Matthew Arrebollo Interviews WOUNDVAC
Amid an influx of quality new music in Arizona, Tempe-based band Woundvac has spent the past couple of years carving out a niche for themselves with their precise amalgamation of grindcore, punk and metal. Formed in 2014, the band has quickly risen to the top tier of a burgeoning heavy music scene with no shortage of talent. Even among their able peers, Woundvac stands out, their technical abilities finding an effective balance with their songwriting approach and powerful live presence. The typical Woundvac show is a sweaty, high energy affair. The band quickly reaches peak form, pummels their audience, and is packed up and gone before most people understand what has happened. The songs cruise at a relentlessly fast pace, but often can settle into a heavy groove, inspiring headbangs and moshpit antics in equal measure. The band has shared the bill with an eclectic group of artists, their versatility and proficiency making them a logical choice for almost any show featuring heavy music. “That’s one of the things I like about our band having so many stylistic influences,” comments bassist Kiel Siler. “We can play with punk bands, doom bands… We’re playing a beatdown show next week!”
The band feels at home in this space, their adaptable approach to music being a logical expression of their musical influences, which range from obvious grindcore and metal staples, to the somewhat less expected, with several band members listing influences that are decidedly outside of heavy music’s parameters. “I kind of draw from things like that, more drawn out vocals, as opposed to sporadic (vocals)… Stuff that doesn’t typically go with grind.”
Most members admit to starting on one end of the punk/metal spectrum and finding a way to make their influences meet in the middle. Guitarist Drew Griffin explains that his formative years were spent trying to reconcile his underground influences with more technical, “virtuosity” based artists like Joe Satriani. “Once I found Dystopia… someone delivering the most heartfelt cry/scream, to me was mind blowing. I’d never heard something like that. There was no technical thing, it was just all emotion.Then I started to realize there’s almost zero emotion in all that (technical) metal stuff.”
The main emotions on display in a Woundvac performance are the aggression and frustration that are hallmarks of the genres they straddle. 2015’s Disgraced Convert was a powerful statement of their arrival on the scene, receiving praise and positive reviews from several notable media outlets.The early EP displays the band’s ability to write short, straight ahead bursts of rage, but also a penchant for tricky, odd time feels, such as in closing track “Guilt,” where a few well placed odd-time measures give the song a sort of shambling, unpredictable feel. “I try to make it feel uncomfortable with the structure of the riff,” explains Griffin. “I like that feeling of uneasiness.”
However, the band is able to sift through this “uneasiness” with relative ease. Drummer Brian Stevens navigates both the blistering speed and the nuanced technicality of Woundvac’s songs with confidence. Even so, Stevens professes a minimalistic approach to the writing process: “When we’re writing, it’s me trying to figure out what’s happening with whatever riff Drew is making, and then just trying to dumb it down and make it as blasty as possible.” Griffin believes the short, technical passages, dumbed down or not, make the songs more interesting for the listener. “I like the chaos, I really enjoy throwing a little bomb, where you don’t know what the fuck is happening. It makes this re-listenability happen,where you’re like ‘I love this very specific part of the song.”
Woundvac’s most recent release, the single Sentient Cancer appears as a logical next step for the band. The track is the first to feature Melling’s vocals after the departure of original vocalist Duncan in mid-2015. With the exception of soccer themed lyrics (see Within the Void) Melling claims to have stayed close to the lyrical concepts laid out by his predecessor, exploring themes of social unrest, “growing up in the Western world,” and alluding to a fascination with psychedelics. The opening sample and artwork for Sentient Cancer seem to convey a not too subtle anti-Trump message, but when pressed, Melling explains the song expresses more general ideas about “the military industrial complex, the spreading of ideas through fear,” and the way social powers use “tools to keep the population distracted.”
The song itself is loaded with d-beats, blasting, and the frantic riffing that has come to be the band’s signature, but at four minutes and four seconds, it feels like an epic compared to some of the band’s previous output. The second half settles into a lumbering groove that closes out the song and really adds to the grand scope. Griffin explains that the song was an opportunity for the band to try new things in the studio, including taking a more hands off approach to the production, which allowed the band to focus more on the performance of the song. Whereas in the past the band has been heavily involved in the production process, this time Woundvac chose to hand these responsibilities over to local engineer Zach Rippy, at Sound Signal Audio. Griffin describes a relaxed atmosphere in the studio, explaining that “there was never a moment anything was going south in a solid 10 or 12 hour day.” The decision paid off, as Sentient Cancer stands as some of the band’s best output in terms of songwriting, performance, and production.
In addition to a solid live performance, and consistently high quality recordings, Woundvac has found another interesting way to promote themselves and gain exposure by posting videos of themselves playing cover songs to their Facebook page. The song choices again display the band’s broad tastes, with covers of artists as disparate as Rudimentary Peni, White Zombie, Melvins Black Sabbath and Disfear getting the treatment. Members of several notable Arizona bands such as Sorrower, Goya, and Cloak often make appearances, with Melling sometimes switching to guitar to allow the guests to handle the mic. According to Griffin, the idea to post the videos coincided with the departure of original vocalist Duncan, as a way for the band to keep their chops up while searching for a replacement. “Honestly it’s what saved the band. It was like the funnest homework assignment that kept us busy. We were in limbo. We had no prospects of getting another vocalist. It gave us hope.”
With the addition of Melling, the band has once again reached a high point in their career, playing shows regularly, teaming up with Zach Rippy again to release recorded video of three new songs performed live in the studio, and preparing for the release of a new 7”, tentatively titled Infamy, which should see release by the end of the year. In addition to a busy live schedule, the band is gearing up to head into the studio in January to record their first full length. Expectations will be high, but with the grueling pace the band has set in the last year, and the momentum they have gained from their prolific output, there is little doubt the full length will be another milestone in the band’s existence, and a the beginning of a crushing year for Woundvac.