Machine Music's Pillars of the 90s: An Interview with Orchid
[This is the 17th installment of the Pillars interview series. You can check out the rest here]
Album: Chaos is Me
Label: Ebullition Records
Favorite Song: "Epilogue of a Car Crash"
The Bare Bones: Chaos is Me is the debut full-length from Amherst screamo/hardcore band Orchid, comprised of Will Killingsworth (guitar), Jay Green (vocals), and Brad Wallace (bass), and Jeff Salane (drums).
The Beating Heart: In some respects Orchid's Chaos is Me did absolutely nothing new in the world. It followed the same tried-and-true line of anger and anxiety that had marked punk and hardcore from its very inception. It wasn't as violent or abrasive as grindcore or the more extreme brands of metal, nor was it dreamy and atmospheric as some of the great post-hardcore bands of the early-to-mid nineties. Nothing to see here, everything is as it was. And yet Chaos is Me erupted into the world in the same way that, perhaps, Stravinsky, Ligeti, or a Mondrian painting did. There was something deceptively off-kilter and strange about their seeming simplicity, a sense that only grew as you zoomed in both on the minute detail of their incredible performances as musicians as well as in observing Chaos is Me as a complete work of art. Like those great of modern art, Orchid took the stuff of the everyday and weaponized it, made it strange and thrilling. Whether through their charged lyrics, nearly ecstatic performances, or their force as a band, they created a modern art masterpiece, one that defamiliarized the things we thought we knew and made them horrible, frightening, and exciting. To me, personally, there are very few albums that changed the way I see music and the way I link it to art the way Chaos is Me has, which makes this brand-new interview with Will, Jay, and Brad such an honor and such an essential addition to this ongoing series.
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Can you guys think of a song or an album that really, completely changed your perception of what music can be? Or scared you? Obviously, given the caveat that this happens a bunch, and if you're an actively creative person, you get blown away by music this morning. So I guess I'm talking about an early moment like that where you were like wowed into something that was completely different. With music like a live show, a song, whatever. Who gets the start?
Will: Well, the first one that jumps to my mind is the Dead Kennedys. I was vaguely aware of punk, but it just seemed more visceral and seemed to express a lot of things that I felt at whatever age I was [laughs], let’s say 14. It was political, funny, smart, and angry. And I just kind of felt like I didn't know that music could be like that. I was into The Ramones and stuff, which I still love also, but the Kennedys were kind of like “Oh shit!”
Do you remember the setting?
Will: I think a friend lent me a CD, so it's not really…. I was in my bedroom at home [laughs].
That’s fine, it doesn’t have to be in CBGB’s [laughs]. So you just heard it and what struck you was that it was smart? That it was nuanced? What was the thing?
Will: Yeah, I guess nuanced, and I guess it just spoke to me. Whether it was the political stances or just being anti jock, or all these sorts of things. Not just smart, smart and funny and just relating to things that I experienced.
Jay: I mean, like you said, there are many moments like that I can think of. But if we're going to think of it, maybe the first time I felt completely freaked out by a record would probably be when I've heard N.W.A.’s Straight out of Compton at a summer camp sleepover. It was a day camp and then the last night was a sleepover, and the guy I shared my tent with brought it and we had a Walkman and he played it for me, and I just had never heard anything like it. I grew up in a very rural area of Connecticut. I was completely freaked out by it. I felt like I was doing something bad by listening to it, which was totally appealing. So that was a non-punk example, although they're pretty punk. The first for me then after that would be Cro Mags probably [laughs]. But, yeah, N.W.A definitely really made a huge impression on me.
That's a very suburban experience of N.W.A, right? Like it doesn't, it doesn't get any more non-Compton-7 than a summer camp tent, listening to a tape, right? So, it's almost like the setting made it even more bizarre. What was it about it that freaked you out? The aggression, the lyrics, the politics?
Jay: Yeah. I mean, my parents were pretty strict about things that they felt were inappropriate. I got in a huge amount of trouble for listening to a Richard Pryor record. Stuff like that where they were just really afraid of language and sexual content and violence and all that kind of stuff. That record had every single one of those things, basically. And it was certainly expressing a worldview and a life view that I was not privy to as a young man growing up in Cheshire, CT. So it was a very eye-opening experience. So, right away I was like: “This is a thing I want to listen to.”
So I just want to clarify one thing. You said that you felt like you were doing something that was wrong, but in a good way. So: immediately in a good way?
Jay: Yeah, I think it was my first taste of subversion. You know, the idea that you could be doing something that is generally perceived as negative, but it feels good and positive to you.
All right, great. Thanks. Brad?
Brad: When you said terrifying or scary, the first things that came to mind were Man Is the Bastard or even Neurosis, but I feel like it's this thing where you’re going upwards and that stuff is way too far advanced. I feel like, truthfully, it has to be something like Metallica or something where I was just like: “Oh my God. I've never heard anything like this! I just like Guns N’ Roses and Poison, and these guys are singing about crazy extreme stuff.” Because that's what was extreme when I found out about it, but then you just keep ratcheting it up. You wrap your mind around Metallica and then all of a sudden you end up listening to Minor Threat or something, and then that's crazier and kind of intense for you. And then you wrap your mind around that and then you end up with Man Is the Bastard. I'm not sure what the end of the line is, but that might be about the end of line for me [laughs].
You know it's interesting because when I was a kid it was more so “Guns N' Roses are cool and all, but here are these guys [Metallica] singing about Passover!” [Laughs]
Brad: Yeah, that was the song I was thinking of. That was “the scary song.”
What I had to wrap my head around was like that the most aggressive thing I've ever heard in my life is basically the story of Passover. It was a very uncanny moment. So you’re saying, Brad, is this ever-accelerating spectrum of extremity, right?
