Old Souls with Piercing Noise: Stream the New Full of Hell / Merzbow Collaboration
Plus an interview with frontman Dylan Walker, exclusively at Noisey
With less than a century of life experience behind the four of them, Full of Hell is wise beyond their years. Starting as a bunch of fresh faced kids making brash, nihilistic, sophisticated and most of all, damn good grind/powerviolence, the quartet's approach has become more complex and thoughtful, incorporating elements of noise and Swans-like dirge and purge within their blastbeats. Their complexity on 2013's Rudiments of Mutilation did not go overlooked, and the band's new record sees them collaborating with the Japanese god of noise Merzbow for a full LP for Profound Lore. Stream the new track "Gordian Knot" below.
We cornered vocalist Dylan Walker from Full of Hell to discuss the band's rapid rise and the collaboration. The results of that discussion are below.
Noisey: How did you guys meet and realize you had enough common ideas to play together?
Dylan Walker: Spencer formed Full of Hell without any of us, any of the other three. I met him on one of his first tours with Full of Hell, and I was around him for a couple weeks and he didn’t speak at all, until the last day of tour. Finally he spoke to me, and I realized that he’d grown up listening to the same kind of music I liked and I’d always wanted to play. Really fast chaotic stuff, a lot of grind and metal and fucked up noisy punk. They had a different singer though, so it was nice to meet him.
I went home, and I found out soon after that their singer quit. And immediately was like “I’m going to join this band, I don’t care how far away they are.” Cause these guys were located in Ocean City, and I’m six hours away up in Pennsylvania. I figured it would be worth the commute because Spencer was the only person I had met who was obsessive about being in a band. If the band wasn’t going that well, he was pissed and depressed. And that’s how I would always felt ever since I’ve been in bands.
So I joined the band, and essentially what happened was we kicked everyone out sooner than later. Spencer met Dave the drummer when Dave was fourteen on myspace, and Dave’s kind of a classically trained drummer. And Spencer met up with him and gave him a bunch of CDs and said “you’re gonna listen to this stuff, and you’re gonna play in my band.” So Dave was in Full of Hell even though he was still in high school. We had to get fill ins for tours during the year because he was still in high school. I had to write fake letters of invitation from fake European booking agents to get him to go to Europe for the first time. It was a very thin line of him being expelled from high school. Then I guess Brandon who plays bass is one of Dave’s oldest and best friends, and when those two graduated high school we needed a bass player and Brandon worked out. Brandon kind of bloomed into a sort of insane bass player, and is definitely a huge part of the band. And here we are I guess.
So you’re a little older than Dave for sure, but how did the ball start rolling with A389? At what age did that go on and how did the whole being in the band in touring as much, with Dave being so young, how did that correspond?
Well Spencer and I kind of shared the same obsession. It was sort of all I wanted to do, so we were ready as soon as I joined the band, it was “we’re going on tour, even though we don’t have a pressed record.” Which in retrospect was kind of stupid and pointless, but nevertheless we toured and made friends, and when it came time to put out our record we wanted to put out a seven inch. It wasn’t that long into touring we decided we needed a seven inch. I contacted a few labels I thought would be interested, and of course none of them contacted us back. But a good friend of mine, Dave runs a label outside of Philadelphia called Get This Right Records and he agreed to press 300 of them, and that was the start. I think once you convince just one person to invest money into your band, you can get the ball rolling. Dave showed the record to Dom at A389 who liked it a lot, and we were really excited of that being big fans of Pulling Teeth and big fans of A389. So after doing the seven inch and touring Europe, we asked Dom if he wanted to do a seven inch, and he suggested an LP.
Throughout all of this clearly you’re going out and touring your fucking ass off. But a lot of the time, you guys are playing this circuit where the crowd isn't exactly for you -more of a hardcore crowd I’d say, as opposed to where you should fit which is in a weird niche zone between powerviolence and noise. What were some of the early responses you were getting and how did that refine your point more?
