Pillars of the 90s: An Interview with Discordance Axis
[This is the 14th installment of the Pillars interview series. You can check out the rest here]
Artist: Discordance Axis
Favorite Song: "Aperture of Pinholes"
The Bare Bones: Jouhou is the sophomore album from New Jersey grindcore three-piece Discordance Axis.
The Beating Heart: Much like the art of the grindcore song, which they would sharpen to a reflexive, violent tip of aggressive perfection, the history of Discordance Axis is itself both unbelievably brief and uncannily accomplished. In the space of three full lengths drummer Dave Witte (Burnt by the Sun, Human Remans, Municipal Waste), guitarist Rob Marton (No One Knows What the Dead Think), and vocalist Jon Chang (Gridlink, No One Knows What the Dead Think) shifted from the raw, unbridled violence of 1994’s debut Ulterior to the dissonant masterpiece of emotion and violence that is their final album, 2000’s The Inalienable Dreamless. But somewhere in the middle there we have 1997’s Jouhou, in many respects a hybrid of those two sharply distinct modes and thus a fascinating moment for not only the band but for the future of extreme music. Equal parts ignorant beast and jazzy fury, Jouhou is a marvel of expression, artistry and skill, one that still stands today as one of the most unique, passionate and important grindcore albums ever.
And the musical tension that stands at the heart of Jouhou, between the otherworldly riffing of Rob Marton and the light-as-a-feather brutality in Dave Witte’s drumming that also forms the focus of this new interview in the Pillars series. Composed of two separate interviews with Witte and Marton it’s a weaved, put together conversation that, I think, revolves around those same tensions – between the melodic and the brutal, the dissonant and the spacious. To me this is without a doubt one of the most gratifying and interesting interviews I have ever conducted, and surely to be of interest to fans of grindcore but also to anyone interested in dynamics/tension in music and art. Also worth mentioning that the band is now reissuing its perfect catalogue via Willowtip, beginning with The Inalienable Dreamless so be sure to check that out.
As always, check out our various interview projects and other cool shit. And if you'd like to keep abreast of the latest, most pressing developments follow us wherever we may roam (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Spotify and now also a tape-per-day series on TIK TOK!), and listen to our shitty podcast (YouTube, Spotify, Apple), and to check out our amazing compilation albums. You can support our unholy work here (Patreon), if you feel like it. Early access to our bigger projects, weekly exclusive recommendations and playlists, and that wonderful feeling that you're encouraging a life-consuming band musical habit. On to the interview with Dave and Rob.
Do you remember a moment, probably as a younger person, in which you heard an album that completely changed what you thought about music? Maybe it scared you or shocked you. And I realize there are many in a musician’s life, but I guess I’m asking about one that sticks out.
Dave: I got plenty of those. Growing up when I discovered Metallica, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Slayer, and all that stuff – the first time I heard the double-bass fill on “Angel of Death” – it all opened up an entire new world for me, and all those things were monumental for what I would become. But the moment where everything changed for me was when I heard the 1988 Ripping Corpse Splattered Remains demo. That turned everything upside down. If I hadn’t heard that then Human Remains, Discordance Axis, all that stuff would have never happened.
What about it did you like?
Dave: It was faster and more technical and more brutal than anything I had ever heard and they were better players than any of those bands that I just mentioned. I was shocked that something that great and that intense and talented was happening 10 miles away from me. It changed everything. And then I went and saw them and they blew my mind. It influenced everything we did, them and Rorschach.
Did the fact that they were local play a part in how affected you were by them?
Dave: Big time. It was like “These guys are so close to me and they’re better than all these huge bands that have albums out. These guys can play circles around them.” They were faster, they were heavier, they were more technical, way more aggressive. It just hit the nail right on the head and put it right through the board.
How about you, Rob?
Rob: I have so many of these that I don’t know how to pick one. I can talk about the first time I heard Slayer, I was completely baffled. Like: “What on earth is this?!” That was even before I got into metal. I got into music relatively early in the game, when Somewhere in Time came out. I think I was 14 or 15. I wasn’t really into music before, not sure why. I was just a-musical [laughs]. And then I heard that album and I guess you could say it opened up a new world for me. That’s where it started, which is kind of weird because I don’t feel like any of my music relates to that. But I guess it does, in some way.