Brad: Yeah, I mean, I think that's a path that certain people go down. Certainly I did for a period of time. Because you get excited about something that's a little different and maybe scary, and then that becomes known and comfortable and there has to be something more extreme.
Yeah, but it is interesting Neurosis, which is a very big band in this context, they come up in almost every conversation about heavy music, especially by American bands. So I would like to kind of dwell on that for a second, because Neurosis is not the same kind of extreme. It's not a linear progression from say, Metallica, Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, and Neurosis. Neurosis isn't heavier or faster. Their mode of extremity isn't necessarily that they're the heaviest band, but that they’re emotionally gut wrenching. So Neurosis is kind of a sharp turn in a linear progression of heavy right or or something like that.
Will: I feel like they seemed bleaker than any of those other bands, and that's kind of what they represented. It's a despair thing. Especially samples and stuff. At the time you had bands like Neurosis or Dystopia, bands that seemed like you put it on and it's just like the world is ending, things are exploding, you know, kind of shit.
You could see the appeal, in general? [laughs]
So, my follow up question to that question is usually…. The reason I'm interested in this is because I'm interested in why people latch onto something that is weird. A lot of people encounter things that are weird and say: “No, that's weird. I don't want that.” And some people encounter weird things and say: “Yes, that is what I want.” And so I'm interested in whether you as individuals and as Orchid the band feel like there's anything that you took from those experiences? The kinds of things that you pointed out: Transgression, cleverness, humor, or extremity, that you felt were important to you as musicians? Say, that you wanted to be extreme, that you wanted to be clever, or maybe you wanted to make music that felt like you were doing something wrong in that kind of way? So is there anything in your life as a musician as an adult that you feel is an expression of that early moment? Of that attachment, I guess you could say or surprise?
Jay: Well, I'd say, on my end of the spectrum, for the Orchid stuff, when we first started….. I wasn’t writing lyrics or anything before, that was the first thing that I ever sang in, and so in a lot of the early stuff I was just copying and….
Will: Jay, I've got to interrupt you for a second.
Will: I've noticed that you keep pushing Fall Between under the rug.
Jay: Oh God!
Jay: I didn't write lyrics for that! I didn't write lyrics for that!
Will: OK, all right.
Jay: [Laughs] I actually forgot about that. That is fair. I did sing in another band very briefly, but the lyrics were pre-written. The guitar player sang and wrote the songs and I just screamed. I mean, Google it. Good luck [laughs] [MM Update: I found nothing!]. I don't think it's a lot. So, Orchid was the first project that I actually wrote lyrics for. And so I was copying a lot of bands that I liked. Because I didn't know what to do exactly, and I don't think that had a huge effect. But then I realized that what I took from bands that I did like was from within their own kind of tiny micro genres, where they were subversive within that. They were doing things that maybe fell outside of the lines of what you would expect from a hardcore band or grindcore band, or whatever kind of band. I'm sort of a born contrarian, so I like to do things that irritate people [laughs], and I think part of it was I wanted to lyrically get to the point where I want to write about stuff that you wouldn't expect for this style of music. Stuff that I'm truly interested in. Stuff that I'm passionate about, but that maybe falls outside of the genre boundaries that people tend to expect. So, I certainly picked that up from listening to bands like Bikini Kill, Los Crudos, The Nation of Ulysses and all those bands. A lot of bands that subvert their own genres.
Cool. And Will, do you think like whatever you found attractive about the Kennedys, for instance, that relatability, that cleverness, do you feel like that's something that's important to you when you approach music? I could piggyback on what Jay said I guess and ask whether it made you want to do it a bit differently?
Will: Yeah, I think maybe for me it's more about the overall effect. I'm not sure that the Dead Kennedys really ever influenced me that much musically in terms of like my output necessarily, especially lyrics or things like that. But I think about how bands made me feel, or how their music made me feel, so it was more like trying to stir those same emotions. I guess it’s the same, but also different [laughs].
It's actually very important, right? When I say “influenced” that doesn't necessarily mean….. Like, I write and I love Carcass, and one of my moments of being scared by something is definitely carcass. But it would be very difficult for me to explain to you how Carcass influenced my writing. Because I'm not writing about medical procedures or anything But I do feel Carcass influenced my writing, So we are talking about something like an atmosphere or an effect.
And the fact that you know what that feels like is important. Not necessarily that you write riffs like “Holiday in Cambodia” or something, just that you make people laugh or afraid. I guess. Brad?
Brad: Well, going back to how you started this question, you said something about “Why do I like the weird thing?” something I've probably been asking my whole life. But it kind of made me think that the three of us all met at the same college, which was definitely a place that people like weird stuff wanted to go.
Brad: Because it didn't have grades or tests or anything like that, and…. You know, you mentioned things like politics and comedy, it drew those kinds of people in. So it's not really surprising that we found sympathetic-thinking people in that place, as an impetus point early on in life has carried through till today.
Did you guys go to that school knowing that it was a weird place? That was a conscious choice?
Brad: Yeah, it was advertised as such. Fundamentally, the way it was structured and stuff, attracted all kinds of people. But, someone who is seeking something different out.
This leads to my next question, which is actually a very natural continuation of that same thought. Given that you guys met in college, and given that it was a “hub of weird,” what is it that drew you guys to be weird together?
Because it's a very specific kind of weird, right? So, initially, what is it that drew you guys to each other? The fact that you were all weird in a weird place?
Will: Well, the college was pretty small and. I don't think any of us had vehicles [laughs]
Well, that's it, that's the end of the interview, I think.
