UK extremists The Atrocity Exhibit on fierce riffs and one-take grind

You’ve got to love and admire the optimism of people in the UK. While limited releases are a staple practice in underground music, adding both that exclusivity/collector appeal and some fiscal security, British grind champs The Atrocity Exhibit took it to, uh, extremes and limited the supply of 2011 faceripper Grind Over Matter to a paltry 25 units. Twenty five. Shit, now, this would be understandable if they were at the opposite side of the hall from awesome, but that’s not the case. Discounting family and friends, that’s like five copies for the general public. Sheesh.
Now, if the UK extreme music underground had some sort of regulatory authority they’d be crying shenanigans, calling them out on price fixing or something, or putting some sort of measures in place so that we export this sort of noise wholesale: it deserves to be heard. J.Randall thinks so, too. He signed them to Grindcore Karaoke, the web 2.0’s repository for the grind-fast and brutal. As such, The Atrocity Exhibit’s Damned and Blasted and Grind Over Matter are readily available to download. Praise be.

Following December 2011’s ass-haul across the United Kingdom with genre titans and progenitors Napalm Death (look ’em up, they’re really swell), we caught up with vocalist/guitarist and designated driver (not strictly true) James Caygill to ask what’s the deal with the pessimism re: the limited output, and got some background on one of the UK’s fiercest, an introduction if needed. Over three cups of English tea, this is what we got.

How did you guys get together? Well, rubbish question obviously, but it’s all pertinent for the back story, plus it is kinda interesting as you’re a four-piece, and that’s kinda unusual for grind, to rock two guitars AND a bass, that is.
Our first proper gigging line-up was actually a five-piece, I don’t think we had any particular idea of what sort of band we were even going to be so it was never a conscious decision. At one point after the first year we were down to a two-piece for a while, it took us a long time to settle into a stable line-up. I think we had ten or more changes, mostly with bassists, before we got Dave on board. More instruments make more noise!

How did you come by Fuzzy Dave, was this accidental/incidental or had you been looking for a bassist for some time? Were you worried about not leaving space in your sound or was it about thickening it up, creating a wall?

We were just carrying on as a three-piece after our last bassist had left. We had a mate standing in whenever he was available but he already had a full-time band. I think we’d been through something like eight changes in line-up with bassists over two years by this point. Dave had been in various bands with Danny [Curtis, drums] in the past, and we all knew him; it was the natural choice for him to get involved really. We had actually wanted him to join a few years before, and I think he was interested back then too, but for some completely daft unknown reason we just never all got together to make it happen. He’d been in the band about a week when he recorded Damned and Blasted with us, and a few weeks after that was his first gig with us supporting Magrudergrind!

What about the name: were (are) you big Joy Division or JG Ballard fans?
Yeah it was from the Joy Division song, it just seemed to fit with a band trying to make a lot of frantic noise! The J.G. Ballard novel makes use of a very unorthodox form of structure, which if I was wanting to be mega-pretentious I could try to claim fits in with grindcore song writing but I didn’t read that ‘til afterwards anyway. I’m just glad you didn’t ask if it was because of Exodus…

What were the primary, or most important influences? And have these changed over the years? (These don’t have to be musical, in fact, I was going to ask with regards to playing truly underground music is it more to see how far you can push it, sonically, that’s the real motivation to do it whereas the influences merely flavour the mix/how you sound)
In the early stages we were trying to take a range of styles from death metal, grindcore, doom, sludge, in similar ways to how Acid Bath, Soilent Green and Cephalic Carnage did. At some point we settled into a bit more of the early hardcore punk sound mixed with blast beats and big sludge riffs. Ultimately I’d say we’re just massively in debt to Motörhead, Black Sabbath, the Misfits, and Acid Bath. The constant quest for fast came from watching Narcosis a lot back in the day. We all listen to a wide range of stuff and I think we get inspiration from all sorts of genres, even from people like Thelonious Monk, Prince, or even film scores etc. Our CD wallet on tour included Elvis, Nick Drake, Lynyrd Skynyrd, RL Burnside, Tom Waits, Robert Johnson and Little Richard. Make of that what you will!

Do you consider yourselves a grind band? I mean, bands are either OK with a broadish categories and others just totally hate it totally.
I think grindcore is the one we feel most comfortable with, although I’m sure there’s plenty people would argue we’re not a grind band. I don’t think we slot easily into any particular group, but we always seem to go down better with a punk crowd than a metal crowd when we stray from the grind scene. We just like to play as fast as we can, and then play riffs that make you punch the air.

You’ve got that sludgy horribleness; is it important to have that contrast, to make the faster parts fast?
Yeah I think contrast with tempos is important, or at least something I really enjoy in aggressive music. If everything’s going ten t’dozen all the time then my mind just starts to switch off, I need the variation to keep my interest! We’re all big fans of the filthy Midlands and New Orleans grooves so if there’s any excuse to do a riff we’ll do it!

You recorded Grind Over Matter in one take (correct me if I’m wrong here), what was that like, as an experience? Is this the first time you’ve recorded like that?
Yeah the set-up was literally two microphones at one end of the practice room plugged into a laptop, and then we wrote out a list of songs on a flyer, pressed record and played through the whole lot, no edits or anything. Our friend Andy did a bit of EQing but I’m not sure how much he could change with it like that. We only recorded the whole thing so we could do a split cassette with Atomck for our European tour together. I think we recorded it a few days before we set off. We only ever expected it to be heard by about 20 people as that’s about as many tapes as we made. Most of the songs are from other EPs so it’s not really a proper release for us I guess, though now it’s been downloaded by over 5000 people. We definitely preferred recording like that, we’re very much a live band and it feels strange trying to record the songs with individual instruments. It’s a better representation of what we sound like, but you do sacrifice a bit of the clarity to capture the energy. We’re going to attempt to do parts of it live like that for our next recording as well, depends on the limitations of whatever equipment we have access to in the studio really.

