Aaron Smithers' Carrboro home brims with media. LPs and CDs, box sets and old concert bills—they're scattered in corners and stacked on shelves.
That profundity of information is reflective of his five-piece skuzz-noise-metal-jazz-rock-whatever band, In the Year of the Pig. The band's members combine seemingly infinite streams of music references, occurrences and obsessions, churning out heavy music that begs to be experienced viscerally (play it loud) and examined studiously (listen again and again).
We gathered four of the bandmates—Dave Cantwell, David Harper, Smithers and Lincoln Sward; missing is drummer Jenks Miller—to explore the roots of their debut album, Jamn, by listening to the albums of others.
[from Neu!, 1972]
[Klaus Dinger, the drummer of Neu! and, at one point, Kraftwerk, was the great architect of the driving Krautrock beat; Neu! worked around that beat with drones and bursts of noise.]
AARON SMITHERS [BASS/ VOCALS]: I've listened to a lot of Neu! I listened to Stereolab, and I listened to Neu!—next, you know?
LINCOLN SWARD [BASS]: I don't know anything about these guys.Who are these guys?
AS: It's Krautrock. One of our longest songs has a Klaus Dinger beat. That's what Jenks plays in that song the entire time, and we talked about it like that: "Play a Krautrock beat." And a lot of our extra guitar work is very much influenced by that. We have a hard time maintaining as much consistency as Neu!
DAVID HARPER [GUITAR]: In terms of doing the same thing from one second to the next.
AS: It's a strange thing and a difficult thing to be influenced by and play like now because of the way Krautrock music is so prominent in a varierty of styles now.
INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: Jenks and Aaron talked about using this beat for a song. How much was everyone else in the band aware that this sort of rhythm is what the song was based upon?
LS: Not at all.
DAVE CANTWELL [DRUMS]: Jenks had discussed it because he'd said, "I'm going to play this Krautrock beat and you just go nuts." That was kind of the idea, so I said, "OK, that sounds good." After a while, it sort of became somewhat structured to the point where it is now, where I know what is gonna happen. But he is over there holding down the fort, as it were, and it's awesome to hear him going on like that. My role is to play against that. There are parts where I'm deliberately trying to subvert the tempo of the song. I'm not trying to mess anyone up, but I am trying to play against it and make it obvious that it is not with the beat. I will do drum fills that are not in the same tempo, that are not in any measure that would fit into what he is doing.
Then it all gradually falls apart into nothing, which is kind of the spirit of all of this music. It's not so metered and monotonous. Listen to that guitar. Listen to those early Public Image Ltd. records. It's the same thing. Jah Wobble will be going for it, and then there's other crazy stuff happening. It just doesn't happen to be drums. But that happens to be what I'm playing, so that's what it happens to be.
[from White Rabbit EP, 2000]
[A monstrous slab of bass guitar and burly growl from the solo project of Joe Preston, former member of Melvins, High on Fire, Earth, Sunn O))) and Harvey Milk; he's backed by a drum machine.]
LS: [One bass note rattles.] Thrones. I love these guys. I went to Raleigh to Kings, and there was hardly anybody there at that show. It was so badass it completely blew my mind and changed my perspective on music.
IW: How so?
LS: It was the first time I had seen one person create so much sound, and his sense of timing and the placement of the notes. For me, I've always been an appreciator of a person who can stick one note in the right spot. It doesn't have to be a ton of notes. Technical stuff is really cool to look at, but a guy that can stick one note in the right place is totally awesome. For me, that's what Joe Preston does.
[from Static Tensions, 2009]
[This Savannah, Ga., metal band uses two drummers, too, and with their thick distortion and layered polyrhythms, their chugging anthems don't sound quite like your father's heavy metal.]
AS: It's weird how we rarely have opportunities to play with bands like this. I don't think we get thought of in the same vein. It's surprising to me that this sounds like this. I always expected it to be much more "metal" than this. It's pretty metal, but it's more like The Fucking Champs than I expected.
IW: Do you think you guys wrongly get pigeonholed as an art rock or noise rock band? Do you see yourselves as a metal band at all?
AS: We get to play with some metal bands, but we get picked more as an art rock band. Our music's too poppy, I guess.
LS: Apparently it's not poppy enough. People keep telling me we're a noise rock band, to the point they don't want to come see the show.
DH: Tell them we're poppier now. [Laughs]
AS: I always wanted to play in a metal band, but I could never figure it out. I always used to joke with Jenks that we were making a metal band when we were making In the Year of the Pig, and it never happened.
DC: I saw it more in the tradition of the Providence bands that were happening around that time—more chaotic than metal is ever allowed to be, so, to me, more interesting than metal is ever allowed to be. I think I don't really know what metal is exactly. I didn't listen to it as a kid, so my exposure to it came late, like New Wave of British Heavy Metal. When I hear Jenks talking about metal, I have no clue what he's talking about. When he lists off all those bands he loves, I don't know what that stuff is. It's just not part of my world.
I used to play in this band Razzle, and people would always say, "You guys are a metal band." I would be like, "I don't think so." [Everyone else chimes in to say Razzle was, in fact, a metal band. Cantwell fades his last sentence out sheepishly.]
AS: I like metal riffs, buried in noise. And that's what we're trying to do. I've always liked some Flying Saucer Attack records where you can't hear the riff through the white noise. I like the idea of metal riffs being within that sound.
LIGHTNING BOLT, "BIZARRO ZARRO LAND"
[from Hypermagic Mountain, 2005]
[Speaking of Providence bands, Load Records staples Lightning Bolt are meticulous but fitful, using just bass and drums to compose energetic scuzz rock anthems. This one begins with fingertapping. Then the drums kick in.]
