Providence, R.I., duo The Body has been a band for more than a decade, but, after a string of 7-inch records, demos and rough home recordings, All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood is the band's proper debut.
Let's call it an incontrovertible testament to patience then: A sprawling and imaginative masterpiece, All the Waters takes doom metal—that is, the most torturously heavy and slow music you can imagine—and reshapes it with zeal. A choir offers, alternately, a glimpse of solace and the flicker of hell; a fleet of noise musicians and jazz squawkers add the sounds of disaster; the overloaded, swollen production makes the apocalyptic images of which frontman Chip King howls seem to be waiting at the end of the LP.
King and drummer Lee Buford appear in press materials as tattooed, gun-toting tough guys. But when we caught up with King in Providence, he offered a cheery hello and an extended interpretation of both The Body's visual and stylistic menace, and clues as to what took them so long to finish this album.
INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: The Body moved from Little Rock, Ark., where at one point there seems to have been a very active heavy music scene, to Providence, R.I., where there's a legacy of aggressive art rock now. What was the biggest difference for you?
CHIP KING: Living in Little Rock during the early '90s and into the mid-'90s, there was a big boom in underground, independent music. It was amazing in the way I found a lot of what I still enjoy about music. At some point, it changed and became less focused on community. In Providence, it's also a small town, but the flux of people in and out lends itself to a more vibrant culture of music. There are bands forming all the time. There's a lot of different music, a lot of different types of music—a big noise scene, a hardcore scene, a metal scene. But I think there's a lot more crossover than in bigger cities because there's just enough people to support it. It's not like, "Oh, we just listen to heavy metal." I feel like the best shows here in Providence are a lot of genres or subgenres put together.
That's actually how I hear your album, too. It works because it feels like a lot of related but separate genres clawing at each other. It's not doom metal or harsh noise, but it certainly draws on all of that.
With the new record, one of the complaints that we get is that it's not doomy enough or not sludgy enough. Which is exactly it: We're not trying to make a purely doom record or a purely sludge record. Those are definitely elements, but that's not even the majority of what I listen to day to day. It's funny that when people write a bad review and say, "Oh, it's not doomy enough," it's almost complimentary. We're trying to put something else out.
Is that a corner you and Lee consciously turned at some point, to muddle up your obvious direction on purpose?
Years ago, I had more of an idea of wanting to play things slower and louder. As it went on, there were so many bands doing that. We weren't trying to be different for difference's sake, but we realized we worked better doing some things a little more mid-tempo. When we first came out, we were a weird fast band. And we slowly morphed into this whole other beast.
You've mentioned the music you listen to a few times now. What's a listening day like for you?
It will be everything from old, classic metal—Dio, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, the basics—to straight-up pop music. We both like Electric Light Orchestra a lot, and one of Lee's favorites is The Beach Boys and '70s hard rock. I listen to some classical Middle Eastern stuff. But when I turn the radio on, a lot of it is straight noise, things that border on black metal and noise. There's a really solid noise scene in Providence that's really exciting.
How influential was that Providence noise scene for you, moving from Little Rock?
I really had no exposure to it until I was here. Going to shows and seeing that stuff, which a lot of people consider unlistenable, it changed the way I feel about music. It simplified what I felt like I could like. I said, "Oh, maybe it's not so weird that I play two notes or one chord. This guy's just making this strange roar, and it's completely realized and fully orchestrated."
You've said the basic tracks on All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood—your parts and Lee's pieces—were easy to record, but the additions—horns and noise and even the choir that's on several tracks—were the time-consuming parts. On the record, all of these elements seem to obliterate the core of the song.
I don't think we view any of it as damaging to us. The way that I play guitar doesn't have much subtlety. I play like an ape or something. It's very basic. I feel like that core is going to remain, and we mixed other stuff in as loud as possible to enhance it. Live, we're a whole different entity because we have that element of volume with bass and sub-bass. But on the record, we wanted to make something that didn't reflect, "Oh, hey, it's a loud guitar."
In the press and in album art, you and Lee hold very large guns, and you cite Charles Manson and the like as influences. From what does that image of violence or defense come, and what does it represent?
For years, we would have these samples taken from Black Panther recordings. A lot of them dealt with political power and guns as a symbol of personal power. We were talking about it on a trip one time, and it clicked when we talked about exploring that further. We ended up both buying guns, which brought up that element of being supportive of—I don't want to sound like a hyper-alarmist—the idea of being prepared should something happen. Even at the time, I wouldn't say that I thought the world—our country, mainly—would be plunged into some sort of chaotic war zone. That's 10 years ago, and even 10 years down the line, I feel the likelihood of something like that happening within our lifetime is so much higher now.
Besides the idea of being prepared for a violent future, which I personally think is pretty likely, it's the fatalism of some of the more tragic cults, religious cults. The imagery of religion has always struck a chord with Lee and me. A lot of the visual imagery is based on cults—stark realism. It's a cross of all of these ideas and the product of a fairly negative worldview.
I think it matches with the lyrical and thematic elements of what the songs are about—the breakdown of society, of culture. It's a bleak visual element to illustrate that. Perhaps it's not a resistance of that, but an acceptance.
Writing about this record for a website like Pitchfork Media was interesting when I considered the audience and how they might respond to these two bearded Arkansas guys holding guns. Do those considerations ever bother you—possibly turning off listeners before they have a chance to listen?
There are certain things that are uncomfortable for some people. Maybe the music isn't necessarily for everyone. Not to be exclusive, but it isn't necessarily a thing where we're trying to present the ideas to be comfortable or to make them easy. We're trying to portray them as they are, or as we think they are, or how they're going to be. Maybe it won't resound with some people because that's not what they think.
Who do you think this record is for, then?
This record is not a Black Sabbath 10th generation knockoff. I feel like it's layered in terms of musicality, but in a harsh way. It's hard to say who our intended audience is, but I feel like there's a disillusionment, aside from the world in general, with music and culture and civilization. People that are feeling that divide are the people that want to listen to music like this, or will.