Is grindcore a genre best captured in that fashion? Do you think there is a lot of grind that has too much structure from too much care taken with its writing and recording?
We spend a ridiculous amount of time on structure of things, mostly just on whether the energy of a song is right, and trying to make everything as concise as possible. If we repeat a riff more than twice now then we wonder if we need it or not. There are songs we’ve been slowly writing for probably a year now, even today at practise we were removing bits from a newish song that we’d already been playing live for a few months. I think grind can be very liberating from normal song structures though, there’s no rules for it and as long as the fury’s kept up it’s all good. If we think we have an idea worth repeating then we do it, maybe with a slight variation, otherwise we’ll stick another idea in there instead. We maybe shot ourselves in the foot a bit once we started trying to write proper songs, it takes us ages to be happy with something now.

Who did the (awesome) cover art for Grind Over Matter? Is the band’s overall aesthetic something that you obsess over, or rather take a lot of care over?
That was Luke Oram from Atomck! He’s been doing quite a few posters and covers recently, take a quick peek at his website. He did the cover for the TAE/Atomck split cassette, and when I was sending our side to Randall at Grindcore Karaoke I just shifted it about a bit and sent it off (sorry Luke I should have asked and I feel a knob for not doing that… haha!). For our other stuff I get a bit picky about everything having the right look for us. I do design and album art for bands myself so I feel like everything has to be exactly right if other folk are getting involved. The artwork for Damned and Blasted was by a local tattooist called Marco who sang for one of Danny’s old bands, he also did an ace t-shirt design for us.

How did you get involved with Grindcore Karaoke, did J. Randall get in touch with you? And what can they do for you that a more conventional label couldn’t?
I think Randall mentioned us on Twitter, and we didn’t see it ‘til maybe a month later because we were too drunk. He was releasing an EP for Atomck so I assume he heard us through them. Anyway, I sent him an email saying cheers for giving us props on there, and we’d be up for working with him if he was interested. A few more emails went back and forth and then we’re suddenly up on his site with all those cool bands. It’s been great exposure for us, I think in the first three months or so we’d had 10,000 album downloads between the two releases, not including all the other sites that post his releases up, or the torrent sites etc. Being presented to such a wide audience like that, as well as just being associated with Randall by proxy is a great opportunity, and maybe helped give us a little validity as a band. One of those nerdy moments to tick off on our fanboy checklist…

Does the UK have a big enough infrastructure to support a healthy grind scene? It seems that we have the bands but raising awareness is always a constant concern. Who should people be checking out from the UK underground?
I think so. The support shown on the recent Wormrot tour proves there is a crowd for it. I think it can be tricky for the bands to find the audience, but it is out there. It exists very much in the underground so it’s only there if people are looking for it, there’s generally not much in the way of coverage in the magazines etc. It took us about five years before we got past playing shows to three people, and we’re finally at a stage where people seem to want us to go and play somewhere. There seems to be quite a strong scene developing at the moment, in terms of bands at least. A lot of the bands in the current wave of it have been going a similar length of time, and are finally breaking through and making people pay attention. Ultimately the scene’s never going to be as strong in numbers as the death metal or hardcore crowds, but it’s probably more dedicated and hardworking. Most of the bands are involved in some DIY way with putting on shows or working with other bands, and that goes across Europe as well. Some quick picks from the current UK grind scene off the top of my head: The Afternoon Gentlemen, Atomck, Evisorax, Magpyes, Vicious Bastard, Oblivionized.

What are your plans for 2012? Can we expect more music?

We’re about to record some songs for two split 7”s, both will have a mixture of new songs and some covers by bands that are important to us in some way. The splits are with Catheter (ace, similarly-sludgy grind stalwarts from Colorado) and Chronocide (grim and hateful d-beat with a black metal vibe, from up North somewhere). Both hopefully available before Summer. We’re also just finishing off a load of new songs for a proper album, hopefully recording that around Summer at some point but it depends how long it takes us to finish writing and get the money together to fund it all.

What would you like to add to your sound?

I have no idea! I’m keen for the material we start to write after this album to sound a bit different again but I’ve no idea what that’ll involve yet. I think it’s important to keep trying to move forward, but we’ll see what happens when we get there. It’ll definitely still involve blastbeats, big riffs, and stupid timings.

Oh yeah, the annoying end of year question: what was your top five grind/powerviolence etc… albums of 2011.

Hmm, in bullet-dodging alphabetical order it’d probably involve:
The Afternoon Gentlemen Pissedography (Give Praise Records)
Atomck Yes to Alien Victory (Grindcore Karaoke)
Cloud Rat Self-titled/Fever Dreams (Grindcore Karaoke)
Evisorax Isle Of Dogs (Grindcore Karaoke)
Lycanthrophy Self-titled (Kaotoxin/Bones Brigade)
Total Fucking Destruction Hater (Kaotoxin/Bones Brigade)
Wormrot Dirge/Noise (Earache)
I know that’s more than five, have a freebie or two! I didn’t even intend on writing those in alphabetical order, that’s just how my fingers typed it.

The Atrocity Exhibit is James (guitar/vox), Danny (drums/vox), Lee (guitar), Fuzzy Dave (bass). Check out their page at Grindcore Karaoke here.