Do you remember what it was about that album that had that impact? The complexity? The heaviness?
Rob: It was the melody of it, of the vocals. And I was always kind of into science fiction so it was also a matter of making the right stop at the right time.
And seeing that you never made Iron Maiden-esque music could you say now, as a more experienced musician, what it was that you kept from that first experience? Something that stayed with you?
Rob: I guess what stayed with me was the value of a hook or a melody. Something that gets stuck in your mind, in a good way. That makes you want to listen to it and go over it again.
And you, Dave, is there anything that stayed with you from that initial experience with Ripping Corpse?
Dave: Oh yeah, without a doubt. No one has ever played as well since, no one did it their way. The actual songs were really catchy. They had it all: Great lyrics, great songwriting, technical ability, ferociousness. It was the total package. They recorded a whole second album that never came out and it’s unbelievable. They were so ahead of their time that they were playing what's prevalent now.
You’ve recorded your share of very fast music, but you’ve also had projects that you weren’t going 100 MPH.
Dave: Yeah, I like all kinds of music.
So I wonder if you feel like that influence is still there even if you’re not playing music that is more explicitly or visibly influenced by Ripping Corpse.
Dave: Yeah, totally. You see, that’s the thing: You can draw an influence for anything from anything. Like, a lot of the Municipal Waste drum fills…. I listen to Rush and hip hop. I just like seeing the drum patterns and the breaks and the fills that they have and see how I can apply that to fast music. You can put anything anywhere if it fits. And if it doesn’t fit then you can change it to make it fit. There’s no wrong anything. Something’s always going to work.
Come to think of it that very idea of making something fit even though it doesn’t seem to fit is a very hip hop idea. Kind of like sampling – you can take something that seems completely out of sorts with what you’re doing, it may not even be synched up beat-wise, and you can change it to make it fit.
Dave: Yeah. You can listen to one drum fill and go: “Oh, that fill is so cool, and if I put it over here and just do this change to it then it would work perfectly.” So you’re just creating from something else.
It’s interesting because I have this sense that the musicality in grindcore is somewhat underrated. And to get to why I need to make a kind of detour. When I started interviewing for this series and for the 2010s one I had this nagging question not about grindcore but about post-metal. And it went something like: Why is it that so many post-metal bands started off as punk and hardcore bands? Why is it that a band that starts off with blazing punk songs, which are basically pop songs, ends up doing these lengthy deconstructions? And after talking to some bands I guess I caught on to the idea that a lot of bands start with punk because punk is a convenient entry point into making music, but then at certain points some bands – Neurosis, Cult of Luna, Slint, etc – felt the need to expand their songs in order to kind of get a better look into them. And to me grindcore is kind of like that, only the other way.
Dave: Yup [Laughs]
That somehow grindcore starts at punk but instead of expanding contracts, and ends with songs that are as complex if not more than the original only done in miniature. Taking something catchy and instead of breaking it down into a thesis it’s vomiting it in 20 seconds.
Dave: That way you make it more intense. Like punching a hole in something.
Rob: I think I was drawn to the idea of going into this area where few have travelled before – as fast as we can, as loud as we can, as noisy as we can. But, at the same time, pull off melody inside of that. That it didn’t have to be, like you said, a thesis, I liked the quick-in and quick-out aspect of it. And so it was all of that together: the noise, the speed, be the fastest. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for a thesis [laughs].
It’s almost like a self-inflicted limitation, you can’t think too much when you’re at lightning speed.
Rob: You can’t draw it out.
Yeah. Because if we go back to what Dave was saying about Ripping Corpse, it seems that what piqued his interest was that they were the most at everything – the fastest, the most brutal, and the most technical. And that’s similar to what we’re saying here, but not identical.
Rob: Yeah, that wasn’t my moment. I didn’t hear Napalm Death and go: “Oh! This is it!” But it did open up something. It made me realize that: “Oh, this can be really against the grain,” and it can be as fast as you want it to be. But yeah, when you asked me that question I wasn’t immediately drawn to that part of it.
Yeah, but I think that kind of outlines the heart of this conversation, and which is also the center of my listening experience to Discordance Axis, that’s beginning to come up in Jouhou, that you and Dave are pulling at each other. And so you agree on the method. The method is, if I may speak in technical terms, “let’s fuck shit up.”
