Meet noise rock duo Lightning Bolt. Two namesakes from Providence, Rhode Island whose abrasive drum and bass double fisting (metaphorically speaking of course) make Death From Above’s fuzzed out din sound like chopped and screwed lullabies for insomniacs. We chatted to drummer Brian Chippendale about their forthcoming Australian tour, Visa trouble in Japan, Bjork and Freudian band roles.
Just for people who don’t know, how did you guys form? We formed at an art school, here in Province, both studying Visual Arts and I was two years ahead of him. In my third year I was looking for someone to play with and I’d heard about this great new bass player who just arrived at the school so we just started playing kind of right away when he first got there.
What were your first impressions of each other? Well it’s funny we actually played with a guitarist and I think we played maybe four times and then we just gave up. Nobody liked it. Maybe six months later I got together with just the bassist and we suddenly had fun. The very first impression I had was “Ahhh I don’t know about this guy…”
Does it ever get confusing with two Brians? It does get confusing, like I’ve kind of let on that I’m the drummer because I was talking about the bassist. I don’t know if it’s confusing, it’s probably more embarrassing. Like when we meet people and we saye â€ Hey I’m Brian,’ and â€ Hey I’m Brian’. I sound like half of a person or something.
Maybe you should go under monikers. Yeah I probably should just go with my last name, but my last name is pretty ridiculous anyway.
What was it like studying at the Rhode Island School of Design? It seems like such a hotbed of creativity. Yeah it was a good place, I mean it still is a good place. I feel I was there more for the community rather then the class. It’s like a lot of schools where the teachers have been there forever and don’t really have then enthusiasm anymore. But the students were really great and when I was there, there were so many good people around, like the band Black Dice came out of that and Les Savy Fav came out of that area too. It was pretty fun.
But unlike those bands you guys have resisted moving to New York City. (Laughs) Yeah I know! We have. It’s too expensive down there.
Is that the main reason, or do you just love Rhode Island? Both me and Brian came from other places, I came from Philadelphia and he came from Vermont which is about as far north as you can go in the States. So we’re not from here. But I think we both opted for slower living. I never had to get a full time job, we can live off doing art and music. A lot of that has to do with staying in Providence and cheap rent.
Just about that creative community in Rhode Island can you tell us a bit about Fort Thunder? Fort Thunder was a warehouse that me and a couple of my friends started in 1995. It was there for about six years and it was just a big empty old industrial building, like a brick building with wood floors and it leaked through the roof so water came in when it rained, it was freezing cold. Which is actually a lot like the place I live now. But we had shows and practice rooms for bands, heaps of people lived there and built their own rooms and we also dragged in tons of garbage, like broken steps. We kept decorating it with stuff and after a while it became a cave of junk and art.
What caused the demise of Fort Thunder? It was in a mill complex, like an industrial area that follows the river through Providence and knocked all the buildings down and put a grocery store on top of it. So the building got leveled. But the grocery store went out of business.
Karma right? Yeah kind of, it was pretty funny.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve witnessed from behind the drum kit, while you were playing live? Oh nothing too crazy, the occasional puking kid or naked person, I clocked a kid in the head with my drum stick and his head got a humongous bump, like a huge lump. But yeah, nothing too crazy – no deaths.
How did you guys settle on your live set up – playing on the floor and the unconventional set ups you both both employ respectively? Was that an organic thing or stumbled upon through experimentation? It was pretty organic, like the bassist, the other Brian, still experiments with different equipment, searching for that perfect sound. The floor thing was just something we did from the beginning. I think we played one song on stage in a big empty room and thought “this is a joke, what are we doing here? Our three friends are over there, why don’t we go over there and play.’ So we did and then we kind of stuck with it. However we have been changing that tactic a little bit, in the last year we have a played a few stage shows for bigger places. Some of the crowds are just too big now.
What’s the song writing process like between you two? It’s made up of us entirely playing and just jamming. We hardly even bring in a pre-written song. Occasionally either Brian or me will bring in half completed song, but mostly we just go into the practice space at my house. And we slay away and go at it and record everything, listen back and take notes. Sort of trying to find something we can latch onto.
