The Earth cries out. The Geotrauma is echoed in human suffering and violence. Our every utterance and effort at progress goes stifled and unheard. Sometimes, mere Heavy Metal feels inadequate to express the true horror of this world. Reality is infinitely complex and requires great deals of abstraction to communicate it’s terrible truths. This is where Gridfailure comes into play.
A leviathan of Noise and Power Electronics, Industrial drones and field recordings, Gridfailure brings the schizo-horrors shambling into the burning light for all to hear. At times, there is traditional songcraft, such as on the new collabortive recording with Walking Bombs, “Suicide by Citizenship”. The tunes are rendered both damaged yet more effective when spliced together with the Gridfailure’s wounding cacophony. But Gridfailure also manifests a clawing, hideous nihilism on albums such as “Ensuring the Bloodline Ends Here” and “Sixth Mass Extinction Skullduggery”.
Here we have both a video premiere of “Exsanguination of the Utopians” followed by an interview with the man behind the madness, David Brenner.
Even in Extreme Metal circles, Noise and Power Electronics is still considered a pretty Outre genre. Do you remember the first time you heard it and what your first reaction was? At what point did you decide to make this kind of music? How do you think the genre has progressed and changed over time?
I’m not sure when I “discovered” the sound, or, thought about it separately from other odd or harsh music I like. I’m 40 years old and have been into metal/extreme music since I was a kid; when I was in high school, I got into Ministry and the usual heavy industrial stuff of the 90s and it completely opened me up to new sounds. Over many years I have worked with literally hundreds of experimental, avant-garde, my personal music collection is just as packed with weirdo music of all sorts; I literally own thousands of records and an incredibly minor fraction of it is on any sort of major label. So, I’m a lifer in the “underground music” scene overall – punk, hardcore, metal, experimental, ambient, and so on. Outre all the way!
I don’t believe I ever made a conscious effort to make a specific sound and I’m not trying to be a part of once genre; Gridfailure collaborates with all sorts of musicians from all sorts of musical realms, and live has mostly played with metal bands. There is no elitism here; I want to terrify fans from all scenes when this project performs on record or live.
As for progression, just like all musical genres, digital music, self-recording and home studios, and the overall breakdown of musical genres and classification between scenes has expanded the genre’s overall sound. Also, I feel like there are many more open-minted music fans out there these days, seeking something beyond the mainstream. Bands like Boris and Full Of Hell have crossed noise/harsh electronic elements into doom, hardcore, and both have collaborated with Merzbow; that kind of collaboration will always cross genre-barriers and attract new fans, which then sets new musical ideas into motion, and the process continues.
At what point did you decide to start doing Gridfailure?
I was in more straightforward acts playing streetpunk, metallic hardcore, death/gridcore acts and so on in the mid-late 1990s and early 2000s, but then wasn’t in an active band for over fifteen years. I joined Theologian in 2015, and while that liaison only lasted a year, I recorded and performed shows and it was during that time when I formed Gridfailure and began recording my own material, playing all types of random and new instruments, basically just trying to learn and create.
So let’s talk about some of your most recent releases, starting with “Sixth Mass-Extinction Skulduggery I”. This is part of a series of concept albums. What is the idea behind these releases?
When I started the project, I began making one main set of tracks, which would become the first album, Ensuring The Bloodline Ends Here. I didn’t do a demo or an EP; just made an album and the project was formed. Two weeks later, Theologian and I parted ways and I went full-time with Gridfailure, and I began to create a second album right away; Teeth Collection. I’m still finishing this record, now three years later! It spawned this concept of Sixth Mass-Extinction Skulduggery; basically, a perception of what happens to humankind during and after ecological collapse. Humans attempting to survive in a scorched, barren, and hostile environment. Songs have been recorded in massive weather systems. Some of the lyrics were written during Superstorm Sandy, when we were without power or heat for over a week, before Gridfailure was even formed. It all just started pouring in. Suddenly, before finishing Teeth Collection, I had this other album called Drought Stick which came together with one of my best friends, Pete Tsakiris; we recorded the beginning of it in a heat wave just a few months after the debut album came out. It seemed to become the counterpart/sister album to Teeth Collection. Planning on putting those out as a pair, more and more songs kept joining this vision of Sixth Mass-Extinction Skulduggery, and I decided to just make a full album series.