Rob: [Laughs] Yeah.
So, it’s still an experiment, it’s just that the result is much more violent. Does that make sense? Something that’s not as analytical, which seems to be more into taking everything and slowing it down.
Dave: I only learned how to do that [play slow] in Iabhorher, learning how to play slow, doing the slow, doomy, longer stuff. I’ve always have a couple of frying pans on at the same time so I was lucky to play with a lot of different people and musical backgrounds which then forced me to play in different ways. That was my advantage.
Why was it important for you to do stuff at the same time?
Dave: Well, because I love music, I love all kinds of music. I would never limit myself. I can go back to what I was talking about earlier – you always find something somewhere that you can make work somewhere else. It’s just that you have a huge rolodex of ideas to put anywhere you want. You have all these people presenting ideas to you in their own way and in ways you would never think of, limitless possibilities. And going back to what you’re talking about with longer songs that started with punk: A lot of people discovered weed [laughs] and became potheads and slowed everything down.
Dave: There’s definitely some truth to that.
Yeah, I think it’s a known fact that at least part of Neurosis’ breakthrough had to do with something like that.
Dave: Yeah, a lot of bands took that formula. But also, when you’re really young you’re going to soak up whatever’s coming your way. For me, I was learning and learning and learning so my musical tastes and my abilities evolved and changed.
I guess I'm asking all this because I’m the kind of person who has to do many things at the same time. It used to frustrate me, something like: “If only I could find a way to concentrate on just one thing.” I’m always envious of people who can focus on one thing and stay on it. But as I grew older I realized that that’s what makes me happy. So I can understand the power of that. But technically you could do any one of those things one after the other for that variety, why does it all have to happen at the same time?
Dave: No, not really. It’s just that I always loved music and wanted to do it. I just want to be playing all the time. When I’ve had a lot of stuff going on at once, which has been the case for most of my life – I just love to play. And if there’s an opportunity to play, no matter what it is, I’m going to take it. And that way I can take that and help form it into whatever it’s going to become. It’s good to work on multiple projects at the same time because it gives you more ideas for crossover.
Dave: Yeah, totally. That’s where all the best things are born. Because some guy could be playing something that you don’t understand in one context and it’ll totally apply itself in the other. Whereas if you didn’t have those things going on at once then you might be banging your head against the wall trying to figure something out. It’s chance as well – who you’re going to be grouped with or what you happen upon or who you’re going to be playing with. If you won’t have that other outlet then you might not get that one idea that worked so well in something else.
Kind of like throwing dozens of tennis balls and waiting to see..
Dave: Who throws it back [laughs], yeah. And going back to what you said about punk that turned into grindcore. For me they were always short, compact projects where you wanted to make it as brutal and as precise as possible and work that out one song at a time. In The Inalienable Dreamless we had something like 17-18 songs and each piece was so important and you could just fine tune it and get it in there and try to make it the most brutal in under two minutes. Instead of having one 20-minute song.
Grindcore sometimes feels like classical music to me, in that the songs aren’t really just stand-along songs but experienced as movements that are part of a bigger piece. It’s like they’re so tightly smashed against each other, without any space to think or breathe, that they cease to be songs on their own. And also as short as the songs are, they are nonetheless complete songs, just contracted. A real song, just very very short.
Dave: Like a musical gatling gun.
What’s a gatling gun?
Dave: It’s this huge machine gun that you would turn and it would fire multiple rounds at once.
[Laughs] Yes, that! But so, when you refer to the fact that you wanted to be as brutal as you could…
Dave: Yeah, and different. We were very different that any other band at our time, and we chose to be that way. Because we wanted to have our own thing and not do the usual artwork or the usual sound or the usual lyrical topics. Doing our own thing was most important.
To me Jouhou is kind of where that happens.
Dave: Yeah, that’s the transformation point, that’s where we switched it up. That’s where the genius of Rob Marton really comes to light.
So, what happened with that album? Was that a conscious choice to do things differently?
