Musical renown can be a double-edged sword, as those who are successful enough and visible enough to have their identity permanently interlinked with a certain artform may feel as though they’ve had their creative wagon set into a deep rut, setting them on a singular path that stays constant until it disappears into the distance. This path means security, success, celebrity, and, in most cases, artistic complacency. Some rare artists choose to take on the task of lifting their wagon out of the deep tracks that they’ve established over the years, of taking it off the paved road entirely. With no guarantee that their former fans will follow their new venture, they choose artistic enrichment and experimentation over the safety of the known.
Weekend Nachos is the latter, a band that helped to define the sound for an entire generation of hardcore, a band whose influence, though easily recognized today, may not be fully appreciated until another generation of musicians passes the torch along.
Unwilling, or unable, to rest on their creative laurels, though, some of the creative forces behind Weekend Nachos have not stopped producing art. Whether writing stories or writing songs, these artists demonstrate that their creativity is a drive, an impulse, rather than a phase. This is especially well-demonstrated in the stylistic trajectory of their varied projects over the years, a trajectory that shows an uncommon willingness to explore beyond all style boundaries.
Nowhere is this artistic fearlessness more evident than in the 2nd Demo of the newest Nachos offshoot, Stomach. Released almost a year and a half after the band’s first demo, these four new songs build on the sonic legacy of this creative force, introducing a more evolved, more nuanced, more comprehensive sound that expresses more worldliness and more hatred than anything they’ve produced thus far.
In the 2nd Demo, Stomach pushes the sonic limits, challenging the listener to leave expectations and distractions to the side, challenging them to turn off the lights and close their eyes, and experience the inky, gritty sludge as it envelopes their consciousness. From the first moment of “Dim View,” the listener is thrown violently into a hazardous soundscape of hopelessness, with nothing to hold on to but the rib-vibrating tone, reminiscent of a filthier, more misanthropic Electric Wizard but sustained to Earth dimensions. There is a tension in this sound, in that the expanse of the track gives the listener room to breathe, but the tone jams a boot into their lungs.
As soon the listener has given up resistance and dissolved into the black murk of “Dim View,” “Bleached” and “Childless” shock the system to full alertness. If the opening and closing tracks are chronic symptoms of swelling and ache, these two are acute, stabbing pain. While the listener might feel the urge to make comparisons to former projects like Nachos, Spine, or Sawblade, the fierceness and fury of these tracks is filtered through the apocalyptic feedback, fuzz, and reverb whose world was built on the first track, such that the familiar Nachos-era spitting-foam vocals sound alien and detached, as though they are the death throes of some poor soul lost in the catacombs echoing up the mouth of the dungeon.
To punish the listener for making assumptions or for getting comfortable, the two-songs-in-one-minute conniption gives way to an even darker abyss than the opener, as “God Denial” manages to balance all of the best moments of these artist’s careers on the uneasy head of a pin. With a conductor’s ear for overtones and undertones, for balance and pacing, they make the fully chaotic mess of phasers, torn amplifiers, feverish blast beats, and broken-god vocals feel somehow harmonious. If the term weren’t already associated with one of their biggest influences, this track would ensure that the term Symphonies of Sickness was associated with Stomach.
In addition to being one of the grimiest sludge records since Take As Needed For Pain, or one of the most conscientiously composed doom records since Come to Grief, 2nd Demo is also, despite the pure hatred saturating every note, an affirmation that one’s greatest achievements are never behind them. This is dark, frightening, and odious, and it may save your life.
Stomach’s John Hoffman spoke with Cvlt Nation about this release.
To kick this off, can you talk a bit about how Stomach came to be? What initially inspired the project, and what have been some of its major goals?
STOMACH really came about because of a void that I was feeling all throughout my time doing LEDGE a few years back. Those songs were sludgier and way more nihilistic, lyrically at least, than previous efforts of mine, but I think I was far too focused on making hard and hateful music to the point where there was nothing else there, unfortunately. LEDGE was sort of like WEEKEND NACHOS but without that youthful energy that complimented the ignorance and the violence so perfectly.
After my daughter was born, I took a break from LEDGE and reflected on my art and my ability to be creative…the only thing that made sense was to start something new, something less focused on being extreme and rather, more focused on providing a dark and abstract canvas for people to just soak in. STOMACH allows me to express the same shit but in a way that I think is a lot more interesting.
I have definitely noticed that with these songs, especially in contrast with Weekend Nachos songs, you seem to have a much more abstract approach to lyrical themes, focusing on topics like loss, depression, existentialism, and the sometimes pointless search for meaning. You also use more fragmented phrases, and you seem to be speaking more to the “void” or the universe than to people or populations. What has influenced the change in your writing style?