Will: And it was a fairly rural setting, so, you know, even if there was a lot of weird, a lot of the weird was also hippie, et cetera, and the punk or indie crowd was very small [laughs], So it was relatively easy to find each other.
Jay: Yeah. I think, especially if you operate in the hardcore punk sphere for long enough time, you find each other, somehow. No matter where you are, you end up kind of gravitating towards other hardcore kids or punk rock kids. When I first met Will, the first thing Will did – I've said this in interviews before – he made me a mixtape. And where I grew up in Connecticut it was as all very…. I'm sure you're familiar with the band Hatebreed. It's all very tough-guy hardcore stuff and youth crew hardcore, and that's all I listened to. That was all I really was privy to. I didn't know all the artier stuff or weirder hardcore, or grindcore I didn't know about any of that stuff. And Will made me a mix that had all this amazing stuff on it and I had felt like I was out of my depth anyway moving there. I was just kind of this bumpkin who didn't know very much, and everybody seemed to be operating at a higher intellectual level than I was by the point I got to college. So Will provided me with a conduit to this whole world of music that I just had never heard before, and I really just got super excited, and I think that's sort of how our conversation started about making music together.
I live in Israel, and when you grow up in Israel and you are, at the same time, a weird person. Then there so there's two things that are true. One thing is that there is always going to be a scene. There's always going to be a weird guy in your school that listens to weird stuff you don't know. And since we're talking about the 90s here, then the discography is not huge. He doesn't own every album ever. He has the one album you don't have, and then you become friends etc. So that still exists, but you have a very sharp awareness that you are not at the center of where things happen. You're very much in the far-flung periphery of everything, right? You have your local heroes, whatever, but you're not where it's at. Where it's at is across the ocean, right? So, for that reason I'm very interested in isolation and what that does to you. By isolation, I mean, for instance, when Jay describes his rural upbringing or being kind of disconnected from stuff, and Will being this Big city slicker…
… with all his fancy mixtapes…
Jay: That’s overstating it a little bit, but yeah [laughs]
And so I wonder, maybe as a kid, and you were a kid at that time, there's a lot of insecurity in that position. Because, here comes Will with all his mixtapes, and there's a lot of humility in that position. But I what I think about it, as an adult and also as an adult who appreciates art made by people who grew up in these kinds of isolations, is that it develops a very idiosyncratic way of doing things, that you would not have been able to develop had you been born into a very vibrant scene where everyone was trying to kind of one-up each other. So, I guess I guess what I'm asking you, or maybe any of the other guys who feels like that relates to them, is do you feel like that helped you develop a very strong sense of what you like, that you know who you are and maybe that plays well with doing something that's different than everyone else?
Jay: I mean, to a degree probably. But I find that, especially with hardcore, these scenes can all feel sort of disparate, but at the same time it never feels so far-flung when you hear something new. It just always feels welcoming. Like, new stuff doesn't feel like there's a huge intellectual hurdle to jump over to. You get into it and it's always exciting. Like every new thing is like: “Oh, this is great!” I think what's good about it, to a certain degree, is not having this huge deep well of knowledge about everything involving hardcore. You come in with a little naivete that maybe is a positive thing when you're making something creative, you're not so overwhelmed by the fact that everything's been done and you're copying something, you're just excited to be playing music. Because there's nothing careerist about being in a hardcore band. You know you’re not going to make money. If you're successful, that's bad [laughs]. When we were in a hardcore band, that was seen as a bad thing. Failure is factored in, so you don't have to worry about that part of it. It's just about creating something with your friends and hanging out with your friends. So that never felt too intimidating and it was always exciting to be around people who had really good taste or taste that appealed to me, at least. And they're like: “Listen to this record! You'll like this if you like that!” And you're just in a sea of great new stuff, and it really gets you excited to make things. If you listen to something good, watch something good, read something good, you are then in a mindset to want to create something, I think.
Brad: I think kind of what you're speaking to still follows along with this thing of going through College, in my mind. Like, I grew up in Alabama and there weren’t a lot of punk and hardcore people going to college. I hoped there would be more and I was seeking it out and sometimes it's like you wanted to find more stuff and you're on that path, and sometimes that could be a little scary because you thought people were cooler than you or something. I think I thought that a lot in college, like meeting these guys. But I think also I just really wanted to find out about more cool bands like I just wanted to go to more shows that… That wasn’t a hurdle, it was just what I wanted to do. That was my singular focus at the time, and I think that's what it's like when you're 18. So, I'm trying to go back and think about how you’re thinking back then, when you're still just barely putting your foot in the door on a lot of this stuff.
Will: I was going to say, in contrast to the city-slicker image…
I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I was just painting a picture [laughs]
Will:… that I grew in a different area than Brad, but also in Alabama, before going to college and. There was a record store where I found out about most stuff, but, really, there wasn't much punk or hardcore happening locally. There was some, but it wasn't really the same stuff that I was connecting with or I was buying or mail ordering or whatnot. So, I did feel kind of isolated and as a result, and wanted to be part of this community that I was, whatever, reading in Maximum Rocknroll, or seeing in a record insert. So, I started working on a zine and I started a record label when I was in high school, because I was just trying to be a part of this community that I could tell existed elsewhere, or that was bigger than me, but also wasn't really like the punk community that was local, which was 10 kids and five of them were skinheads and the other five were gutter punks, super waste, and I was just like some nerdy straight-edge kid that was straight edge, but also there wasn't a youth crew scene, there weren’t straight-edge kids [laughs], just some dumb dude that really liked Jawbreaker [laughs]. I had maybe a couple of people I could relate to, but that was pretty much it. So I guess I did arrive at college maybe looking for people that I could also relate to or do something with.