Dave: It just evolved on its own. We didn’t really care what everyone else was doing, we just wanted to do what we wanted to do. We played with bands and we had fun and all that stuff, but Rob really didn’t like doing shows. We just wanted to play music. Rob had a really musically diverse background with jazz and weirded influences and so I think that really shined through in his guitar playing. He liked metal too, but he listened to a lot of other stuff.
Because the debut is much more traditionally grindcore, much more straightforward. And Jouhou suddenly has these pockets where all these strange, contrasting ideas would come up.
Rob: I agree that [that dynamic] started in Jouhou. I think in the beginning we were just screwing around. Well, not screwing around, writing. Writing was something we did together in the early days. I think that Jouhou was the point where I started to generate ideas outside of just us getting together. And it would happen more that I would bring ideas to practice, ideas that were more complete. I had ideas in the earlier days too, but I started to do that more around Jouhou. And by the time The Inalienable Dreamless I would bring complete songs, as opposed to just ideas. I remember just laying them on them, five or six songs at a time, just “Boom!” As opposed to noodling some stuff or me and Dave writing some things and have Jon come in and listen to it later, which is kind of how I remember Jouhou going.
So, basically that breathing room we’re talking about, or the dynamic between you and Dave, opened up because you began bringing more solidified ideas to Dave and he would kind of react to them?
Rob: Yes, I would say that. And, like we said, Dave always went up and almost said: “How can I ruin this?” [laughs]. I mean, not ruin it, but “How can I attack it?” Some riffs would be obvious, like when I would play a thing and it would be obvious that there would a Slayer-type thing going on with it. But that wasn’t always the case. And we would move things around – I was always open to other ideas. But as Discordance Axis progressed I would bring in more complete ideas as opposed to making it up as we go along in practice.
I actually have the word “jazz” written here because there are moments on Jouhou, even more so than on The Inalienable Dreamless that feel like a super-fast jazz album. And that made me want to ask what came first: did Rob’s riffs come first and were they as weird as they were that forced you to play in that mode or did you bring that jazzy thing with you as well?
Dave: It was both ways. I’d hear a riff and put something to it or I’d play a beat and he would put something to it. But most of the time I would put something to it that he wouldn’t expect. His guitar playing opened up another part in my mind where I would hear stuff. It just made me think differently. At one point he and I had such a good connection that we would just jam for an hour or two and we would be able to read each other’s mind in a way where we would play and stop together. We would anticipate what the other guys was going to do. It was weird. I never really had that kind of musical relationship with anyone but him.
Rob: I always kind of recoil whenever jazz is mentioned. Not because I don’t like jazz, it’s just that I’m going for something more esoteric. Jazz, and I don’t know why, to me feels more in tune with everyday feelings. And everything I want to create is not that. There’s nothing wrong with jazz, but I’m not an aficionado and I couldn’t go “Oh, I love that jazz guitarist, I love his progressions” and all that. But when you listen to the way I play you might hear some of that stuff in there. I couldn’t tell you how it got in there. I guess it’s just goes back to the idea of melody.
If I may, what I think it is isn’t that I listen to Jouhou and go “Oh, this sounds like such and such jazz band” or whatever. It’s more like that when I listen to the kind of jazz I find interesting there’s always this element of a battle. That there’s a melody there that’s trying to survive what’s being done to it. Sometimes it surfaces and it’s beautiful and at some points it gets choked out and dissonant and chaotic. And so I guess I mean it in that way, not that you guys sound like jazz, just that at times it sounds like a similar kind of experiment. That there’s something dangerous about it. That it’s beautiful, but there’s also something there that’s trying to kill you. Does that make more sense?
Rob: Yeah, for sure.
It’s interesting because it sounds like you guys function like counterweights to each other.
Dave: It was just him and I. I mean, Jon totally had a lot to do with it too, he had his own ideas coming into it as well. Jon was super beneficial. We would write songs and he would cut them up and paste them together and present his way of doing things. Which was funny, but it worked some of the time.
[Laughs] So he was your editor?
Dave: Yeah, sometimes. For sure.
But what I meant to say before was that a lot of Jouhou and some of that bleeds into The Inalienable Dreamless feels like…. So, if this is a painting and Rob is painting black, you’re not drumming black most of the time.
Dave: No, not at all.
You’re drumming red, or white.
Dave: Yeah, we discovered that when he was playing slow guitar chords I’d play as fast as I could behind it, for contrast. That’s where that whole thing was born.
