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Post Magazine: The World of Death Metal

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Scott Hull and David Rowell
Monday, August 10, 2009; 12:00 PM

He'd always loved rock music, but when he heard the brutal, pummeling sounds of death metal, he couldn't fathom who would want to listen to it. By attending Maryland's Deathfest and by spending time with the band Pig Destroyer, he was about to get a very heavy education.

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Scott Hull is the guitarist for the band Pig Destroyer. David Rowell is an editor at the Magazine. They took questions and comments Monday, August 10. The transcript is below.

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David Rowell: Hi all. Thanks for checking in on today's chat.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: JR hayes has a twisted and poetic way of writing his lyrics. where does pig destroyer's lyrical inspiration come from? why not political lyrics like napalm death or most other grindcore bands?

Scott Hull: Jr's lyrics started out VERY much politically oriented. He read a lot of Noam Chomsky (sp?) stuff and wrote along those lines. Dig up the lyrics for anything prior to PITY and you'll see that. It was sometime during the writing of PITY that JR started to read a lot of Dennis Cooper, William Burroughs, George Battile (sp?), Gira's The Consumer. . .etc etc. I think Charles Baudilaire was probably his biggest influence.

But he did start out writing very political lyrics. But those subjects haven't really resonated with him for a LONG time.

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Washington, D.C.: question for scott:

i am from detroit, michigan and have lived in dc for 4 years. i was always aware of the amazing history of heavy/punk/hardore/metal music coming out of the dc area going back to the bad brains. i think you carry that torch now. as a region, do you think things in the dc area are musically better now or "back in the day"?

Scott Hull: Well, I'm not sure better "muscially". That's kinda up for interpretation. I think the underground and "punk rock" doesn't really exist like it did back then. It's fuly institutionalized now (see: Hot Topic for a singular example). I think where Pig Destroyer retains a punk rock ethic is that we do keep things very honest. And by that I mean we don't try and write material that might get broader radio/video play. We still write and record music we like, and it sounds raw, just the way we like it.

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Oxford, N.C.: Is it tougher to memorize the songs in a band like Pig Destroyer where the music is fast and often short as is on earlier albums such as Terrifyer and Prowler in the Yard?

Scott Hull: I understand this question. I had the very me question when I first heard early grindcore bands such as Napalm Death and Carcass. At first impression, it didn't seeem at all possible to hear any actual riffs or structure. But, as with anything else, things become clearer with repeated listenings. Soon i realized these songs were like any other, just played 4,000 times as fast and buried under typically rough production.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Thank you so much for presenting a very "fair and balanced" viewpoint on extreme metal. Metal and it's fans are often unfairly demonized for their taste in music, and I feel like your article could really aid in dispelling bigoted notions about the genre.

Also, kudos for getting all your facts straight about the various metal subgenres -- as you probably found out, its a fiendishly complex web of subgenres and styles, and even some diehard fans have trouble keeping it straight!

I hope you and your sons continue to enjoy the same music as time goes on. Even though I'm a huge fan of aggressive music (metal, punk, etc), I still enjoy stuff like Steeleye Span, Jethro Tull, etc, and that really helps me bond with my dad. Although, he is about as mystified by metal as you seemed to be at the start of the article.

David Rowell: Thank you for that. One of the great experiences in reporting this piece was seeing how my own stereotypes fell so quickly apart. With very little exception, the guys in bands that I spoke to were particularly thoughtful, insightful, and really generous in explaining the appeal of his music to me. Often it was clear how surprised they were to learn that the Washington Post was doing this story on death metal, and I think that they appreciated that a mainstream publication like ours was interested in exploring it with such seriousness.

And yes, the many genres of heavy metal were fascinating to me, and I was pained not to be able to get at them in the piece. But Viking metal, white metal, doom metal--it just goes on and on. I don't there's another genre of music that has so many classifications.

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Scott Hull: Hey Folks,

Scott Hull from Pig Destroyer here. Welcome to the forum.

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D.C.: Having attended a death metal show once in California and feeling like I had descended to hell, I read your article with great interest. I have such a hard time reconciling the young men described in your article with the excessive graphic depictions of violence in their music. Also seems a lot of these groups evoke satanic imagery, and embrace the occult- do you you find that there is any depth to that or is all for shock value? thanks.

