And stream the new track "Light A Fire" too
While Portland may be gaining worldwide attention for its onslaught of doom and stoner bands (or, if you asked a couple of years ago, one might say banjos and indie rock), noise rock is a force that has been brewing in the city’s underbelly for years with little to no major attention. It wasn’t until Josh Hughes and Seth Montfort of the band RABBITS decided to exhume the defunct Portland label, Eolian Empire, and breathe new life into it in 2013 that these musicians started getting heard on a national level. The new Eolian crop is grisly, it’s weird, it’s pissed off, it has warranted disdain for anything comfortable or predictable, it spits in the face of current metal, rock, punk and hardcore, and yet somehow it manages to (mostly) appeal to the fans of all of the above.
Aside from the Eolian Empire compilation tape the two first put out, Drunk Dad’s Morbid Reality was the newly resurrected label’s first release. Now that they’ve gotten off the ground with a massive amount of success and quite a few releases under their belt (Graves At Sea, Diesto, Prizehog, Honduran, Whores., and Rabbits, to name but a few), Drunk Dad, with the help of local noise artist Redneck, are about to release their first full-length album Ripper Killer on July 1st.
Now the question is: How do you pin down a couple of pissed off noise-rock artists for an interview and get them to stop saying “fuck you all” long enough to get in some good answers? Well, you get them wasted. So I met with Dane Herrin (vocals/guitar) and Jose Dee (guitar) at B-Side Tavern in Southeast Portland to talk about the album, Portland life and what keeps them so pissed off—and yes, we got hammered. Enjoy, and make sure to stream "Light a Fire" for the full effect.
Noisey: In the great scheme of Portland things, what do you think your label, Eolian Empire, is doing? What’s the impression that they’re going to leave on the landscape of things?
Jose Dee (guitar): They’ve really been inspirational in bringing the heavy, weird music community out and showcasing it and trying to bring it to a national level. There is this perception of Portland being a really indie-rock, jangly music town. You think banjos or folk music. And that’s bullshit! For a long time, Portland has had this really rich tradition of heavy fucking gnarly music. And weird music. And Eolian is on the forefront of putting that out and being curators of that music scene where it feels largely ignored. Especially the press—the local press kind of ignores it in a lot of ways.
Dane Herrin (vocals, guitar): There is a fucking industry about that. People have this Portlandia idea—which is false as shit—that it’s fucking spillover from shit that happened in Seattle, 25 years ago.
A myth that people just moved here after the grunge movement because it was cheaper, or something?
DH: No, it used to be cheap to live here. It used to be nice to live here. Yeah, the weather sorta sucks, but Portland wasn’t always fucking artisan coffee and decent restaurants. Portland used to be fucking gay hustlers and heroin. When I was a kid, Portland was straight fucked up. In My Own Private Idaho, Gus Van Sandt’s doing his best shit. Drug store cowboy, you know? You go up to 23rd nowadays and it’s all “artisan smokehouses” and “good charcuterie” and all this shit. And yeah, it’s weird and out there and all this why-be-normal shit, but there’s an actual and real dirty underside of Portland that won’t fucking go away; that won’t be tamed by Sub Pop or The Shins or fucking Modest Mouse living here.
There’s a bunch of weird, fucking dirty, drunk assholes who are going to make the gnarliest music they fucking want to, on their own terms. I’ve got my own jobs. Jose’s got his own job. We’re a bunch of people who are here, existing, who just want to make fucked-up shit. And there’s always been fucked-up shit here! There is a long and storied, seedy history that doesn’t fucking include yuppy money. And it’s always going to be fucked up and it’s always going to be weird. What Eolian is doing is highlighting those bands that actually came out of this shit; that are actually not giving a fuck and trying to do their own thing. We would be doing this whether or not we fucking played a good show last night. We make music because it feels good. Playing loud and playing weird feels nice. So we do that. I am completely grateful and totally blessed to play with Rabbits and be a part of the whole Eolian thing and I’m just fucking stoked that they’re able to ratchet it up to this level of attention. It’s really nice! It’s nice when people tell you that your thing is good! I don’t rely on it, but it’s nice. It’s all shit that would be happening and has been happening regardless.
They’re tapping into it. And putting up the money to make it happen.
DH: Yeah! Big time.
I guess what I meant is: What do you think will be their specific mark on the history of the Northwest that wouldn’t have been there otherwise?
DH: They’re doing their best to document what’s happening now. They’re doing their best to make sure that people like us are doing are actually documented. And Diesto, and Towers, and Hot Victory. And Dead! Holy shit, they brought that band over from Australia. They were fucking amazing! Josh [Hughes] has a plan that I have no idea of and I just want him to enact his plan. Everything he says, I’m just like, “Fuck yes. You are the emperor of Eolian Empire. Fucking do it. Yes.”
Yeah, I’m really impressed by him.
DH: Yeah. And he’s got some cool-ass eyebrows.