How was it born? Just by trying it?
Dave: Yeah. It was basically saying: “Hey, try this and I’ll play fast behind it.” We just made it work. It almost had this swing effect to it, which leads back to the whole jazz thing.
That kind of makes me want to ask a silly technical question. Because I think that part of why I feel that jazz vibe on that record has a lot to do with how the snare sounds.
Dave: I used a Yamaha Dave Weckl dual strainer snare drum on that album.
Just on that album or on all of them?
Dave: Just on that one. And on Human Remains’ Using Sickness as a Hero.
Interesting. Because it sounds echo-y, or organic. Can’t really find the word.
Dave: It really changes with the room. What room you’re in, what equipment you’re using. And the way you’re hitting too. Take John Bonahm for example. People have tried to emulate his sound by using the same drum kit, in the stairwell, with two mics, lining the kick drum with tin foil and all that, but no one has ever gotten close because no one can do it the way he did it.
So, just to use it as an example, do you find that you hit differently on the different Discordance Axis albums?
Dave: Well, I definitely used different drums on The Inalienable Dreamless, so it sounds drastically different. And I used smaller drum sizes. I was all about being compact for The Inalienable Dreamless. I used a 13” Mapex Birdseye Piccolo, and I think the kick drum was 20” and for all the other stuff it was 14” and 22”. So bigger drums for Jouhou. So we got the tighter, high-end sound for The Inalienable Dreamless.
I think maybe the lower sounds on Jouhou really compliments everything that we’ve been talking about when talking about that album.
Dave: Yeah. A really fat and thick sound, that’s what Bill brought out of it. Sometimes I think about how The Inalienable Dreamless would have turned out if the drums were that thick. But I wouldn’t touch that album, that’s my favorite album I’ve ever made. I recorded all those drums in one night and went on to go to my work’s Christmas party [laughs].
[Laughs] Anyhow, it doesn’t always sound that jazzy when you’re going full speed like that on Jouhou but when you do it makes you sound like Max Roach or something.
Dave: That’s quite the compliment. But, blame it all on Rob, though. He’s the part. He puts that down, and then I know what to do. And we would just move on from there. But, to be honest, a lot of that stuff was written humorously. Like: “Oh, it would be funny if we did this!” or “This is kind of goofy”! Like at the end of “Angel Present.” If stuff made us laugh then we liked it. In “Leaden Stride to Nowhere” we just said: “Let’s do this accent 20 times [laughs], because it’s completely ridiculous to do that 20 times. It’s funny.”
[Laughs] It is.
It’s just interesting that you guys found a link between “funny” and “OK, let’s record this.”
Dave: Yeah. Believe it or not but there were moments when we were trying to record slower, weirder stuff. We loved playing fast, but we wanted to have a little bit of variety, and we would go: “Oh great, that’s great, Jon is really going to hate this one!” and the he wound up liking it [laughs]. We thought that was really funny, because Jon always wanted everything to be fast all the time. But Jon ended up liking that stuff and that made us very excited.
So you both are trying to create something extreme, but your approach to the method is different. And it’s that difference in approach that I think creates that very special, rare thing that the space or dynamics of two poles pulling at each other that you can still hear even if it’s just a 15-second song.
Rob: Yeah, I know exactly what you’re saying, and it’s interesting because I was just thinking about that… I was thinking about this interview and about the dynamic between me and Dave. I would sometimes have an idea and would bring it to him and he would put drums to it and that completely changed the whole sound of it. He would do something that would just turn it on its head and it was completely not what I was expecting.
And this idea of Dave doing kind of to mess with you, is that how you recall that? Or kind of running away from your idea, almost as if it’s a joke.
Rob: [Laughs]. Yeah. I can’t tell you how many times I would start playing something and he would throw the drums into it and then we would both stop and start cracking up laughing. Like: “That was so much fun, let’s do it again!” [laughs]. We had a lot of fun like that.
So that kind of establishes the dynamic between you guys. And it seems that, at least for the most part, what Dave is bringing is speed and aggression. Would it be safe to say that your side of the equation is defined more by melody? Or, in other cases, to fuck up melody? A commitment to the melodic, catchy side of things?
