Breaking the Circle: Coffinworm Talk Rihanna, Indiana & Nihilism

Plus, stream a track from IV.I.VIII now

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Jan 20 2014, 8:20pm
From its home base of Indianapolis, Indiana, Coffinworm has been laying down of some of the rawest, blackest doom to ever come out of America’s Heartland (or anywhere else, for that matter) since it formed in 2007. Although the five-piece band, comprised of seasoned members of the city's metal and punk communities, rarely indulges on lengthy tours, its ferocious, unsettling live performances have made lasting impressions on those who have seen them. Word of mouth and the strength of its 2009 demo, “Great Bringer of the Night,” piqued the interest of esteemed heavy music label Profound Lore, which released its soul-scorching full-length debut, When All Becomes Night, the following year.

Coffinworm’s latest effort, IV.I.VIII (out March 18 via Profound Lore) is arguably one of the most compelling heavy records to be unleashed so far in 2014. Recorded with renowned metal producer/engineer Sanford Parker (Corrections House, Minsk, Twilight) at Earth Analog in Tolono, Illinois, the album reveals a band firing on all cylinders, with each track dripping with obliterating darkness and devastation under walls of thick, impenetrable noise. For a band focused on outdoing itself with each new release, Coffinworm has certainly outdone itself this time. Even Parker has called the record, “Quite possibly the craziest-sounding thing I’ve ever done,” which, given his catalog, is definitely saying something.

For Coffinworm vocalist Dave Britts, that desire to eclipse previous work coupled with time and life experience has brought about a seismic shift in his lyrical approach from album to album. While When All Becomes None is steeped in nihilism, apathy, and fatalistic imagery, on IV.I.VIII a flicker of light emanating from the end of a long, cavernous tunnel amplifies its searing, haunting qualities. After all, it’s much more destructive to break free and overrun the fates than to simply tempt them.

We recently spoke to Britts to learn more about the upcoming album, the band’s seemingly-unlikely influences, and the value of creating something new rather than mirroring what’s come before. Stream the new track "Lust vs Vengeance" and read the results of our conversation below.

Noisey: How would you describe the lyrical difference between the first record and the new one?

Dave Britts: The first was a lyrical narrative of someone coming unraveled at the seams, and basically saying, “I fully embrace death. Not only am I not afraid of it, but it can’t get here fucking fast enough. The second record is more a cognitive dissociation of realizing I am not that person. I wasn’t that person when I wrote those lyrics, but I kind of became that person from writing those lyrics, so this was kind of saying, “Hey, you’ve broken the circle, you’ve broken the bonds, you’ve broken curse.“ Terrible things have happened to good people, and fantastic things have happened to total pieces of shit. Sometimes you just have to sort the pieces out and do the best you can.

To me, the lyrical perspective of the overarching theme is indicative of the musical nature of the second record itself. You can tell it’s Coffinworm, but it’s not the first LP all over again. We wouldn’t be able to do that record all over again even if we tried. Not just because of personnel changes, but because we’re different people, we’ve had unique perspectives since then, and we’ve all evolved because we’re all malleable. I have no desire to repeat myself musically because I feel like everything I do should be new, should be better, should be more passionate, and should be more heartfelt--whatever cheesy shit you want to call it. I always want to make sure that whatever the next thing I do is, it’s the tightest thing I’ve ever done. With the second record, in my opinion, I’m going to have a hell of a time doing something better when it comes time to do the next recording, but I’m extremely proud of it. Anyone that really enjoyed the first record, they aren’t going to know what to expect when they hear this new one, but I think it’s going to drop some jaws, personally.

Coffinworm

There was an interview where you mentioned that PJ Harvey was your all time favorite songwriter and a big influence on your work. She’s the queen of reinvention, and you never know what she’s going to come up with next.

