Interview: Lee Buford (The Body)
Experimental doom duo The Body never sounded like anybody else. In fact they often sound like nobody at all. Coating every part of their sound with massive dollops of reverb is one of their sonic signatures. The irony, of course, is that they seem to work with anybody. They just toured with Thou, and have collaborated with Krieg and Full of Hell, among others.
Even in this intense network of reference, the Body remain elusive. Their career seems to obstruct what exactly makes up their The Body-ness. Until now, that is.
Their latest album, No One Deserves Happiness, is a self-described pop album. By pop they seem to mean a series of love songs featuring electronic instrumentation and clean vocals. It’s a step outside of the band’s comfort zone and also, in a way, the most clear expression of what sets them apart from their peers yet.
We spoke with drummer Lee Buford about the band’s love of mainstream pop music, and why the world needs a whole lot less Sleep clones.
No One Deserves Happiness is not the album that I would have predicted you guys making four years ago. I think that’s probably going to be the consensus across the board. But what’s more interesting is, is this the album you would have predicted yourself making four years ago?
For some instances, all we listen to in our personal lives, all we listen to is pop music, so it’s kind of inevitable that we would make a pop sounding record.
I think that that’s true for a lot of metalheads. I know a lot of other journalists, including myself, that do listen to a great deal of pop music. So to be honest, I’m kind of surprised that it took this long for a band with a little bit of steam behind them to start exploring in this direction.
What exactly were you listening to that sort of filtered into Nobody Deserves Happiness?
I mean Chip loves Taylor Swift. He listens to a lot of Taylor Swift. We also listen to a lot of The Weeknd, stuff like that.
So for you as an experimental and doom, let say, artist, how do you go about writing a pop song?
We haven’t, I mean for the last couple of records, me or Chip have an idea. We kind of just build it from that, so it’s kind of like making a hip hop song. You don’t have a tape loop or beat in mind, and so from there we just added stuff until it’s done, I guess.
So are the drum loops programmed or are they made with pads?
It depends, sometimes Chip will have, well it’s pretty rare, but sometimes he will have a guitar idea. If he does that, sometimes I’ll play the drums, a lot of times it’s pads, a lot of times it’s just drum machines that we just program. This record, everything’s done to a click so it’s was easier to go back and forth between everything.
Is that going to affect the way you play it live?
Yeah, it’s always tough to figure out what we can play live. It’s actually pretty frustrating. We shoot ourselves in the foot on that front. I think it will definitely take some reverse engineering to try to figure it out.
Are there any songs that you have figured out for that venue?
Yeah, we just toured with Thou. We played…the second to last song [“Prescience”] we played live with both Thou guys doing the horn parts on the guitar and stuff, it was pretty easy to figure that out. That’s nothing. Trying figure out the added instrumentation with just the two of us is tough.
I’m good friends with Tanner Ellison who did a live radio in studio session with you guys and Thou, do you remember that?
Absolutely. Do you do a lot of radio in studio type things or no? I would think it would be easy with normally just two musicians.
Usually not, we have done some in the past. I think we were excited to do that one just because it was KEXP. And also, we didn’t have a good representation of how it was when we played live. So it’s cool to do kind of both those bases.
You did two covers during that set. One of them was of course “Antichrist Superstar” or “Irresponsible Hate Anthem” off Antichrist Superstar, by Marilyn Manson and the other one was “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac. How did you go about picking those covers?
The Marilyn Manson one was my idea, and then Brian chose “The Chain” because he loves Fleetwood Mac. It’s kind of hard to agree on anything. I think only a few of us have actually ever heard of it when I suggested it. It worked out good, I’m glad that we got to do it.
You think that it would sort of be hard to get people to come around to doing a Manson cover, because for awhile there, he was sort of persona non grata as far as punks and metalheads are concerned.
Yeah definitely. I was curious how it would go down live, but I was surprised. I was surprised how many people knew what it was because it wasn’t like “Beautiful People” or something more popular.
I suppose that’s true. “The Chain” on the other hand pretty much everyone knew from fairly early on. Do you have any personal sentiment or connection to either of those songs?