David Rowell: Thanks for writing in. It was, for me, hard to reconcile the very point you make--how such nonviolent people can be so attracted to violent content. Over the course of the reporting, I guess you could say that I came to understand it intellectually--in that people explained to me the draw in ways I couldn't have necessarily guessed at--but on more of a gut level, I was still a little on the outside of it. But then, I'm not someone who goes to see slasher films or extreme horror movies, so at some point I just realized that I could only report the answers from others.

I guess I came to think that the content was something of a trap for people who play this music. At one point, talking about this very point, J.R. said he could write a song about a unicorn if he wanted to, and if it was a good song, then it was a good song about a unicorn. But who is going to be the first to take such a leap? I think death metal comes with a very heavy set of expectations about what it's supposed to sound like, look like, and I think it's hard for bands to cross over that line completely.

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Alexandria, Va: In the studio, do you use any software with PD (Native Instruments, mastering, effects) the same as maybe you would with A.N.? If so, how much software processing goes into the making of a PD album?

Regards, Ian McCoy

Scott Hull: Yeah, well we try and keep PD records as raw as possible, but there certainly is a different set of variables for live drums than for programmed drums. There are complexities associated with trying to get a "clean" mix on drums that were recorded in a "less than optimal" environment, such as the basement we practiced in for 10+ years. I relied heavily on the drum replacement software "Drumagog" to dynamically replace all the hits (that would have massive crosstalk from other drums/cymbals) from each drum, but I think that lent a very unnatural sound to the whole kit. In ANb, I use Drumkit from Hell superior, and I can separate all the drums out very nicely and get a great mix.

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Sterling, Va.: Hi Scott! I am incredibly curious as to how you somehow manage to juggle having a family, a full time job, two bands (AnB & PD), your solo & soundtrack work, and seemingly (re-)mastering every CD Relapses puts out these days? How do you find the time for everything? Thanks, R

Scott Hull: Man, I don't know how myself sometimes. I think I'm lucky to have a family that understands and a job that allows me the flexibility to juggle my schedule. I'm incredibly, incredibly lucky. And I drink a LOT of caffeine.

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Ashburn, Va.: David: After being a fan of underground death/black metal for almost 20 years it's finally a relief seeing it getting some mainstream press. Your article was impressive and even humorous at times.

Scott: Glad to see PIG DESTROYER and your other projects doing so well for you. Like yourself, I have a professional day job, family, house, bands, etc. but am also an avid fan and collector of extreme music. Ironically enough, your drummer—Brian, used to play drums for my brother-in-law's old band in high school. Harvey and I graduated in the same class from Herndon High...small world.

David Rowell: Thanks for the kind comment. When I was at Deathfest, people were often stunned when I said I was from the Washington Post, so I know what you mean when you point out the lack of mainstream press on death metal/grindcore. In that way, it was fun to be in new territory. And it was an interesting experience to be so totally out of my element. A lot of people would see in the crowd and just motion me over and say, "OK, what do you want to know?" The people I talked to were very proud to be fans of this music, and they relished the chance to talk about it.

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Silver Spring, Md.: David: kudos on shedding light on one of the area's greatest (and most overlooked bands). Did your experiences listening to and learning about Pig Destroyer over the past few months inspire you to seek out other metal bands?

Scott: if your wife won't go see Pig Destroyer live, is there any hope of getting her to a Agoraphobic Nosebleed show?

David Rowell: Thanks for writing in. I must admit, as much affection as I came to have for all the guys in Pig Destroyer, and as much as I admire them--personally and professionally--my time time with the band did not make me more open to metal music. I know enough about it now to say that it's not for me. But I have an understanding of it that I didn't before, and as a subject to think about and write about, it fascinates me. Musically, I'm just into much more melodic stuff.

But I'd like to say that the guys in Pig Destroyer were very open-minded and receptive to a very unusual situation. When I got in touch with them, I let them know that their music really just left me scratching my head, and I think a lot of bands would have worried about opening themselves up to a writer who happened not to be very neutral on the subject. So they were very trusting and just great sports all around. I'm very grateful to have gotten to spend the kind of time with them that I did.

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Bethesda, Md.: For David: Thank you for a very well-written and insightful article. One aspect of extreme metal that I often think is overlooked is the technical skills of the musicians. Were you impressed by some of the musicians you saw?

For Scott: Do you find you have to separate your musical life from your work life? Are you ever embarassed to discuss your band around your co-workers?

