In New York’s flourishing metal scene the experimental death metal band Pyrrhon is a bit of an outlier. Formed when most of the band members were in college, Pyrrhon received widespread acclaim for their 2014 album The Mother Of Virtues, a blend of lyrical and instrumental virtuosity. Pyrrhon is fronted by Doug Moore, a onetime high school athlete and University Of Pennsylvania graduate who rejected conventional paths to success to pursue music. Moore’s mother was featured last year in our Metal Muthas column and a full stream of Pyrrhon’s new EP Growth Without End appeared here several weeks ago. Moore talked to us about cross-state commutes to band practice and the end times.
How did you decide to become a metal vocalist?
I didn’t know it was going to be something I pursued seriously for years. It wasn’t until about 2010 when I was getting ready to graduate from college that I had an opportunity to do it on a semi-serious level. To some degree, I decided to do this as a matter of expedience. I played violin and trumpet in the school band and come from a musical household. After a few years of following (heavy) music I started coming across bands that had compelling lyrics. That led me to wanting to scream. I don’t have a great ear for pitch so my clean singing is pretty awful. There are also a lot of metal vocalists and lyricists that write compelling lyrics and that appealed to me.
Some vocal instructors now teach people how to protect their voices if they want to do extreme music but there isn’t exactly a guidebook if you want to do extreme vocals.
I thought I should just try to do it. I would listen to records and try to memorize vocal patterns. It came naturally because I was sort of obsessed with music. And then I would just try to do it. I’d wait for my parents to leave the house to do something and would put on a Black Flag or Pig Destroyer record and try to do the vocals. Of course, I’d blow my voice out after 30 seconds. My parents would come home and I couldn’t talk and they’d be very perplexed. So it was trial and error for many years. The first seven odd years there were no signposts at all or instructions. I just tried to make different parts of my throat resonate.
Did you always view being a lyricist and vocalist as a combined package?
That’s why this position in a band appealed to me. The skills are completely separate but when I started doing this stuff I was already interested in writing. I had a lot more instruction in writing and I knew I had something going on. But if you want to be in a band and write lyrics you better learn how to scream.
You had a teacher that encouraged you on the writing front, correct?
During my academic career I had a few teachers who told me I had some talent. There was an English teacher in high school named Carl Rosin who was extremely gifted and smart and had a strong sense of ethics. When I ended up in his class I already liked and respected him which isn’t always the case as a teenager. He taught me a lot about rigor and discipline in my prose. He’s also the first teacher I ever had who taught me about creative writing. It was the first time I wrote poetry or anything that resembled a lyric. It helped me develop my approach. That was the only formal instruction I ever had with crafting lyrics.
After you get out of college do you pursue joining a band or did you move to New York and it happened organically?
I joined Pyrrhon in college. I knew our guitarist (Dylan DiLella) from my high school years; he grew up in the town over. I actually did the band as a commuter. I would go to classes during the week and on the weekend hop on the Chinatown bus, the cheapest option from Philly to New York. I’d do my homework on the bus and then get out and go straight to band practice in Brooklyn. A lot of times I’d go right back home and sometimes I went overnight.
In my last semester of college I thought we had something worth pursuing. The economy was also in the shitter and there were no professional paths that were really appealing. I’d had some revelations – which sounds a little dramatic. But I realized that some of the institutions and values that made the world around me make sense were nonsense. The thought of going right into the working world and becoming a upstanding citizen didn’t really appeal to me. I thought I could do that and be unhappy or play in a band, something I wanted to pursue.
I imagine if you are at an Ivy League school that fronting a death metal band isn’t something a lot of future titans of industry can identify with…
(laughs) No. The vast majority of people at Penn had no idea what I was doing. I often felt a little out of place in class because I’d show up in a band shirt and jeans. People around me were already dressing for their future think tank jobs and were business casual. I was definitely a bit of an odd duck at school. There are a lot of off the wall creative people there so I wasn’t without a community but it was a fringe thing.
What do you remember about those bus trips to Brooklyn?
Doing homework. In the Northeast, these budget lines run by East Asian companies go from one Chinatown to the next. They were the cheapest option. My schoolwork was pretty rigorous and I couldn’t fuck off for a whole day. I’d bring my books and laptop and sit with all the weirdos on the bus and read about democratic theory and take notes and try to process it. Once you really commit to that sort of traveling it becomes much easier to focus on things that aren’t your surroundings. I might as well have been at a cubby in the library.
So when you graduate from college, people are saying I’m going to X law school and you say I’m going to front a technical death metal band with no commercial possibilities.
It was pretty terrifying. I knew the band would never become a commercial thing. I didn’t have a job lined up in New York. I just went and sublet for a month with the idea that idea that if I didn’t find a job I’d move back with my parents. Again, I had friends at Penn into music and they got it. When I tried to explain to people who didn’t come from that background they’d be perplexed or would laugh at me a bit. A lot of people were just taken aback that I’d go to New York without a job. Penn is a feeder for the financial industry and law firms so the idea of becoming a bus boy while I tried to get my death metal band off the ground was pretty alien to most people not in my immediate circle.