I mean, this may be off topic, but sometimes the “city slicker” – I'm sorry, this is such a huge, horrible mistake as a metaphor…
… but I'm riding it out – is actually a bumpkin that tries really hard, right? Sometimes the person who is really impressive with their wealth of knowledge is that knowledgeable because they started from not that much and had to get to it. Never mind. Random comment.
Jay: No, I think you're not so far off. And now that we're talking about it I'm realizing I came from probably the most, sort of vibrant hardcore scene. There was a really big hardcore scene in Connecticut, there were shows every day of the week. I went to shows four or five times a week, and I had friends there. There was a community I felt part of. But it was very parochial, and I didn't really examine anything outside of these local bands or local scenes because it was all there. And, you know, none of these bands are particularly culture vultures, they did this one specific thing and that was kind of it. And these guys, I think, explored more than I did at that age range. So, maybe that's part of it, I don't know. Maybe I'm the city slicker.
Jay: You know what? I'm the god-damned city slicker! [laughs]
Brad: I don't know exactly what Will had right in front of him, but there was nothing right in front of me. Like, if I wanted to see a show I had to drive an hour and it was. I just took stabs with things. I would go to a show just because the band seemed…the name seemed like it sounded emo, you know? And maybe it wasn't when I got there [laughs].
This actually comes together, because…. All right, so Orchid. I don't know if you know this about Orchid, but I'm going to tell you something about Orchid.
Jay: OK [laughs]
Orchid was not a run-of-the-mill hardcore band for the late 90s. Orchid did not sound like what hardcore sounded like at that time. And had I been placed under sufficient physical pressure I would even be inclined to say that Orchid maybe wasn't hardcore, ever. Orchid with something else, right?
Jay: Hey, fuck you! [laughs]. Just kidding.
I know, I know, I'm sorry. But, what I'm saying is that in order to arrive at that point where you are different, and to me it was unmistakable that you were different. Obviously you felt different and you were working towards something that made you different. And being different doesn’t always mean the same thing, right? So there's the different of: “Oh shit, I wish I was in a good scene that was big and I knew all more kids and I wish 9 out of 10 people in my town didn’t listen to Skrewdriver” as opposed to, someone like Jay who’s saying: “I’m drowning in hardcore, but it's just one boring thing and I need to break out of it.” And so all of these are kind of cousins, all these motivations are related to each other. Because they're all pointed at doing something that's different, right? One of the major themes I've been kind of picking up with these 90s interviews specifically is this idea that you grow up in a scene, more often than not a punk scene or a hardcore scene, and Step One is: “Yay, I've arrived where there are other people like me doing crazy shit like me,” and then at some point there’s this moment where it’s “Wait, I want to make music, but my music at first might sound like what this stuff is kind of related to what I'm doing ,but at some point I break off. Either because I'm a born contrarian and 'm intentionally breaking off because I want to be different, or because I'm a weird person who, for whatever reason, gravitates toward being different. And usually there's a point of friction there. Either internally with you guys or as a band when it comes to the scene in general. There's a gap that starts to widen between you and the scene.
And so, when I, as a very naive, stupid listener, listen to the stuff you guys made, say the splits you did before Chaos is Me, then I could say: “Yeah, that sounds like a very interesting hardcore band doing things that hardcore bands might not always do.” There’s a kind of frame of reference for that. But it seems to me as a listener that by the time you to Chaos is Me, that's not the point anymore. It might have to do with how it's recorded, with the mood you were in, whatever, but by the time that record arrived in your process you were already different. So, I guess my first question is, did you feel that? Did you feel like something different was happening?
Will: I think that some of this is more accidental, and I'm not sure it's as clever and intentional as it seems in retrospect [laughs]. I think some of it is just the reality of us kind of thrown together in this limited pool of people who wanted to be in a band. We wanted to make music. We were friends, but we do all have these different backgrounds and different ideas, and I think some of it is just sort of the culmination of all these things. If any of us had tried to make the band just what we specifically wanted it to be or imagined, it wouldn't have had the same end result. I feel like now the Internet makes it so easy for everyone to be equally informed and have the same influences and also to find like-minded people that I feel like some of it is just: “Hey, it'd be cool to be in the band! Oh, I heard this band that Jay’s trying to forget that he sang in…”
Will: “…maybe he'll sing in this band!” [laughs]. Like, it was sick, but I didn't have a second option besides Jay [laughs]. I didn’t have a list [laughs].
Jay: You struck gold baby! [laughs]
Will: Yeah, I knew it when I saw it [laughs].
Brad: If you're talking about the difference between the pre-Chaos stuff, all those things were recorded around the same time, and they were the first batch of songs we wrote, so maybe just naturally there's a learning process there where it evolved. I mean, it's a pretty simple answer, but it's also probably the truth. I don't remember if those first splits were about 13 songs or so, and then we wrote another 12 or so after that and you get a different batch from a different recording session, a year and a half later, two years later, I don't know exactly. Actually, it was probably much more compressed than that. It was probably barely a year.
I mean, that I completely understand. I also understand what Will is saying. I mean, I'm actually kind of half in love with what Will is saying. But I wanted to say that it's not necessarily that I don't understand the progression or the idea of progression. Obviously I do, but once your progression takes you foot into a direction of being more and more apart from what's around you, then I wonder whether or not that was a realization you guys had. Whether that shift was intentional or not, right? That the stuff you were doing wasn’t necessarily like whatever everyone else is doing around you.