When Spencer and I started the band, we always wanted it to sound like this record with Merzbow. We always wanted it to sound like that. It was always incubating, and had to refine our palettes and play together to even be capable of creating what we’re creating now. In the early days and even now, we’re really fortunate with the hardcore punk community. I think there’s been a mini-renaissance with a lot of little extreme styles of music. And I think the internet has a lot to do with that like it does with everything. But I think your average hardcore kids these days are more open to something more extreme rather than just youth crew all day or whatever. I was always kind of surprised with the reaction because I would go in expecting nothing. Some insane meat head with face tattoos would enjoy us and buy our t-shirts or records or and that was exciting and encouraging. And we have a lot of friends that are all kinds of people. Lots of kids that wouldn’t normally give a shit about an artsy grindcore band or whatever you’d want to call us. And the most surprising thing was the friends we made in the early hardcore days have still stuck with us even when we released the newer stuff, which is less accessible. Which is sort of mystifying but I’m pleasantly surprised. I think we chose to write music that was a little more inaccessible, so I haven’t been surprised when kids don’t respond to it, but I have been surprised that so many have.
A lot of the times the people who latch on early are open-minded in the first place. So it seems from your last record going towards this collaboration, it seems like you were incorporating the noise element stronger than ever. But this seems like such a major coup to get Merzbow involved. What was the process of that all, it was through his drummer, correct?
Correct. It’s actually really unbelievable, the whole thing. We met this guy Balazs Pandi in Brooklyn, we didn’t know who he was. He happened to come to our show with Phobia, to see Phobia. He saw us and really enjoyed it, and was like “I’m going to email you to get some records.” He emails us immediately, and Spencer looks him up on Wikipedia wondering who he is and it turns out he’s this prolific drummer who’s been on all these avant garde projects. He was also Merzbow’s live drummer, which we thought was really really cool. One of the first things he even suggested was to do a split with Merzbow, which we thought was kind of far-fetched at the time. We wanted to do a t-shirt as a tribute, just a Full of Hell rip off of the Pulse Demon album art. So we hit up Balazs to see if it was cool, and Masami was cool with it and wanted us to send him one. And from that point came the direct idea of doing a split, Masami wanted to do a split with us. Then soon after he changed his mind and it should just be a collaboration. He sent us maybe 45 minutes of material, and didn’t hear much about what he was expecting at all. So we sat with it, and edited around the record we made. But the communication was definitely minimal with Masami. I don’t think he speaks a lot of english, so I think Balazs has been really helpful for him.
So correct me if I’m wrong. Masami sends you these noise recordings and you’re say “well, this section here is great, I want to write a riff here, and this section is cool, let’s move this here.” Did you guys do a cut and paste job, or kind of a wholesale, how did it work exactly?
It was the most time we ever spent writing a record. It’s usually a pretty quick process, but we took probably over a year with that material. It was all pretty harsh, as it tends to be. And Spencer would write songs, sometimes with specific sections in mind, and others where he was like “well noise will have to go over this, we’ll have to find something that will work here.” His stuff did span a lot of different frequencies, so we had kind of a map and an idea to have a ratio for the first part of the album to be 70% Full of Hell, and 30% Merzbow record, so much like a regular Full of Hell record with noise. We also created a second CD hidden within the layout of the CD and it’s called “Sister’s Song” which is reverse ratio, so 70% Merzbow and 30% Full of Hell. We did a lot writing in the studio for the second CD, it has kind of a Tribes of Neurot feel for the second CD. And he takes a leading role in that.
So going into it ahead of time, was that what you were looking to do? A Tribes of Neurot kind of idea?
Yeah. We’d been trying to work in sort of an early industrial feel into the music, and we’d always been into really percussive heavy music. We were into creating builds, so having some kind of tribal percussion with like an industrial tinge was definitely in the cards for the bonus cd. And yeah, Neurosis is an influence, Swans definitely influenced some of the slower stuff on the record. And so did Discordance Axis.
