Lightning Bolt’s seventh album ‘Sonic Citadel’ is currently garnering widespread critical praise, in no small part due to its songs’ tunefulness compared with many of those on their previous albums.
Clash asked Lightning Bolt bassist Brian Gibson whether he and the band’s other member, drummer and vocalist Brian Chippendale, whether that increased melody was deliberate.
He responds: “I don’t think anything is a conscious decision with us. We do talk a lot about what we want to do… but then when we play, all plans go out the window. Things either feel right or they don’t, and I think neither of us has a good handle on why or how to consciously guide it.”
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Brian adds that the album initially took shape at “a point last year when we started talking about possibly booking time to record and we both became excited about all the scattered ideas we’ve accumulated, some from old jams, others from our respective home recordings. We realised we might have enough to make a good record but we weren’t sure.”
A real highlight on the album is ‘Tom Thump’, so Clash asks whether this song came from one of the “old jams” to which he refers. Brian says this is “interesting” as I am “the first person I’ve heard call that one their favourite”, explaining:
“’Tom Thump’ was an older four-track jam that Chippendale dug up and played for me one practice. We were both super-excited about it. It has some ‘classic’ Lightning Bolt qualities – a bit naive, playful, yet super-aggressive. The original jam was simpler. I think that kind of drum intro is a thing that only Brian Chippendale can do, and then having the bass roar in just works. Although it’s not the first time we’ve done it.”
We then get to discussing some of the other album’s other notable aspects. Brian says the provocative title of ‘USA is a Psycho’ is a reference to Lightning Bolt’s fellow north-eastern US experimental rock duo, USAISAMONSTER, before detailing how he achieved the aggressive, lead guitar-like bass riffing sound that dominates the album.
“I’m always running through the same pedals on all these songs. The aggressiveness comes from using a bass overdrive followed by a super overdrive running into a solid-state pre-amp. On this album, more than the others, I do less pitch-shifting and just play the bass straight. It’s actually one conscious choice I did make on this record, to just use a straight distorted bass sound with fewer effects.”
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On the topic of conscious choices, we then get to discussing how much the band generally tend to favour improvisation as opposed to advanced planning when in the studio.
“I usually plan out what I’m going to play for the written songs when I go in but a good performance definitely has to do with nuances in the playing and timing that become super-important. There are a lot of ways that a song can be played; how one deals with transitions or building from one part to the next. I think Brian gives himself much more room for improvisation, just because of the nature of drumming and ‘fills’… it’s not an intrinsic difference between the instruments but it’s how our dynamic tends to work.”
“We do play a lot of explicitly improvised pieces while in the studio. Because Brian’s playing style is so freeform, he often tends to take on the role of ‘lead’ instrument and the bass lines act as an anchor, the way drums would normally. Usually if I start improvising, we go straight into a spaced-out free jazz zone because there’s suddenly no anchor.”
Talk then turns to the topic of the band’s upcoming European tour in November. Brian enthuses that “we’re definitely looking forward to it! I love touring Europe, we are taken care of super-well by our driver/sound person/tour manager. We just get carted around and play well-organised and nicely attended shows. In some places the decibel limits are a problem for us which is a little annoying… it’s related to some health legislation I’m not very familiar with in Europe but which I don’t think exists in the US.”
He clarifies that Lightning Bolt don’t reduce their volume levels when in Europe from those at which they play during their US shows, but this can be a risky position to maintain. “We play the same volume everywhere. Brian can’t change how hard he hits the drums when he plays. It’s just that in Europe sometimes we will get in trouble, and our show risks being shut down. Only in certain places.”
With Brian Chippendale the father of a young child, any tour now apparently represents no small feat of planning and organisation. Gibson adds: “It’s more challenging for sure. Parenthood’s a big responsibility and it’s his priority now but we seem to be able to make it work. Our tours are a little shorter and we have to make plans further in advance.”
With that, an hour has passed and it’s time for Brian Gibson to venture out into the autumnal sunshine of New York at noon and get himself a sandwich. After all, even veteran musical innovators and scourges of noise level regulators have to eat.
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‘Sonic Citadel’ is out now.
Catch Lightning Bolt on tour:
12 London The Underworld
13 London The Underworld
14 Bristol Trinity
15 Leeds Brudenell Social Club
16 Glasgow Studio Warehouse – SWG3
Words: Greg Hyde // @Gregory_Hyde
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