Jay: I don't know about that part of it. I don't think there was ever a point where we were like: “We’re really doing something different.” I know that we had bands that we were really interested in, and kind of: “It would be cool if we sounded like that.” But, when weird people get together and try to copy something else, it comes out of the machine in a weird way, you know? Which I think is part of it, and that was maybe the early batch of songs. I think with Chaos it was that we had been playing together for a while, we’ve been playing live shows, and that I think changed how the band dynamic works in terms of what we knew we could do together. I might be misremembering this, but I sort of was like: “We're writing for an LP now,” and so I just started thinking differently about how I wanted to write lyrics. I started taking it all a little bit… Not more seriously, but I was trying to do something that was not so much like just copying other bands, that I tried to do something more specific. I'm sure that was in Will’s mind too, that we were writing a bunch of songs that are going to be an LP. We're doing kind of a cohesive thing here. I don't know. But I don't know that there was ever a moment where I'm like: “Wow, we're really different from other bands.
Did you have that moment in retrospect?
Jay: No [laughs]. I think that now I look back and I was like: “We had a unique dynamic, this group of people plays in a way together that's…. But it's not like there's nothing that sounds like it. There's stuff that sounds like Orchid.
Jay: You know what I mean? I don't know [laughs]
I mean, I don't want to answer that.
But I think that a polite and accurate way of answering that would be to say that, like what Will said before about not thinking of himself as being musically influenced by the Dead Kennedys, but he thinks about an effect, right? There's a general effect in mind, so I don't know if I can list bands that sounded like Orchid at the time or since, but I can't think of bands that Orchid makes me think of. And those are not bands that sound like Orchid. That's kind of an important point here, right? So when I think of bands that Orchid makes me think of I think of Nation of Ulysses and or Fugazi. And the reason I think that, or one of the reasons I think about that, is that it feels like – and you just touched on that, and it's a very important part of what made those albums great – which is that the dynamic is free. It feels free, or it feels not overthought. It feels like this is what these people felt like doing at that time. And I think I feel like that when I listen to Fugazi and I feel like that when I listen to Nations of Ulysses releases and I feel like that when I listen to Neurosis.
So this sense of absolute freedom is a very big part of why Orchid still matters and why it still matters. And so I wanted to ask a question about freedom. What role, how important was freedom to you? Jay already touched on this a bit, in that you are uninhibited because failure is not a problem. So you can do whatever the fuck you want and if you want to scream about the Situationist whatever, you can do whatever you want.
So there is that sense of freedom. So, looking back, and even without it being intentional – this is me trying to appease Will here, did you feel like you had that freedom?
Jay: What you said there is funny because it's actually what Will said: “You wanna scream about the Situationalist whatever, just go ahead.”
Jay: But I do think we felt very uninhibited. Because our tastes were pretty diverse too. I mean, we were all into not just heavy music but all kinds of stuff. Will was booking a lot of shows at Hampshire, and there was all kinds of music coming through. I don't know if there was. I don't think we ever felt beholden to genre in any real way, which I think is good. And also there's a thing when you're of a certain age when you're younger, the level of confidence you have…. Life hasn't kicked the shit out of you yet, you know? And you have this sort of hubris, positive positive hubris, creative, where you’re like: “I know this, I know something. I know this is a good thing to share. I don't feel like I have to follow these rules,” or whatever, and I think that did play into what Orchid did. I don't think we ever felt like we had to do anything. And I think oftentimes we would do stuff – aesthetically, or with the lyrical stuff – specifically because people weren’t doing that. So, yeah. I mean, I don't think we ever were thinking about it that specifically, but I know that there were never any conversations where we said: “Oh, that doesn’t feel right,” beyond ethical stuff. That was the only time that we really had kind of a rule book, but otherwise, no.
Brad: Yeah, I agree. I think that we were just in our own little world. We liked the songs that we were making, that we got to play shows and that there were people there, that people wanted to put out the records. There was no negative barrier. We mostly had positives, even if a small positive response. So, yeah, we totally felt free to do whatever we wanted. We didn't ever feel like “I need to sound more like this band, or else no one will like us.” That didn't even come close to happening. We were just happy doing what we were doing in our own little world.
Will: I don't think that we thought about it as freedom. We weren't like “Oh, we could do whatever we want.” But at the same time I agree with what Jay was saying. We didn't feel inhibited by anything. So, we were free to do whatever we wanted, but It wasn't like we were trying to flex that or anything. It was just kind of what we wanted to do. It wasn't necessarily complicated, just: “This is what we're enjoying and this is what we'll do.”
Apropos the comment on diverse musical musical tastes, and by way of me not wanting to ask about influences, because I hate that question, I do have one specific question, which is the way the albums begins. Because it does not begin like a hardcore record or a grindcore record, or any record. Really it actually begins like a modern classical record.
Jay: You’re talking about the Xenakis sample?
Yeah, so what's up with that?
Jay: Will can answer that.
Will: I was a weird kid listening to weird music.
This sounds like a confession.
Will: Yeah [laughs]. I don't know. I mean, samples were so heavily used during that time that I think that even the whole way of thinking about it's different than it is now. I just heard that Xenakis record and was like: “This feels tense and discordant, and sets a similar mood as to what I feel the record could have.” Or probably not even that specific, but the just mood felt right, and it just seemed cool. It was more like: “Hey, what do you think about putting this at the front of the record?” It wasn't necessarily a huge plan. I kind of can't believe we've gotten away with it for this long, too.
So, by way of a slight confession: I wasn't into Orchid in 1999. I got into Orchid later because, I mean, there's some geography you need to traverse there in order for me to get into Orchid. So when I got to Orchid I wasn't a kid anymore, I was an adult. And I think that – I'm not even kidding – that there is a good chance that that introduction is the reason I love that record so much. Because it's almost like it puts you on a golf tee and then smacks their living shit out of you, right? When you're placed on said golf tee, you don't expect to be smacked. You're just placed on this pedestal. And it's tense, right? Obviously it's tense, and it's anxious. In the last five years of my life, I've been really getting into that kind of music very heavily, so I understand why it's a tense and also why it’s very influential for a lot of modes of very heavy music today, like dissonant discordant metal and stuff like that. So I understand why it fits the mood, but it also is very different.
