’s talk about Europe and loud, weird things like David Yow and Hellmouth and Municipal Waste. Let’s talk about what aggressive music looks (and sounds) like with Child Bite.
Not to start things off ceremoniously by pinning the D-I-Y martyr memorial of accomplishment upon you, but from booking the tour, renting the equipment, finding a van, and, in particular, designing, quite artfully (and freakily,) your own merchandise, you’ve done-it-all…Talk about your quest to reach Europe:
Shawn Knight: We don’t have as many friends over there, so a lot of it was cold-calling bands or promoters or venues. A lot of silence.
Eventually someone responds…
Knight: … After sending out literally-hundreds of emails. Some very nice foreign dudes are taking a chance on us, which I’m grateful for. It’s really nuts, doing the booking, making and shipping the art and merchandise, renting vans, drums, amps, hiring a publicist… so much money. Should be a good time though, once it starts.
What kept you going through those long, shoulder-racking nights of screen-printing and calling random foreign dudes?
Knight: I guess the fact that we already bought our flights, so… ? That, and whatever this fucked-up voice in the back of my head is, that tells me to do all these things! No… it’s just one of those things that I feel needed to happen, just as such a huge personal goal in my life, it’s now or never. It would’ve been one of my biggest regrets had it not ever come to pass during my music “career.”
Since our music is aggressive and disorienting, we thrash around like a bunch of psychos.
Last year, you got together with some other Detroit bands to cover seminal hardcore punk bands from the late 1970s/early 80s; Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, and some other usual suspects for a special 7” release. Then we got your American Hardcore Tribute Series, with a second volume and, now, a third?
Knight: We have two more installments, actually, combined into one final release show [for] Bad Brains and Minor Threat. We also have 100 custom wood boxes already made that house all five records. Still have to stain, print, and seal those. The whole thing was originally just one show, one 7” but… similar to this Euro-tour I seem to have a “Go big or go home” theme going.
Grand plans of attack for your quest? I understand that just getting around can be the most stressful and at times treacherous, when Yanks go overseas for the first time.
Knight: Our rental van has GPS, which is gonna be a life-saver. Since the advent of smart-phones we have forgotten how to read maps. We can’t afford to get Euro-phone packages for the whole month, so we’re gonna be limited to wi-fi communication for the most part. We’ll bring some Euro-power adapters for our pedals, sampler, and electronics… Gameboy Advance for the flights.
Brandon Sczomak: It’s definitely the most nervous I’ve been for a tour. Having never been overseas I’m excited to glimpse how people in another part of the world live: different foods, customs, languages. I’ve found that if I plan too much, when exploring new cities, I just get disappointed when I don’t see everything I wanted to. I’d rather be stoked about what I did see than be bummed by what I missed.
On stage, you guys look possessed — and not in any clichéd/contrived way; like,
you’re ‘so into it…’ Can you take us inside the minds and bodies of… YOU… when you’re up there making this music?
Knight: Being in the moment, feeling what you’re playing, it’s like: if we were a funk band we would probably gyrate around like assholes. Or if we were shoe-gaze we’d just stand there looking like pathetic losers. No offense intended!! But, since our music is aggressive and disorienting, we thrash around like a bunch of psychos. It just makes sense to me. When you tour it’s all about those 30 minutes. The other 23 ½ hours should be preparation for the show. You’ve got to give it your all, otherwise all the personal sacrifices leading up to that tour were in vain. Not to mention people spent their hard-earned time and money to come see you. I don’t want to waste my time or anybody else’s.
Sczomak: Playing shows entails booking, promoting, practicing, loading, unloading, setting up, tearing down, loading, and unloading again. The 40-minute set is the big payoff.
Knight: Luckily, I’ve found, when it’s time to go-on, everything just clicks-in. Picking the right opening song for a set is important, something to ease into the mindset of playing a Child Bite show. “Abysmal Splatter” has become a great opener for that transformation, usually entailing beating on my thigh and spitting. I’ve played shows sick, with the flu even, or after surgery and luckily my brain has a safety mechanism that lets me do the show and pay for it later.
I was going to ask about that… the endurance factor. There’s the wear of travel and then the wear of… the overly cathartic exertion of your “psychotic” live show.
Sczomak: I’ll get ‘tour-tired’ about a week into a tour, which is completely different than regular-tired. It’s a weird state of exhaustion that allows me to sleep all day without ever feeling refreshed. But, I don’t think this band would exist if it weren’t for adrenaline. When the time comes, your body always knows…and pushes you through.
About a month ago, you released the Vision Crimes E.P. How did it come together?
Knight: The intention was to just record a batch of songs with our buddy Mike Lust because he was closing down his studio at the end of the year. Just, random songs in our back pocket for any opportunity, like a 7” or comps. By the final day of recording we were too attached to the songs as a group, and they also happened to be nearly the same length as our last 10” EP (Monomania), so we decided to keep them.
