Sludge Incarnate: Kevin Pipkorn of No Funeral
While their ethos is comparable to the disarray of New York City circa 1980, No Funeral is making their mark on Minneapolis circa now. Through towering rhythm guitar and guttural screams, it’s easy to close your eyes in the throes of Misanthrope and imagine fist fights in the streets while an abandoned warehouse burns in the distance. With fuel from the tireless exhaustion that sludge embodies, No Funeral forgoes any mourning rites in favor of stumbling onward. Of course, crawling down the sidewalk with your heart dangling from your chest means strings are bound to get caught in the cracks. To learn more about the renegade pallbearers of the Midwest, we spoke with No Funeral vocalist/guitarist and Live Fast Die Recordings founder Kevin Pipkorn about the trials and tribulations of practicing musical misanthropy.
So unbeknownst to me, No Funeral actually started years ago, releasing the occasional lengthy single until suddenly Misanthrope blew up, which is when I found you guys. What did this journey look like?
I moved back to Minneapolis from Milwaukee around February of 2011. I had lived here [in Minneapolis] in the past but I grew up in Milwaukee and went back there for a long time. I always wanted to get back up here and in 2011 I did with the goal of starting a band. I hadn’t lived here in a long time, so everything was kind of new. It basically started with a few friends just as an excuse to drink whiskey in the afternoon and make some noise. That first summer we didn’t take it too seriously. We were just jamming and finding people who wanted to play and feeling them out. I guess by then it was me and the drummer Tim left. We kind of just did it sporadically until about a year later when his girlfriend, Glen -- now wife -- ended up joining on second guitar. Then we found our bass player, Matt, through a Craigslist ad.
I friend of mine in Milwaukee -- he was always on my case to get this thing rolling—he got me to commit to a festival he was putting together so that made me get my shit together and get some songs ready, so we did that. It’s called November Coming Fire Fest. My friend who I grew up with, Jason, put it together with a bunch of bands. Dr. Shrinker played, Pissgrave, a bunch of Milwaukee bands. Before that we played our first show in Minneapolis with Mortals kind of as a warm up. We kind of just played sporadically after that.
Musically we were on different pages, Tim and Glen were much more doom influenced and I was coming from more of crusty sludge kind of place, so we were having a really hard time writing and moving forward so things slowly fell apart. For the next year or so, Matt and I jammed with several different drummers and guitar players, all of which ended up flaking on the project. I was getting pretty frustrated, and was considering throwing in the towel but decided to try out a few more drummers. Shortly after I had moved to Minneapolis, I met Jeff, right after he got home from one of his last tours with Sourvein. I knew that his band wasn’t doing too much so I asked him if he’d like to give it a shot. Right away, it all clicked and we just decided to go forward as a three-piece. We wrote Misanthrope over the next two months and then went in to record it right away and then started to play shows again shortly after. We got to talking with Doug at the release show for Misanthrope and he said his band Ashen wasn’t doing much so we decided to ask him to jump in on 2nd guitar. From there it’s pretty much been downhill!
The last year has been a little rough, as Matt had to step down from the band. It’s always been hard for him to go on the road because he has family responsibilities at home, so we’ve often had to find a fill in for past tours. Now that we’re getting more opportunities, he thought it would be best if we found someone who could commit 100% of the time.
These seems like unlikely places for sludge and stoner narratives to grow, but then I just remembered that Bongzilla is from Madison; there’s a presence there nevertheless.
Especially in the 90’s there were a lot of cool shows coming through Madison and Milwaukee. I remember seeing Eyehategod, Neurosis, Dystopia, and plenty of others. Back then Madison had two really great labels that were putting out those kinds of records – Rhetoric Records and Bovine Records. Some of what they released are still among my favorites; Decrepit stuff and tons of others.
Speaking of Eyehategod, how did you get hooked up with them live?
The first show we did with them was last winter and it was at a club in Rock Island, Illinois. We had played there with Weedeater earlier in the year and the booker, Jason, asked us if we wanted to come down and do the show, so of course we said yes. I mean, we wouldn’t exist without bands like Eyehategod and Grief and all that shit. We were stoked to be asked. After that show they’ve pretty much been on tour since last winter and they’ve made their way through the Midwest since then so they pretty much kept asking us to play, which is really cool. We’ve tried to do as many of those shows as we’ve been able to.