Is the rest of the series already completed?
There will be five albums in the series. The first three albums are simply Sixth Mass-Extinction Skulduggery I, which was released in February, with Sixth Mass-Extinction Skulduggery II and III nearing completion now, likely both for release this Summer. These first three albums are more like the before/during the eco collapse; as resources are depleted, so are morals. Once these are released, Teeth Collection and Drought Stick – both of which will likely be double-albums – will be released, ending the series. Teeth Collection is about 90% completed, and Drought Stick is about 75% done. I expect to have all five albums out this by this time next year, all through Nefarious Industries. These albums will be released between my other collaborations and releases in the works for release this year, to come out steadily but not in direct succession with each other.
How do you personally see the link between what is rather abstract music and the meaning behind the sounds? Is each song about a particular thing or is the meaning derived more from the album as a whole?
There is no process; there is no theory. I usually set out to make some sounds, one instrument or another, and save whatever I like from each session. Sometimes I name a random drum track something silly – a reference to the sound itself – and that may spawn another random idea which leads to a track or album idea. Once I group enough sounds, ideas, song skeletons, random notes, and art ideas together, I focus it into an idea, release it, and move on to whatever is next to be put on the slab. Some albums, like the When The Lights Go Out series, are void of lyrics; any vocals there are ethereal, sounds only, and some albums have full lyrics on nearly all tracks, so concepts and content vary drastically between releases.
Gridfailure is essentially a solo project, but you also collaborate quite a bit with all sorts of people. Is this the best of both worlds?
I love having full creativity over the project, and I’m able to bounce around between a thousand different ideas and projects and albums at once this way, so I love creating virtually all the artwork, videos, merch, photos, and everything. But it gets lonely working fully alone all the time, and there is nobody to help share the workload or shell out any cash, so there are definite hang-ups versus having regular band practice and four other members to share costs or help with the social networking and so on. So, I suppose it could be the “best and worst” of both worlds, perhaps?
I love working with such a wide array of talented folks with an exploratory mindset. Some folks take part adding music to movements or songs I’ve already created. But many times, I have folks just send me something, without direction or theme or sound or even instrument in mind. “Just play something you cane use in your band and send it to me,” I tell folks. I take just about anything I’ve ever been sent, and I turn it out into something totally unexpected for the contributor as well as myself. It’s always a creative challenge, and it’s an incredible way to keep things moving in new directions. Christian Molenaar from free-jazz/noise architects Those Darn Gnomes will send me crazy stuff to work with all the time. Some of the most off-center or diverse-sounding tracks Gridfailure has released, or has coming up on several impending albums, were created by him sending random 12-string guitar, twenty-minute organ solos, classic rock jams, straight-up lounge jazz electric piano…
Do you write the lyrics when there are vocals or does the vocalist?
For all Gridfailure titles, I’ve always written all primary lyrics. However, several vocalists have written additional lines for some songs, playing into/off my lyrics. Leila Abdul-Rauf from Vastum, Fyrhtu, and a thousand other bands wrote some lines for one or two of the songs she contributed to for the Hostile Alchemy album, and there are some other random examples throughout the records.
When creating fully collaborative albums with other bands/artists it can be different though. Benjamin Levitt from Megalophobe has performed on many Gridfailure albums and recordings and is one of the core live members of the project, but we’ve done two fully collaborative Gridfailure & Megalophobe albums and have shared lyric duty on those, as we also will on our impending third album together.
In addition to your concept albums, you have a new collaboration with Walking Bombs. How did this come about?