How about writing? You’ve had a set lineup now for almost two years, how’s that effected song formation?
Knight: Definitely a more solid vision now. Brandon has been doing more homework than the rest of us, bringing riffs to the table. I remember near the end (of Visions) coming to the guys with “Mutilation Revival,” [for] which I wrote out a simple structure on our white board and hummed rough ideas for parts. They interpreted it and enhanced said hums and voila: a 35-second song about forced genital disfigurement was born.
So, lyrically, there’s mentions of myths, cycles, slicing blasphemer’s tongues… Can you speak to that and how your vocals have evolved or devolved or mutated from playful or anthemic delivery of your earliest songs to a more visceral, snarling incantation, these rhythmic-rants? I’m curious how and when you started feeling yourself tilt that way, to a more, I don’t know, ‘metal-y’ vibe.
Knight: Vision has my favorite lyrics I’ve ever written. Messages shrouded in allegory or an intentional vagueness, simple topics made more interesting through inventive storytelling. Past lyrics tended to come off as writings of a completely insane person that can’t even wipe his own ass, while my more recent songs have the quality of an angry, yet functional insane person (who does his own wiping). Every song really is about something. Monomania is totally abstract, acid-induced, Lovecraft-ian stuff.
I don’t think this band would exist if it weren’t for adrenaline.
And fitting those wild words to the work of the band as a unit?
Any band writing as we do, with no main songwriter, is likely a combination of each member’s tastes, past and current. Like a Venn diagram of what the guys are into… Even though Child Bite’s sound has shifted, it’s always had elements of stuff I really like. Environment plays into it a lot, as in the “scenes” you find yourself a part of. Back when it started with Danny (Sperry) and Zach (Norton) and I, we were part of the Suburban Sprawl crew, playing shows with local bands like Javelins, Zoos Of Berlin. Much more of an indie-rock pool. Our joint interests included Deerhoof and Liars then.
What’s that experience like, sort of knowing yourself as embodying a style or sensibility three years ago and something entirely different, and perhaps darker now? If it was Deerhoof and Liars then, what is it now that moves you?
Mixing our second album (Fantastic Gusts of Blood), I remember referencing the latest Spoon record to the engineer. Nowadays our sound is much more aggressive, with a lot more metal influences coming through that barely peeked out before. I feel like we’re taking the trajectory of The Misfits or Pantera in that sense. Now, our local shows are with bands like Hellmouth, Old Gods. When referencing certain song parts, names like The Melvins and Municipal Waste have been used. It’s a spazzy, fun-loving-kid growing up to be an angry adult. I have more to be angry about these days.
Brandon, how has the experience been for you, onboard the Child Bite ship two years ago after it’d already been at sea for almost five…
Sczomak: The amount of work/touring that this band does was never an issue. I was always the guy in previous bands that wanted to do more… This is what I’ve always wanted to do, so getting in the trenches to make that happen doesn’t bother me. Assimilation, on a personal level, took more time; just learning everyone’s personalities and how they operate. It made me reflect on myself, and I wouldn’t be the same person I am today without having been in this band.
Are you conscious — at this point — of a certain Child-Bitten aesthetic? Are your mouth-guards sufficiently worn in on the molars for when you start pummeling away into these weird, noisy, churning-grooves? What do you feel it is, that draws you to these dark, churning, loud-weird realms and once you’re inside of them…what is your distinctive take on it - what is your distinctive (bite-)-mark?
Knight: Yeah, I do feel like we have an… “aesthetic,” now. If you broke it down, it would probably be: “loud and weird.” It goes back to that Venn-diagram thing since we all write together. I like all sorts of music, but what Child Bite is doing right now feels like the best use of my abilities and the perfect amalgamation of what I’m really into and grew up on.
And… we’re really excited to be doing a split 7” with David Yow. Of course Jesus Lizard is legendary. This is with Yow’s solo noise-stuff; should be interesting. I’m wrapping up the art work in time for Record Store Day. Last-minute, as always.
Taking your Visions overseas, now, and looking back on it as a record, how do you feel about it, what’s it come to mean to you, or… overall, what does it mean?
Knight: Very happy with it, it has my favorite riffs, the song structures are tight, it has the right ratio of punk, post-punk, [and] metal, and I’m the most proud of these lyrics and vocal performances over any past release. After years of experimentation it sounds like we’ve come up with the winning formula. So, after the tour, we’re gonna take some time to write our next full length.
Sczomak: I feel like I’m currently in the midst of doing some of the most important and coolest things I’ll do in my life. I have met tons of great people, and seen lots of places that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have. I feel very focused and am excited to see what comes next…
[Photo: Doug Coombe]