Raining Cats and Rats: Cloud Rat Talks Bonus EP “Do Not Let Me Off the Cliff”
Cloud Rat were pollinators long before Pollinator, the band’s new album that comes out on Friday. With their formation nearly a decade ago, the Michigan band used grindcore as the medium to spread a message espousing personal and sociopolitical issues important to them. They spread their message without regard for scene politics -- the band would play basement shows with crust punks in-between corporate Live Nation venues with the likes of Wolves in the Throne Room and Sabbath Assembly.
With the release of their fourth full-length, alongside a ton of past splits and EPs, Cloud Rat continues this pattern of resolutely clinging to their beliefs while employing completely unorthodox ways to express them. Pollinator comes out on Artoffact Records, a Canadian label better known for industrial music and EBM and the tour on the cusp of its release is with Icelandic synth-punk labelmates Kælan Mikla.
For a band as prolific as Cloud Rat, merely saving up the songs for an album rather than divvying them up with friends for split singles and EPs can be a chore.
“That's a truly mystifying question,” laughed guitarist Rorik Brooks. He and the rest of the trio -- vocalist Madison Marshall and Brandon Hill who drums and adds electronics -- got into Philadelphia late after a long drive from Boston, pushing the interview to after their intense Kung Fu Necktie show.
“Rorik is constantly writing. There's not a lot to do in a small town,” Marshall explained. “Every time I come to practice, he's like, ‘Hey, I've got, like, seven songs!’”
The seeds of Pollinator came about after the band concluded the Friendship Tour alongside Thou, Moloch, and False in 2017. Brooks recalled, “We laid low for a while after that because we had already recorded all the split material and we were trying to get it out. But that next year, in January, I hurt my back and then I got Ableton [the recording software]. I was laid up for three months, I started writing right then because I was losing my fucking mind and having panic attacks on top of not being able to walk for a month.”
At that point, Marshall would add what might have been the most personalized lyrics in the band’s history.
“I think all of Cloud Rat is personal,” she said. “When I write lyrics, they literally are seven sheets on the back of napkins. They are little scraps of paper that are like this, this little square in hidden inside books. They are the back of my hand. Somehow I magically always am able to do it before I have material to sing over.”
Cloud Rat has constantly evolved their sound, drawing from different genres of extreme music with such fervor. Pollinator is no different. “Webspinner,” with Hill’s drums alternating between familiar blast beats and rolling fills as the tempo lurches wildly, might be the quintessential Cloud Rat song – at least for this moment in time.
Brooks agreed, “I was thinking about that song in particular, because if you show that song to somebody who didn't listen to grindcore, and they hear a strummed slow riff with a drum that's going very quick [with] 16th note blast beats, it might sound like nothing! We're all fucking seasoned dorks. What does it sound like to a person who doesn't listen to heavy, really extreme, fast music? It's slow and fast together!”
Such dichotomies beg the question: are Cloud Rat still a grindcore band challenging the limits of what it means to be a grindcore band, or have they reached a point where they are transcending the genre entirely?
“I think grindcore already has evolved,” said the vocalist matter-of-factly. “You have bands that literally sing about boogers and pizza and you have bands that literally sing about the fate of existence and what it is to just be alive here. You have bands that will blast as fast as possible and then you'll have mince bands [that] are just chugging the entire time, using voice pitch shifters.
“I think any genre is allowed to evolve. I feel it's a lot like the blanket term of punk. Punk has all the subgenres within it, and I feel like grindcore is the same to me because a lot of the grind bands I like don’t necessarily at all sound the same.”
Even more divergent would be “Luminescent Cellar.” The longest track of the album by far is a funeral dirge and not just by the band’s breakneck standards; slowly and just as convincingly as any doom merchants around, it slowly builds up the intensity. Touring with Thou might have inspired it, and it’s one of Marshall’s finest moments.
“I don't want to say it's like super emotional. That song is about something that's super real that a lot of people deal with. It’s their identity, how they present themselves and how they want to be their true form and completely 100% authentic to themselves.”
