After a four-year break, Providence, Rhode Island noise maniacs Lightning Bolt have returned with their fifth album, Earthly Delights. The duo, comprised of Brian Chippendale and Brian Gibson, have made a name for their piercing bass, drum and vocal attack, a barrage of sound that manifests itself in droning noise jams with secret pop songs and classic rock riffs buried underneath. Earthly Delights is yet another winning album from the Brians in a near-flawless career. Over email from Australia, drummer Chippendale described their work process, revealed his addiction to creative output and yearned for the days of cramped, sweaty basement shows.
What are you up to right now? How is your tour going?
We just arrived in Australia after 12 shows in Japan. Japan was pretty fun. My girlfriend and I ate raw squid off its still living body while its giant eyes stared at me and its skin morphed through different patterns. Guitar Wolf kicked ass live. Afrirampo was great. Zero Reality was wild. Incapacitants shredded. We fought a small amount of sickness brought on by the ceaseless cigarette smoking by everyone around us, but that was made up for by the unyielding niceness and enthusiasm of people we met. I love Japan. I miss the food already two days later.
How has recent touring been different from the past? Have you noticed any changes as you grow as a band?
Japan has been pretty consistent over the three trips we have made, in general though, audiences have grown. Grown more unruly and enthusiastic. Tour is a weird thing, depending on the hour it's either really fun and fulfilling or feels like a waste of valuable creative time. Lots of waiting around.
Why was there such a large space of time between Hypermagic Mountain and Earthly Delights? What happened in that time?
We took over a year-and-a-half off between the records. We were recording in 2007 and just hit a wall, and our relationship needed some time to freshen up. So we waited till both of us had the urge to play again and started back up. This album could have come out in late 2007 or early 2008 with a few different songs but we decided to sit on it till we could enjoy the process of finishing it.
There was going to be an improv album called Frenzy released, wasn't there? Why did you nix that?
We did some recording between Wonderful Rainbow and Hypermagic Mountain where we just jammed and our friend did some live mixing. I think about two weeks worth of material. That was the rumoured Frenzy album. For one reason or another it got derailed. The recordings were cool but not fantastic and it was hard to push it through to the final release stage. We still have all the stuff on two-track tape, and there are a few great pieces on there. I hope we can get something out of it someday. For the last two records we have also improvised well and beyond what we release, so we have a growing reservoir of weird stuff to pick through. We're waiting for the right moment to unleash the flood. We move forward through material fairly quick, jamming a lot, starting songs, ditching them. It can be hard to look back and reflect.
How was the writing and recording process for Earthly Delights different from previous records?
It was quite similar to the others. The songs were written over a period with no real end goal in mind. We were not trying to craft a certain type of record, but let the music guide us through. Then we played through what we had written and improvised a pile of other things, and three of these got on the final record. At some point we felt we had done all we could in the context that was set up by what we had written and called it finished. We don't make perfect albums. Our process and relationship doesn't allow for absolute control.
What is your reaction to the album? Do you enjoy listening to it now that it's out, or are you ready to move onto the next project?
I have listened to this new record in one form or another probably more than any of our other ones and I really like it. I find it more listenable as it holds a certain ambiance throughout. A lot of the records we make I am very proud of but I would not necessarily put them on. The new one I might be more interested in putting on. It sounds totally stupid but I think we are moving closer to making music that I actually listen to! It's hard, when you are in a band, it's a compromise between you and the other member(s). And then another one between the band and the people or form of recording you make. I am personally still a fan of shitty as hell cassette recordings, so I was happy that we put two of these on the new record (songs four and five). But LB has moved on, we are well into writing for a new one, and it's been fun. Earthly Delights has a lot of darkness to it, I think we are coming out of that, maybe. We are still trying to figure out the best way to capture what we do 15 years on.
Having been involved with independent music for so long, how has the general climate of being in a band changed? Is it easier or more difficult to play independent/experimental music today?
Our perspective is a bit strange because we have enjoyed some level of success. Many people ask me for advice on how to start up and get shows and I don't have a clue how to be a new musician in this internet age. We are lucky enough to be able to get shows and get invited to things. I grew out of a scene were you played shit for your six friends and that was all you wanted. The idea that through the internet you can become the next U2/Coldplay in a matter of months is alien to me. So on one level it's easier because you can get great attention and acclaim quite fast, but on the other it's so hard because everyone's goals are too vast. Global communication makes it harder to be satisfied entertaining your neighbour.
What have you learned since you started the band? Is there anything running more smoothly than before?
Brian and I communicate better now. We know how to treat each other to make situations that could be bad become smoother. It's like any relationship with one other person. You either learn to make things work or you break up. Not that there still aren't bumps in the road.
What has made it possible for this band to have such longevity? Is there an end in sight for Lightning Bolt?
We have seen the end come and go multiple times. Right now we are having fun writing new songs. As long as it's fun to play together, and the jams still feel fresh, I guess we will keep at it.
Are you at a point where you can do this band as a full-time job? If not, how do you pay the bills?
I pay the bills splitting my time between art and music. The band could be a full time job for us but Brian G has a job (working for the Rock Band video game makers Harmonix) and his own other projects and I have too many visuals ideas I need to get out of me. LB has survived because we keep the demands on our time to a minimum. If someone needs a month off, we take it. If we get a great offer for a fest but I need to draw comics for barely any money that week, we skip the fest and I sell some CD-Rs to pay the electric bill. I couldn't keep a full time job even if it was something I loved more than anything.
What other projects are you currently involved with? What do you have planned next for Lightning Bolt and your other projects? Will you be playing in Canada at all any time soon?
I have been releasing solo CDs and playing solo live under the name Black Pus. A sixth album is finished and I'm figuring out the release for it. This one is all stuff I play live with drums, vocals and some electronics. And I have 600 pages finished for a 700-page book of comics called If n' Oof finished. The last 100 pages will get done when I return from tour (as soon as the post-tour paralysis fades). It's going to be published by a small Brooklyn publisher named Picturebox Inc in the summer. As for playing in Canada, no plans now, but we will get there!