The War Inside My Head: An Interview With Cloud Rat
For the last decade and change Michigan's Cloud Rat have slowly been inching toward grindcore plaid. Now, I know what you're thinking, you're thinking "What the fuck is grindcore plaid?" Well, for those of you versed in Spaceballs lore you might recognize "plaid" as the Mel-Brooksian version of the Star Wars hyperspeed. In one iconic scene the rebel crew flees the evil empire (the Rick-Moranis-led one, that is) when the enemy ship goes into "plaid." Here a little reference for you here:
And so what is this grindcore plaid I speak of? Well, it's that rare feat in which a band, while still firmly embedded in grindcore or hardcore, manages to somehow go so hard as to transcend its own genre and (perhaps accidentally) hit at something entirely new. Other good core-plaids I can think of are of course Converge, probably The Dillinger Escape Plan, and more recently Wake and Jerusalem's own Karkait. What this all means isn't, and this is important, that Cloud Rat is trying to transcend just that they are, with the most recent evidence being their 2019 LP Pollinator and its accompanying experimental EP Do No Let Me off the Cliff. Bringing together the menace of grindcore and hardcore, the melody of, ah, melodic hardcore, with a dynamic, atmospheric sensibility and a real ear for experimentation and, day I say, danger, they are beyond a shadow of a doubt one of the best extreme bands around.
All of which was more than enough reason for me to add these intrepid, creative, unhinged group of artists in our The War Inside My Head interview series, where I talk with some of the most exciting, forward-thinking contemporary extreme artists and try to get at their sources of inspiration and influence. Thus this current installment which includes Cloud Rat's Brandon Hill (Drums/Electronics) and Rorik Brooks (Guitar).
Before we get to that this is just to say that you can check out our other interview series (Albums of the Decade, Pillars of the 90s) and, you haven't already, please follow follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Spotify and support whatever it is that we do on Patreon, and check out our kinda-sorta podcast, MATEKHET (YouTube, Spotify and all that). On to our conversation with Brandon and Rorik.
What was the first album you bought with your own money, and where did you buy it?
Brandon: I believe it was Mudvayne's – L.D. 50 on CD gripped at Circuit City (R.I.P.). Saw the video for "Dig" on MTV early one school morning while chowing down cereal and pop tarts and it was forever burned into my brain. The unhinged rage and insanity of the makeup and all white backdrop was woahhh. The cool surprise is that the rest of the record really doesn't sound like that, and has lots of progressive and melodic moments and is really long and incredibly diverse full length. I worked mad hours raking leaves and mowing lawns to conjure some change together and totally begged Grandma-dear to take me to the store after Bible school or some insane shit. Copping that CD was a truly life-changing moment.
However, I gotta say the last record gripped is the fantastic Nuclear War Now! reissue of Beherit’s legendary Oath of Black Blood session, though perhaps you could argue that it’s a compilation and not a full length. So I suppose the real most recent album would be an insane and rare reissue of the System Shock (DOS game from 1994 scored by Greg LoPiccolo, originally the bassist of Tribe!) soundtrack which I gripped off of a kind Canadian via Discogs. Quite normally, however, I’m bringing home new records / CDs weekly from the record shop I work at (Vertigo Music, Grand Rapids, MI) as I try to take as much advantage of the wholesale cost situation there as I can. I always try to support brick and mortar shops as much as possible. Hail Torn Light Records (Cincinnati, OH) Skeleton Dust (Dayton, OH) Hanson Records (Oberlin, Ohio) Flat Black Circular (Lansing, MI) People’s Records (Detroit, MI) End of an Ear (Austin, TX) and so many more ❤
Rorik: My mom used to shop at this local Christian bookstore called Cook's. First tapes I can remember getting that I picked out, with help from the (apparently somewhat hip) clerk were some metal bands: Vengeance Rising – Released Upon The Earth, Deliverance – Stay of Execution, and Tourniquet – Vanishing Lessons. From the ages of 6-10 I had a steady diet of Christian rock and metal bands' tapes on all the time like the aforementioned, along with White Cross (sounds sketchy haha), Bride, One Bad Pig, Mortification, etc. So those were probably pretty formative but ultimately I shedded that stuff, and I think by the time I started making my own money when I was around 13 I was pretty into classic and mainstream rock, hip-hop and pop music. I unfortunately can't remember what I first bought but I do have a specific memory of buying the Aqua – "Barbie Girl" cassingle lol. Probably Limp Bizkit – 3 Dollar Bill Y'all comes to mind as well. Didn't get heavily into punk/metal for another couple years.
What 2-3 albums did you hear the most growing up?
Brandon: DMX – And Then There Was X…; Mudvayne – L.D. 50, and The Dillinger Escape Plan – Calculating Infinity dead tied with The Locust – Plague Soundscapes. Sorry to pick four but aye – DEP and The Locust I think I literally just rotated back and forth in my CD player for a few years there! They are so intricate, complex yet memorable, always intriguing / surprising and both fairly brief that I still to this day can’t get enough of them. DMX was the very first artist / album I truly fell in love with and memorized – every hint and texture and lyric and inflection was mind-blowing and full of insane rage, vision, street knowledge and beyond. My folks listened to no music, and I didn't have anyone really handing me anything, so MTV / BET and the radio were awfully essential until getting enough money mowing neighbors lawns to go score some CD's. Mudvayne’s L.D. 50 was my first ever metal album I got. The atmosphere and scope of the production is still leaps and bounds more than most major metal albums made today and especially from around the same period.