I felt there was something very juvenile about my previous projects…not in a bad way. That shit was fun and very ignorant. People could just annihilate each other to the soundtrack of me yelling “fuck ____ and fuck ____”…very direct, almost like rants as opposed to lyrics. I think STOMACH lyrics could function as poetry in a way, and I’m really content with that evolution in my writing. It feels like I have more to say without saying it directly. I think the lyrics for STOMACH are actually much darker and much MORE violent than Nachos or Ledge because of how indirectly painful they really are. I also think it’s so much more challenging to write a good song when you aren’t just yelling directly at your audience.
It seems like hatred has been a strong emotional component or inspiration for your music over the years. Where does the hatred come from? Is it different now from when you were younger? I think that artists with a reputation for darkness can kind of dial it in as they get older, but yours seems just as powerful as ever, if not more so, even if it sounds different.
Somewhere in time when I was growing up, I began to feel rejected and misunderstood, and the feeling never went away, it only multiplied as I got older. To me, people are threatening. I don’t look at society and see joy…I see war. My circle is very small when it comes to people I love and trust, and existing on this earth has never felt normal to me. Something has always been wrong. The darkness in my music comes from all that. It’s really all I have to give.
What have been some of the challenges Stomach has faced so far?
When I was putting together the 1st demo, I was plagued with doubt because I couldn’t play guitar or record very well. STOMACH has become a little more musical lately because I’ve gotten slightly better at playing guitar and recording at home. I think the songs I write do speak for themselves though, and the awesome thing about being an artist is that no one can do your art better than you can. So when you’re creating shit straight from your soul, you transcend out of the confines of SKILL and enter a different world…where shit just comes together because it HAS to.
Do you find that the increase in your musicianship ever gets in the way? I feel like it can be one of those things where “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” It seems like, before you know much about the instrument, everything is on the table, but once you learn it, there are things that are “right” and “wrong.”
I don’t think I’m really becoming that much better of a musician for it to become overwhelming, to be honest. I just started out not knowing how to play guitar and now I sort of can. I’m just ecstatic that I can actually record this shit on my own and actually bust out a riff instead of teaching it to someone else. As for right and wrong…regardless of where I’m at musically, I’ll never pay any mind to that. There should be no limitations when you make music, especially when it’s a noisy monstrosity of bullshit that only 5 people will ever hear.
In addition to getting handier on guitar, can you talk about how your approach to songwriting has evolved since the first Stomach release? And did the reception for that release dictate anything about your creative goals for this one?
I think I’ve noticed a pattern that has emerged over time whenever I start new projects. I’ll start out with a somewhat narrow vision for the first offering, such as the demo, and then expand the horizons with each release. I think with STOMACH, though, that variety was present from the very beginning, and with the most recent material that has yet to be released, it’s just more of that expansion happening. I think people will hear more influences and more styles across the next few releases. The reception to the demo was really solid – it simply motivated and reassured me that I can do this and continue doing this.
With these slow genres, tone is king, to the extent that the pedals and the amps become as much a part of the band as the musicians. This can be seen really clearly in Boris’s Amplifier Worship and even in Sunn’s name. Your tone is distinctly yours, and it differs from a lot of the more popular slow metal bands these days. It’s grittier, gnarlier, than a lot of what people are producing these days. Without necessarily giving away any of your secret recipes, can you describe the process of finding a tone that fit your vision for Stomach?
Every time WEEKEND NACHOS would play, I’d always hear Andy ring out the first note when we were “sound checking” and I’d be like “Holy shit, this is intense”. People always came up to me at our shows and asked me how we sounded so brutal and I’d just shake my head and say “Gotta talk to Andy about that.” When I made the decision to self-produce the STOMACH demo, I knew it was going to depend on me at this point. What you get with that is pretty much a matter of logic and circumstance — I knew what I wanted to sound like so that kinda guided me when I was just turning knobs and being an idiot. To be honest, I think even the greatest musicians would tell you that they started out just turning knobs and playing with their amps.
I happened to have a Sunn Beta Bass that I picked up a few years back for around $200 and that was a great first step…I fucking love that amp. My wife got me a Fuzz Factory for Christmas and that helped me, too. As for my sound being a little noisier and grittier, honestly, I just won’t settle for “clean.” I don’t like when metal sounds pleasant…I like when it sounds terrible. However, I also generally prefer a warm and low-end fueled sound at the same time, so in a way, it’s almost like a hilarious representation of my personality — antisocial but kind.
Perhaps second only to tone, the riff is all important in this style, in part because the guitar part has far less to “hide behind” than in a style like grindcore or something with more speed and activity. Since you still don’t consider yourself to be a very technical guitarist, how do you approach writing riffs, and when do you know you’ve found one strong enough to stand on its own?
