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Pristina's The Drought (Ov Salt and Sorrow) (Trendkill/The Path Less Traveled) is one of the few records in recent years that's frightened me with its power. I hear guys (and gals) growl and scream every day, and most are playacting. But Pristina don't just sound like blood, sweat, and tears; they are those things. These Connecticutians draw from the primal howl of Starkweather and Today Is the Day, whose Steve Austin produced The Drought. The record's heart is its title track, a 23-minute journey through hell with guest vocals from Austin, Starkweather's Rennie Resmini, and Bloodlet's Scott Angelacos. I asked vocalist Brendan Duff about it, as well as his former heroin addiction, the scene in Connecticut, and Pristina's future direction.

— Cosmo Lee

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What's going on with Pristina?

As we speak, we are at band practice, and we're working on a new record, a followup to The Drought, because that's already about two years old.

What can you tell me about the new record?

There's going to be about 13 tracks. In the middle of it, there's this album within an album, a three-song trilogy. It's called "Warhead" / "Death Said" / "Godhead". And they're three distinct songs. One's a super-heavy one, one's a super-mellow one, which we've never done before, and the other one's this 13-minute epic. Amongst that, there's other stuff we've never done before. It's really good. It's so much better than the record that just came out - and that's the most proud moment I've ever had making music.

The title track of The Drought was a long epic. What's the appeal of these types of songs?

We thought it would just be something challenging. All of our stuff up to then - five minutes was the longest we've ever done. We wanted to make basically an art experiment, something really interesting and hard for us.

Were there any long songs that you wanted to emulate?

We weren't emulating anything. We knew what we didn't want to do. We wanted to make it a fluid song, not just six minutes of drone or one repetitive riff. That stuff's really cool; I listen to a lot of that stuff. But we wanted to make a 23-minute song that felt like either a four-hour song, or as fluid as a five-minute song. One inspiration, I suppose, would be Today Is the Day's Sadness Will Prevail. Although it's not a single, long song, it's a huge, two-album thing that goes through all these moods. We wanted to encapsulate that into a song.

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Has your conception of Pristina changed in its seven-year existence?

Yeah, definitely. When we first started, we didn't have any clue what we wanted to do. We just wanted to make obnoxious music and to go against whatever was happening at the time. In 2003, every band wanted to be like Atreyu or Killswitch Engage. So it was kind of reactionary. "If that's what people want to hear, we're going to do the exact opposite". We were kind of an unfocused mess. We didn't have any vision, we didn't have any direction, we didn't have anything. We were just making noise for the sake of noise.

After that period, we spent a bunch of time being a band, being in the practice room, and our sound started to slowly evolve. It became focused, and we all of a sudden knew what we wanted to do. And that's where we've been for the last few years. Now we have a definite idea of how we want to sound, what we want to do, what we're trying to say, what we're trying to express. I personally love our band. I hope that doesn't come out like I'm being a dick or egotistical. I just really like our band. We're music I would listen to if I was not in this band.

Now that the band has a vision and knows what it wants to be, what are those things?

We just want to make real honest, really good music. It's hard to describe. We're not trying to be like Neurosis, for instance, but that's sort of in the spectrum of where we're at. The hardest thing is to describe your own music, you know.

Does the band ever consciously plan its artistic direction?

Every once in a while, yes. The little trilogy that's going to be on the new record - that was a concept that I had come up with, similar to "The Drought". The trilogy was just going to be one song and another song, something part 1 and something part 2. And as we started coming out with riffs, I started getting an idea for the three having a whole vibe. Stuff like that, yes, we kind of have an idea. And then other times, we'll just write a killer song one day.

I imagine it's like that with most bands. We're definitely not doing some conceptual album or anything like that. It's just a collection of songs that are really varied, which is sort of missing in music these days. A lot of heavy bands just have 12 heavy-ass songs, and they're hard to differentiate. They're all kind of interchangeable. A lot of that's really cool. I have no problems with it. But we're trying to go the other way now.