So going back to goals for the band, it sounds like this is the record you've always wanted to do and on top of that working with Merzbow is, on paper, the be all end all for you guys. It’s like jumping from 0-100 without taking any steps in between.
It is a dream, as soon as we found out it was a thing, we were kind of floating from that point on. It was like a secret shield to all the naysayers, like “you know what fuck you, we’re doing a collaboration with Merzbow and he thinks it’s worth it.” It’s so exciting, you know? We definitely went into the record with careful planning, and we were definitely nervous, but I think we’re more confident with this record than any other. I think we learned a lot over the years with the recording. I don’t know where we’re going next, as far as another record goes.
Do you like this collaboration idea? Is it something you can see yourself inserting into every other record or every few records? It’s clearly a different route for writing.
It’s a very different experience than writing a solo record. When collaborating with someone like Masami all the way from Japan, it may be easier than something like the Body/Thou collaboration. I imagine them all rehearsing in a room bouncing ideas off each other. With this collaboration it’s much easier, he’s very laid back. He just gives us this intense wall of sound, and wants us to have free reign. I always referenced the Merzbow album “Merzdub,” and Jamie Saft produced this Merzbow record that Merzbow wanted a dub feel on. Jamie did such insane things to this record that you probably wouldn’t be able to recognize whatever Masami sent in the first place, it sounds euphoric and incredible. I always kept that in mind when writing this. We’re going to take everything we think is wonderful about Merzbow and funnel it into our punk band. So with a collaboration in the future, I don’t know. It could be infinitely more difficult to collaborate with someone face to face. I love the idea of adding extra instrumentation to a future record. We had a friend play trumpet on this record, and it adds so much more having an outside perspective and individual.
Where do your lyrics come from? What sort of reading do you do for the band and also on the personal side? My mom always read to me growing up, Edgar Allen Poe stories every night which is kind of where I learned to read. I was always into these scary stories but those Poe stories really resonated with me and changed how I think about writing.
Your move to Profound Lore with Chris. What was your perception of Chris going into it, and what are your thoughts on the label and why did you think this was the home for this record?
Here’s how it was from my perspective. When I was growing up, I worshipped his record label Hydra Head more than any other. I thought it was the coolest label in the world, all areas of extreme music that I love, and I would’ve trusted anything that they released. And when I joined Full of Hell, that would have been my end goal to be on Hydra Head. No matter how popular or unpopular. Unfortunately the label folded, and I felt like it was a new home for the band but I didn’t really know where to go. And one day it dawned on me that Profound Lore is what Hydra Head was when I was younger. My thoughts on Chris, I hold him in such high esteem. I feel that every release he puts forward he believes in. He has the aesthetic down, he has wonderful packaging, the bands he works with have great artwork and massive deep music. Right after we signed to the label, he signed Prurient and Old Man Gloom and now Pyramids which were three of the most fantastic bands on Hydra Head in the latter years. That further solidified it in my head. So for him to be releasing noise and electronic artists like that, and really brutal stuff like Portal and Impetuous Ritual, it’s like the end all be all. I think he’s promoting the most thought provoking powerful albums in extreme music on the planet, bar none.
That said, you are definitely the outlier on the label. It’s funny, I’ll always remember that when I posted about This is Hardcore, Chris Bruni of Profound Lore posted and said “I never thought a band I’d be working with would ever be on This Is Hardcore.”
That’s right, I laughed. And someone commented “the day the metal world cried foul,” and that’s right! I think the direction the band is going in is more concurrent than what he’s used to, but it’s only good things for the label. I didn’t see any backlash really when it happened, no one was like “what the fuck is this?” And if kids didn’t know about Profound Lore, it’s about time.
You guys are concentrating on the record, but what’s next in general?
We’re definitely gonna keep touring a lot. I’m trying to organize them so we’re not doing so many. Not that I feel that we’ve done any that have been a waste of time, we had a cool year. We’re touring Australia in October for the first time. And we’ll be with The Body early next year, and they’re one of my favorite bands.