We’re all fans of Polly Jean, but I worship her. I’m a fan of Isaac Brock from Modest Mouse for the same reason--there’s something about lyrics that if you read it, it takes you one way, and the music takes you the exact opposite way-- a really happy song with really sad lyrics, or really sad song with really happy lyrics. That dichotomy is something I’ve always felt endeared by. She has a very picturesque approach to lyrics that makes her music very cinematic.

… If you looked at the five of us in the van on the way to the show, the music we’re listening to I don’t think is what most people would expect. The five of us don’t listen to all metal. In fact, up until the time the new record was recorded I intentionally took a moratorium on that shit altogether because I didn’t want someone to say, “Oh, he ripped this off or that off.” I wanted to actually create something original. All last year I was listening to shit like Rihanna and Lady Gaga, the whole Italians Do It Better catalog, Chromatics, and shit like that. If I’m sitting there, putting everything into making this dark, depressing, funeral-esque music, I sure as shit don’t need to be listening to it 24/7. And that’s how we all are.

How did you end up recording the new record at Earth Analog instead of in Chicago again?

Sanford had left Semaphore Studio and had a new studio, and when we talked to [Profound Lore owner] Chris Bruni, he was just like, “You guys can do this, but the rate’s a lot.” We wanted to have as smooth of a time as we could to make this record, but we also had these budgetary restraints. Matt [Talbott], the guy who runs Earth Analog—some of the dudes in the band are big fans of his band Hum. The option was we could go through this studio or that studio, and we could go through our entire budget in a few days, and then we’d really be strapped when it came down to mixing and the finishing touches. After we have the tracks done, we’re very much a band that goes back. If there’s anything Sanford taught us on the first one was it’s ok to think outside the box and do unorthodox shit, and to go back and do weird stuff. “I’m going to beat on a sheet of fucking metal and layer that in there.” We do shit like that, so we wanted to have plenty of time. We drove up there and it was awesome. The first time we drove up it was for around five days, and the second time was around three of four days.

My favorite track on the record is the last track, “A Death Sentence Called Life.” Can you tell me a little about what’s going on in that song? It’s one of those records where there are these hidden bits that blend together and make the whole thing sound crazy when you first listen to it, and then you hear it again and start catching all of these little details.

There’s actually a bunch of shit going on in that song. There was some piano, there was some organ, I think there was a Moog. Every guitar pedal known to man, and my friend Jacob Ryan (Overpower, No Regard) sings vocals on it too. There’s a sample I caught of a space shuttle launch from cameras that were mounted under the booster rockets. The concept of sound in space is kind of ambiguous, but we sampled the sound of the rockets as it reentered the Earth’s atmosphere.

Coffinworm art

I didn’t even ask yet, but what does the title mean? I tried to dig around and make some guesses because it was fun to do, but I don’t think any of them are right.

All I will say is it is a number of different traditions, theologies, and occult references put together, largely steeped around the concept of numerology. It’s very multi-faceted reference because we didn’t want to repeat the same shit as the first one. It’s the numbers, the placements, the meanings, several different traditions, religions, philosophies and what have you, taken into context with the cover art and what is unfolded on the record. We thought very long and very hard about it. We figured it out, worked it out, and when we came to a decision it was unanimous. It was, “Yes, this is perfect.” It fits the record, it fits the theme, it fits with what we’re doing, and there’s good stuff.

There’s a mystique to it too, even if you would have just spelled it out.

DB: Up until the first record came out, no one really knew what we looked like. No one really knew who we were because we used initials on the first record to identify us and there was a key in the record that told you. Obviously after doing shows, and having to do press and promotion, it was kind of ‘Oh the mystique is blown. These guys look like this, and this is what they’re all about.” So, it was also kind of an attempt to recalibrate that mystique. We’re obviously not going to have the same mystery as Portal or a band like that, but that wasn’t our goal. It was an attempt to say to people, “What do you get out of the record? What do you get out of the lyrics? What do you get out of the cover?” Let’s make it a dialog instead of a monologue.