We recently caught up with Philadelphia grindcore trio Die Choking for an interview for the print version of Decibel to talk about their raging new album, IV, which comes out on October 22 on DCIVE. However, the band members gave us so much interesting material to work with that we thought we’d give you even more of the interview here to read while you’re pretending to work but really are listening to blistering grind and poking around our site.
Read on to find out what the members of Die Choking—guitarist Jeffrey Daniels, drummer Joshua Cohen, and vocalist/bassist Paul Herzog—think about blockchain, how the lyrics to the new album are all about airways and the relationship between seven-string guitars and five-string basses and grindcore.
How are you feeling about the new album?
Herzog: I definitely feel like our own style as a band and as individual players is more fully formed on this album. It took a while, but we didn’t really take any shortcuts with the writing, rehearsing, and production of IV. For me, it is nasty and urgent in a way that the prior releases didn’t capture and we all felt that it was super important that there were more clear “hooks.” Probably hard to tell, but I constantly listen to early D.R.I. and Accüsed records as a point for better songwriting. I really feel that Blaine from the Accüsed and Kurt from D.R.I. are foundational vocalists and musicians for grindcore as style. I felt that in our own writing and in a lot of modern grind and metal the focus on memorability was getting lost with an overemphasis on speed or technicality. I fucking love a lot of obtuse, noisy, fast and complex stuff but only secondarily to a damn good song.
Daniels: Yeah, I’m really proud of how it came out, as well. We all worked really hard on the writing and production. Nothing was rushed by any means, and everyone we worked with really came through and added a lot to the project.
How do you feel it compares to the first, and to your EPs? To me, it’s so much heavier both in terms of production and songwriting, and the songs also pack more of a punch on an emotional level. It’s a more intense and satisfying release, as a listener.
Daniels: It’s getting closer to how we really want it to sound.
Cohen: Yeah, IV is more of a completed work, to be sure. The first two EPs were basically demos. I was tracked in a single day and II in a day or two, flash mix and master, then it’s out the door for the 7-inch presses as fast as humanly possible. We suffered from the same lack of patience that’s common with many new bands, I think. The age-old debate of timeliness vs. quality of writing [laughs]. The writing/recording processes behind III were also self-imposed rushes. Fortunately with III, we had the ability to [record with] Will Yip at Studio 4 who certainly helped us add cohesion to our overall sound. Looking back, that experience with Yip set into motion the drive to cultivate a more professional and individual sound as a band. III suggested at or perhaps intimated what we were striving to achieve sonically, whereas IV now sees those distant rumblings converge into a deliberate storm. We’re still very much on the journeymen path as musicians. This latest mixing effort with Andy Nelson at Bricktop feels like a definite turning point in our musical output.
IV is also the first DC release where writing, practicing, and tracking to a metronome was paramount to the process. We finally pulled out a low-end presence and saturation that feels proper. Nothing more boring than a thin record with no lows. Riffs are meant to be felt, not just heard. It’s fun to still be very much in the throes of learning our crafts and growing as a band. We all pool very, very different influences. I might find as much influence from a Q and Not U, Anderson .Paak, or Dave Brubeck backbeat for a 230 BPM grind section that will then mesh with a guitar part from a completely opposite end of the musical spectrum. Part of the challenge in the songwriting is not having a bunch of songs that just feel like pieces stitched together or three dudes playing parts at each other vs. with each other. As I get older, I am slowly coming around to the fact that whatever brilliance can be attributed to most any craft process, it more often than not lies in the ability to self-edit. The strip down, the building of segues, the fine tuning, all just as, if not more, important than the initial spark of creativity.
Now, I’m going to be honest, I don’t know anything about bitcoin. Your bitcoin-exclusive package is the first I’ve heard of a band doing that sort of thing. Where did this idea come from, and why did you decide to do it?