I’ve known Morgan Y. Evans, a.k.a. Walking Bombs, for many years now through working in music journalism, and we both live in the Hudson Valley. Through my daily Earsplit PR work I have worked with him for years at a variety of magazines, and we’ve hung out and partied at some shows and fests and such along the way. We just developed a solid friendship, and once I started Gridfailure, we wanted to work together somehow or another. It was another one of those challenges, as we discussed a couple of questions back, like, “these two bands have nothing to do with each other and are on polar opposite ends of the musical spectrum, so we must collaborate,” sort of thing. He was doing an EP and had this anti-Trump track called “Demagogue” coming and asked if I’d “grime it up a bit” or something. I ended up doing vocals and noises and samples, taking this sort of flamboyant, pop-hardcore, grunge-jam song into this freaky, creepout territory. We had a killer time doing it and immediately just started planning a record.
We met for a few sessions at Bohemosphere Studios in Saugerties, New York, and just started making songs with a theme of speaking out against the administration and the way the country is devouring itself in political rhetoric; it feels like we’re going back in time, losing our rights, losing our atmosphere, and losing our fucking minds. Besides studio owner Jay Andersen of the band Surmiser, who played on the entire album, as well as Morgan and myself, we infused contributions and collaborations from Mike Score (All Out War, Below The Frost), Thomas Andrew Doyle (Tad, Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth), Laura Pleasants (Kylesa, The Discussion), Brett Netson (Built To Spill, Snakes), Elizabeth Le Fey (Globelamp), BJ Allen (Full Scale Riot), Benjamin Levitt (Megalophobe), and more into the mix, which really helped shape this insanely diverse album we never had planned from the start.
How does Suicide By Citizenship differ thematically from your other work?
It is a politically-motivated outcry; an old-school dystopian story told for current times, meshing all types of sounds and styles into some sort of punk/hardcore/noise-influenced experimental Americana. Morgan’s vocal style and the overall sound of Walking Bombs is so vastly different than anything Gridfailure makes, that it really sounds like a different style of music track to track to track through the whole album. Also, while I’ve recorded random Gridfailure material off location, at Ben’s joint in Brooklyn, off the grid in the woods, and so on, most of it is recorded and designed by myself here at The Compound. Jay is incredibly knowledgeable about recording, and is far more advanced at every aspect of it than I am. He knows equipment setup and repair, built his own studio, restores vintage gear, plays a wide array of instruments, has much better equipment, and overall destroys all I know about engineering. So, it was incredible setting up in his joint with him not only handling the primary recording of the record, but also playing on the whole thing, and then mastering it. Most of my prior material until now has been released unmastered; this album and the Sixth Mass-Extinction Skulduggery I album are the first, and the majority of what comes out from here on will likely be mastered. But just the way Morgan and I wrote this and then still had no idea what to expect, and how it all morphed together, is really something completely unplanned and sounds incredibly different than anything else I’ve done.
Suicide By Citizenship combines some disparate elements, namely traditional song forms with Power Electronics. What other boundaries would you like to push on as Gridfailure?
I don’t want to be confined to a scene or a sound – this vision with Gridfailure is much more all-encompassing to me personally and I want to explore all types of music within the harshness of the project. I’ve got songs that incorporate elements of jazz, metal, world music, ambient, dark hardcore, punk, folk, all kinds of styles, and I expect to keep flowing in that direction… all directions. Some songs spread throughout the upcoming albums have more direct or “traditional” structures as you noted, and some go even more wildly into unknown territory of unclassified madness. I really don’t know how to define Gridfailure since there is no set direction, other than hoping to instill some sense of audio terror or sense of paranoia.
I’ve been reading a lot of stuff recently, particularly Roy Scranton’s book, “We’re Doomed, Now What?” that basically say we are past the point of no return in terms of the environment. Given the themes you cover, especially on the concept albums but on the more political material as well, do you hold out any hope that humanity is going to start moving in the right direction?