Rorik: White Zombie – La Sexorcisto and Astro-Creep 2000 were both on pretty constantly when I would hang with my brother in law, who was my father figure quite often. Type O Negative – October Rust was another big one. Led Zeppelin discography. Metallica – Black Album. Britney Spears. Fuck sorry I know you said only two or three but it's hard to narrow down haha. Wu-Tang Clan – Wu Tang Forever. Coal Chamber. [[Check out our interview with J. of White Zombie here]]
What two albums taught you the most about making music (mixing, production, performance)?
Brandon: Tough one. I’d say Nirvana’s In Utero showed my ears the sheer boundlessness of a "rock" record, and the fact that so much could be done with amazing songwriting, good ideas, and otherwise simple elements. Not to mention incredible production that made the band sound like it was right in front of you. On the opposite side perhaps, a lot of Nu-Metal records (Slipknot – S/T, Static-X – Wisconsin Death Trip; American Head Charge – War of Art, Korn – Issues etc.) that might get shit on by older heads contained lots of gnarly samples, loops, innovative uses of electronics and wicked transitional tracks and parts that proved that anything could be inserted into an album and when given context, could be extremely potent and atmospheric. I’m not sure if it was until actually trying to make records though that the ideas and nuances of records really hit me as to how to incorporate those ideas no matter how simple or extreme. Each recording session and project is a learning experience that builds upon the last.
Rorik: This is a tricky question that's really hard to narrow down, as I feel like I've learned more about production, performance and mixing in the last five years than I did in the first 30 years of my life, haha. I'd guess my production tastes were formed most by Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness. Those records have some of the coolest sounds and sequences of any rock record ever, and were vastly influential on my songwriting as a teenager. Not to mention how incredibly prolific they were, I remember finding a lot of inspiration in how they would release weird lo-fi recordings and endless outtakes/B-sides etc. I think Brandon nailed it with Nirvana too, as it can never be overstated how influential they were in this realm. Also, I think some of my current production taste (in heavy music, specifically) was initially informed by a weird mix of Poison the Well and Pig Destroyer ha. Like, as intense and wirey as possible while also retaining the clarity and heaviness of a more polished product.
What is the last album that absolutely shocked you?
Brandon: Chepang’s Chatta (Nerve Altar) this past year really blew me away in it’s vision and extremity. However, just today my co-worker put on Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly, and was I was literally shocked by how beyond sick, innovative and purely genius it is both lyrically / musically and beyond even though I’ve heard it a million times.
Rorik: Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin kynsi. Just absolutely incredible in every way. Must-listen. So creative. So heavy. Visionary. Hypnotic. [[Check out our interview with Oranssi Pazuzu here]]
What album relaxes you or centers you the most?
Brandon: Matthias Grassow / Alio Die – Expanding Horizon. Perhaps my favorite ambient album of all time. But goddamn there’s lots that could be said about records such as: Eliane Radigue – Opus 17; Kevin Drumm – Imperial Distortion; Robert Turman – Flux; The Rita – Thousands Of Dead Gods; Burning Star Core – A Bright Summer Day; and Sunn O)))
Rorik: Lately it's been TalSounds – Acquiesce, or MJ Guider – Sour Cherry Bell.
What are the 2-3 albums you’ve listened to the most recently?
Brandon: Deftones – Ohms; Drew Mcdowall – Agalma (Dais); Clipping. – Visions Of Bodies Being Burned (Sub-Pop)
Rorik: Coil – Time Machines; The Necks – Three; The Bug vs Earth – Concrete Desert.
What album is grossly underrated?
Brandon: The End – Within Dividia (Relapse Records). A band of the early / mid 2000's technical metal-core era or whatever, but this Canadian gem of a band never quite got the respect and hype / notoriety of similar bands in their scene. I think to this day the album stands tall and above many albums in metal or otherwise. There’s lots of beautiful and violently dark juxtaposition of instrumental passages and hyper-technical riffage as well as brutally heavy parts, but never "easy" or silly. Very cool uses of electronics and atmosphere as well . I’d say Deathspell Omega is the only true league above the level of emotionally dense, complex yet gorgeously heavy and morose yet cerebral writing found in Within Dividia.
Rorik: Advocate – From Soil Laced With Lyme. Another early-2000's pick from me. This might not be underrated, but rather really just unknown/undiscussed. I feel like maybe they got pigeonholed as a Converge clone back then, but this record is far more relentlessly aggressive and unhinged. Really noisy, hyper fast and uncompromisingly pissed. It was a big influence for me at the time, and I'm re-listening right now to see how it holds up. Still rips.
What album would you recommend from your local scene?
Brandon: A dead-ass tie between the Lake Effect 4 Way Split (Friction Records) consisting of four I believe now defunct, but incredible and very different bands that span gorgeous to horrifying and yet are all amazing underspoken of songwriters, and most definitely the now legendary Hombrinus Dudes Merkit Split (IFB Records) – Perhaps the most fun, brutal, and honest hardcore meets grind split ever that wonderfully ties in Michigan to Florida and all good things in DIY punk and hardcore.
Rorik: Failed – A Series Of Setbacks. Detroit heavy noise rock, think something like Unsane meets Godflesh. Killer band. Courtesy Spit – Self Titled. Sadly short-lived West Michigan grindy hardcore band. Incredible. The Oily Menace – Piece By Piece. One of the greatest grindcore bands of all time, hands down.