Rob: I think I would describe it more as a kind of back-and-forth – throwing that melody at you and see where it goes, as opposed to always trying to pull it toward melody. But definitely having a contrast to it at all times.
So not really a commitment to melody as it was trying to think about where it could fit?
So, say, placing melody inside a piece of shit-storm piece of music has an impact that’s interesting to you?
Rob: Yes, absolutely. You know, it makes me want to go back to what you asked about one of my important musical moments. And to me that takes me back to the first time I listened to [Voivod’s] Dimension Hatröss. Talking about a shitstorm and melody, there are moments on that album that they just turn the song on a dime into this completely other thing, whether melodic or not, but it’s just so unexpected. That’s also something that’s very appealing for me, to be able to turn a song on its head. That you don’t need a transition, you can just make a quick cut into a different idea.
I think that one of the recurring themes in the things I like, not just in music but pretty much in anything. I think I often talk about it in terms of metal but that’s mostly because metal is a very convenient passageway to a discussion of aesthetic ideas, because everything is so extreme. But the seed of finding out that I like these quick transitions and kind of plurality of styles was my love for Megadeth.
Rob: Yeah, Megadeth! Of course. At least the early stuff.
Yeah, I’m down with that. But they were a very early example for me for this almost ADD switching and shifting. That there could come this very melodic line in the middle of a very heavy part, for instance. This idea that you don’t have to be heavy all the time in order to be heavy, if that makes sense.
I’m starting to think that there’s a certain kind of brain that just won’t do the same thing over and over. That even if there’s an attempt to do the same thing it just won’t comply. I interviewed Ben Weinman for this series and I knew he was very into Megadeth, which really doesn’t happen than often, for whatever reason. And I asked him why he thought he liked Megadeth so much and he said he guessed he was just an antsy kid, who even when he was writing music couldn’t write one riff let alone when he was listening to music. That he needed that variety. I just think that’s interesting, that people who make music with a lot of changeups are also sometimes the people who liked bands that had a lot of changeups.
Anyhow, to bring it back to Jouhou, is that album where some of that dynamic starts to change for you guys, where slower stuff gets integrated and some of that contrast is beginning to happen. And that was just the product of you guys trying and seeing what comes out?
Dave: Yeah. You never know what you’re going to get until you try it. And other times we would think: “OK, this works” but then things sound differently when you play them back on tape. The silliest thing can sound amazing when you hear it back.
Rob: I’ve those moments where I would think: “I really like the melody of that” or “I really like the hookiness of that,” and they feel very unexpected and kind of jarring. Like, we’re in the middle of trying to do this breeze through the material and suddenly there’s this thing that pops up and gets stuck in your head and changes the context of the piece a little bit. And I guess that goes back to trying to put more melody into it, or at least more melody than people would expect in that kind of music.
This kind of gets back to what I was saying before about grindcore being these fully formed musical statements that are also short and brutal, because in finding that contrast you guys were able to do something that seems almost impossible – you’re going light speed but the music feels like it has space in it. Like there’s breathing room despite the fact that it doesn't even make sense to speak of having breathing room in all that compressed chaos.
Dave: Well, dynamics was the most important thing, to have dynamics and flow.
Yeah, but having dynamic and flow, I would imagine, is very hard to achieve when you’re playing that fast.
Dave: I guess so. But we played it, we didn’t really plan it [laughs], you know what I mean?
Yeah, it’s an effect, but a very interesting one. There are songs on Jouhou, like “A Broken Tomorrow,” where you’re playing blast beats, that are basically part of the definition of grindcore, but when they’re played in contrast to Rob, it almost sounds like jazz.
Dave: Yeah, Rob had that really weird picking style where he kind of danced around. It wasn’t so “chug chug chug” all the time, it was kind of like a grazing pattern. Almost like a strum. And then I’d want to follow him. In some parts it was: “You’re going to do this and I’m going to follow you” and we would just chug along. If he was playing out of context I would match it. Which is what gave it that character and swing.
It’s funny because it again reminds me of the dynamic you get in some jazz moments, where some of the time each band member goes on what feels like a different tangent. And in others they come together, which, coming after all that tension feels like a release. Was there a moment for you when you realized that jazz was relevant to you as a drummer?
Dave: Oh yeah, sure.
