The Body: Interview
“It’s probably going to be our complete downfall, but whatever. I wouldn’t do it any other way.”
The announcement of new material from The Body turns heads in extreme music circles, but the excitement tends to manifest as a undercurrent of whispered reverence, occasionally boiling over in frank declarations along the lines of, “C’mon man, it’s The fucking Body.” In isolation, each of the tropes that Chip King and Lee Buford layer into their compositions has the potential to alienate listeners; taken all together, the amalgam of guitar sludge, shrieks, sample manipulation, and caustic noise static can clear rooms entirely — or spark the type of deep-seated obsession, tinged with awe and fear, that brings the converted back for more aural punishment. This year, the duo followed up 2010’s All The Waters of The Earth Will Turn To Blood with the Master, We Perish EP, a three-track precursor to their next mammoth full-length. Christs, Redeemers (due October 15 on Thrill Jockey) finds them experimenting with new sound sources and production techniques, stretching tones and ideas to the limits of what can be captured on record.
I talked to Buford on the phone about recording, touring, and dealing with other people.
Tell us about the current incarnation of The Body.
It’s just me and Chip. Sometimes we get other people to play with us on tour, and on the recordings we always get as many people as we can, but it’s always just us. Chip plays guitar and sings, and I play drums and a percussion pad with samples in it. Chip plays through four amps now — he has a pretty crazy setup. But overall it’s pretty simple live.
What draws you to the stripped-down format?
We’ve always aimed for a more simplistic approach in music, because that’s what we prefer. I love some super-technical stuff, but to be honest, I love the simpler stuff a lot more. I can relate to it better. If you can make a simple song good, it has a lot more playback value, I guess. But we’ve always been like that. And it’s taken a while for Chip to get his sound right. A lot of people think we’re trying to be loud just to be loud, but it’s all about us trying to get that low-end. It’s more calculated than stupid amplifier worship. People will be like, “Chip you have so many amps,” and he’ll say, “If I could make it sound like this with one amp, I would do it. I don’t want to have all this stuff.”
A lot of people think we’re trying to be loud just to be loud, but it’s all about us trying to get that low-end. It’s more calculated than stupid amplifier worship.
I imagine that you guys get frustrated translating the reality of your live sets into the studio.
We originally started recording with so many people and doing so much crazy stuff because when we play live, it’s all usually low end, and you can’t really capture that well in recordings. We had to think of another way to make it as visceral, in a way, so we started adding other layers. But I actually prefer being in the studio more than anything else. That’s just me, I dunno if Chip’s like that. I think he gets kind of stressed out, but yeah.The music I listen to is mainly studio stuff, kinda. I love the Beach Boys — they’re probably my favorite band. I’m obsessed with layers and layers of sound. It’s exciting when that stuff works together, and especially when it’s you and your friends doing it.
Is this what you guys have going on at Machines with Magnets?
Yeah, they’re good friends first. Our main recordings will always be at Machines With Magnets. We’ve been recording there for 10 years now, so they know what we’re trying to do kind of before we do it. I’ll be like, “Hey I wanna put doubled drums on this part” and they’ll say, “We already did it. We already recorded it.” In a sense, on this stuff, we have a lot of back and forth with them. Every song on the new record was written in the studio. We’d have ideas, say, “This is what we wanna do,” and they’d say, “This is how we can do it.” We’d figure it out. There wasn’t anything where we said, “This is our song.” We’d be like, “This is our idea for a song.” Chip’s sample stuff, for example. He’ll say, “I’ve got this tape loop I wanna try,” but with Chip’s volume and stuff, we can’t practice to a tape loop. So it ends up being, “We wanna build this [track] on this tape loop, but we’ve never done it before.”
How did Master, We Perish come into existence?
That one was recorded right before we left Providence. We had one of the songs written, kind of, and had ideas for the other two songs, and we wanted to record at Machines With Magnets. So we kind of cranked that out in a day or two.
Can you tell us about the insane video for “The Ebb and Flow of Tides in a Sea of Ash”?
It’s our friend Beau who made the video. We filmed it at his aunt’s cabin in Lake Placid. Beau’s dad is one of the cops, his mom is one of the ladies tied up, and at the end she’s one of the ladies in the yard. It’s basically just us fucking around for a weekend making this weird video with his parents.
I believed up until this moment that you guys had found some grainy footage of a crime scene investigation.
Oh yeah definitely. That was what we were trying to do. Beau was with us on this tour, and he gets excited when people don’t know it’s filmed. “They think it’s real!!” I’m like: it looked real.
Is there a central theme or idea behind your next record, Christs, Redeemers? Or something that unites the lyrics and the samples or sound sources that you guys chose?
