The Yearly Grind
Pig Destroyer celebrates 15th anniversary with more “short, fast, and loud”
Published: October 17, 2012
If it seems odd to be congratulating the members of mid-Atlantic metal titan Pig Destroyer on 15 years as a band, it seems even odder to frontman JR Hayes. Asked if he knew back in 1997 that he’d still be making explosive grindcore with guitarist Scott Hull a decade and a half later, Hayes scoffs, “I don’t even know what the fuck I’m going to be doing next month. I’ve never really thought that far ahead. Luckily, I’ve been in a band with Scott, who’s a little more of a visionary.”
Hull and Hayes’ latest vision is called Book Burner, and its release on Relapse Records and an upcoming spate of live dates for the seldom-touring band is enough to get Hayes on the phone from his home in Virginia and Blake Harrison—who began adding electronics, samples, and vocals to the band in 2006—on the line from his home in Hampden. The mellow, late-night vibe of the conference call presents a stark contrast to the bellow and blast of the album they’re on hand to discuss.
Book Burner is a slight return to grindcore roots—short blasts of straining anger, noise, and brutality—after the longer songs and more epic textures of the last PxDx disc, 2007’s Phantom Limb. Most of the songs on Book Burner clock in under two minutes, and yet Hayes, Hull, Harrison, and new drummer Adam Jarvis (of fellow mid-Atlantic metal kingpin Misery Index) manage to pack each cut with scabrous riffs, speed-bag blastbeats, and even hooks, such as they are, often switching them up like a bad transmission slips gears before pinching off the racket in as little as 40 seconds. So much grindcore winds up a blaring blur, but never Book Burner.
Hayes says that there was no calculated plan to get back to basics when Hull sat down to write the music for the new album. “Scott’s going to do what comes naturally to him,” Hayes says, “and what comes naturally to him is really extreme grindcore.”
“That being said, JR and I definitely sat down at one point with [Scott] and he said, ‘What sort of stuff do you want me to try for?’” Harrison says. “And we said, ‘Short, fast, and loud.’”
“That’s pretty much always what I ask for,” Hayes adds. “I don’t wanna sit down with my band and have somebody say, ‘I think this next album should be like Rush.’ ’Cause that would scare the shit out of me.”
Book Burner certainly doesn’t sound like the work of a band that took five years off between albums and that’s because it never really took time off. After Phantom Limb, the band got kicked out of its practice space, and the members spent a good chunk of the intervening half-decade building a professional recording studio in Hull’s basement. Longtime drummer Brian Harvey left the band; his replacement, Dave Witte, soon departed due to scheduling conflicts. With Jarvis on board at last and the new studio ready to go, the band finally got around to recording a new album this past summer.
“We were always together and trying to make it work,” Hayes says, citing the band’s long-standing weekly meet-ups, drummer or no. “It just took a long time to get back on the right foot.”
Hayes was writing lyrics the whole time, filling notebooks with stories and lyrics—about tales of misanthropy and misfortune, often with themes of violence—to be rummaged through and reassembled when Hull’s songs started rolling in. “Some of the lyrics on this album are seven years old,” Hayes says, adding that “The Baltimore Strangler” probably went through “30 different versions” before he arrived at the adroit stalker tale telegraphed on the album.
Anyone parsing the lyrics of the title track for connections to the current climate of political truthiness and willful no-nothingness will find them (“my facts/ have been checked/ more closely/ and nobody cares”).
“Empirical evidence only matters if someone gives a shit about it,” Hayes says. “People walk around every day believing all kinds of bizarre things for all sorts of nonsensical reasons.” These days, he adds, “you don’t have to burn the books—people don’t give a shit about books.”
But Pig Destroyer isn’t about preaching or politics—it’s about knocking you back about four steps with guitars and amps and drums and throat-shredding hollering, all focused into tight, furious bursts. And it’s something the band members seem to need themselves every bit as much as they enjoy inflicting on others. It seems like that’s a big part of what’s kept the band going for 15 years, around and between day jobs and setbacks, even if they’re just getting together in Hull’s basement.
“That’s therapy, man,” Harrison says.
“Even if we couldn’t practice, we’d still probably get together and drink beer, talk about grindcore and horror movies,” Hayes says. “That’s really what it’s all about, just hanging out with your friends and trying to forget that you have to go to work on Monday.”
And Pig Destroyer’s infrequent albums and almost-as-infrequent live dates help keep grindcore from being a grind, for band and fans alike.
“We’ve been around for 15 years and there’s still hundreds of places we’ve never been,” Hayes enthuses. “Stuff is still really new and exciting to us. Next weekend we go to Canada for the first time.”
“It makes it a little more special in a way,” Harrison says. “I’ve done a lot of press in Canada and the kids are juked. It’s a great feeling.”
> Email Lee Gardner