During your time in Discordance Axis?
Dave. Yeah, I was listening to some of that at that time. Don’t remember what it was, more along the lines of big-band stuff like Buddy Rich. And then John Coltrane with Giant Steps, which is one of the greatest records ever made. Like I said earlier, I enjoy a lot of different things. I’m a musician, so I tend to enjoy things that are well done, no matter what it is.
Yeah, I’m kind of like that as well. Which explains why we’re talking about classical music and jazz in an interview about a grindcore album.
But I guess I see the connection, even if what you guys were going for was, as you said, punching a hole through something.
Dave: Yeah, the intensity. Always propelling, moving forward, being intense, active, the whole body moving. Just that adrenaline rush, that’s what I really enjoyed. Pushing myself
So I think it’s fascinating that you would be driven by that impulse and yet come up with something very intricate and complex. One would think that in order to be brutal you just need to be brutal. That to be brutal, or heavy, doesn’t mean only doing things that people consider to be heavy.
Dave: Yeah, but the more you do it the more you figure out what to do with it. There are multiple ways to do that, no doubt.
And you’re still finding new ways?
Dave: Yeah, totally. I still love heavy music, I don’t know if I’ll ever grow out of it. I love hearing new stuff that blows me away. I hear it less and less as I age, or as music changes, but it’s still out there. Sometimes I get floored and psyched and buy all the records. That’s exciting for me, still. I don’t think it’ll ever go away.
Is there anything recent that blew you away?
Dave: Yeah, there’s this band black midi that I found out about, from the U.K., and they blew my mind. And then last year during the pandemic I found out about this band Oh Sees that have like 28 albums.
Yeah, they put out an album every two months.
Dave: [Laughs] Yeah! I never knew about them, and they’re great! But there was one other band that completely floored me, Miasmic Necrosis.
Oh, they’re fucking amazing.
Dave: I was blown away when I heard that. It was just my style and what I was craving and it hit the nail right on the head.
There was a moment when that album came out…. I’m always looking for new stuff, and as soon as I saw that cover I just had to listen to it.
Dave: [Laughs]: Yeah, there’s no way not to. I ordered the record and they sent a really nice note with it, so that’s cool. They were psyched that I bought the record and I was psyched too, because it’s so good.
But I guess Dave’s busy schedule, mainly in terms of his playing, highlights one other way in which you guys are kind of polar opposites pulling at each other. Because since Discordance Axis went away you, Rob, have for the most part stayed away from recording and releasing music. And I guess I could ask you why that was but that might be a bit of a boring question. So maybe the more interesting one is whether or not recording and making extreme or heavy music still interests you? Because you did all these extreme things and then, seemingly, kind of dropped it, only to return to it later with Jon on No One Knows What the Dead Think. So, was it a case of you being sick of it or did it stay with you that entire time?
Rob: Yeah, I guess I was exploring other things. I wouldn’t say I was sick of it. I was always writing. I don’t know how many songs I have, some that I recorded here and there, that are heavy metal or slower and heavy stuff. I’m writing all the time, it’s just me – it’s always coming out. I’m writing now, I have a complete album titled that’s entirely not metal as well. Will it ever come out? I don’t know [laughs].
Did that not bother you, though? Not releasing the music? Or is the main thing writing for you and you don’t care about releasing?
Rob: I do want to release it at some point, but I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to that stuff. The whole structure of Discordance Axis was Jon kind of driving everything: “We’re going to write this, and by the end of the year we’ll record it, I already have a date.” So it becomes: “OK, we have to do this.” Over here I’m all on my own and I’m just: “OK, I’m going to write, eventually it’ll get there, I have a bunch of songs, let’s get them out there.” My original thought was bringing Discordance Axis back together, but Dave wasn’t interested at the time, basically he couldn’t. And so I said: “Well, alright,” and Jon was interested in doing it and we put something together. But, again, there was Jon driving it in the background.
Dave: I really wanted to do it and Rob had sent me the stuff and I was like: “That’s awesome, let’s do it.” And Jon had this super-strict timeline that he wanted to adhere to and I just couldn’t. I always would love playing with Rob again, that would have been awesome. It’s just that I thought we were going to have a lot of time to work on it and I just didn’t think it would be such a forefront for attention and Jon had some other ideas in place so I just kind of stepped back.
