Interview: The Body’s Chip King
In many ways, Providence’s The Body embodies the term “challenging”. Crushing walls of guitar create a sense of everything closing in, of dread on par with legendary bands like Khanate and Corrupted. Photos of band members Chip King and Lee Buford show them brandishing automatic weapons and wearing burlap sacks over their heads. Their lyrics are undeniably bleak and apocalyptic, and their recordings are broken up by unsettling samples. But that’s only their core, their base elements. For a two-piece band, The Body has managed to elaborate their sound an impressive amount. By enlisting the help of a great number of their friends in the Rhode Island music scene, they created one of the best records of 2010 with All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood and have continued that tradition on Nothing Passes, their more recent collaboration with NC atmospheric collective Braveyoung, which features everything from chimes to a full-blown choir singing Exuma’s “The Vision”. I spoke with guitarist Chip about how the band fosters this collaborative spirit, as well as the band’s surprising tastes in music.
The show I saw you play in Toronto was a really weird bill that I don’t think worked well — you were sandwiched between a White Stripes indie duo and a surf rock band from California. Do you get lumped into weird bills like that often? Do you find it ever works to your advantage?
A lot of times that works for us, but that might be more particular to Providence–the music scene is pretty eclectic, and sometimes a lineup might seem weird, but it works. In some cities where scenes are more fragmented or there are more people, people are into their one thing only, and it might seem stranger.
Is Providence a good place for a band like yours to exist and play shows?
I think so in a lot of ways–there’s a history of a lot of different music coming out of here like Arab on Radar, a lot of noise stuff, and of course Lightning Bolt and White Mice. There’s an openness about Providence, which is cool; people will be really supportive and psyched on seeing even the most minimal stuff.
Places like AS220 are particularly supportive of the music community in Providence, right?
Yeah, they have a mission statement that guarantees any local band a show on a certain level. It’s pretty cool in that way, not all the shows are great, but it gives people that forum.
The Body has recorded and done shows at Machines With Magnets. Is that a regular venue in Providence as well?
It is. They have a large gallery space and a PA, and they do really awesome shows. It’s one of the better places for shows, I think, in town, but it’s in Pawtucket, which is a 5-minute drive or 20- to 30-minute walk, and people seem very loath to make it up there because it’s not right in the insular part of Providence where most shows happen.
I’ve heard that before, that people in Providence have a tendency to only go to shows if they’re in town. You guys have been around since 1999. You’ve released several EPs and splits but have only released two full lengths. Was that because you were waiting until your sound formulated?
Not really. We didn’t record the first LP that we released until 2004. I was living in Philadelphia and Lee was living in Boston, then he and I moved here and took what we’d been doing and recorded for the first time. It takes a while for us to write songs; it’s just the two of us and it’s hard to sit down and say “I’m going to write”. I think a lot of bands have to do that, whereas I think we have songs happen a bit more organically.Some of the earlier material we released as demos or CD-Rs we recorded at home ended up as songs on the All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood record. The songs take form over time, and we want to have the songs fully realized by the time we record them.
So it’s an organic process when you write? Do you need to get in a room together for things to happen?
Lee will have an idea of something he wants to do on drums, and I’ll have a part I want to play on guitar, but it’s not like we sit there and hammer stuff out; we’ll know right away whether or not we want to do it. There’s only two of us, so it’s really laid back.
Do you feel like the band’s concept has changed over time from the first album to your most recent output?
A bit. From the first LP we had solidified what we were doing, even though I was doing things differently on guitar . . . it had kind of morphed into this thing where we played slower/mid-tempo, riff-based stuff, but it came to a point where we were what people would describe as a “doom band”, and it didn’t really feel right. It’s kind of stayed the same in terms of how we play together. I think our live show is really strong, and we wanted to somehow translate that on record, which is hard because you can’t just say “we want it louder” because you’re limited by what can be reproduced on a record. You can’t get a record loud enough to shake your stomach, which is what we do live. It’s really bass-y and the air moves. So we realized we needed to put more stuff on the record. We put feelers out and asked people to do whatever they wanted, and a lot of friends of ours very graciously did. We were very fortunate that a lot of people helped us out on that record, especially Chrissy and the Assembly of Light Choir. That came together because we knew she was looking to start a choir around the same time we going to record All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood, and we got lucky.
We got together and I played her the guitar parts we were working on, and she came up with basic ideas for the parts and then fleshed it out. After we recorded our basic tracks we gave them to her and the other people who ended up on the record, they did whatever they wanted and we put it all on there, pretty much.
Do your recordings always start off with just the guitar and drums at the core that you then add other elements on top of, or is it more wide open from the outset?
