Grindcore trio Cloud Rat have been one of the genre’s most-prolific and willing-to-experiment entities over the last 12 years, releasing a steady stream of albums, EPs and splits, rarely gone for more than a couple months before dropping something new. Their latest album, Threshold, shows many sides of Cloud Rat, from the hyper-aggression of “Inner Controller (Lucid Running Home)” to the more “melodic” grindcore leanings of “Kaleidoscope,” which we’re premiering today.
Decibel caught up with Cloud Rat drummer Brandon Hill to talk shop about Threshold, touring and how the band maintains their hectic release schedule.
Cloud Rat are one of the more prolific bands in extreme music right now. How do you maintain that pace and still experiment with so many styles?
I would say it’s funny you would say that as we don’t always feel very prolific! Though I’ve come to realize that the sheer overwhelming pace of ‘content’ output / information / endless streaming singles / studio sneak peeks / live footage / Patreons and on and on has caused what feels like prolific to have changed so much in recent years.
In times past, I would be overjoyed when a band dropped an album every five years or even dropped an interview. Now it seems almost dubbed mandatory to have an album cycle yearly to be in ‘view’ every month or so…We definitely have, if anything, struggled over the years to maintain consistency of writing cycles or even practice—but in that regard I think of it and believe it to be a more natural path to write / record when the spark is there and when the time feels right.
Not to say that nose-to-grindstone and on-the-spot creativity is anything to scoff at. There are times I certainly wish we could write / record more! Regardless, [guitarist] Rorik [Brooks] we’ve often dubbed as a truly prolific ‘riff machine’ and his approach to making meticulous demos and envisioning things ahead of time the last few years have allowed us to formulate a vibe and plan of attack for various things as we all live two hours or more away from one another.
Coming up with ways of swapping source material and reconfiguring bits and pieces back and forth here and there is something I hope we can explore more on the more adventurous experimental/electronic sides of things. Madison [Marshall, vocals] just recently sent us some source material of her playing guitar / singing through various FX etc. to maybe build upon. There’s something definitely liberating and empowering about doing things you are near scared to try or take a chance on challenging a listener’s expectations or this or that. I don’t think Cloud Rat is a band that has ever wanted to make the same record twice, and with each member often coming from so many different seasons of dwelling in various spheres of influence, I don’t think we’d want to do anything else other than try new things.
On a similar note, in the past you’ve toured with label mates Kaelan Mikkla and have performed regional shows with the likes of Chicago’s HIDE. Do you plan to or even prefer to tour with non-metal artists?
I think while we all have absolutely loved the perhaps countless more ‘metal’-centric grind / doom / punk bands we’ve gotten to tour with over the years, it’s always refreshing to have a mixed-up bill of various sounds that keeps everyone’s ears and energies in a unique zone of keeping ourselves and the audience surprised. One rad thing about touring with KM (other than them being the most amazing band/people) was seeing their fans not know who we were, and vice versa – but still coming together and vibing on the gig and the energies. I think sonics can be very very different but intent and energy still very much similar and often it’s this comparative contrast that leads to the most exciting, challenging and interesting type of tours.
Rorik had said Threshold is your best work yet. What, if anything, did Cloud Rat do differently this time around? Just more experience making records and dialing in your sound?
For one thing we did it all ourselves. Rorik recorded everything. We reconfigured our practice space into a makeshift studio and brought every piece of modular synth kit and keyboard, viola, bucket of scrap metal and beyond to the sessions. Seeing the process completely through from demo to rehearsal sessions, to further writing and meticulous editing and layering etc. I think just breathes an entirely new level of detail into the songs.
Often I would say an outside perspective is always a great thing to have when recording something, but this direction just felt right this time around and I’d say the most complete it has felt. That being said, we still struggled to all get together at the same time, but I think each member held each other accountable performance-wise where needed and truly ended up pushing the boundaries up against what we’ve had done in the past. Rorik’s attention to detail and long time involvement with the songs as well as again just being able to see through the entire process of writing / tweaking / editing / mixing etc., while no doubt was a ton of effort (and perhaps a wee bit maddening, especially for Rorik) puts it just as a body of work with a lot more focus and time spent on it which I think comes across in the songs and album as whole.