Did that uncertainty work its way into the music you were writing?
Definitely. After I moved to New Work we finished writing and recording our first LP (An Excellent Servant But A Terrible Master). It was done under tenuous conditions. I was living with very little money in a pretty messed up part of Flatbush. The building I lived in had crack dealers in the lobby that hassled my girlfriend. One of the (dealers) got shot in the head in the building when I was sleeping. And the band didn’t really know what we were doing. The material was very ambitious and we didn’t know how to play it and could barely record. That whole time of my life was fraught with tension and fear. Those emotions are very present in the music and in many senses haven’t gone away. There’s still that uncertainty and insecurity.
Would you say that after you moved to New York and committed fully to the band that things gelled artistically?
When I was traveling we were still very much trying to figure out what we were doing. Most of us weren’t even 21 yet. We started as a straight-ahead tech/death project. It wasn’t really until I moved to New York that the band went more free form and less genre locked. In the beginning we had potential but not really the skill or vision. When I came (to New York) that’s when our creative output became exciting.
When did the material on (sophomore album) The Mother Of Virtues come together?
It took about two years, which doesn’t sound long. The first song we wrote was “Implant Fever.” I wrote that in the beginning of 2011 and we played it at the record release show for our first album. We started to work on the album almost immediately after recording the first record.
Looking at The Mother Of Virtues and the new EP Growth Without End there seems to be similar preoccupations: disease, unchecked growth, prosperity as the disease that will ultimately do us in.
Those were some of the big background ideas on Mother and Growth Without End has a similar conceptual underpinning. As time goes on it seems that the problems we face as a society have a lot to do with abundance and excess. A literal interpretation would be population growth with a limited amount of habitable space. Every living thing has an infinite drive to procreate. So, there’s this pattern of desire to grow that’s out of balance with the amount of space we have. It’s problematic in the policy sense. But it also has a melancholy resonance. This is what people are coded to want to do: to want more, to get more things. It’s this irresolvable tragedy that is going to cause more problems as there are more people and fewer resources. And yet to change it you’d somehow have to change human nature.
Do these things worry you to the point of anxiety?
A lot of things I deal with lyrically I have problems dealing with emotionally or philosophically. One of the reasons I got into writing lyrics is because it seemed like a good arena to grapple with these problems. It seemed like a way to address these things productively, that wasn’t just lying awake at night worrying. It was a way to get a release.
I know from personal experience that if I didn’t try to occupy myself with something these issues could literally drive me crazy.
Well, look at environmental issues. That’s a battle we’ve lost already and now it’s about how we deal with the ramifications of that loss. It’s impossible to think about these things all the time because you’d fall apart. And you need to be able to pay your rent and do your job and be there for your family. So, for me, addressing the stuff in lyrics allows me to compartmentalize it and then I can fill other parts of my life with things that are easier on my brain. It’s a survival tactic.
Even though Pyrrhon is in many ways a difficult listen your breakthrough second album received a largely positive reception. What did you make of it? Did it surprise you?
I didn’t know what to think or expect when we put the The Mother Of Virtues out. It’s hard to predict how people are going to respond. I definitely would have predicted a less enthusiastic response. The album demands a lot from the listener but a surprising number of people were willing to deal with the harshness. Some of my favorite music requires some kind of investment. The listener needs to put in work. I was pleasantly surprised that people were willing to do that work for our music, especially because An Excellent Servant But A Terrible Master was met with a smattering of applause and silence.
Growth Without End is on a new label, Handshake.
I know David (Hall, label head) through writing for Invisible Oranges. We’d been friends for a few years. When we pitched the EP to Relapse and they didn’t want to do it I asked David and he wanted to put it out. This is the first time I’ve worked with someone I know well on a personal level and it’s made communication much better.
The songs on the EP are much tighter than on Mother. Was that intentional?
Coming off the Mother sessions we wanted to write songs but we didn’t want another grueling process for an album. One of things we developed the ability to do during Mother Of Virtues was play really fast and tight. The original idea was to do ten one-to-two minute songs. That didn’t really work out; it ended up a mix of that and traditional song structures. We did want to write and record as quickly as possible and try to make compact songs. We wanted a really dirty, quick release.
You recently toured France and were abroad for about a month. When you are having that sort of experience does that validate the bus trips and the decision to take a different path?
I have lost an incredible amount of money with Pyrrhon; everyone in the band has. But the experiences we’ve had together writing these records and going on the road has been incredible. I never thought touring Europe was in the realm of possibility. The fact that we’ve been able to do these things has made every cent worth it.
Readers in the the New York City area: Pyrrhon will play a record release show with Fight Amp, KEN Mode and Couch Slut this Thursday (June 18) at Saint Vitus Bar.