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have my influences to guide me and put ideas in my head, but I think that’s the same for everyone. What I like to do is blend a bunch of things that I like so it’s a more creative mix that no one had really thought of prior. I don’t rip off EYEHATEGOD or BORIS directly but you’ll be able to hear a STOMACH riff and know that somewhere in my brain, those band’s ideas were mixed together. And then of course there are also times when I just rip off bands directly.
Shifting gears for a minute, the last ten years have seen sludge and doom gain a lot of attention in metal circles, perhaps more than in the last couple decades before. What do you think has drawn people to these styles recently?
That’s a good question. I wonder if it’s an age thing. As people get older, I think they become more simple, somewhat apathetic, and also less energetic, which more or less describes the genre! It’s a very antisocial style of hardcore and metal. I’ve liked bands like EYEHATEGOD and GRIEF for a long time now, but initially what got me to listen to that stuff more and play that stuff more was just not caring about punk and hardcore stuff like playing the fastest possible thrash part, or making people mosh and get thrown through windows, or having a good sing-along part. I truly hate to say it but at some point, making music became my priority.
What, to you, makes a good doom band? A good sludge band? Who are some of your favorites of all time?
I sort of touched on this but I’m glad I get to say it again – simplicity, apathy, and just malice. Sludge and doom are different, I guess. Maybe doom is more about being a weird music nerd and sludge is more for people who don’t give a shit. One way or another…I think my version of sludge needs to be felt in a cold way. You should hear this and be able to feel the inner turmoil.
I’ve mentioned them before but GRIEF might be my favorite heavy band. EYEHATEGOD, EARTH, and ELECTRIC WIZARD are also way up there for me. I’m also really into FLOOR, CAVITY, BORIS, SUNN, NOOTHGRUSH, METH DRINKER…this is sort of turning into a MySpace bio, but that’s a general idea of who I steal ideas from.
Sludge has historically been associated with heroin and liquor, and doom has been associated with weed and beer. You’ve been open about your straight-edge lifestyle for as long as you’ve been in the public eye. Do you have any ideas about why those genres tend to pair culturally with certain substances, and do you expect any disconnect in fans who expect that kind of lifestyle from their musicians?
I’m no music historian by any means, but I think that drugs have fueled rock and roll in general for a really long time. In order to play something that really challenges normalcy and conformity, you need to have a screw loose, and I think the majority of people need drugs to loosen those screws. Specifically, when it comes to doom and sludge, both styles lack energy but are fueled by darkness. I think people who are depressed and unmotivated use drugs to escape, so sludge and doom are almost like the musical extremes of that lack of will.
As far as where I come into that…to me, straight edge is all about abstaining from mental prisons. All my life, I’ve seen people use drugs and drink to fit in and be mindlessly accepted into society. I want nothing to do with that — blending in with others is never going to help me solve my internal problems. So I have a dark side to my personality that specifically conflicts with substance abuse. If anyone was ever put off by my music because I’m straight edge, luckily BUZZOVEN is a really great band that they can listen to instead.
Getting back to Stomach, the 2nd Demo is released on LSOH Records, your own label. You founded and ran Bad Teeth in a previous life. What inspired you to start a label again, and what is your creative vision for it moving forward?
I think the labels I’ve done in the past were always testaments to my spirit and involvement in whatever I was doing, so I’ve always found it appropriate to start something new instead of resurrecting a previous label of mine. There was an era of my interests during TOOTH DECAY RECORDS. Then there was one for BAD TEETH RECORDINGS. Now, with LAST SHRED OF HOPE, this will represent me during this time period for a while, until whenever it ends. As of right now, I don’t have any plans to pursue this label very seriously. I just wanted to self-release the newest STOMACH material because I got really excited about the idea of ordering 100 cassette tapes again.
What can people expect from Stomach following this demo? Do you have any live performances planned?
This latest release, which will drop at the time of this article coming out, is a 2nd Demo cassette consisting of 4 new songs, recorded at THE PIT II and mixed/mastered by Will at DEAD AIR STUDIOS. Coming out later this year or early next year will be a full-length LP, which I’ve already recorded as well and am super pumped about. The recording quality and tones are a bit of a step up with this new stuff, but I think it came together in a way that’s still really harsh and punishing. Adam Tomlinson, from SICK/TIRED and SEA OF SHIT, is gonna be doing the live band with me as a 2-piece, with him on guitar and me on drums and vocals — IRON LUNG style. We actually have a gig on 7/1 in Chicago with a bunch of grindcore and powerviolence bands – including the almighty HUMMINGBIRD OF DEATH, which I’m fucking excited for.