Rob: In my own projects I don’t have Jon driving me [laughs]. I will eventually get some other stuff out, whether it’s with Jon or not, but it’ll just take longer. I don’t know if all that answers your question, but regarding whether or not I got sick of metal, no I did not. But I did start exploring electronic music more.
What kind of stuff?
Rob: I like a lot of ambient music, like Aphex Twin.
The Ambient Works style of Aphex Twin?
Rob: Oh, yeah. God, that album. I was in an Aphex Twin hole for years. I just got out recently [laughs]. I keep looking for new electronic stuff to check out, but I do like a lot of ambient things. My day job is programming so I like ambient music in the background, I don’t usually listen to metal or anything like that when I’m programming.
It’s interesting because the reason I write about music is because I have to listen to music when I read and write, and the louder the better. So Discordance Axis was perfect for me. A bit too short, only material there for maybe a sentence or two, but perfect.
Rob: [Laughs] I guess we’ll have to write new material for you.
That would be much appreciated. I have a lot of writing to do. Alright. But that all brings us to my final question, which is this: When and if you look back at Jouhou, is there anything that you’re particularly proud of and that you think held up especially well?
Rob: The only thing I have to say about that is that I’m proud that people enjoy it. When I look back at anything that I’ve recorded I hate it, all of it. I’m just: “Oh my God, that didn’t come out right” or “That wasn’t enough” or “We needed more time in that spot” or “The feel wasn’t there in that one riff.” And it sucks because there’s a fine line between getting that riff across and it just being something else. And I’d say around 50 percent of the time that extra something, it’s not in there. And so I’m pretty pissed off about most of my recordings [laughs]. My experience with recordings was always “We have this much money and this much time and we have to get everything done.”
Jouhou was such a painful recording experience. We drove up there, we got into a hotel, we couldn’t sleep and ended up watching some dumb comedy show, got about three hours of sleep, and just couldn’t get anything right the next day. It was an extremely frustrating recording experience. I mean, we would never fight, I would never get into a fight with Dave, and I was fighting with Dave there [Laughs]. I was the one pissing him off, I just wasn’t nailing it, just having a really hard time. And Dave was doing his thing, but he only has so much battery power and when you have to restart the song all the time then I can understand why he was angry.
So, it was a tough recording session. But what I did like about it is that, for the most part, the point did come across. There’s some really good stuff in there that I could listen to now and still enjoy, even though I hate everything I ever recorded. So, I guess, again, that the thing I like about it most is that people enjoy it. And that, even through all that garbage, that I still like a lot of it.
What do you remember most fondly about that album, Dave?
Dave: “Reciprocity” is my favorite song.
On the record?
Dave: Because it’s intense [laughs]. Making that record was a lot of fun because we went to Boston, it was a different environment. Rob was working overnight and it was difficult for him and he wasn’t sleeping as much. So sometimes we struggled with getting the stuff to get to how we wanted it to sound. I remember hanging out with Seth [Putnam] a lot, Seth came to the recordings to hang out and we would go to get a drink of beer afterwards. That was a good memory. I liked Seth, even though he was so controversial [laughs]. And working with Bill T. Miller was great. I guess that’s the most important thing I would take away from it. The stuff we did at Trax East was really cool and Steve Evetts was really talented – I did a lot of records with him and have a really good relationship with him. But when we went to Bill, he just made us sound so much heavier than we sounded at Trax East. We were going to go with him for The Inalienable Dreamless but he wasn’t available so we went with Jon D'Uva.
It sounds like Jouhou was just the perfect storm of a lot of things – thinking about things differently, recording differently. Why did you guys even go to Boston and approach Bill?
Dave: I think Jon wanted to go to Boston and do things his way as opposed to just going to Trax East. And Trax East was just so convenient for all of us because it was in the next town over from Jon. But he really wanted to work with Bill and Bill was making a lot of really great records at the time, and I think Bill was interested in doing it as well.
It worked out, that record sounds great. I mean, we’re not the tightest band on that record, but “Oh well” [laughs].
I actually like the fact that you’re not the tightest band there, because it’s still loose.
Dave: Yeah, it’s still raw. Even though it’s polished. It’s produced, but it still sounds raw.