It’d be a pretty difficult task to find a band in metal as caustic as Brooklyn’s Pyrrhon right now. With a sound that can only be described as the twisted child of Gorguts, Bastard Noise and Brutal Truth, their upcoming EP Growth Without End shows the band pushing their sound into an even more frantic direction. Prepare to be absolutely bombarded by a dizzying storm of abrasive deathgrind riffs, frenetic songwriting and the ever-changing vocal styles from frontman Doug Moore, who I got a chance to speak with over the weekend. We discussed improvising on stage, getting into a trance while performing, the lyrical direction of the new EP, and much more!
You guys are just about to drop Growth Without End and I really love the shorter, even denser material than what you guys were doing on the last album. Did you guys as a band have any desire to make such short and chaotic material? Was there anything that directly inspired this direction?
Yeah, the more condensed approach was definitely deliberate, and it was a reaction to the process that produced The Mother of Virtues to some extent. We finished writing that album in early 2013 and recorded it that spring, but for reasons that I can’t totally explain, we were ready to start writing again a few months later. That said, we didn’t want to go through the insanely work-intensive process that we used for TMoV again right away, so instead we challenged ourselves to write and record a short EP as quickly as possible. We also wanted to do something that felt a little more lean and punk rock, with less of the expansive songwriting and atmospherics that we used on TMoV.
We’re pretty into grind as a band, and we developed the ability to play very tightly at high BPMs during the TMoV writing period. So the original idea for Growth Without End was to write an entire EP of grindy tunes a la “The Oracle of Nassau” from TMoV, which didn’t really end up happening. Still, we feel like we generally succeeded in writing a condensed, dirty, very fast release.
Do you think that this is a direction that you’ll continue to explore, or was this just a brief experiment? Is there one style or approach that you prefer over the other?
We’re definitely going to return to brief grindy songs down the line, since they’re awesome, but the EP shouldn’t be interpreted as a preview of the band’s future. We’re looking forward to writing some more epic-length tunes too, and we’ll probably never stop writing songs in the 4-6 minute range. It’s hard to say what’ll come out next time we write. Aside from Growth Without End, we don’t usually write with a specific kind of material in mind, and we didn’t even write what we thought we’d write for that one. It’s a chaotic process even for us.
Could you maybe elaborate on that chaotic process you just mentioned? Do you guys just hash things out in a rehearsal space together, or does one person come in with a bunch of structured ideas? And how do you manage to organize such chaotic and atonal ideas in a way that’s still memorable?
It’s kind of a mix of the two. The way we’ve typically worked is that one guy — usually Dylan, Erik, or me — will come in with a bunch of riff ideas on guitar or bass. The writer will teach everyone else how the riffs go, at which we each put together our own parts for the song. Then we’ll start organizing the riffs and elaborating on what we have as a group, which involves lots of giving each other feedback, reworking and tweaking ideas, trying stuff that doesn’t work, running parts over and over until they’re tight, working out how we’re going to approach improvised sections, and so forth. It’s an unglamorous, time-intensive process, and it’s actually fairly orderly. The chaotic part is the unseen psychological/emotional process that drives each member’s creativity, and I don’t really know how to explain that stuff.
As for song structures — though Pyrrhon riffs tend to be pretty involved, the songs actually have fairly simple structures for the most part. Most of the tunes have something like five to eight riffs, as opposed to the 20-odd parts you routinely see in a Defeated Sanity song or whatever, and they’re often structured in some kind of A-B-A-B type of pattern. A lot of the writing process for us involves trimming songs down so that they’ll feel more cohesive, though it’s hard to tell at first blush in such innately complex and atonal music.
I remember when I saw you guys last September that Dylan broke a string after the first song and the rest of you busted out an 8 minute jam that ended up being one of the the most memorable parts of the set for me. Is that something you do often as a band, or was that more out of necessity?
Glad to hear it went over well! Pyrrhon has a long and sordid history of live gear problems — we use cheap stuff and we use it hard, so sometimes things break. Guitar and bass strings in particular tend to live short and painful lives with us, as both Dylan and Erik have extremely aggressive picking styles. On top of that, Dylan uses his whammy bar all the time, which puts a lot of strain on his strings, and Erik tends to punch his bass and play with his elbows and such. Dylan in particular has changed strings onstage so often that he’s gotten ridiculously fast at it. He can replace a busted string in about 4-5 minutes, which is crazy given that he uses a locking tremolo and needs to break out wire cutters and an Allen wrench every time he does it.