Fascinatingly, the song could be a completely different animal if the band made minor changes. It lends itself to an impactful acoustic track if Cloud Rat ever wanted to do an Unplugged session, or by adding electronics, it could become a brooding darkwave number. Despite how interesting those remixes might sound, the band already explores those same ideas in depth with Do Not Let Me Off the Cliff.
“Jacek [Kozlowski] from Artoffact was like, it might be kind of cool to do some bonus material,” recalled Marshall. “Brandon was really busy at the time, and I was going through some really harsh shit back at my home, so I wanted to be away from my home. I was just driving up to Rorik's house to just be there with [who] I consider my family.
“So basically, Rorik got Ableton and a bunch of synths. He's always dicking around and writing music, like we said earlier. So, he had some ideas for some songs, and he was like, we want to do this bonus material, but maybe we should do it however we wanted. So I went up there two weekends and we recorded that and that's exactly what came out.”
The EP, which Invisible Oranges is proud to present below streaming in its entirety, is a bonus that comes in the limited two-CD digipack and is also available digitally.
“We made it specifically to be bonus material. We didn't make it to be like an album or anything like that. We literally just recorded it, we went with it, we stayed up all night, being silly with each other and having fun,” said Marshall. “You know, it's funny, because after I showed it to Andy [Gibbs] from Thou, he was like, ‘Why is this not a record? This is the bonus material? This is ridiculous as bonus material!’"
Although there are songs where she sings in Cloud Rat’s discography, she has never crooned for several songs in a row. Despite being an accomplished singer, cutting out her patented screams so thoroughly was a daunting challenge.
“Yes, absolutely,” she affirmed. “I sing in my other bands; I play drums and sing in my other bands and I've been singing since I was little. But for some reason, when it comes to singing in Cloud Rat, I tend to hold back. I just get nervous and anxious about it.
“I remember after it was made, I was like, ‘I fucking hate this! I don't like this at all, I sound terrible.’ I would go back and forth. Literally I'm like, ‘Okay, I like it… No, I fucking hate it… I like it; it's okay… We can't put this out, I sound terrible!’”
Most of the bonus material fits into sonic niches occupied by shoegazing guitars, lush Gothic synthesizers, and atmospheric pop. Two songs, “Share” and “Pity Sex,” are more restrained. Layers of reverb top folk acoustic guitar and Marshall adds lilting, ethereal melodies with nearly whispered vocals.
"In true Cloud Rat fashion, whenever we record something devastating usually happens,” she sighed. “That’s just me and my guitar in the middle of winter, being really upset."
“‘Share’ became the complete opposite,” she continued. “I was in a very happy almost euphoric moment in my life for a split second and [Rorik] pressed ‘record’ and he played that guitar track and I closed my eyes and I just sang it. We added the other stuff and it just kind of became this weird little sweet ditty.”
Hill smiled, “The ‘Cloud Rat Unplugged’ comment is particularly funny to me. If you hear Rorik writing the songs on acoustic guitar, you can actually hear the riffs. Like ‘'Webspinner,’ if you hear it as an acoustic song, you're actually like, oh, that would work like that! But then it’s covered with distortion and blast beats and it becomes this other thing. In a weird alternate universe, certain riffs definitely have a nucleus as that.”
It would be exceedingly difficult to have the band slide in anything from Do Not Let Me Off the Cliff into a standard live set. Especially when Marshall conceded that the thought of performing anything from the EP is “fucking terrifying; the idea of me singing those songs live to people scares the shit out of me.”
Hill was more diplomatic. “I think because of the way it was constructed in an almost improvisational, two friends hanging out and jamming method -- and the nature of the electronics and multi tracking -- you have to approach it very differently, probably with additional members and a different route of practice than our normal format allows. But under special circumstances, perhaps it would happen.”
Even if it doesn’t, three albums, countless splits and EPs, and especially Pollinator guarantee that Cloud Rat could play for as long as they wanted, under any circumstance, with anyone else on the bill.
Pollinator is available for pre-order via Artoffact Records on vinyl, CD digipak, and digital. It will be released Friday.