Meet Brandon Seabrook, the Apocalyptic Banjo Slayer Who Would Make Ed Helms' Head Fucking Explode

Hear his mind-melting new track "Mucoidal Woolgathering" and read his finger-pickin' thoughts on finger-pickin' life.

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Apr 17 2014, 3:14pm


Credit: Michael Weintraub

On virtually any given night in the depths of Brooklyn’s DIY and experimental scene and beyond, apocalyptic finger-hopping, strings-abusing beast Brandon Seabrook could be found teaming with shit-tons of titans for trips into otherworldly sonic shreddage. There’s the trio he shares with Man Forever and Oneida percussionist Kid Millions and Many Arms/Zevious/Deveykus bassist Johnny DeBlase, Tanks with Marc Ribot drummer Ches Smith and Kayo Dot mastermind Toby Driver, skronking noisemongers Sweet Banditry and he’s even in a band with sometime Natalie Merchant(!) drummer/composer Allison Miller called Needle Driver. And, that’s not even mentioning Seabrook Power Plant, the punk-jazz destroyer unit with his drummer/brah Jared and sick-as-shit upright bass-man, Tom Blancarte.

Then there’s Seabrook’s avant-jazz pedigree. Just the other night at Brooklyn venue Roulette, the six-slinger took part in one of legendary Anthony Braxton’s ensembles, he often duo’s it up with guitar goddess Mary Halvorson and lends his banjo ‘n’ guitar picking prowess to wacky jazz troupe Mostly Other People Do The Killing and to Gerald Cleaver’s Black Host and has collaborated with downtown NYC icon, Elliot Sharp.

But now, Seabrook is finally going it alone. The D. Boon-loving, Tom Brady-idolizing, Van Halen enthusiast MASShole buried himself in Queens at Colin Marston’s Thousand Caves and has emerged with his forthcoming debut solo record, Sylphid Vitalizers. On this ill-ishly-titled exercise in utter face-ripping guitar fuckery, Seabrook is in just-OD’d-on-speed-mode, deliriously zipping from Mick Barr-like metallic klassi-killing fingerage, Glenn Branca/Rhys Chatham/Sonic Youth dissonant guitar army textures and explosions and mind-blowing prog-rock complexities—all at mind-numbing breakneck speed.

We caught the elusive Seabrook via email from Europe while on tour with MOPDTK to talk about the sickness of Sylphid Vitalizers.

The title of your record is killer. But can you clue us in on what the hell a Sylphid Vitalizer is?
A Sylphid Vitalizer is a panacea for pre-normcore STD's...an alchemical spirit secreting large amounts of Oxytocin...

Okay. You have a sticker on your guitar of D Boon of the Minutemen. How important were the Minutemen to your aesthetic?
I was watching Song Remains The Same constantly in 1987. Then I heard the Paranoid Time EP and it changed everything. I learned how to read by listening to them.

Last year, you participated in a "timed dual" that pitted you, drummer Weasel Walter and bassist Evan Lipson versus Mick Barr, Tim Dahl (Child Abuse) and Kevin Shea of Talibam! I was there that night, and in my humble opinion, you beat Barr's ass all over Death by Audio's floor that night. What strategy did you bring to that back-and-forth that you were able to pummel Barr's ass?
Well, it's humanely impossible to sonically wipe out Mick Barr. It would take at least three of me to not be able to do it. I have a great deal of respect and total admiration for all of the musicians involved that night.

Let's get to how one slays on a banjo. At what point in your life did you know you could obliterate on banjo?
Slaying on banjo is physically demanding. Probably not too healthy. It's a challenge to cull all of these different textures out of this anachronistic piece of wood covered in metal from 1927, no volume knob, no sustain, you're wrists are burning, metal is digging into your forearm but it feels good. So I guess being on the cusp of drawing blood is when I knew the banjo was something I wanted to be slain and obliterated by.

You play guitar also. What is the difference in slaying on guitar as opposed to banjo?
Guitar is totally different from Banjo. Guitar can sustain for epochs in the hands of the mighty. Tenor banjo has virtually no sustain. There are 323 ways to play D-flat major 7 #5 on guitar and 4 ways to play it on banjo. They both get you into constellation of relationship problems. Music is complicated.

Do you have any banjo heroes?
I don't really listen to banjo players. I play tenor banjo which is a little different than the 5-string banjo that most people are familiar with. Tenor has 4-strings and utilizes plectrum and tremoloing as the main techniques. I did spend some time with Eddy Peabody when I was learning some fundamentals.

Some of the song titles on Sylphid Vitalizers are sick, literally, like "Mucoidal Woolgathering" and "Cabeza Spasms and Aural Championships." What exactly is a "Mucoidal Woolgathering" and/or a "Cabeza Spasm,” anyway?
Cabeza Spasm is a brain orgasm. Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. That's what my album will do to you so you should buy it when it comes out on June 24.

Sylphid Vitalizersfeatures some serious string abusing action. But you also play the “sideman” role in jazz units like Gerald Cleaver’s Black Host and for drummer/composer Allison Miller and Mostly Other People Do The Killing. How do you restrain yourself from not going nuts on guitar in those other bands?
The more "jazz" sideman stuff I play in I think band leaders like having me there because I usually do something musically inappropriate that they aren't comfortable doing themselves, although with MOPDTK, I can’t do anything inappropriate. So in other scenarios, I don't have to restrain myself.

You've often worn a New England Patriots head band live in concert and you're an admitted MASShole. What was your greatest Pats moment? Does it involve Gisele, I hope?
There are so many incredible moments us Pats fans have experienced over our lifetime. I’d have to say it was when they were introduced as a team in Super Bowl XXXVI. No team had ever done that before. We all lost our shit. Yes, I like football and Massachusetts.

You recorded Sylphid Vitalizers at Menegroth/The Thousand Caves with Dysrhythmia/Krallice/Gorguts dude, Colin Marston. Does Marston give you slay tips?
Colin is an amazing engineer, musician etc. His recording aesthetic is rad. If you want your record to be louder, go to the stereo and turn it up; you don't have to compress the shit out of it and EQ the fuck out of the low end and everything. That's inspiring to me. And it's cool to work with an engineer whose own music could napalm your songs into a slag heap of sonic refuse.

Finally, New Atlantis is a rising label and they are releasing Sylphid Vitalizers. How'd you hook up with them?
I was a fan of Edward Ricart's (who runs New Atlantis) band Hyrrokkin and we have a lot of mutual friends. I sent my record to a lot of places and everyone passed. New Atlantis was the last one. It's important to work with fastidious, adroit and not crazy people when you are putting out an album.

Brad Cohan is not nearly as good at banjo as Brandon Seabrook.