On the new record, the vocals sound a lot like Kurt Cobain. Like In Utero-era Nirvana vocals if Kurt wasn’t holding back, or something. What do you think about that?
JD: Oh, here we go.
DH: I grew up in my room singing grunge songs. I don’t know, man. I really, really like Nirvana. I really like Mudhoney. I really like The Melvins. I really like shit that came out of there. I grew up playing those songs. I grew up playing in that style. If I sound like that, I sound like that. The stuff we’re doing now is like jazz-grunge. Fucking high-desert sludge.
Drunk Dad is most certainly its own thing. But you cannot deny the similarity between your voice and Kurt’s.
DH: Josh and I are doing a Nirvana tribute band. And I’m pretty sure he asked me to sing for it because I can do a spot-on Kurt Cobain impression. But it’s just the same kind of yowling.
I don’t know—I think there’s more to it than that. It’s not just that you sound like him. It’s more of an attitude thing. You guys came from the same area of the world with a lot of the same attitudes about things.
DH: Well, people tell me I look like Mitch Hedburg, too. [Laughs.] I was a kid in the tri-cities, into punk rock and metal and all of this weird shit, so anything that was out of Kurt Cobain’s mouth or out of Washington state, I was all about. I would learn all about it. There’s so much music out there, and none of it I could relate to until I saw shit that was from my home state. Shit that I could actually see. And once I got a driver’s license I would drive up to Seattle, and go and see shows at The Showbox. I saw Sonic Youth there. I saw Mudhoney there! And I was just like, “Ahh! This is amazing!
That is amazing.
DH: Yeah! Shit! I saw Fitz of Depression, Mudhoney and The Melvins at the Capitol Theater in 2003 or 2002 or something like that. And it was just one of those moments where you’re like, yeah, these people are the elders of this certain Washington scene, but it’s still fucking amazing. It’s still a thing that happens in one place. That’s what’s really cool about Portland now: It seems like everyone’s just coming together. It just seems like music is such a destroyed landscape anymore and there’s no real model to go off of. Anyone going off of old models are kind of mistaken. There’s an industry and a business behind it, of course, but it’s not like there’s any set model. Everyone’s just doing what they know how to do and seeing if it sticks to the wall. Of course, I could be and probably am totally wrong on that.
It’s your perspective. Whatever.
JD: You’re talking about the post industry-collapse, Internet age where fucking all bets are on and everything’s completely fucking changed. And it’s possible for anybody to fucking do this shit in any capacity. Any DIY band has the infrastructure to carry on and actually fucking do shit that normally would be relegated to bands that had big money backing or all of this press or a label backing. And now anybody can fucking do it. The signal to noise ratio is a lot higher, sure, but it’s easier for anyone to get out there and rage.
DH: Yeah, it seems like the world is wide open. We don’t give a shit about making money, we don’t give a shit about making people happy, and we don’t give a shit where any of this goes or ends. All musical projects are completely masturbatory in nature. It’s like fucking making art. We’re sitting there, being like, “Oh yeah, this is fucking cool.” Or, “Oh no, this sucks. We can’t do this. This isn’t fucking cool.” We’re not doing this in a fishbowl; we’re doing this in a fucking vacuum. It’s our practice space. It’s our closed walls. We don’t think about people hearing it, we’re just fucking doing it. So we don’t think about it in terms of old models, we just think about doing it our own way. And so far the reception has been very nice. I’m incredibly grateful for it, but it’s also not the be-all, end-all. It’s not what I think about when I go to sleep at night, you know?
When it comes down to it, we’re just doing these things to make us feel good and because we love doing them. The idea of spending four weeks playing to nobody and having a good time with our friends sounds like the best way that we can be spending our time. We don’t have fucking kids. We don’t have any real responsibilities. We’re fiddling while all this shit burns. We don’t give a fuck. It’s all about going out and just really enjoying ourselves in the best way possible.
You guys told me that the title track of the new record, “Ripper Killer,” was originally called “Dave Mustaine.” Why was it originally called that?
DH: It was originally called “Dave Mustaine Has Problems Keeping Personal Relationships Because Of A Deep-Seated Self-Loathing.”
DH: Then we started calling it, “Dave Mustaine Starts His Life Over In Humboldt County Because Of A Need To Escape The Places He Has Been,” and then we started inventing all of these long, drawn-out stories about Dave Mustaine. “Dave Mustaine Shoots His Mouth Off In The Press Because He Really Can’t Figure Out How He Feels About His Own Life,” or “Dave Mustaine Isn’t In Control Of His Own Surroundings And So He Tries To Exercise Control By Creating Chaos.” Every practice, we’d come up with all of these personality flaws of Dave Mustaine.
Of which there are many…
DH: It became this game and eventually we were like, “What the fuck do we actually call this song? Eh, title track. Fuck it.” [Laughs.]
What is the song actually about?
JD: It’s complicated because in the song, “It rips, it kills,” is negative, but we generally refer to shit as “ripper,” like, “That shit’s fuckin’ rad.” “Ripper Killer” is like, “That’s the best shit.” But, in the context of the song, “It rips, it kills,” is fucking terrible. It’s devastating.