I mean, the Fleetwood Mac one I know, Fleetwood Mac is actually one of my favorite bands. Anything that has to do with them, I have a weird connection to. Marilyn Manson, I got into it later. I mean when it first came out, I was a total punk so I was like, “I can’t get into this.” But over time I just started to love it.
Well, you guys toured with Thou, you did a collaborative album with them. You’ve done a lot of collaborative albums recently with Full of Hell and Krieg. Why all these collaborations and how to do you pick people to collaborate with?
You know what, they are just our friends, but it’s also because, you can hear it. It’s interesting to us to see how things turn out. We don’t practice. We just go into the studio and see what comes out, it’s definitely fun, it’s nerve wrecking, but exciting. And that’s the plan for now. At this point, I think it’s been like 17, 18 years Chip and I have been playing together, so that helps. We started in like 1999, but we didn’t put a record out for years. I think 2003 or something is when we first put anything out. Even then, at that point in time, no one cared, so it was a good long tough road for a little while.
When I think of The Body, one of the things I think of is because you two are a duo and that you do so much collaborator stuff, I almost think of it as an experiment in redefining what exactly constitutes a band.
I think when we make records, it’s one thing, and when we do collaborative stuff it’s a completely different thing. But it’s not that unusual. I feel like for years we were super collaborative, where everyone was playing with everyone else all the time. Like, weird things were coming out. Like, “if we were to make a record with this band, what’s it going to sound like?” Just to make it interesting for us, but also other people. Which I feel like music sorely lacks nowadays.
Says the guy that listens to a lot of pop music. What’s uninteresting do you think?
That’s something I think is sad nowadays, I think that pop music is pushing stuff more than underground music, definitely more than metal, which is sad.
I edit a metal website and I actually agree with you on that front. I mean, it seems like people are more interested in recreating something that meant something to them earlier than trying to make something new, to a certain extent.
I can 100 percent agree with that.
Well, is there anything in metal that you think is particularly, that you think is pushing things forwards, besides yourselves, of course?
I mean, there’s definitely things I think that, even things that take stuff in a new direction. I like everything that Loss does, a lot of stuff that Adam and Gilead puts out. A lot of stuff that I may not enjoy musically, but I appreciate that are not as cookie cutter. I feel Mories of Gnaw Their Tongues pushes it. I always like what he’s doing.
We’ve definitely got a few people on staff that would agree with you on that front. It seems like only fairly recently are loosely what you would call noise, and metal sort of beginning to flirt with each other. Do you think that’s accurate?
Yeah, I think people are getting more used to it, like that Pissgrave record. I do love that, and that’s a pretty dirty sounding record. I was surprised that so many people caught onto it. Which I’m glad about.
Well sometimes I think it’s, to an extent, and this might not be for you guys, but having the right label backing you helps. Even in the underground. For example if Profound Lore puts something out, people pay attention. Even if it’s not the most adventurous thing in the world.
Yeah, 100 percent, and that’s the thing. I feel like, I think [Chris] Bruni’s put out enough stuff to prove it. He put out that Wold stuff, which I’m very happy that he did. Even though I don’t even listen to metal at all, I still pay attention to what he is doing, because just on that alone, has kind of earned his respect from me, and just because I love those records so much.
One of the things that sort of fascinated me about your record was the title No One Deserves Happiness, not only that it’s descriptive of the sound in it’s own way, but it is the sort of thing that sticks into your brain. You could make a hashtag out of it. #noonedeserveshappiness. It could sort of take on a life of it’s own. Where did the title come from?
Well originally I wanted to name it “No One Deserves Happiness But Us,” but Chip wouldn’t let me do it, which I understand, because he didn’t want it to be seen like like we were talking about me and him. Ideally, it was like the feeling that if you were in love with someone, then that’s all that matters. And that purity of emotion is better than everyone else’s feelings. That’s what I was going for.
Are these love songs?
In one way or another, I think most all our songs are in some way. I mean, just some of the songs we sing about are about loss. And you know, one only experience loss by loving something. So in one way or another, I think a lot of our songs are weirdly love songs.
But this album more overtly so?
Yeah, I would definitely think so.
Was there any track where you think that would be particularly obvious to pick up on?