David Rowell: Thank you for the good response. Yes, I should say that I was extremely impressed with their technical skills. In fact, technical skills are often what draw me into a piece of music in the first place. My favorite bands are the ones that can really play their instruments--Yes, King Crimson, Rush, for example--and when I was watching Pig Destroyer rehearse and perform at Deathfest, I was knocked out by what they were doing. These guys are excellent musicians, and though they play a kind of music that is difficult for me to really enjoy, I felt like I was able to appreciate their musical abilities a great deal.

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Woodbridge, Va.: Scott and David, you are both seem to be great fathers. I was wondering if you had in a mind a target age where you would be okay with your sons listening to Death Metal?

Scott Hull: Well, I'm sure David's answer is different from mine. Perhaps I don't hide as much of this stuff away from my sons as I should. Sometimes I rely on Lisa to press the foul button. I mean, for sheer aesthetics, they could listen to it at anytime. Lyrically, however, as David can probably attest to from his research, there are some things out there that would definitely NOT be acceptable for any child.

For me right now it's a non-issue, neither Preston or Carson are the least bit interested. But when they are, I will have a discussion with them about the differences between fiction and reality as best I can.

Scott Hull: For the record, I started sneaking into horror movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, Friday the 13th, etc etc, when I was less than 8, and they didn't give me any permanent damage (although i guess that's debatable).

David Rowell: That's a kind thing to pass along--thank you. When my oldest song started being interested in Metallica and wanted to download their songs, I had to find the lyrics to each song and be sure I was on board before he did. He's 12. I think the batting average with Metallica songs was about 50 percent. There were quite a few that I just didn't want him listening to over and over again. For better or worse. If my sons ever want to listen to true death metal, based on the lyrics that I came across during the reporting, I'd like to set that age limit at. . .30?

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LA: Did you ever hear of a war between two different sects of Death Metal in Norway? They were burning down each other's houses and clubs. I think it came down in the late 90's. WHY NOT WRITE ABOUT THAT?

David Rowell: Thanks for writing in. There were all kinds of different aspects that I could have written about in Death Metal, sure. In the end, I wanted to write about Pig Destroyer and my own sense of trying to understand this music--if even a little. I think that if I had written more about the Norway scene, it would have felt a bit removed from the story's principal's ideas. But a lot has been written about it. Many churches were burned down, and there were many arrests. That situation got very extreme at its peak.

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Atlanta, Ga.: The production on Pig Destroyer albums is so clean and full, and almost clinical in its precision. The levels are maxed out and the mastering is better than almost any other album I have, especially in the world of independent music. What is the secret? Do you feel like the production on Pig Destroyer albums sets you apart from other grind bands?

Scott Hull: Firstly, thank you.

Second, man there isn't a secret other than experience. In heavy music, in terms of final production, it's a battle between keeping your overall master at a higher RMS (average) volume and keeping it sounding like a band. And that's no small feat.

I think the key is to try and keep listening as objectively and on as many different sources a possible. You'll begin to hear how your mix/master sounds strange, and there are a MILLION tools out there to work with audio, it's just a matter of inding the ones that do what you want them to do.

I'm not quit sure what separates us other than our reordings are still diy for the most part.

Scott Hull: Please excuse my typos in this response. I didn't note them until it's too late to edit them. :)

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Long Beach: I like the concept of loving lyrics combined with grindcore music. "Puff the Magic Executioner" would be so cool, and no one would be able to decipher the lyrics anyway. Go out on a limb, Oh Great Pig Destoyers!!! Show us some love!!!!

Scott Hull: Boy, try and run that one past JR and you'll get one sour response.

Do a search on youtube for pig destroyer and happy feet. someone edited a portion of happy feet (the animated cartoon) over some pig destroyer music. JR was not impressed.

I thought it was funny though.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey great to see the article and to put some samples up for people to hear.

Just want people to realise that metal is a very diverse genre, and their fans come from everywhere. Thanks for showing also that these are just some honest guys doing what they enjoy, and that metal isn't full of degenerates.

Everyone should also check out the Sam Dunn documentaries Metal a HeadBanger's Journey, and Global Metal to understand more.

Big hands up -m/

David Rowell: Honest guys, yes. There were so many people I talked to that I didn't get to put in the story, which was a real lament. I spoke to Jason from Misery Index at some length, and I had pages and pages of stuff from that interview that I wish I could have included. Fascinating guy.

Here's another good heavy metal documentary I would add to your list: "Anvil! The Story of Anvil." It's one of the most moving documentaries I have ever seen.