We’re premiering the track “Kaleidoscope” today. Do you have any memories from writing or recording the song that stands out?
The whole album is a kaleidoscope-like blur, especially from a drummers perspective! But on the real: a fun fact about the track is, I recall, we debated naming the album after that song as the idea and visuals of a kaleidoscope were very much something we thought about and felt with the sheer amount of ideas and textures and changes in the album.
Threshold definitely suits the record and ideology better, but I think the name and vibe of the track actually perfectly encompass what the record is all about. There’s moments of near prog-synth-laden odd-rhythm drumming and riffage in the beginning, some rather heart-wrenching passages and riffs / tones, coupled with lots of, even to me, unexpected twists and turns (especially the use of space and feel changes), and perhaps some of the most difficult patterns I can recall playing that happen approaching the end of the song.
Another fine memory in particular from recording this track was laying down some modular synth and keyboard layers, which were then cut up via the complex modular sampler from Make Noise called the Morphagene. The notes and tones were cut up and rapidly shifted, causing what actually to my ears sounds like a kaleidoscope of tones, which one can hear in the center of the track as well as clearly at the end. Funny as the sound came before the name, yet sounds like the name!
Threshold was recorded and mixed at your / Rorik’s home studio. Do you feel like handling the recording and mixing phases yourself allowed you to make an album that was closest to the vision in your head?
I definitely think, to reiterate, this is, to my ears, the closest thing I can think of to a pure representation of what a Cloud Rat LP truly sounds like, if that makes sense.
It’s funny, as the only non-founding member that joined the band 5/6 years into the ride, and, as a fan of the previous and early output, gives me maybe a slightly different perspective but one I think we all share: listening back and revisiting or even. at times, playing the old stuff I feel shows definitely some of the ideas and potential, but I think the last few albums and splits have been getting closer and closer to the perhaps truly desired amalgamation of influences, challenging sounds, hair pin turns, experimentation, and emotional release. I think the actual sound, mix and feel of the record is also very much so a Rorik Brooks production and therefore the most complete top-to-bottom representation of the bands sound as it’s built upon his recent approaches to electronic music in Ableton, or with Korg and other demos / videos and projects that have been worked on at the Overlook over the past few years. All of this backed with now years of experience as a band, Madison’s writing and vocal styles continually expanding, and myself diving deeper and deeper into modular synthesis and sound design / experimentation all the while continuing to try to play drums until carpal tunnel no doubt finally takes me down. A full maturation and coming of age in all ways so to speak.
Cloud Rat never sits still for long. What are you working on next?
Honestly, I think we are just trying to sort out what to do next. The world is shockingly (or not that shockingly, perhaps) not feeling in that much better / more stable of a place than in 2020 when we had tours shut down / taken away, and while we had a wonderful time this year at Roadburn Festival and on the road in Europe with the incredible band Leechfeast (listen to Leechfeast!) as well as hitting some of the states around MDF, we are slowly plotting out what to do next and perhaps figure out what we want to do next?
I think in an age truly defined and built upon ‘go go go’ there can be great value in saying ‘hold up, let me stop and assess where I’m at and what I’ve done, and what I truly want to do with the limited time one has.’ A lot of time and energy went into the record along with a lot of ideas and it’s been a lot to tackle what we have this year – so I think letting this album drop and digest a bit and then trying to assess from there is a novel idea. The Michigan winter is coming, which as bleak and cold and grim as it often is here, I always find the most fruitful creatively speaking…who knows! We’ve already kicked back and forth some loose electronic-centered / oddball demos and ideas so here’s hoping it only gets weirder from here…thanks for the interview! Infernal Hails!