We don’t really plan for the other stuff to be on there, we write the music as just us because that’s how it’s going to be played live, and we’re focused more on live stuff usually. We just finished recording a new 12-inch two days ago; it doesn’t have a lot of layers on it, but we did a lot of stuff to it that we hadn’t planned, like some gated drums, some levels of feedback and slowed down guitar that we hadn’t ever thought of, but it ended up coming through. We definitely didn’t plan for any of that. I think if we planned for other stuff it would be much harder. It kind of boggles my brain if I think about it too much.
When we’re in the studio we’re not thinking “we’ve gotta make it crazy” — we want to make it an extension of what we’re doing, without making it overly busy. I just want it to be heavy, and sound huge. We work towards keeping it within the realm of what we sound like but with more layers to replace what we do live that we can’t capture on record. Even though we can’t recreate the choir in most live settings, I feel like it makes the sound of the recording even more claustrophobic and sucks you into it further.
Since the recording of All the Waters…, the Assembly of Light Choir has toured with you and most recently has appeared on your collaboration with Braveyoung. Do you see them as being a part of what The Body sounds like, at least on record?
Definitely. We were talking about doing another tour with them next year, maybe on the West Coast, and have them fly out and meet us. On record it’s become more about not just doing a stale guitar/drum recording and trying to do whatever we can to flesh it out more.
How do you fill out the spectrum when performing live?
I run my guitar through a guitar amp and a bass amp at the same time and the bass amp is kind of ridiculously overpowered. I’ve blown a lot of speakers, so I’ve ended up with some subwoofers and some normal bass speakers so it’s pushing out as full of a range of sound as possible, which is what we’ve been trying to do since we started not being a trebley, fast band.
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You used to be a trebley, fast band?
The first couple years we were quicker and treblier. I had a half stack and it was a different vibe; at some point it metamorphosed from a fast band that was trying to be alienating–we wore these burlap sacks on our heads and did shows with fake blood, just trying to make things weird and uncomfortable in a way, and then it changed over time to more of what I think we wanted to do with music in general. It started off almost novelty-esque, but not quite. It was still honest and we wanted to do it, but it changed into what we wanted to do more long-term.
Has adding those additional elements on record exposed you to audiences that might not otherwise listen to your style of music?
Definitely. There’s people who come to our shows because they’re interested in seeing what it’ll be like live. I think because of the involvement of the choir we got interviewed by NPR Music and other weird stuff like that popped up, and I don’t think it would happen if we just had a straight up guitar/bass sound and made a heavy record. I think some elements appeal to people who are looking for something different.
We’ve know the guys in Braveyoung for six or eight years, and we played shows with them when they were super young and still known as Giant, who gradually changed from a more standard-y, heavy, doomy band into more of an ambient soundscape, letting a song build up slowly and then exploding if it needs to. Just being able to work with our friends whose stuff we love has been awesome.
Do you take influence from other bands or musicians that don’t necessarily directly translate into your sound?
Oh yeah, for sure. I think Lee’s favorite band is the Beach Boys. In the van we listen to a lot of Fleetwood Mac too. I enjoy a lot of harsh noise, ELO, and Judas Priest. I feel like that’s where we got really psyched on trying to make it sound like more than just us playing, because you listen to some stuff and hear elements of what people are doing that are so awesome–like people doing weird synth stuff, noise and black metal, listening to Judas Priest playing the sickest riffs . . . I’ve been stuck on Rocka Rolla for the last five years.
I’ve got Stained Class in my car right now.
They’re amazing. A lot of that early stuff I would say came out before the conventions of heavy metal entrenched themselves, and you had these bands playing blues-based rock. But it was so new and vital; seeing people play it back then is amazing. They were working almost completely out of context in a way.
What’s the story behind the sample on “Empty Hearth”?
I think they’re actually reciting something. It’s some sort of quote that many people are doing together. It’s this cultish church called the Church Universal and Triumphant. I think they’re from Montana. They’re a weird separatist religious movement, and they are, uh, pretty interesting . . . some of their recordings were pretty amazing. We had the sample and decided to see what we could do with it. We ended up sampling some of Lee’s drums and basically wrote the song in the studio, then layered some different stuff on it and then one of the engineers at Machines With Magnets started doing the glitchy stuff at the end; we just said “yeah, just kind of destroy it at the end at see what happens”.
That’s one of the songs that’s been on NPR podcasts.
That’s the song that people either love or hate. It depends on where someone’s coming from in terms of what they do or don’t like about it. Some of the more staunch doom metal dudes who reviewed it will say “it’s not doomy or sludgy enough” or something, other people like it because it still has that element.
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The Body – “Empty Hearth”
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The Body – “Song of Sarin, The Brave”
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