-(16)- is familiar with change; from an ever-rotating rhythm section to the trials addiction, there is little the LA sludge metal outfit has yet to see. Throughout a long and winding 20+ year career, they’ve managed repeatedly to surpass themselves and assure listeners that they are one of the most formidable active voices in stoner metal. Last summer, -(16)- released Lifespan of a Moth, which was praised as their strongest, most stand-out creation in years. We caught up with guitarist Bobby Ferry at Austin Terror Fest to talk about the art of saying “yes,” California pool shows and being alive.
What is the biggest difference in your sound between when you first started and your album last year (Lifespan of a Moth)?
Bobby Ferry: Well, it’s only two of the same people and we’ve had, I think, 17 people in and out of the band since then in 20 years.
That changes things a little bit.
Bobby: Yeah, that evolves everything dramatically. Consistency: a lot of the same songwriters. As far as how it evolves – I don’t know. There’s a strange consistency to us the whole time. Everything has it’s own signature, which is kind of the beauty of it and also the horrible part too, you know? I always say I’m going to reinvent the wheel and tear it all down every record…and I don’t. I don’t at all. It sounds just like -(16)-.
Skateboarding is sort of what started this project and introduced you to everybody, right? It was a big part of your life when you started?
Bobby: Yeah, you know I got the lessons of gravity as a child. I think skateboarders are some of the toughest humans. Really, a fist fight isn’t anything when you fall down stairs. I still do that in pools and stuff, but that was us as kids. Going to shows with fake IDs and stuff. Skateboarding was it.
Was there a music scene that surrounded that skateboarding scene and how did that influence you?
Bobby: Our first show was at an empty backyard pool and it got busted by the cops. It was like, Hey there’s an empty pool. We have parties at this house. We skate the pool. Let’s have a show. We were influenced by the first wave of Amphetamine Reptile bands, so we were just old enough to get into the clubs or have fake IDs to see Unsane and The Jesus Lizard and Boss Hog on that first wave of AmRep bands. We used to go to this place in Long Beach called Bogart’s and it was like, no one had jobs. It was pre-LA riots, so LA was pretty dangerous, so we’d just hang out and skate all day and go to shows and be delinquents. To be honest with you, that’s still the music I like. It’s like psychological imprinting. Whatever gets into your head at that age. That’s what made us. I guess that goes back to the first question about how we evolved but didn’t. [Laughs] We try, but there goes that imprinting.
How has a level of sobriety influenced the group – or has it?
Bobby: You know, we’re not perfect. It’s still an ongoing thing. Just being alive. You see people die. It’s not funny. Going to funerals isn’t funny. Being alive. You have to be sober to be creative. You’re fishing for inspiration, pushing yourself towards death – there’s nothing there. There’s nothing there. You’re not not doing anything. You’re not helping. That’s what being sober is. Except for, maybe, psychedelics and kombucha. Hiking. Pot. Marijuana. Everything else will just kill you. That’s all: being alive.
You and a handful of other bands are credited with more or less creating sludge metal, or what people think of today as the sludge metal genre. To you what is that sound?
Bobby: I like to say we just took the good parts of speed metal and slowed it down for dummies (and us – being dummies as well). I mean, there were other people. I grew up around the guys from Fu Manchu and I was like, How do you tune it like this? Literally, I asked Scott (Reeder). I was a teenager and he’s like, Yeah, you tune it down to C and I’m like, Got it. And then Kyuss. I was at the right place at the right time.
So even those bands played into what you do?
Bobby: Yeah, like we played a show with Kyuss and Fu Manchu. I have the flyer. I was like, So, it’d down like this? They literally explained it to me. And then we heard EYEHATEGOD’s first record. We recorded our first record and were a band in like ‘91 and then I heard In The Name of Suffering. We were already fans of Kyuss and seeing Kyuss, seeing Fu Manchu and playing with Fu manchu – and then we heard EYEHATEGOD. We were like WHOA. And we were already playing with Unsane and getting into that whole thing playing shows and getting opening gigs in LA. And we were listening to The Melvins, so… We were just in the right place at the right time. As far as being the creators, I don’t think we were. We were early practitioners.