Jay: Well, I think Will in particular, but all of us, were really interested in atmosphere. That was a big part of how our live shows worked as well was. It was never silent, there was always something, and it evolved over time. But I think creating this sort of discordant, tense, feeling, cultivating that, and a different sort of dynamics, certainly the live shows were like that and the records have that as well. I mean, I think that was always something that appealed to me for sure was that it had an atmosphere about it as opposed to just: “Here's a bunch of songs on the record.”
I would actually like to address that idea of atmosphere directly, and I want to do it through the most ill-informed, nerdy, minor rant – which, as you might have already caught on, is kind of my style. So the nerdy small rant is that I have come to believe that the most important thing about music is the drums. That's just how I feel about the world. This is not an offensive statement against anyone in the present in this virtual room, I just think it's a fact.
I just think the fact that the drums are the most important thing about music. Now, the reason I say this in this context is that I think what separates a lot of what you might call run-of-the-mill metal and hardcore is that the drums are not doing something really that interesting. Obviously the riffs are very important, the vocals very important. The presentation, the atmosphere. Everything is very important, but if the drums are just keeping time then I'm not really in it as much. I find this is just a personal preference, right? And when I approach the bands that I really kind of revere – I'll return to Fugazi and Neurosis as two examples, and maybe Slint too – they’re very important to me because the drums are not doing what they're supposed to do in that the drums are part of the atmosphere. They're not just a time-keeping device, they're doing something, and I think that one of the things that kind of happens maybe more in the second batch of songs we are now calling Chaos is Me, right is that Jeff is doing weird shit. There's fast drumming going on when there's no music playing, and there is weird kind of jazzy all-over-the-place drumming when he should be just basically following the beat. This idea that the drummer is not there just to serve the song but also to paint a picture. I think it's very big. Now I know Jeff's not here, but to what extent that you feel that as a guitarist or as a bass player or as a vocalist, even that there's this space opened for you by by doing weird shit – we keep returning to the same theme – but by the drums that are should be the foundation of a stable song doing weird shit?
Brad: I think that Jeff's drumming is certainly a signature part of the band, and that it wouldn't sound the same with somebody else. And he did come at it from a different perspective. He had his own tastes, and also I think his background fed into that. And I agree with you on some level that sometimes the drums seem like the most important thing. I think if you have a really good drummer you can get away with a lot, for sure. It helps. And a bad drummer, you know, is really obvious.
Yeah, I mean, it's not necessarily always bad, but just the standard, doing the stuff that the ear expects in a way, and when something happens that the ear doesn't expect, it's always kind of a good thing.
Brad: I don't know if Jay and Will agree, but I think sometimes that his drumming helped emphasize….. Even though it's fast and heavy and dark, there are actual hooks to the riff, and I think he made sure to emphasize those things.
Will: You know what I was going to say is that I feel like part of Salane’s style is that he played drums, but he didn't really consider himself a drummer and was more of a guitarist and vocalist. And I feel like he was sort of putting his own riffs or kind of emphases into the parts. It was kind of like his little hook that he was doing along with our part, as a counterpoint melody on the drums. And I don't think I even realized it until way later, because I think he was just always always: “Maybe something like this?! That seems cool!” but I hadn't been in enough bands that were active at that point to be like: “The drums should be like this,” you know? Or: “You should be playing this.” it was just kind of like: “Well, that seems cool, OK. You're way better at this than I am.”
And I totally agree that it sets a very different foundation and it definitely puts a lot of emphasis on chord changes and riffs. He also barely ever used any fills the way a “normal” drummer would. He kind of framed the songs in a very specific way. Maybe we talked about it at the time, but I think it was just kind of like a natural progression of what he felt comfortable doing. I remember him talking about how Spirit Assembly would kind of do some similar things with the drums, with accents and stuff. But I think a lot of it went over my head and I was just like: “Yeah, that seems cool.” Or “This is the fast part.” But that was about as detailed as it got [laughs].
Jay: Yeah, I remember the first rehearsal we had with Jeff. It was the first time that we had met him, too, and he said: “I just want to let you guys know I can't play fast.”
Jay: I think Jeff’d drumming is really idiosyncratic, in the best way. When you hear music that Jeff made playing guitar and singing, it almost feels like you can recognize it's the same person that did that. And also, on another note, in terms of drums and percussion, if you're a hardcore vocalist, you're basically another percussion instrument. It's very percussive. So I think that I took a lot of cues from the way Salane would play in terms of how I would lay lyrics out.
It's interesting because it makes me think of two other bands that I've interviewed for this specific series, one of which is Coalesce and the other Discordance Axis. And the reason why I mention those two is for very different reasons: Discordance Axis because it fits the kind of discussion we're having about the drummer and what the drummer does, I think. They did some crazy shit on those records where it doesn't really feel like Dave cares about what's going on with the song, right? It just feels like he's going at it, and if he wants to blast during the quiet part, he'll just blast.
So, I feel like that creates that sense of freedom. I think that's why I like the drums as much because I think the drums are almost like a regulator. that tells you what part of the songs you're in, and if the drums don't do that, then you're like OK, so all bets are off. What the hell is going on here? So I think maybe Dave and Jeff have that in common.