DH: It fucks you up, dude. I don’t know. Those lyrics started off as a song called “Waking Nightmare.”
JD: Which is a totally cheesy song title, by the way.
DH: I had this idea, when we were driving through some high desert place in Nevada or Washington—I was just talking about how I used to be a meth-ed-out teenager in eastern Washington and how everything just started to become a waking nightmare. Someone was like, “Oh, that’d be kind of a cool thing to write about.” I was like, “Oh, yeah!” So I left a little voice note to myself on my phone, [in a muffled voice] “Write a song called ‘Waking Nightmare’ about how you used to be a meth-head!” And when we got back from tour a couple of weeks later, I was like, “Oh yeah, I’m gonna write this song!” Shit, how does it go? I always forget my own fucking words, dude… “Another night with no sleep / The sunrise washes over me / In a cold, burnt landscape / Collapsed cavity/ I’m awake, waking, I’m awake.” That’s about being high as shit at seven in the morning with some hot desert sun beating down on you in a car after you’ve just done a shit ton of meth and sleeping is not an option. I was like, “I can feel my fucking nose collapsing. Holy shit.”
So I had that down, and then a bunch of fucking stupid political drama went down. I’m kind of an introvert; I like to stay in a lot. I don’t talk to a lot people. But word started getting back to me about perceived shit or whatever and a lot of people started to not talk to me or be weird in social circles and all this shit. There was a falling-out between some people and I felt kind of thrown in a fire. And I pull words from a lot of places. So it goes, “Failure is not an option, it’s a guarantee.” Someone said that to me once and it rang true. “I watch friends turn to enemies / watch them turn to dust and blow away like ash / off a bridge I’ve burnt / I’m awake, waking, I’m awake.” And then I scream a bunch. But yeah, it was kind of my feelings about having some shit that happened that I felt bogus about, you know? I don’t know. It’s never good when you lose a friend. I’ve seen it happen over and over, over some petty shit and it’s never a good thing. But, in the end, we got a song out of it! And that’s the best thing you can do.
That’s the most important thing.
DH: Yeah. Shit happens; you write music about it. We’re musicians. We’re not fucking fighters, we’re not politicians, we’re fucking musicians. Shit happens; we make music about it. It’s incredibly cathartic.
How important is it for music to make people uncomfortable?
DH: Well it’s kind of like, which people? Which people need to feel uncomfortable? What sort of status quo exists that has to be felt uncomfortable, you know? All of us, when we were kids, grew up with an idea of punk rock and rebellion and “I don’t give a shit, let’s do what we want to do” sort of attitude. That’s always going to make someone feel uncomfortable. I’m of two minds about this: There’s one mind where I just make music, and that’s what I do. That’s my art. That’s what I have to do to fucking sort out the cobwebs in my head. And there’s this other mind where I grew up in this lifestyle that needs to rail against something else. And I have to find the motives between both of those. It’s the reconciling between the art that feels comfortable and the attitude that I’ve adopted.
There are a bunch of songs that we’ve written that make me feel uncomfortable. Sometimes I write shit that makes me feel really fucking uncomfortable! Like “Guts”! Every time I sing that, I’m kind of cringing at myself, like “Man, I can’t believe that came out at that moment.” As personal, and embarrassing, and really, really in-depth and truthful as the thing is, it’s hard to express that shit. It’s hard to be that truthful with people.
JD: I might have a different take. I really fucking like transgressive art. I really like shit that challenges people and pushes people’s boundaries and pushes people’s buttons.
DH: A lot of it is having the balls to actually go out there and be raw and be weird and be fucked up about a certain thing. I do actually sing about a lot of personal shit. It’s a lot of human themes like sex and death and hate and love. The good art that I’ve found in my own search has been made by the people who are willing to go out and experiment and be wrong. So what I want to bring to the table as a lyricist or some kind of jacked-up songwriter is the effort of being experimental and weird and sticking to it and actually seeing if it resonates with someone. I’m just lucky that there have been a handful of people that it has resonated with. [Pauses.] I need more whiskey.
[Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours record comes on the bar speakers.]
DH: God, I fucking hate Fleetwood Mac.
JD: Really? I love Fleetwood Mac!
Me too, man. Especially this record. So good.
DH: I’m sorry! I just think Stevie Nicks is obnoxious!
JD: YOU’RE obnoxious!
DH: I am obnoxious! Obnoxious as fuck!
JD: I do get why people don’t like Stevie Nicks, though. She sounds like a goat. Like a witch-goat.
DH: Stevie Nicks doesn’t sound like a goat—she sounds like a coked-up hippy that has to fuck all of her bandmates.
Everyone, including the bartender: COME ON!
DH: I don’t have to fuck all of MY bandmates!
JD: Because you can’t.
DH: I know! I can’t fuck any of you guys! But honestly, none of y’all are my type.