On their debut, 2013’s Scorn, Primitive Man introduced themselves as one of the heaviest, most nihilistic bands currently active. On their second record—which follows a number of splits and an EP—Caustic, Primitive Man return heavier, noisier and even more hateful than before.
Listen to new song “Commerce”—streaming exclusively through Decibel below—to hear the second offering from Caustic. Vocalist/guitarist Ethan McCarthy’s instantly recognizable vocals cut through a wall of feedback, noise and down-tuned guitars as the accompanying video decays and corrodes with “Commerce.”
Decibel spoke to McCarthy about Caustic, touring and the future for Primitive Man, so keep reading for a full interview with the frontman. Caustic is out on October 6 through Relapse.
The first thing I noticed about listening to Caustic is that it feels a little more blackened than your other album. Do you agree with that, and was that a conscious thing if so?
I feel like we’ve been doing that stuff for a little bit on some of the material. We put out a bunch of splits and things like that where we’ve done different stuff. I guess it probably sounds out because our first full-length record (Scorn) doesn’t have very much of that at all. We’ve kind of been peppering it in for a little bit.
Scorn is a lineup change ago in terms of drummers and five years ago, so definitely some things have changed since then. And when Scorn was written and recorded, Primitive Man really wasn’t going to be a full time band. It was just supposed to be a fun thing and it turned into what it is now, which is everything that I do.
You mentioned that Primitive Man didn’t start to be a serious project, it was more of a thing for fun. That’s changed quite a bit; it is a full time band now. How did that change happen to you and how are you feeling about it?
I guess it just changed for me because I was in a band before where the members couldn’t really tour that much anymore and they’d given up the dream, and I was the only one who was really into doing this musician thing, sort of a full-time gig. It’s unrealistic to think that this can pay all of my bills or anything, but I guess it’s like this, man: I just like to play music all over and I like to do it at least half the year, and it’s hard to find people who can do that.
I think that even when Primitive Man started, my heart was broken because my other band had broken up, I wanted to just put out a doom record because I’d wanted to play doom for so long. I recorded with some friends and then it turns out these friends were into the same idea of trying to tour all the time and then it was kind of continued. I was just forcing it, to find a group of people who were able to do that. Everyone has jobs—I’m a substitute teacher. I can kind of arrange that schedule around touring, and these guys work in restaurants and bars and stuff, and they can kind of finagle their schedule around our touring thing.
Some guys wanna have really good careers with benefits and stuff and I guess we’re sacrificing a little bit of that to have the freedom to be able to tour, so if you have the other people that are down, I think that’s kind of how that’s worked out, honestly.
Has that affected your writing process? Having the ability to play all the time and tour all the time? Has that changed how you’re writing or releasing records?
We wrote a lot of Caustic while on tour this time because we spent 6 months of 2016 on tour. We were writing the record the whole time. We were on tour with Magrudergrind in Europe for six weeks; a lot of that tour, people were hearing the first draft of some of these songs because we were just testing them out in front of a live audience.
You’re also a member of Vermin Womb and of Withered. How do you manage to stay involved with all these bands? How are you finding time for all of it?
Well, I had to quit Withered, which was really sad because those guys are my friends and I’ve known Mike [Thompson, guitar/vocals] and Beau [Brandon, drums] for a long time, so I was really excited to play music for them but it just wasn’t working out in terms of my time schedule, so I had to let it go.
And Vermin Womb are not able to tour as much, so we do what we can. We go out maybe once a year, so it’s pretty manageable. So when Primitive Man is home, I can find a month or two in there when Vermin Womb can do a tour and that sort of thing.
So at this point, Primitive Man is the dominant and everything is kind of behind that.
Yeah, it’s just the right situation, those guys are able to tour and we all get along and we’ve been doing it together for a while. I’ve been playing with those dudes in Vermin Womb for well over a decade, but it’s just few and far between.
I’m thankful that I get to do it this much with Primitive Man and I’m thankful that I get to do whatever little I can with Vermin Womb. I was not happy to have to stop playing with Withered, but they played the Decibel [Metal & Beer] Fest without me because I was on tour with Primitive Man, so that sucks. They deserve to have somebody who’s there all the time, contributing all the time, and being a more active band member and I couldn’t really provide that.
No beef at all, that’s the one thing I want to come across: No beef at all, we’re still really good friends.
When you were writing Caustic were you actively trying to do anything different than your previous releases?
Honestly, we were trying to take the time to write really good songs because some of the material in the past—especially for the splits and stuff—was pretty rushed. We had deadlines and shit that we had to meet. But with this one, we tried to take a little bit more time. We wrote it over a year-and-a-half and we tried to be heavier than every other thing we’ve ever done. That was the number one, our base goal, was to be heavier than all the other stuff we’ve ever released, which is a cliché-ass thing to say, I guess, but some people don’t do that. Some people lighten up a little bit.
The subject matter is pretty heavy on some of this stuff, so I wanted the music to reflect that. We wanted to create a sonically heavier record with better-written songs, with more thought put into them, but still maintain the Primitive Man thing.
What were some of the things you were writing about, from a lyrical perspective this time?
The political climate in America. In the world, too. Everybody’s having a hard time everywhere. I write about race relations in it—I’m black and white, so I have a perspective on that which I haven’t written that openly about that for Primitive Man, ever. I wrote about some of that stuff, depression, mental illness kind of stuff. And then, about direct conflict with people, which I haven’t really done with Primitive Man either. There were some recent events in my life that I was affected by so strongly that I had to write about them and also there was a couple deaths I had to write about as well.
I guess if I could sum it up, I was having a hard time in my personal life and I felt like the world around me was also turning to shit.
You’re going out with Bell Witch. Would you say you prefer to go out with bands who sound a lot like you, who sound different than you?
That’s a hard question for me to answer. We did a tour with Weedeater and then we met up with The Obsessed. We had a really nice time, and that shit is not like us at all. I find a real kinship between Weedeater’s music and ours, which might sound weird. I feel like it’s kind of close, just because Weedeater’s the heaviest and most gritty-sounding weed metal band there is.
I feel like we can tour with Weedeater, but we can tour with funeral doom like Bell Witch and we toured with some grindcore bands, but then we toured with Fister from St. Louis is kind of in the same vein of Primitive Man. For us, it’s just touring with bands who are good at what they do. It doesn’t have to sound like us or be completely different.
Once you put out the record and do the tour with Bell Witch, what comes next? Do you start writing for the next release?
We have material for a split recorded but I can’t say who it is. But we have a split that will come out, and it’s some songs we recorded at the same time as Caustic and written in the same block, but we wrote the songs for this split. They’re kind of psychedelic, that’s the difference.
We are going to try to cover everywhere in the U.S. we didn’t hit on this Bell Witch tour and we’ll try to go to Europe and everywhere else— we toured Japan last year, so I’d like to go there, but for sure Europe and the rest of the U.S. and this split, that’s kind of what I know for right now.