But the reason why I'm thinking about Coalesce is Sean Ingram, the vocalist because he would sing in a way that isn't isn't necessarily in sync with the music at all. There would be a bar of music, and he would sing over that bar and then some, so it all feels out of whack and strange. So I guess that relates to what you said, Jay. It sounds like you can use your voice, how you project your voice, the way you kind of percuss your singing, has to do with that weird atmosphere that you're going for, right? Or, that you think is just cool, to use Will's terminology. I don't know if any of that made sense.
I actually wanted to ask about Kurt Ballou, but I'm not going to, because it's boring.
Jay: I'm gonna tell him that. I'm going to tell him that you said that [laughs].
All right, tell him. I think he's a god among men, but I don't want to ask about Kurt Ballou. Orchid obviously became, and I in Chaos is Me, specifically, something very different for people than it was in the lifespan of the band itself, right? I guess I kind of hinted at this when we started our conversation – you know: You were kids, you were doing things that felt cool, and then in retrospect you might have gone: “Maybe that was actually cooler than I thought it was.” But in reality, there's a ton of people, present company included, that keep telling you how influential and how important those albums were for them. So my first question is, how does that feel? Does that feel weird at all? Does that feel like other people are making a mistake, that they're actually wrong, that it's just a normal band doing just a run-of-the-mill album and they're out of their minds? Or does is there a sense of regret that the band quit and that you could have capitalized, not necessarily in terms of money, but in terms of artistic production, on this new audience that found you out later. I mean, how do you feel about that disparity I guess?
Will: I was just thinking that, at the time, the record felt special. To us, when we were making it. But I guess I am surprised that it feels special to people now. I mean, not like: “What?!”
Will: But just that We didn't know that it would have any sort of lasting impact, or whatever, but I think at the time I think we all felt like we were doing something important. None of us I think had done an LP at that time, and it kind of felt like we were doing something new as musicians and artists, attaining some new level of something or reaching for a new level something. Although I think that, in our minds, that was a very personal thing. It wasn't about being huge or that it was going to sell a bunch of copies, or that in 20 years we'd be doing an interview about it. It was just like: “This feels really important to us and we're expressing ourselves in this way.”
Brad: When we were actually in the studio recording it, I will bring Kurt Ballou into it [laughs, just about when we were in the studio, I can remember specifically, sometime around the time of when the guitars were laid down, and Jay started to do the vocals, I did have like a feeling of like: “Whoa, this is like as good as I hoped it would be,” or something like. I mean, I was 19, I wasn't thinking about what I would think about it when I was 40 something. I couldn't even think about anything that was 25 years later, not even close. I wasn't even thinking six months in advance. So there's no relevance to thinking about what it's gonna be thought of down the line. Now it's just that I’m really happy that people still like it, because I feel like, just on a statistical basis, most music that gets made gets forgotten quickly, so the fact that everyone still listens to it is amazing.
Jay: Well I knew it was gonna be a classic [laughs].
Jay: No, I think Brad's right. We were young, and I don't think I thought anything about it beyond the fact that I just couldn't believe I was getting to make a record. I was getting to make a record on Ebullition, which for a hardocre kid of our ilk, that's like signing to the majors, or something. It was incredibly exciting. And we had this string of like: We recorded a demo tape, Will booked the show with Pig Destroyer at our local co-op at the college and then after the show Scott Hull said: “You guys want to do a split 7”?” I had never been in a situation like that where it's just like people instantly went: “We like this, this is good.”And then we made a bunch of demo tapes, we had to make more, we had t-shirts, we sold them.
We played shows with nobody there, or a few people there, but it seemed like we were never met with negativity. It was like people seemed to be excited about it. I was excited about it. And if it died then, if the record came out, we sold some records, and then no one talked about it at all, I would be still totally thrilled, because there were so many childhood dreams wrapped up – like going on tour, and all that stuff was so special. And that to me, in my mind, the legacy of the thing is that I was able to do all this stuff that I never thought I would be able to do. And yeah, now that there's just weird kids making horrible memes about me on Instagram, you know, I could give or take that part of it.
I guess I'm wondering about not necessarily that you could have anticipated that the record would be as meaningful as it was for other people, but maybe that there is a nice part about having a weird random Israeli interview you in the middle of your day about a record you made when you were 19. But maybe there's also this part of you that says: “Well, I did other stuff too. I have other bands!”
Jay: No. I mean, I get that, but I'm never annoyed with people who don't like stuff I do as much as Orchid. That's how it always works, and I'm glad that anybody likes anything I've ever done, no matter how remote. And I'm never annoyed that everything I make isn't seen as this… You know, I think it's so hard to make one thing that people care about, and then you just make creative things that make you inspired. And as long as you're satisfying yourself, that's great. But I'm really happy that people like Orchid, I don't care how it relates to my creative projects I make now. Personally, speaking just for myself.
Brad: We all made a bunch of other records after the fact, or kept playing music for a long time, or still do, and every time I make a record I enjoy doing it. It's nice that this one is something that people still talk about probably more than the others, by a long shot. But I think when you keep doing stuff you're also not like sitting down and just holding on to that one thing.
To return to the framework of all this, right, which is also kind of asking: “Why does Orchid still matter?” Interestingly, Orchid matters in ways I'm sure you wouldn't have anticipated twenty odd years ago, which is also, by the way, in black metal. Orchid has, at least in my eyes, along with a couple of other bands, but I think mainly Orchid, has become a foundational element in American black metal over the last 10 or 15 years.
Jay: Is that true? Do people say that, who are in black metal bands?
When I hear it!
Jay: Oh, OK.
Let's start with that. This is all my. Fault, but I'm pretty sure bands like Deafheaven, for instance, have cited Orchid as well.
Jay: That's OK.