Not exactly. I mean, me and Chip both have very negative views of the world, in general, so that usually comes out pretty strong in the lyrics and the themes and stuff. There actually aren’t too many vocal samples on there compared to what we usually use. [One] is an old Arkansas singer. I hope we don’t get in trouble for using it. There are a lot more other things sampled other than vocals. Chip did a lot of found tape and stuff, too. I’ve been kind of collecting stuff over the past year. If I read something, I’ll write it down. Or if I hear something when I’m watching a movie or something. Chip does it more sound-wise. If he hears a new sound, he’ll loop it and tape it. That last song [“Bearer of Bad Tidings”] with that weird horn part: Chip sampled it and ran it through his effects and looped it. And the first track [“I, The Mourner if Perished Days”] is actually our friend Scott [Reber]. He has a project called Work/Death. On All The Waters, last time, we just kind of recorded our shit and gave it to him and he did everything at home. This time he brought all of his stuff into the studio and did it as a live take.
Have you guys had trouble before clearing samples?
No, we’ve never encountered a problem. Usually we use stuff that’s weird enough that no one will know what it is or care, or we mess around with it enough that you can’t tell what it is. We actually recorded another record at the same time as this one, where a lot of the time I would just get other people to read an original text and then sample it.
You guys work with all these layers of samples and texts, and have such an exploratory approach to composing. I think this sophistication juxtaposes interestingly with the promo images we see of you guys brandishing guns and wearing costumes.
Yeah, people kind of get mad about the guns sometimes. Especially now-a-days with all the crazy shit that’s happened. But I was raised in the South, and Chip kind of went back and forth because his dad was in the Air Force. We see guns I guess differently than other people see guns. I mean, I don’t really like most people in the world, or trust them. The guns are less of a thug or violent thing and more of a separation between us and society. I think people see a lot of the stuff that we do in a weird macho light, which is not the reasoning at all.
I don’t really like most people in the world, or trust them. It’s less of a thug or violent thing and more of a separation between us and society.
How do you feel when you guys are on tour and are forced to interact with society?
For me, it’s tough. I take a bunch of medicine and stuff. I freak out some times. I had to go to the hospital in Arkansas once. But Chip’s my best friend, he’s been my best friend for 20 years. So I kind of do better on tour than in normal life, because it’s just me and Chip, and the responsibilities are way more limited. You have to kind of focus on whatever is OK in your life, and stick with it.
How did the last tour turn out?
We went out to the East Coast and stayed in Providence for a few weeks to record, and then headed down South, and then back up the West Coast. It was good, the last week was with our friends — two of the dudes from the band Thou. It was fun.
I remember you telling me that you had been on a few bizarre bills with bands that didn’t match you at all.
Yeah, I think it’s hard for people to put on our shows. There aren’t that many bands that sound like us, especially in weirder parts of the country. A lot of times people put us on with generic stoner-rock bands.
Whom you blow out of the water.
I feel like I don’t really listen to heavy music hardly at all, especially stuff from nowadays. We try to get out of that world as much as we can. For a while, when we were living in Providence, people would put noise bands on bills with us, which we actually preferred over dudes singing about smoking weed all the time.
You guys use sounds from so many disciplines: doom metal, drone, musique concrète, black metal, noise. How do you think the average metalhead responds to The Body’s music?
I definitely think that our music is a lot of times too weird for most people. It is so many different things, so it’s hard to classify, which I think bothers people sometimes. It’s probably going to be our complete downfall, but whatever. I wouldn’t do it any other way. But we’ve definitely played traditional doom-metal shows that were big, and a lot of times people don’t like it. Especially with the choir and stuff. For All The Waters, all the bad reviews said “There’s just a choir for seven minutes.”
I definitely think that our music is a lot of times too weird for most people.
But you have a better response from more experimental audiences?
I feel like usually we do. The noise community embraces us more than the metal community, at least, which I’m totally OK with.
Having developed musically in Providence, are there any particular bands or projects from that scene that you guys admire?
Definitely. For modern stuff, the Work/Death stuff is always really really good. And especially live, it’s amazing. Human Beast is another band from Providence that’s super-awesome. As far as other really heavy stuff, Loss is really the only band. I usually listen to older stuff, some noise stuff. Chip’s way into the noise scene more than anything else.
How did you guys get in touch with Thrill Jockey?
Bettina just wrote us. We played the Gilead Media festival in Wisconsin — our friend Adam does that label — and then after that she got in touch and asked if we want to do anything. I’ve loved Thrill Jockey since I was a kid, so I was really excited about it. We did other stuff with At A Loss, which is pretty low key as far as labels go. Thrill Jockey is pretty much the exact same, in terms of the way they deal with stuff on the business end. It’s pretty ideal. And Bettina is super-nice, and everyone that works there too. I don’t see how it could be any better as far as labels go.
And you guys recently recorded more material than what appears on Christs, Redeemers.
Yeah. We ended up recording three LPs in two-and-a-half weeks. We move pretty fast.
Crazy. What else is in the pipeline?
We did the Thrill Jockey one, we did a record for At A Loss with our friend Neill, who does a black metal project called Krieg, and then we did one more record that’s more percussion- and drum machine-based. It’s gonna be pretty crazy, I think, but other people are still doing work on that one. Someone else is putting stuff on top of it, so we’ll see how it turns out afterwards.
[Top photo: Angela Owens]