Brian Chippendale, whose books of comics include Ninja, Maggots, and If ‘n Oof (all PictureBox), is also, as many readers know, a prolific musician as one-half of Lightning Bolt and both halves of his solo project, Black Pus. I first met Brian in late 2002 or early 2003 in Providence, where he was living in a studio with a high ceiling, a lot of prints, and a cat or two. Fort Thunder, which he co-founded, was only recently behind him then. A decade later Brian has toured around the globe and lives in Providence with his wife, the artist Jungil Hong. He’s still at it. During a brief break between tours I checked in with him about his split-EP (with Oozing Wound) from Thrill Jockey, and music stuff, about which I know very little. I better keep my day job. Brian is currently on tour. Go see him. For those looking for Chippendale artwork, Brian has a webshop with some fine items at very reasonable prices.
Dan Nadel: I know that Lightning Bolt songs evolve out of long jams between you and Gibson, or at the very least from sending your respective parts back and forth. But there’s no “other” in Black Pus, so how do these songs take shape? I ask because they definitely have “shape.” Layers, lyrics, and beginnings and ends. But it’s all you, and it’s a lot of sound material. What’s the process on, for example, Total Eclipse? Walk me through it.
Brian Chippendale: Black Pus music generally comes from the same process as Lightning Bolt music does. I jam, but with myself. I record everything and generally have at least one good idea every time I play. A lot of times the songs appear during the act of playing fairly fleshed-out with a few different parts, generally by adding and subtracting complexity as I jam. Having the basic ability to craft songs through jamming seems like a skill that just comes after all the years of doing it. I also, when playing alone, try to play long enough or hard enough that I get lost in it so that surprises can happen. You sing funny interesting melodies when you are exhausted.
Now all that said, that is how I did the last couple Black Pus LPs, but on this split record it’s a little different. The Blood will Run vocal stuff came to me late one night when I was trying to go to sleep but thinking about the murder of Jordan Davis; Total Eclipse was me recording the drums, a basic but energized Kraut rock beat and then jamming over them with vocals, oscillator and effects. I knew I wanted a long cruiser to offset the quick shortness of the first song, but I didn’t know where it would take me. I then went back in and moved a few things around on the computer, but not a whole lot.
So assuming you somehow figure out these things, what’s the process like in the studio? Do you work with a producer to coax them to life and give you a little push back? Are you conscious of having to play these songs live when you’re recording them?
If the song is born from live playing then playing it live is no problem. If the song is born from studio layering I generally don’t bother trying to play it live. Black Pus isn’t generally a band that has fans yelling the names of songs they want at the show, though maybe it’s started down that road a little. But I could do a version of Blood Will Run without too much problem. And if I played Total Eclipse live no one could probably tell if I was playing it “right” or not. And I did both of these songs all alone, no producer. the last BP record “All My Relations” was done at Machine with Magnets, a studio, and the two awesome guys Keith and Seth that run will add their opinions on things from time to time.
Weirdly when I was playing your two songs on the record (awww, that sounds skimpy, but they are two LONG songs) my iTunes skipped into a meditation podcast I keep meaning to listen to and for a moment I thought, “Oh, of course, Brian is doing spoken word here.” I gotta ask, given your verbosity as a friend and performer, if you ever just wanted to write a monologue. Seriously.
Haha, yeah that time will come. I actually was doing a vocal overdub here at home for a new LB track and the song has a 3- or 4-minute repetitive musical part at the end with no singing but I just kept singing over it all cause I was so psyched. I might use that for something in Black Pus, I was lucid, I was flowing. It opened up a door revealing that words, as with music or art , flow freely when you push past the natural stopping time.
Is Black Pus more like drawing comics than Lightning Bolt in its solo-nature? And do you ever think about the relationship between your music and your comics? Are you the only “pro” drummer who has ever made published comics? I think you might be.
I’m a busy drummer but it’s hard to believe I’m a pro! Black Pus probably connects with my comics closer as it’s prone to going down a rabbit hole faster than Lightning Bolt is. You have to squeeze two people down the rabbit hole in LB, and that’s just harder. With one person you can change it up fast, or follow your personal vibe closer. So yes, it’s personal in the way that comic are personal. But still, music and art are such different beasts. Music is immediate and art, or at least comics, by their nature, take time to build up.
Is it me, or is John Bonham an incredibly funky drummer? If you agree, why do you think he is so funky?
I haven’t listened to Led Zepplin in a long long time.
What’s your favorite rhythm section in music?
If Kanye West did the beat for Black Skinhead he’s the best rhythm section in music.