Bands that have variation within albums are rare.

It is getting more rare. Off the top of my head, I'm trying to list a newer band doing that kind of thing. Unearthly Trance is a good example. They're fucking great. Especially on their new album, a lot of their songs have different feels. It's not just some interchangeable stuff. I really like stuff like that, and I'm really psyched that we're doing that kind of stuff.

There's other bands, for example, like The Acacia Strain. They have an entire discography of, like, one song. But they're cool. They're really good. I like them. They're doing their own thing. But it's three straight albums of every song [being the same]. If you're not a fan and you're just scoping it out for the first time, you would have no idea where you're at.

(Laughs)

I like them, though. I think they're cool. I'm glad people are digging them. Their drummer, I used to be in a band with him, Kevin. He's a fucking great dude. Those guys have actually earned it. They've busted their asses touring for years. And a lot of bands are ripping off their stuff now, which is kind of a bummer, because some bands are actually getting a name just ripping off what The Acacia Strain does. I'm not going to name names, because that would be rude, but I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. A lot of the deathcore thing right now is just straight-up ripping off The Acacia Strain and Cannibal Corpse.

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How did you get into heroin?

I had drug problems since I was a teenager. What really led me to heroin was in 2002, I blew out my back. I eventually became hooked on Vicodins and then Percocets, and then Oxy 80s. When I couldn't scam off doctors anymore, or when I couldn't file false police reports to get more drugs, saying I lost them on tour, I basically found out that I could get heroin for way cheaper. And it's way easier to get. So I fell into that trap.

It's like Phil Anselmo's story.

It's similar. I didn't have the money he had, and I had to go to a lot more sketchy neighborhoods than I imagine he had to. It was a horrible time. I was a full-blown addict for probably five or six years. And even when I started getting clean, I was on methadone. And then I was on suboxone. I'm still on suboxone. I fell off a few times and started using again. My body is still hooked on using suboxone. It's like an opiate with a blocker in it, so that I can't feel it. It basically helps me function as a human being. I couldn't do that for a very long time. On tour, I was scamming drugs and worried about where I was going to get the next batch. I would go through withdrawal halfway through a tour. It was dark. It was really bad.

In 2006, I entered recovery. And things got worse in recovery, trying to get my life back together after all that. I was a dick all the time because I was always angry and feeling like shit. I drove people away from me. It was bad. It was really brutal. The only real way I made it through was the band. It was the one day a week where I could get [it] together and do shit besides lie on the couch and throw up. Sometimes I'd have to throw up while rocking. The band helped me get through it, big time. The Drought came out of that. I needed something to focus on. And so we started really digging in and making some good music.

What did you learn from drug addiction?

Everything changed. My outlook, my life. Everything. It ruined me. It completely ruined me. I know people that have been doing it twice as long as I had, and people that have been using for 30 straight years. Most of my 20s was living like that. It's tough. It's really tough.

So I don't necessarily know how much I really learned. I kind of came to the conclusion that I didn't want to live day-to-day like that anymore, like having a nervous breakdown over "Am I going to get my shit today?" "Am I going to start withdrawing today?" I couldn't plan a day unless that was part of it, fucking copping. If I didn't use, within six hours I started to shake and feel weird, and by 12 hours, I was in full-blown withdrawal. So living moment-to-moment that way, it was fucked. I guess I appreciate life a little bit more now than I did. I didn't give two shits then.

One of your songs has a lyric, "My allegiance is in darkness. Never again shall I speak of hope". Do you truly believe that?

No. Again, that song is old. It was written during that time. That was where I was at then. No, I'm not straight-up negative all the time (laughs). A lot of the lyrics come from moment to moment, how I'm feeling right then and there. I'm not a super-negative person. I'm not super-positive, either. I'm just a normal-ass guy.

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What makes you get up in the morning now?

Nowadays, I have a seven year-old daughter. And I'm married, I have a wife. Those two and my band - my whole life pretty much revolves around that. I love the band, I love my daughter, I love my wife. That's my whole life.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished that Ice Man book [about] Richard Kuklinksi. Have you ever heard of that? He was the Mafia contract killer.