After playing with each other for so long are you intuitive of each others styles and ideas? Yeah kind of, we are but that can be problematic at times because it’s hard to deprive each other. We know when things are working and we can rely on each other to follow through or when it feels good to continue at it. If it’s not working someone will sort of throw a trick in there to make it better or change it up. It’s a pretty smooth process, but we still argue about stuff. And comment on each others playing.
How do you keep it from descending into fights? (Laughs) We were in an argument last night. We were working on this new song and we both started arguing that the song was bad, but for different reasons. It was kind of silly and came down to the fact we were both just tired. We used to have more problems fighting. It’s also got to do with the nature of the instruments we play, I get kind of wound up and loud and he would get all introspective and stay quiet. So I would end up yelling and he’d just shut down and that’d be the end of it. Now we’re older and more sensitive.
So it’s like your instruments and styles are symbolic of your personalities? I never thought about it like that but yeah they kind of are, pretty much exact. I wonder which came first. We were definitely like that at first, but by choosing our instruments and entering into that relationship we kind of made it worse.
Wow this interview just got Freudian. Tell us what it was like drumming on Bjork’s “Volta”? It was definitely interesting. I originally got an email from her label, which was pretty mind-boggling. So I went down to New York and met her and we sat and listened to the whole album that she’d pretty much finished and I went into a room and improvised almost everything. It was funny, it was like a prolonged dream. It wasn’t until a few days later when I was back in Providence that I was wondering whether or not it really happened.
Was she directing you or did you have creative control? I pretty much had creative control, she would say a couple of things, just a bit of direction. The song that ended up getting used she had described the atmosphere she was going for so there weren’t many solutions I could think of. It’s funny the take she used sounds the least like me. I went crazy and pretty wild, drums over all the other songs and the one song I slowed down for she chose. She got in the room at the end and she got pretty excited. It was great she was really nice.
She seems pretty eccentric from the outside do you still keep in contact with her? (Laughs) Not at all. I’ve gotten two emails about using more drums on other songs.
Well speaking of strange collaborations can you tell us about the Boredoms Project, the 77 drums, they wrangled some pretty amazing drummers. What was that like? Yeah they did, they went on to do 88 and just the nine. It was a really good experience. I was almost a little skeptical of it. Maybe it wouldn’t be so serious in a way, but it really worked, it was spellbinding it was good playing in this huge snake of drums. All the drummers came out of it with a feeling of comrade.
Was it hypnotic? Yeah it was, but then there were these areas that were really free form, which was great. For me going back to Fort Thunder and lashing out is really important so you don’t fall asleep. There is enough in there to keep you sharp, but also allowing you to really get into it.
You’re coming to Australia, have you been to Australia before? Never been to Australia.
What are your impressions as a Providence guy who’s never been here before? Impressions from a guy who has never been there before and only seen a few Crocodile Dundee movies – I’m curious and excited to go. Literally between Crocodile Dundee and reading â€ Song Lines’ a book about the walkabout experience like I only know the stereotypical things. I know that’s not real Australia, but yeah.
P: The Power of Salad, that was out a few years ago, can you tell us what that was like documenting a tour when touring in general is such an unnatural experience. Was that a good experience? Yeah it was fun, sometimes it was a little crowded. Four of us shoved into a mini van and two of them had cameras, which they would try and stick it in your face, but it was good. Like we are nowhere near what we’re at now but it’s good to have it documented. It was pretty painless. I’m glad it’s there.
Is it funny to look back on that in retrospect? It’s kind of like a home movie that’s accessible to the whole world. Yeah it’s a little funny. I haven’t watched it in a while, I should though. But I get a little scared when I’m watching it and think to myself â€ am I getting slower?’
With all the traveling do you have any tour horror stories? We flew to Japan for a tour about three years ago after we had been touring the UK for two and half weeks for ten shows and we got turned around. We got denied from the country. We spent 8 hours in immigration and 40 hours in a security room. Next to the airport in a hotel which was covered in graffiti and they were feeding us these red balls for like two days. Then they shipped us back home.
Why were you getting held? The whole thing happened because we didn’t have work visas. Which was understandable. But we’d been there twice and had a record released over there no one had even mentioned getting work visas. SO it was kind of surprising.
Could you have faked being tourists? It was like Google had arrived at the airport before us. They had our show lists, pictures of us and everything it was pretty crazy. We were told someone ratted us out and called immigration and let them know we were coming. We never got the full story.
There’s one hater out there. Yeah in Japan and he has a telephone.