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Lightning Bolt

Indecipherable notes and drawing beer cans with Rhode Island’s monolithic duo (3.12.09)

Lightning Bolt are one of the least subtle bands you’re likely to encounter. The duo embrace noise; churning sludgy riffs and driving beats along an ecstatic frame of the present. But amid all the filth of distorted bass and tumbling drums you can hear slow, steady evolution, a refinement that almost slips under the radar.

There are no great departures from the usual in their latest album ‘Earthly Delights’. The final track ‘Transmissionary’ is 12 minutes of one humongous riff. Seemingly so, but the throbbing tone of Gibson’s bass gradually gets focused, jumping octaves, and Chippendale (drums) can never be located, dropping through verges of rhythmic bliss. There is some (but not much) more production in these 9 new tracks. That’s not to say anything’s even remotely polished. ‘The Sublime Freak’ has some excellent production layered on, where a nice pulsating bass thud tossles about with slapped snare hits.

A Lightning Bolt gig tests your ears as much as your stamina – staying at the front and only falling over the drums once is an achievement my grandchildren will at some time warm their little hearts to. Even the tragedy of snapping my phone mid-gig swiftly goes out the window with a performance this thrilling. I bought a t-shirt off an obviously knackered Brian Gibson (bassist). They had arrived from touring in Australia the day before so I attributed his terseness to jetlag. On record his tone is like a thousand basses burning on some sort of white-noise pyre. Seems to me Gibson accommodates Chippendale’s massively scattered playing, matching his tone to his bandmate’s flat out ramblings.

Brian Chippendale has not only shaken the sticks with Björk, Lee Scratch Perry and Thurston Moore – he produces comics and noisy, noisy paintings. Take a look at any Lightning Bolt cover art and you have the sonic speckles and every cymbal crash heaved onto canvas. Live, he’s as breakneck as they get and his energy seems to be boundless. His solo project Black Pus is well worth a listen.

I cornered a worn out Chippendale after their set to chew the fat. “I’ll only take five minutes of your time” I said (a goddamn filthy lie).

With regards to writing or getting ideas down, do you find the process makes you insecure or unstable? Do you feel you always have to document your music?

With recordings? We always tape everything at home. I don’t really trawl through it though, I just have it. I don’t even listen to it! Well I listen to some. I record pretty much everything we do, and then go back and listen to one out of five or one out of ten times. You remember, “this was a good day” and a lot of times we’ll play like three days in a row then take a day off and that third day is usually really good so I’ll usually check the third.

But then you risk not finding the wonderful accidents.

Yeah, they’re all over the place and they’re just in there and… I used to worry all about that stuff and now I’m just resigned to like: I’m going to document it, maybe I’ll get through, maybe somebody else will get through it another time.

But then you have to deal with having too many ideas to get down?

It’s too much – it’s too many ideas. It’s ridiculous. But occasionally the system does work though, we do find ideas. If we can just get one idea and work on it then it works. But I am anal about it and I have a hard time playing without recording stuff.

I spoke to a girl on the bus (laughs) the other day, and I was talking about what I write down. She looked at my stuff and I asked her what she would write down and she said, “oh, I went to a party the other day and some guy was sick, then I came home.” And it’s completely alien to me – I want the best bits. And I’m afraid I forget everything if I don’t write it down. How about you? Do you remember most good stuff?

I remember some stuff. I mean, with music and ideas, if something’s real good I can generally hold on to it. But I write down a lot of ideas and stuff too. I also write down a lot of bullshit. A lot of the times I feel like you need to write down the crappy stuff to get to the good stuff or something, it’s like shitting it out.

It’s really hard though, deciding.

You know when you get to the good stuff you just start writing bigger!

(Laughs). It just gets more indecipherable! There’s a sweet old lady at my choir that plays the piano so incredibly fast. I asked her about it and she said, “The more I think about it, the more I get worse.” Have you always been able to play fast, or have you had to train yourself how to do it?

I just naturally speed up so as I play more and more I’ve gotten faster and faster. When I’m tired too I start to play faster, which seems weird and sloppy.

Is it like getting rid of the excess energy or what?