Yeah, I think that the last song is pretty obvious. When I was writing that, I was very nervous about how it would come off. It was too much of a love song, “I don’t know if this is going to fly.”
I’m going to have to ask Lily for the lyrics to that song then.
That makes a lot of sense. Besides that song, are there any tracks on No One Deserves Happiness that you are particularly attached to?
“Prescience,” the second to last song, I love the stuff Chip wrote for that one. All of the stuff on the drum machine, the more poppy stuff I was really into. I think it’s the best, most accurate record we’ve made, I think.
Accurate in what way?
In what we are trying to go for, and what, in our personal lives we have to deal with. I think it’s a very good representation of us.
All right, do you see or have any anticipation, or even desire, for this record to attract new audiences to what you have been doing?
Yeah, it’s been a struggle with us since day one, just being lumped in with metal bands. All the amplifier worship shit? That’s like the worst thing in the world for us. People kind of lumped us in with that, and it’s been like an uphill battle from there. A lot of metal fans are so insular of what they listen to, that it’s problematic I think. There’s no demand for us. Everyone wants to see Sleep, or like… Eyehategod just keeps playing the same songs they have for the past fucking 30 years, and they’re gigantic now, like bigger than they’ve ever been, there’s something wrong with that.
Well I think in the case of Eyehategod and Sleep, those are both bands that when they were doing their most vital stuff, no one gave a fuck about, and then it took time to catch on. You know, they were away for awhile. You guys on the other hand, you guys are super prolific.
Yeah, I mean, I understand like, “Let’s play some reunion shows, that would be cool to see.” But then to keep it going, and to keep it going on a level that’s so profitable.
Yeah, that’s absolutely true.
I mean, it seems exploitative. And also, is just disheartening, because that’s what bands sound like now. It’s like, “I guess I’ll try to be in a band that sounds like Sleep.” And it’s like, the world doesn’t need, the world doesn’t even need a first Sleep but, the world definitely doesn’t need two Sleeps.
Let alone 500.
Yeah, exactly. When they first came out, it was humongous when I was a kid, big money and stuff, was hugely influential. And Chip listened to them since day one, he’s 41 now. But now I can’t stand them because it’s like they’re ruined for me.
In a way, it’s almost a conservative mindset you know?
Yeah, which is disheartening. When I grew up, when I would hear metal bands and stuff, it was like I was amazed how crazy it was, it was like I’ve never heard anything like this. Now it’s like, “Oh, this sounds like Black Sabbath, but like a shittier version of Black Sabbath.” My fucking dad could listen to this. It’s not what I want when I want to listen to extreme music, or underground music.
You’re preaching to the choir on that point. But at least you’re picking interesting people to play with and collaborate with, but I like that you went in a more lyrically accessible direction, that you brought women into it, that made me happy.
I wanted people to have something. I feel like people missed out on the lyrics a lot, which I think is like a strong point for us, so I wanted to make sure that people could hear it and know that this is what we are doing.
Have you and Chip ever talked about, if his lyrics are so good, trying to make them more intelligible? I think fans don’t think that lyrics matter because people scream them unintelligibly, and then the listeners don’t bother to look them up.
Yeah, exactly. I mean also, like 90 percent of the people have just downloaded it, so it’s like they don’t even have the option of looking it up. Or like, looking at it while they are listening to it. Chip comes from music in a very odd way, where he wants everything to be like…because that’s his frustration with music has turned him into…. “Oh, I want everything to just sound like shit, like I want the guitar to not even be able to tell that it’s a guitar, I just want it to just sound like noise.” You know, same thing with the vocals, it’s like a mixture of that. He’s also like a total love of Taylor Swift and Katy Perry and shit. So it’s like a weird thing in his brain what he thinks music should be.
He’s trying to reconcile those two parts of himself.
Yeah, so like some stuff he’ll be like, “Oh I have this idea,” And it will be like totally catchy like a guitar part, then he’ll be like, “I want to put this over it,” And it will be like a wall of noise like…so it’s interesting. You know, we have been playing music forever, and put out a shit ton of records, so we have to like put stuff together, or it would just be like mind numbingly boring.