AS: I like fingertapping a lot. I love tapping.
LS: Is this Yngwie Malmsteen? Satriani, dude?
DC: Oh, Lighting Bolt. I think these guys are badass. I think they're really thoughtful.
DH: If there's somehow a way to be thoughtful and ecstatic at once, they've definitely mastered it.
AS: It's triumphant. We like triumphant rock music.
LS: The thing I like about them the most is that I think they're having a good time, and that's the most important thing about being in a rock band in the first place.
DH: I don't know if they always get along with each other.
LS: I'm sure they don't, but I don't always get along with you sometimes, either. [Laughs.]
LUCY AND BRADY "DOC" BARNES, "RAISE A RUCKUS TONIGHT"
[from The Art of Field Recordings Volume 2, 2009; originally recorded 1982]
[Bassist and vocalist Smithers is the music editor of Southern Cultures, a publication of University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill's Center for the Study of the American South. He archives and studies old field recordings and has occasionally traveled around the state collecting them himself—including tapes of more than 300 rock shows he's made. With its off-kilter harmonies and ragged vocals, this song represents the spirit of the recorded first take.]
AS: This could be from The Art of Field Recordings or ...
IW: It is. It's from Volume 2. It's Lucy and Brady "Doc" Barnes singing "Raise a Ruckus Tonight." David, you mentioned ecstasy when you were talking about Lightning Bolt, and to me, so many field recordings carry that sense of primal music-making. There's no pretension. It's just the joy of making music.
DH: In addition to that energy, there's also that intimacy. There's just a mic in the middle of a group of people.
AS: It's strange to put so much value on something like that and to put so much value on something like making a studio recording, you know?
DH: It's not like we don't have a pile of studio recordings that we have done in that manner.
AS: No, but there is a fetishistic aspect of listening to field-recorded music that is unavoidable.
DC: Do you think some of it is—I don't want to say nostalgia, but this desire for a time warp?
AS: Sure it is, but is it a time warp if you're listening to something from 1998?
DC: [Hesitates.] It's not as interesting of one, though—not as interesting a time warp. I was alive in 1998, and it wasn't all that interesting.
AS: I got some field recordings right here that were made in the last two years that will blow your mind—from Eastern and Western North Carolina.
LS: But that's the intimacy aspect of field recordings—it's raw, it's of the moment, it's like a stamp of time. Studio albums sometimes feel like they're not a stamp of time. They're these meticulously crafted representations of what the band might sound like at a particular period of time. This is an exact representation of what that person sounds like at that time.
DC: I'd like to hear that stuff you were talking about.
ALBERT AYLER, "LIGHT IN DARKNESS"
[from Live in Greenwich Village: The Complete Recordings, 1998; originally released in 1966]
[Free jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler and his band flex time and tone here, moving from spirited gospel jumps to near drone-like sheets of sound. The rhythm section—or, properly, the way it fights against that nomenclature—is of utmost importance.]
DC: Listening to Albert Ayler, the thing I like most about it is, he's informed by all this '60s out jazz, but it's also, in a lot of ways, really traditional. It's like the older style of New Orleans. Everybody is improvising at the same time. It's not as tonal as that, but that makes it sound more complex and more beautiful in some way.
AS: He loves melody.
DC: And Sunny Murray. He's such a freak. You've got to love that stuff if you're a drummer. He just changes everything. He was the first drummer that I was aware of, chronologically speaking, that discarded any notion of rhythm keeping and just decided to play textures. He was reacting to the melodies that were happening, just playing that way instead of swinging.
IW: Dave, you mentioned earlier not knowing heads from tails when your fellow drummer, Jenks Miller, mentions metal. But you seem more than prepared to talk about this free music. In this band, he generally plays the straightforward parts and then you break them apart. How much do those listening interests affect those roles, if you agree that the roles work as described?
DH: I think you almost put it in the context that he and Dave fit in. Dave definitely goes places that don't necessarily require a time signature way more often than Jenks does. Dave's drumming becomes a textural element, which I think is more a connection to this.
DC: It's funny because I play in bands where I'm the only drummer. I try to do some of this when I can, but it's liberating playing with Jenks because I'm free to do this stuff more
LS: I feel like I know the least about music in this whole group of people right now. I don't know who the hell this dude is, honestly. Whenever Dave and Aaron start talking about music, I'm just like, "Whatever." It's definitely interesting, but I lived in North Florida, and we had no good radio stations—classic rock, just like any small Southern town would have. It was a desperate act to try and find any music outside of that format or what was going on at that period of time, which was grunge. Moving up to Chapel Hill was really exciting because every day I'm in this town, I get exposed to new stuff.
I still feel like I know the least: Jenks has the black metal stuff he's really into. Aaron knows a lot about folk and country and old blues. Dave Harper seems to know a lot about experimental music. Dave Cantwell has been in the music scene for a long time. And then there's Lincoln Sward, the guy who ...
AS: You picked up Thrones like that. [Snaps fingers.]
IW: Isn't that liberating or energizing to an extent—to know there's so much music you can still hear for the first time and still get excited about?
LS: I don't ever want to be in a position where, as I grow old, I look at the younger generation and go, "Oh, I don't understand what you're doing. This is a bunch of noise." I always want to be able to take a fresh approach to stuff. So living in the area and being around these guys and always being turned on to new music is completely exciting—although I'm oblivious to most of it.
DC: Well, it's overwhelming.