That’s awesome. It’s cool to watch sludge -- whether you identify with that term or not -- continue to have its story unfold with prolific bands in 2018.
For sure. For the longest time nobody gave a shit about any of this stuff. It’s pretty amazing to me that Eyehategod is still a band. They’ve been going at it strong for a really long time. I remember going to see them 20 years ago and they were playing to 30, 35 people.
What do you think led the shift to people paying it more mind?
I have no idea! I was just wondering the same thing.
Do you think you’ll keep playing shows for a while or will you take a step back and work on another full-length?
Right now we’ve pretty much gotten through all of our commitments for the year. The plan for right now is to focus all of our energy and write a new full-length and another split, and then get back on the road after those records come out. Ideally what we really want to do is find a European label to co-release a full-length and get overseas to do a European tour. Of course, we also want to tour the U.S. as much as we can.
It’s exciting to hear about the prospect of another split. Your record with Livid is interesting because of course you have your similarities as artists, but you also both have your own points of view and identities within the album. When I think of Livid I think of the spooky fantasy element of doom while No Funeral is more of the real-life grit. What are the ties that brought you together for the project?
First off, Livid are really good friends of ours and also from Minneapolis. After we did the Misanthrope tape we really wanted to do vinyl, but we weren’t sure if we had enough steam behind us to do a full-length. We decided we wanted to a split with a band that doesn’t just sound like us, but whose songs are generally coming from the same place. When I hear Livid I see their songs as bleak and crushing, just filled to the brim with despair. So, it just kind of made sense to do a split with our friends who are from the city and have the same kind of themes through their music.
Jumping back to Misanthrope, that tape and Mankind is Carrion, Fit for Nothing both start out with the super aggressive spoken samples. I feel like those have become the hallmark of sludge and stoner albums. Where do you go to seek those bits out? Or do they just kind of find you?
I watch a lot of shitty old horror movies and trash films. Most of them I just kind of stumble across, but to be totally honest I’m always kind of keeping an eye out for something. In the past I always kept notes if I thought something might fit in sometime. Now I’ve gotten to the point where I just record it and I have a folder on my computer with different samples. When it comes time to record a new album I’ll listen to a rough mix and look at my sample library to see if any are appropriate and take it from there.
Bearing in mind the opening sample of Misanthrope especially, what do you think makes sludge so hospitable to speaking candidly about drug use, especially as compared to, say, black metal or death metal?
I think sludge is pretty much just a slower, heavier, more grown-up version of punk rock. A lot of the bands just stick with themes that have affected them on a personal level. Me personally, I struggled with addiction for many, many years, so for me, this shit is just therapeutic. I don’t have to go to a meeting to let out stress and tension. I try to just get it all out in music. I’ll always be an addict and have this dark bullshit inside of me; I’m just choosing a healthier way of dealing with it. I think a lot of the bands making this kind of music have had similar experiences and used this music as a way to move on after life has put them through the wringer.
It’s interesting you brought up the punk element. I think sometimes it’s forgotten that as a subsect of metal, sludge has such deep hardcore roots. The culture ended up bleeding into it.
Yeah, I mean I don’t think sludge would exist without the B-side of My War.
Expanding on what you just shared about your own life, what do you think inspires No Funeral’s profound sense of misanthropy?
With No Funeral I really just try to channel all of my negative energy so hopefully I don’t have to feel this shit in my day-to-day life. It’s fucking hard, though -- it’s hard in this fucked up world that we live in. Sometimes humankind tends to be more and more selfish and destructive. I don’t really trust a whole lot of people. I don’t want much to do with them apart from people who are close to me.
Has that ever made touring or dealing with the music industry difficult?
I mean yes and no. No Funeral, for the most part, operates like a DIY punk band. Most of the folks we’re dealing with are pretty like-minded. A lot of people putting on shows out of town are either playing in bands or played in bands, so we get a lot of fair treatment as that goes. Then again, sometimes you get screwed. I try to be as optimistic as I can with it. If not, we’d probably never leave Minneapolis. Yeah, it can be good and bad.
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