No, I haven't.

That was awesome. Lately I've been reading a lot of true crime stuff and war books. I'm really into that stuff. I don't read much fiction at all. Anything non-fiction I can probably dig.

Why do you not read fiction?

I'm just not into the flying and the magic and the fantasy stuff (laughs). I'm just more into real-life stuff. That's what grabs my attention.

Not all fiction is fantastical.

That's true. Personally, I like more real-life stuff. I read a lot, but I never really dug fiction. Like The Lord of the Rings - I dig the movies, but it's not something I would ever want to read.

Do you seek that quality in music also?

Definitely. Although I like Iron Maiden, for instance. Sure, it's cool. [But] "Flight of Icarus" doesn't speak to me as much as Eyehategod talking about [being] dopesick, for instance. That's something I can fucking relate to, big time. So, yes, definitely, the more fantasy [-oriented] stuff, like Rhapsody and Blind Guardian and stuff like that - no. Some of it's cool, sure. I like a lot of black metal. But most of that's like "in the forest" and "Satan!" (laughs). I just like the music. I don't fucking see any real deeper meaning.

It may have a deeper meaning for people who know those environments.

True. I'm not Nietzsche. I know nothing about living in the forest and axes and such (laughs). People will probably get mad at me for saying that. I do like black metal, sure, but... Again, Iron Maiden, for instance. I love Maiden. But there's really no deep, insightful things I learn from them.

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What's the heavy music scene like in Connecticut?

There's some good hardcore stuff here. A lot of great bands were from Connecticut, like Hatebreed, for instance, and Blood Has Been Shed. It's not really happening right now. I think there's pretty good youth crew hardcore stuff, but I'm 30 years old. I don't really go to a shitload of shows here. If a band comes through that I'm super into, then I will. But I don't go to hardcore shows every weekend anymore.

There's also a pretty decent metal scene here. I don't know if you've ever heard of a band called Ipsissimus. They just got signed to Metal Blade. My buddy Ryan Adams is their guitar player. I think they're fucking great. There's a band called Wrench in the Works. They used to be Groundzero. They just broke up, unfortunately, but they were great.

Some good bands come through. We just played with Unearthly Trance and Suma. That was fucking awesome. Cable plays a couple shows, like a once-a-year thing. We got to play with them last year. And the bigger bands come through at a place called The Webster, bands like Behemoth. They get some good stuff there.

What are you listening to right now?

Honestly, right now, the only thing I've been listening to, strictly, is the Swans and Black Flag. That's all that's been in my iPod for a couple months now, the Swans album Various Failures and basically all of Black Flag. I've just been going on a kick right now where that's all I've been listening to. I don't know if it's seasonal or what, but I just get on kicks sometimes.

You seem to get on kicks with reading and music. "Kicks" is also a drug word.

Yes, it is. I always joke that I'm OCD. I get all about something, right now, like I'm only listening to Black Flag and the Swans - that's it. And then six months from now, I can be on a totally different trip altogether. I do kind of function like that, I suppose, big time.

Why does Pristina exist?

(Laughs) One time somebody else asked me that, and the best answer I could give was, "We exist to bum you out".

(Laughs)

We basically exist to satisfy ourselves and make great music first and foremost. Like I said, when I was coming off the drugs, this band was all I had. I love this band. We're all super-tight friends. I've been in bands where it wasn't like that. You fuckin' hate each other; you just be in the room [together] when you gotta, and that's it. We've been hangin' outside of practice. I guess we basically exist to make music that we really like. And if other people dig on it, too, that's definitely very cool, but we would still be doing it, with or without anybody listening.

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HEAR THE DROUGHT

"Moonshiner"

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"Salt Water Cthulhu"

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BUY THE DROUGHT

Amazon (MP3)
Trendkill (EU, LP)
Trendkill (EU, CD)

The Path Less Traveled (LP)

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