Will: We’re good! [laughs]
But I guess this has to do with the fact that the cross pollination of metal and hardcore of the 90s is a big part of whatever is happening right now, and Orchid is just one aspect of that thing, and obviously you guys. Some of you were into metal, so it's not like a huge departure, but I do think it's fascinating that the kind of emotional distress and stress that people associate with, say screamo or grindcore for that matter somehow found its match with the emotional distress and anguish of a very, very different mode of making music. I guess I just wondered if you knew you were big in the black metal scene and in certain crossovers of black metal screamo.
Will: I feel like I've never seen a black metal band reference Orchid, but I have had our mutual friend Mark McCoy tell me at times, years ago, like: “I feel like this band sounds like they're playing riffs you would write,” or something so I can see what you mean, but I'm not sure that I think that that band was jamming Chaos is Me and going: “Oh yeah” [laughs].
I'm gonna find those references now [Here's one, MM].
Jay: I mean, I've had people tell me some of the Orchid stuff sounded like black metal, but I've never heard of black metal band shout us out.
Will: They’ll never cop to it [laughs]
OK, so final question. I've already taken up too much of your time with my ramblings, so just one last question, which is a return to the quiet serenity of the set question. Which is: When you think back on Chaos is Me, whether or not you listen to it on your own private time or not, or when you're prompted to by people like me, is there anything specifically about that record that you feel that you are personally very proud of? It could be either your own performance, how the band sounded like, the cover, its atmosphere, one song, whatever. And feel free to choose “Epilogue of a Car Crash.”
Jay: We all liked The Promise Ring, what do you want me to say? [laughs]
Will: I think that, this is kind of something I was thinking about when we were talking about the pre chaos songs. What we kind of had before was that we were figuring out what we were doing as a band, and I feel like that record was the realization: “This is what we are doing. This is what we like to do.” It was kind of like we set out to do something and I think we achieved it and I think that after that record it was either trying to progress on that idea or diversify that idea, but I feel like that was almost like the mission statement: “This is what we're doing or trying to as a band.” So I guess that's what I feel proud of or good about, that we were able to see through and come up with this vision, discover the vision, create it successfully in a way that I think is true to the idea.
So, if I could just follow up before Jay and Brad answer: Was that the first time you felt that? As an artist, that you brought something to fruition?
Will: Probably. I mean, the other bands I've personally been in were kind of like these shitty project bands, or dumb “I'm like 15 year old” crust bands. It was fun and whatever, but it wasn't particularly good. It was meaningful, but meaningful in a different way. So I think that this was kind of maybe the first time that I felt like there was a real artistic statement, and it's sort of formulated. Also, none of them were involved bands that played this many shows, or toured, or had records in the same kind of way, so it's a very different experience. So, yeah, I think it was the first time in a lot of ways that I experienced that. Not to mention, like they were saying, being on Ebullition and stuff, it was kind of this feeling of having arrived at something that might not have been a very impressive moment, but something that a 15-year-old me would be like: Whoa dude! That’s sick!” [laughs]. So, I think that was the first time for that. So it was just cool.
Brad: I think most of the time I've tried to make a record, I always wanted it to be turned up to 11, if you will. Even if it was a different genre or whatever, just push as hard as possible. I think that maybe it actually comes across on Chaos is Me. So I guess that would be something I'm proud of, or that I think is actually successful. You set up to make it as gnarly as possible, and may or may not succeed, but maybe we actually did succeed in those couple of days we were recording it.
Jay: It's been a minute since I've listened to the record, but I think that I look back very fondly on it for all the reasons I said earlier. I feel like that record is a complete piece of work, and it's the first complete artistic work that I've ever done in my life, at that point, and so I'm very proud of that. I think even the lyric writing had found itself a bit more, but it was still in the nascent stages on that record. But I still like a lot of that stuff. I still look back and read some of this stuff that I've written on the record, and go like: “Where did this stuff come from?” Or the riffs that Will played, like: “How did we even think of making this?” It just seems so otherworldly that we even made this stuff, it feels like different people were doing it, even though I know it all came from us. That's what's kind of cool about the records, looking back, is that they really just have this very specific presence, and I do think they hold up pretty well. And yeah, the dots on the cover, my favorite part.
I mean, were the dots on the cover like a profound conversation you guys had at the time?
Jay: Did we fight about it? I can't remember.
Will: I think we agreed that it was what was needed to seal the deal.
Jay: I think so too. That's what I thought as well, it was very….
Brad: The skeleton was on there, and there was all that empty space, and we were like: “Something has to go over here,” and we literally just: “The Promise Ring, what about these dots on The Promised Ring record?” [laughs].
Jay: It was very of the time.
Will: While I do think it's funny to talk about it, I still like how that looks.
Jay: I do too! The thing about those records that I also feel like is cool is the way we put the aesthetics together for those records. We weren't doing anything on photoshop, this was all Xerox cut and paste. The orchid logos were all hand cut out of different magazines and comics, and I would Xerox them. We would do letterpress, where I would scrape out letters, hand-typed all the lyrics on the typewriter, and all of it had this hand-made feel from top to bottom. I think that makes the record feel special too, because there's just so little of that now. That makes me sound like this weird old person…
… but we were going to Kinko's to make the fucking insert! I mean the photo on the back of the insert – we gave our friend a disposable camera and we're like: “Take photos of us playing with Noothgrush at a record store” and then we developed, and went: “This one works!” and that was that. It was all very tactile, we had our fingers on every part of it, and I think that that's pretty cool too.
Which is a long way of saying three dots.
Jay: Haunted by the dots.
That’s a great band name.
Jay: When the Orchid reunion happens that's going to be the name of the tour.