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Albuquerque, N.M.: How come cannibal corpse is so much better than pig destroyer?

Scott Hull: because of George's neck. It cannot be f-ed with.

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Anonymous: Taking into consideration the general youth of deathmetal fans, is this a case of musical arrested development by surbanites in their 30's?

David Rowell: Deathmetal definitely appeals to a younger listener, that's true, but I think the reasons for the appeal are pretty broad and complicated. Some people talked about a sense of alienation that they connected to, some simply talked about how exciting it was to listen to something so frightening. A lot of people described it as a kind of rush. And whether that's something that a younger person can simply experience more easily, I don't know. I know that for myself, this music would have held no more appeal for me in my twenties as it does now. As I was saying earlier, it's just the very nature of this music that keeps me on the outside of it.

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Harrisonburg, Va.: Hi Scott and David. Two things. First one goes to David. Your coverage of MDF was amazing. Being that I was there, I knew exactly what you were talking about. I just wanted to congratulate you in surviving what was probably one of the most metal events of the year (at least in the states). My second goes to Scott. How do you manage to juggle work, family, Pig Destroyer, and Agoraphobic Nosebleed?

David Rowell: Thanks so much for that. Surviving--yes, I think I probably used that word myself a few times when trying to describe it. But I'm heartened to hear that what I wrote rang true for you in some way.

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Falls Church, Va.: Great Article! I myself am married to a singer in a Metal band and I can honestly say that a lot of the people I have met through his projects/bands are some of the nicest, , most hard working and down to earth people I have met. Metal sometimes gets a bad rap and it's great to see an article that shows that isn't always the case. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it!

David Rowell: Just posting this one.

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Washington D.C.: David - First, great article about a really talented band. It was great to see the post do such an open minded story on a type of music that sends most people screaming.

Scott - I am curious what other musical influences outside of the metal genre your fond of or are influenced by?

David Rowell: Thank you for that. Just posting this one as well.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: The consistent quality of Pig Destroyer's work seems to be firmly tied to the fact that you've intentionally kept it from becoming your career.

What I don't seem to understand is why this appears to be so rare in the world. I can't really think of too many other examples of bands that have the worldwide recognition of Pig Destroyer yet maintain stable day jobs. Why do you suppose it is as rare as it is?

Scott Hull: We're lucky enough to have the understanding of our label in that respect. They know we can't do extensive touring and whatnot, but we still create music that seems viable for them to work with. They are also still fans, so they are willing to come up with alternative strategies to help promote and sell a record. I think a lot of younger musicians just dive head first into this life early on and burn out. There's typically a lot of label pressure to tour constantly. That would destroy us personally and make our participation in music less fun.

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Anonymous: Do any of your tunes have a "bolero" effect, or are they all cranked up to "11" from start to finish?

Scott Hull: We have a 37 minute track called Natasha, that sounds EXACTLY LIKE Bolero.

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Long Beach: David, After listening to Pig Destroyer, I think it's military related, (By a DoD employeee, no less) with the drums sounding like artillery. All is all, it sounds like a 12 year old playing the guitar being fed into a garbage disposal. How would you describe the music in a few words?

Scott Hull: It sounds like a 13 year old playing a broked guitar being fed into a slap chopper.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Follow-up to a previous answer - can you please do an article on Misery Index as well?

David Rowell: Right, I was just mentioning Jason in Misery Index. While my days of writing about death metal/grindcore are behind me, that band interests me a great deal--in part, because in terms of lifestyle, they are sort of the polar opposite of Pig Destroyer. Misery Index is on the road all the time. At one point, Jason, who plays bass for the band and sings, told me that had played 20-consecutive gigs. And when you consider how physically demanding this music is, it's staggering. When I was first getting started with this piece, Misery Index was the other band I considered getting in touch with. But as I came to learn about how Pig Destroyer has more of a duality in terms of their private lives/performing lives, that angle led the story more in that direction. But I'd love to see a long-form piece on Misery Index myself.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hey Scott. Saw you guys at MDF and, more recently, Talking Head - excellent, tight sets both times. Reading the article, I was surprised at the overlap between us - I'm a fellow physicist, metalhead & dad. Was wondering how you felt about exposing your kids to extreme music? Do you try not to expose them at all, or do you give them a censored view, or do you just let it all hang out? Personally, my 4-year-old son seems none the worse for having been exposed to a censored version of my own music tastes. He's quite sweet and well-adjusted, despite listing "grindcore" as his current preference for music (Birdflesh are in heavy rotation). On the other hand, I won't let him see my Pig Destroyer albums until he's much older. What's your take on that?