You at least built on what was being created at the time.
Bobby: Exactly. Like I said, I was literally like, So you do what? I remember this guy O, he works for Dinosaur Jr. now, and he explained it to me as a child. They were like, It’s D and then it’s one lower to C. It literally became the math of the tempos. I don’t like anything over 140 beats per minute. Honestly, I just don’t. Why won’t we like this? Just sit around and smoke weed… They said that cocaine did something weird to people’s ears and the way things sounded and that in the 80s they had to go back and remaster everything because cocaine ruins the way things sound. So all the popular records in the 80s they had to remaster because they were all on coke.
So they were too fast or too slow?
Bobby: I think there was too much treble. I think weed and sludge metal – I think it does that to the tempos. I think you’re just like, Slow. Calm down. Settle down.
You sort of touched on this talking about Kyuss, but over the years what has been the most important lesson about the industry or about music in general that you’ve learned yourself or had someone teach you?
Bobby: There’s no lesson. There’s no industry. There’s nothing. You’re an artist. You move forward and that’s what you do and everything else is garbage. I had someone tell me a long time ago that all ideas come from you – the band – and just to remember that. We sat through so many ridiculous things in the 90s and stuff. You guys need a DJ. Well you can fuck off. Whatever. You owe nothing to anybody. Don’t pander to anyone because all you have is you and the people that do this with you. You’re not going to make any money and if you do then good for you. If you do, you’re a genius. You have to treat it like an art. Also, there were like 2,000 metal CDs/albums released. Who cares? Who cares about any of them? Without all the white noise, who cares? I think people can see right through all bullshit.
Having been around for so long, what makes you still want to create new music and keep playing?
Bobby: We’re stoked on it all the time. I mean, we practice like three times a week. We play once a month. This month we’re playing four times. We have two shows with Fu Manchu when we get home – which is epic! We’re playing here – which is totally epic. Thou! And Fister is amazing. This is awesome! It’s totally awesome all the time.
So you still get excited about it after all this time?
Bobby: Oh my god! Oh my god totally. We play epic shows. We go to Europe once a year or once every other year and it’s amazing. We got to play Roadburn. We’re on a weird projectile of always forward. We keep writing new shit. As soon as I record something it’s dead to me. That’s the way it is. You don’t sit around and listen to your own shit. I don’t listen to my own music at all and I don’t think anyone else does. We’re like, That’s cool. That stuff sucks. Let’s keep being inspired. That’s a weird self-fulfilling prophecy, maybe? Also, I’m totally inspired by my a lot of people who are older than me and totally rule. I don’t know… Life is short. People die. People get cancer. Everything’s horrible. And then you go to shows with your friends and a band blows you away, young or old, and you’re just like, Holy shit! I guess it’s not complicated. Don’t overthink it.
Just do it, yeah! What are your general plans for the rest of the year?
Bobby: We have a thing on your website [CVLT Nation] – the tribute to Black Flag’s My War. We’re doing “Beating My Head Against The Wall” and recording that next week. We’re going to record another song for a split with Fistula. We have new songs… We don’t try to be honest with you. That’s another magic thing. I would go back to my advice, which is good and bad: we don’t try. Things magically appear eventually and if they don’t we’ll make something happen.
Well that keeps it from being forced.
Bobby: Exactly. We’re like, What’s going on? Nothing. Something will magically appear eventually. If everyone can get off work and there’s no kids’ birthdays, we’ll go on tour. You can’t miss a 10th birthday and be normal, so we’ll make it happen. Success or failure is irrelevant. We just keep moving and keep writing and that’s the whole thing. Everything else is fuckin’ whatever.
Anything else? Shows? Important things to mention?
Bobby: I think I got it. The Fistula split. The two with Fu Manchu – one in LA and one in San Diego. We always have something planned. Like, Hey do you guys wanna play here? and we’ll go there. I literally say yes to everything. [Laughs]
That’s a good motto.
Bobby: That’s my advice to young bands: say yes to everything.