Kinda so. I just get wound up when people are around and I get wound up when people aren’t around too. I have like a certain quota of energy a day – it even goes beyond music. I’ve got a certain amount of energy a day and I either spend it on art or I spend it on music or I spend it on, I don’t know what, riding a bike or something. But on tour I’ve just got this drumming to do and so I’ve just got to get it out. And if I don’t then I just get frustrated.

Given that you paint and play drums, you’ve previously said you were worried about being the “non-master of a pile of things”, that, being involved in two spheres, you could never be the expert in either one. How do you feel about the connections between art and music?

Well like you were saying, I do actually get frustrated sometimes not being able to like… Because I have friends that have just focused on one thing, they’ve gone really far on this one thing; they do fine art and you can just see their ideas going through. I fluctuate back and forth. I think they feed each other. Music for me is weird because, as a drummer, it’s exercise. It keeps me healthy and if I’m healthy then I can do other stuff better. Drumming for me informs art, keeps my heart strong. It’s more like exercise than writing.

Exactly. The more I need to study, the more I need to drum, and hit things, and jog and do stuff. You’ve said you feel like a brainless muscle when you’re on tour because you’re only drumming. Do you then feel you need to draw or write more?

Yeah. I’ve been drawing some. It’s kinda fun to draw on tour because I loosen up. I’m actually working on a really serious project at home with drawing and I just can’t work on it because I’m away from it. And I have all these notes and stuff and I’ve been thinking about it to try to solve a few problems. But for the most part I’ll sit here and draw, like, a beer can or whatever I want. You know occasionally you can learn an idea through music and apply it to the other, you can apply it to writing or drawing or something which is really exciting. Sometimes you can see a connection and it opens up your whole field of vision, this other discipline. I draw a lot of figures and then someday I’ll draw a landscape. I can think about songs as being like figures and then suddenly I can write a song that’s like a landscape. I think of a pop song as like a figure ‘cos it has like two hands or something.

I thought it was amazing that you said that after playing you see things, you have images.

Yeah, totally. Sometimes I’ll sit down and just work through problems, I’ll sit down at the drums, and I’ll just keep a beat, and I’ll just let my brain go. It releases chemicals and just gets you moving.

Like a runner’s high?

Kind of like a runner’s high.

OK last last last last lastly (he was KNACKERED and very generous with time): Crowds. European, English, Australian, American, Japanese crowds. What are your thoughts generally on your different audiences?

They’re all the goddamn same!

Are you aware of what’s going on in the crowd when you’re playing?

Somewhat. I’m aware of what’s going on in the front, I’m not too aware of what’s going on beyond that, which is sort of sad I guess. It’s weirdly consistent. I mean we just came from Australia and I got off the plane feeling like I’m in Texas. Like it were summer, it was 90° Fahrenheit, and it looked like a Wild West town – there isn’t Burger King, there’s Hungry Jack’s, but it’s the same logo. All the same shit: it’s everywhere. So of course they react the same. There’s all these Western shared ideas.

What, even Japanese crowds? I’ve heard they’re more respectful.

The Japanese should be different… it is sliiightly different. They get pretty drunk over there. I love Japan – we were just there for two weeks, and it always blows my mind, I love being there. You feel like you’re deep in this ancient culture. Everything’s smaller and designed really specifically. But they fucking smoke like there’s no tomorrow. So playing shows over there was really hard. You know what: there were like 250 people here tonight – every one of them would have had a cigarette in their mouth in Japan. And I’m dying! So that was one difference. It’s weird – they’re not respectful in that aspect, they couldn’t care less. But at the same time, I don’t know, they still get wasted and knock all your shit everywhere.

But maybe they’re rebelling against all the moderation there. It’s so strict.

But moderation isn’t there. If you think about Japanese bands; they’re so good at what they do. And Japanese smokers are really serious. They actually go too far because I think it’s so constricted. And their personal things: they go really far. So it’s a place with a couple of weird conflicting things, like the want to be straight, want to lash out. I mean like Japanese noise music? It’s off the wall, those guys are shredding their prison or something.

I thank him and apologise for being a gibbering idiot. He feels like one as well, professing his love for Leeds and his hatred for jetlag. I leave, very happy.

Lightning Bolt website