When we got started, this approach and gear problems it causes produced a lot of awkward moments for us during shows, especially since I absolutely hate stage banter and prefer not to talk at all during our set. The jamming-during-gear-problems tactic grew naturally out of both our interest in improvisation our need to keep the momentum going when something goes wrong with someone’s gear. It’s gotten to the point where none of us gets remotely upset when a string breaks or some cable gives out — we love jamming, and people routinely tell us that our ability to cope gracefully with that kind of issue is one of our most impressive tactics. It’s also a cool change of pace to jam with a reduced lineup, since one guy is always trying to fix his gear issue while the rest of us play.
When you say that you hate stage banter, do you mean just for Pyrrhon or for every band? I mean, you got to love Frank Mullen, right?
Mullen is definitely hilarious, and there are plenty of other examples of frontmen who are really good at adding levity to their sets (Danny Nelson from Malignancy and Mike Akerfeldt come to mind). Once in a while a musician will have something interesting and non-jokey to say too, but for the most part, I prefer the chit chat to be kept to a minimum. Most musicians aren’t amusing enough to pull off mic breaks very well, and a lot of them end up grating on me. If I’m there to see the band, I’d rather hear the music during that time.
As for me personally, I’m usually in this weird hyper-focused trance when I’m performing. Talking to the crowd takes me out of that mental state, and I’d rather stay in the alien headspace for the duration of the set. I’m not funny enough to pull much chatter off anyway.
Could you care to to elaborate on the trance-like state that you go in? Is it just from being on stage or do the lyrics have anything to do with influencing this?
It’s a little hard to explain. I imagine that it’s pretty similar to the state of intense, blank-minded focus that most serious musicians and athletes go into when they perform — I clear my mind of all my other thoughts and give myself over entirely to the performance. The fact that the music and lyrics we’re performing have a lot of emotional significance for me generally heightens this state, though I rarely actually think about the lyrics when I’m singing them. They’re basically just muscle memory after all this time. More of my focus goes into making sure I’m breathing properly.
Talking to the crowd kind of interferes with this state because I have to think about audience reaction a lot more than I typically would otherwise. It’s also kind of a jarring transition emotionally to go from screaming your guts out at a bunch of strangers to talking to them like you’re their buddy.
I totally understand man. So you mentioned that the lyrics have a lot of emotional significance with you. The lyrics definitely have a running theme of disease and cancer, but still also manage to (maybe?) combine stuff about personal/emotional issues and some topical themes (Viral Content). Was there anything deliberate you were trying to say this time around? Has disease and sickness been a constant in your life lately?
It’s always a little tough for me to answer questions like this, because I consider the listener/reader’s interpretation of the lyrics just as important as my own thought process. There’s no correct way to interpret them, though I usually have something fairly specific in mind when I’m writing them.
You’re right that most of the cancer stuff is more of a lens that I use to approach other ideas than the actual subject of any of the songs. It’s a really powerful image for me that I’ve come to see in many places, not all of which have much to do with medicine. As to the personal vs. topical / political thing, I don’t really think my approach fits neatly into either box. All of my lyrics since our first LP attempt to grapple with emotional concerns of one description or another, some of which are totally specific to me. But by the same token, I’m very conscious of the way that the sociopolitical circumstances of my life have shaped who I am, and broad social issues are often subjects of the emotions that drive my creative process. There’s no meaningful barrier between the two for me.
I’ve had some physical health problems over the past few years, as have other people I’m close to, and those experiences definitely drove some of the medical / disease-related stuff that’s appeared in Pyrrhon over our past several releases. But as I said, I also find that those images very powerful and their ability to make me feel uncomfortable often incline me to use them as frameworks for approaching other subjects.
I’d say talking about disease in that manner is far more disturbing nowadays than stuff you’d find a lot of gore-themed metal bands singing about. Well hey, I think this has been a great discussion and I’d like to thank you so much for taking the time to do this. One last thing: what are Pyrrhon’s plans for the rest of the year? Do you think you have another full national tour in you?
No problem man; it’s my pleasure.
As to our plans for the rest of 2015: Growth Without End comes out on June 2. We’re going on a little mini-tour to Briefcase Festival in Toronto with our buddies Couch Slut on the weekend of June 5, and we’ve got a few other local live appearances booked after that. Check out our Facebook page for details. Our plans for the rest of the year aren’t 100% set in stone yet. We’re weighing the possibility of doing another 2-3 week tour this fall, but we’re also planning to start writing for a new LP around then, and we’ll hopefully be recording some tracks for splits and other short-format releases in the interim.
We’re also all working on various side projects. Erik and I will be appearing on a new LP by a death/grind project that I’ve been involved in on and off since high school; Dylan has some solo guitar compositions in the works; and since Alex is a session drummer, he’ll be on a lot of upcoming releases, metal and otherwise. We’ll be announcing these things more formally as they come, so keep an eye on our page.
Check out “Cancer Mantra” and “The Mass,” as well as pre-order Growth Without End at Pyrrhon’s Bandcamp page:
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