I have not yet read the specific book in question, but I just ordered it as per your mention. I can only do what the rest of us can do with something like this: trust the experts. The “right direction” you ask? I suppose it depends on who you talk to. The divisions on this are as divided as our politics, but this one floors me as we all need air and water. Folks on the left are trying to save the planet on their own, starting ocean cleanup projects, taking part in local conservation projects, working on ending the plastic epidemic suffocating our oceans, and so on. Then you have the other side; It’s simply terrifying that we have a clan of deniers running the EPA who are more interested in making their eco-destructive lobbyists and oil companies happy, lifting regulations wherever they can. Just check out Instagram for a minute and you’ll see scumbags out there sawing down Joshua Tree to go drive their military-style vehicles through protected land when the government is shut down, other knuckle-draggers “rolling coal” with their big Tonka Toy trucks, foreign countries dumping tons of plastic straight into their local rivers and oceans… it boggles my mind. When Megalophobe and Gridfailure’s first collaborative album Dendritic came out we rogue-planted a load of nearly fifty trees from the Arbor Day Society and I plan on doing similar projects this year. We all need to do our part if we give a shit. We are all to blame, and it is up to us to change things. Recyclable materials must replace plastic, more sustainant methods of supporting the masses must be envisioned and put into place. Whether it’s “too late” or not, we’ve already done endless irreparable damage to our planet and have altered it beyond repair. We won’t know what’s what until we try. This graphic recently posted; it really puts it into perspective even for the most uninformed or feeble-minded human.
What are you working on right now?
I just did my first Gridfailure tour; four days alongside my bros in Zud, from Portland, Maine. My two primary live henchpersons Richard Muller and Benjamin Levitt were on the first two shows, and I did my first two solo sets for the second two shows. I’m booking new shows for June and July now.
The first thing I’m completing now that the tour is complete; my first film score! I’m fully scoring this independent short horror film titled HARMLESS. A few Decibel Magazine guys are involved (Andrew Bonazelli as screenwriter, Sean Frasier as Director), with Manuel Arcon as cinematographer and assistant director. It’s fully self-financed and I’m doing the whole score myself, with direction and guidance on the flow and movement from Sean. Once the film is wrapped in the next few weeks, they will be submitting it to festivals and horror outlets and are aiming to embark a mini-tour or tours of sorts through New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and California to start, and I’ll also release the score as a soundtrack, likely with additional material or alternate music included. More on the film should be announced shortly. But I’m beyond stoked and honored to be a part of this venture.
I have at least a dozen Gridfailure releases currently in the works; fully solo releases, collaborative albums, and so on. Besides the new Walking Bombs collab which I’m still promoting, and the afore mentioned four more titles in the Sixth Mass-Extinction Skulduggery concept series coming up… I have a self-titled fully solo album in the works. My first vinyl release is confirmed; a super limited 5” lathe through Anti-Corporate Music. A collaborative album with Fyrhtu (Leila Abdul-Rauf from Vastum, Cardinal Wyrm, etc. and Nathan Verrill of Cardinal Wyrm) nearing completion A fully audio/visual collaboration with Pornohelmut (Neil Barrett from Novel Concept TV, ex-Black Ops) underway A collaboration with Chrome Waves in the works. The third Gridfailure and Megalophobe album is under construction. A collaboration with Christian Molenaar from Those Darn Gnomes nearly completion (as Brenner & Molenaar), and a subsequent collaboration with Those Darn Gnomes will happen later. I’m producing a rap album of sorts for Thorne from Virginia. Also, a compilation track or two, some other splits and collabs still unannounced, and some highly classified projects hopefully being announced shortly. Besides recording, I’m making artwork and videos for most of these albums as well as for other bands, working on booking more shows, and much more.
Thanks so much for this interview, Todd and Cvlt Nation! Thanks to anybody who has ever checked out a video or track I’ve released. This kind of coverage means everything to underground/unknown acts like mine