Scott Hull: Cheers! Then your head probably hurts as much as mine does from time to time.

I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with the music portion, as far as exposing your children to it. The visual and lyrical content needs to be taken on a case by case basis of course.

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Anonymous: Dear David, No offense, but I don't know which bands I think less of, your favorites, or death metal bands in general. Did you notice that all the bands you like are WHITE MALES? May I suggest some BLACK MUSIC FOR YOU????????? Big Joe Turner, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Chambers Brothers, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, ETC.?

David Rowell: Well, here's the thing I didn't have the chance to say in the piece. My love for rock is equaled by my love of jazz. So let me throw out some names to you: Clifford Brown. Ben Webster. Max Roach. John Coltrane. Charlie Parker. Elvin Jones.

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Wallingford, Pa.: what inspired you to pick up the eight string guitar over the typical grindcore band's six string guitar? what bands have inspired you the most in your guitar playing?

Scott Hull: My desire to play in lower tuning while retaining standard tuning. With the 7 and 8 strings, I can retain standard tuning in e, then I get and bonus B and F# string (most of Agorapocalypse is written in low F#)

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Bend, Oregon: Scott First off PD is great , extreme art at its finest.

How does a band get its stuff mastered by you?

thanks tim

Scott Hull: HEY I'M NOT GOING TO USE THIS FORUM TO PROMOTE MY OWN BUSINESS.

. . . . . .pssst. get in touch with the label ;)

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LA: If one were to develop a moral code from death metal, what would that be?

Scott Hull: Do your homework. Be nice to the elderly. Go to church.

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Holyoke, Mass.: two part question. a) will you play New England sometime soon with either AN or PD?

b) i play in a down-tempoed metal band i guess you could say. I've been using a Peavey Butcher running out of two Ampeg V4 cabs. I'm looking for another bowel-churning tube head, do you have any suggestions? How do you get that brutal tone. Pedals? Head distortion?

Scott Hull: Pull me aside at a gig. I'm always down for gearheadnerd talk.

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David Rowell: Unfortunately, there are more questions we could get to in our window of time, but thanks to everyone for taking the time for this chat, and thanks again to the guys in Pig Destroyer for being such great sports.

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Silver Spring, MD: What's Seth Putnam like?

Scott Hull: Actually and very smart and cool guy. Feed him some liquor and he becomes the Seth you're more interested in.

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Dublin, Ireland originally from Virginia: Scott, some people seem to have real issues accepting the dark imagery in the lyrics on top of the aggressive nature of the music. I find I enjoy extreme metal due to a sort of cathartic release of dark thoughts and feelings that don't get an airing in day-to-day life. Are you writing your music with anything similar in mind? Is your song-writing cathartic for you?

By the way, Phantom Limb was excellent.

Scott Hull: It's certainly cathartic for all of us, but in different ways. I would almost say for the noon-lyrical side, speaking of Brian, Blake, and myself, it's more of an appeasment of our adrenalin levels. It's VERY cathartic put arrange a song into something that stands on it's own.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hey Scott. Saw you guys at MDF and, more recently, Talking Head - excellent, tight sets both times. Reading the article, I was surprised at the overlap between us - I'm a fellow physicist, metalhead & dad. Was wondering how you felt about exposing your kids to extreme music? Do you try not to expose them at all, or do you give them a censored view, or do you just let it all hang out? Personally, my 4-year-old son seems none the worse for having been exposed to a censored version of my own music tastes. He's quite sweet and well-adjusted, despite listing "grindcore" as his current preference for music (Birdflesh are in heavy rotation). On the other hand, I won't let him see my Pig Destroyer albums until he's much older. What's your take on that?

Scott Hull: That's a good point. The PD covers certainly teeter on the edge of what might be acceptable. PITY is clearly not. Terrifyer. . .eh. Phantom Limb isnt bad at all, unless you just object to nudity.

It's all part of our job as parents. There's no clear answer what is acceptable and unacceptable.

My parents, by the way, find all this totally unacceptable. So I hide my music more from my parents than my kids.

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Scott Hull: alright folks, we have to sign off now. I tried to get to everyone's q's but I just don't type fast enough. Thanks for spending the time to get in touch.

All the best

Scott

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