Cohen: I may regret this idea in the end, but fuck it, we’re committed to it now [laughs]. Seriously though, bitcoin (BTC) at its core is pretty fucking punk. It broke into an unwelcoming scene and established a now-global alternative system of finance. This is a good thing for everybody. I think many people who ascribe to punk ideals on various levels all share a sense of aversion to modern finance or corporatism. But no matter what one’s views on capitalism, in our current world, capital dictates maneuverability in relation to access to healthcare, quality food, water, aid, education… BTC is not a mysterious wonder beyond the realm. If you can appreciate the weird sounds that come from a piece of wood when you strike it or a steel string when you pluck it, then you can figure out Bitcoin and the world of cryptocurrency. More and more trusted exchanges and apps are popping up where you can swap regular fiat for BTC in literally seconds. Ignore all the bullshit, sensationalized drama about the price spikes. The same way you don’t need to know how to build an engine to drive a car, you don’t need to understand complex algorithms to use bitcoin. BTC is like hopping in on your first dance or jam session… Sit back, watch it for a minute until you catch the groove. When you’re ready to take the plunge, start in the shallow end. Trade some of your couch change for your first BTC… Follow the very simple logic of buy BTC when the price drops (you know, when the line moves down on those funny graphs), trade it or hold it as the price line goes back up. BTC will let you keep your punk rock card, I promise. And maybe make a little extra scratch. Hell, in no time you can cop an exclusive Die Choking colored vinyl with your new little honey pot. In a world where finance dictates ability to live freely, it behooves any aspiring artist or artistic community to also make an art form out of making money. Grindcore is no exception.
I also know very little about seven-string guitars, except that I expect them to be used by prog bands and bands who want to sound like Meshuggah. Tell me a bit about why Jeffrey uses one and what it does for the Die Choking sound.
Daniels: For me, seven-string guitars just feel right. I’ve been playing on a seven-string for at least 10 years now; they’re just comfortable. We play in standard B tuning, so there’s nothing crazy going on tuning-wise. No need for any drop tunings or floppy strings; with the seven-string I can play plenty of riffs in the lower register but it maintains the entire range of a regular six-string as well for high parts. For strings I use 10-56s. To get that tone, I just beat the shit out of the guitar.
Herzog: One of the first “real” guitars that I bought was a seven-string in, like, 1999, but this was more a reaction to Trey from Morbid Angel repping an Ibanez Universe 7. I still have that guitar and we still beat the fuck out of it for Die Choking. Interesting story: when I first moved to Philadelphia in 2000 I got a chance to jam out with Danny Lilker in Rich Hoak’s basement. I asked Danny why he always played four-string basses and he explained that the rattle, floppiness, and “grinding” tone of a detuned bass/guitar was one of the main things (aside from the obvious speed) that defined the early sound and foundation of grind. Now, these days, Jeff and I both play on extended range stuff (five- and seven-string bass and guitar, respectively) but the concept still sticks with me. There’s something essential, raw and classic to this idea that I really love, and it helps to keep our own grind personality rooted. When we write and something seems to lack that gnarling quality, we know it and adjust from there. Jeff and Josh and I started to call these lame, kinda anti-grind parts too “precious” sounding. After playing with fellow American bands like Deterioration (from Minneapolis), Sulfuric Cautery (from Dayton), Strategic War Heads (from Atlanta) and Suppression (from Richmond) over the past few years I felt like my brain was gonna explode. Shit is incredible. Dudes in these bands are all absolutely ripping players but capture a sonic apocalypse that is the heart and soul of grind. Shit ain’t precious at all.
Can you tell me a little bit about what’s going on lyrically on the album?
Herzog: Lyrically, it is an ode to our airways. Breathing is the primary topic. Again, kinda dumb in a way but we talked about the absurdity of Die Choking writing an album about breathing. That served as the foundation but as we got into the writing and came into Josh’s dad’s cancer diagnosis, the flow of the record lyrically took a more personal and clinical formation. I’ve worked as an intensive care nurse for 15 years in an environment where treating those [with] severe brain injury by means of stroke, hemorrhage, tumor, seizure and trauma is the crux of my daily activities. Airway failure often plays a huge role in many of these extreme disease states. It can be a dark, stressful world and take a toll on yourself as a caretaker and to those around you. Helping Josh and his family wade through this kind of devastation was both an extreme privilege and absolutely heartbreaking. My bandmates are like brothers and through the making of IV we became super close and supportive. This all may sound melodramatic, but it was a very real, absurd and difficult time frame. The music speaks to this confrontation with death and loss. The lyrics are sometimes medically technical and humorously absurd and chronicles a process of disease, hospitalization and death. This is a place that the majority of us will end up. Many of us have been at this bedside and felt lost without much recourse or ability to act. We often forget what it means to just take a big breath and deeply exhale. A simple inhalation has so much power. I tried not to forget that while we struggled to make this Die Choking record.