By Thor

Grindcore legends Agoraphobic Nosebleed have carved their own path since the band’s inception. Experimental.  Extreme.  Disturbing.  Any way you want to describe them, they remain on the very knife’s edge of extreme music trends and tropes.  Continuing to blaze trails and buck trends, ANb released “Arc” earlier this year—the first in a planned series of EPs, each to be written in the preferred style of each respective band member.  “Arc” embodies vocalist Kat’s sensibilities in that it’s heavy-as-fuck doom metal.

Wormwood Chronicles caught up with Agoraphobic Nosebleed’s co-screamer, Richard Johnson (Enemy Soil, Drugs of Faith) to get the dirt on both “Arc” and his band.  Read on, Grind Heads….

WWC:  Your latest EP—“Arc”—is fantastic.  I had the pleasure of reviewing it a while back and it immediately blasted to the top of my prospective “Best of 2016” list.  I’ve read that “Arc” is the first in a proposed series of EPs and the idea behind that series is pretty cool.  Please tell us about that.

Richard Johnson: Thanks for that. Awesome. Yeah, the next one is going to be Jay’s EP, and that’ll be in the vein of Black Flag or Gang Green or something like that. Mine will be a kind of industrial thing. We’re not sure about Scott’s yet. So each one will be in a different genre.

WWC: The last way I’d ever describe ANb is predictable.  Even so, are these EPs a way of casting off the strictures—to the extent that there are any—of grindcore?  What is grind to you?  Is ANb grind?

RJ: Grind mostly is about the tempo. I suppose if you had a jazz band with blast beats, it would be described as having grind elements, at least. The earlier death metal bands I think didn’t use blast beats at all, or didn’t do it much, but it’s become much more common as the years went on. There’s a lot of blurring between death metal and grind anyway. I mean, based on the lyrics I could class Repulsion as a death metal band. I don’t think we’re trying to shake anything off with the EPs. ANb does a lot of what it wants to anyway.

WWC: I’m a drummer and despite that fact, I’m a big fan of several extreme acts that use a drum machine rather than a drummer, including yours.  However, I’m curious about your reasons for staying away from a human drummer.  Is it logistical, aesthetic, both?

RJ: As with most bands, I think, that use machines, it’s because of not finding a drummer to do the job initially. And then we stuck with it because it defined the sound of the band so much. It’s good when the person programming has a good understanding of drumming, because they could be a better programmer that way. 

WWC: Describe the respective challenges of playing doom/sludge live versus the older, blast-beat driven material.

RJ: Well, we haven’t pulled in any of the doom songs to the live set yet. We’ll have to see.

WWC: Kat’s lyrics for “Arc” all strike me as deeply personal.  Could you elaborate on the specific inspirations for them?

RJ: Kat drew deeply from what she was going through being a caretaker for her mother, who suffered from mental illness and eventually passed on.

WWC: I apologize in advance for going here, BUT I’d be remiss if I didn’t…I admire you all for the “risks” that you take and Kat obviously has a perspective on the following that’s necessarily different than mine or yours, but metal seems to have a problem with racism, LGBT bigotry, misogyny, etc.  But what about grindcore?  Part of my affinity for it is the politics that much of the genre subscribes to.  What’s your experience been like in this context? Does it even matter since you usually play shows that feature lots of metal bands anyway?

RJ: It’s not a problem going there. Yeah, we’ve been playing metal festivals and will do more of that in the future. I guess there’s less tolerance for this sort of thing (racism, sexism, etc.) in punk and grindcore. But being a woman playing music, she runs into some shit sometimes that wouldn’t have happened if she was treated or reacted to the same as everyone else.

WWC:  The volatile political environment at large is depressing and exhausting.  But times like these also seem to inspire fantastic music, like hardcore punk in the early-‘80s, for example.  Does the political zeitgeist find its way into the band’s creative output?

RJ: We’ve written some political lyrics for sure, but those are from the individual’s perspective and are unique to the band’s lyrics when you look at the whole career. ANb isn’t a political band. 

WWC: Why do you play music that resides on the periphery of people’s musical awareness and acceptance?  Speaking from first-hand experience, it’s difficult and it’s certainly no substitute for a day job.  What drives you to do this?

RJ: This stuff provides a kick in the pants that one needs sometimes. If we didn’t love playing extreme music with extreme lyrics we wouldn’t do it. You can’t separate how extreme the music is by how unpopular it is, relatively speaking. I mean, a lot of people go to these festivals we play, obviously, but many, many more people don’t know anything about it or wouldn’t be able to stand it if they did because of their tastes.

Having said all that, ANb is in a different place now than it was back when Scott Hull was putting out demos and 7”es and slogging it out in the underground along with everybody else. Especially since we started playing shows, things have changed a lot. Kat and I have had to get used to playing festivals as the headliners or being late on the bill instead of being the openers or not playing these sorts of things at all. It’s a new experience for us. Scott and John are old hands at this because of Pig Destroyer.

WWC: What are your goals outside of music? 

RJ: Nothing out of the ordinary. Scott has a family, Kat’s in school, I have a regular job and routine. John is the one that has the rock ‘n roll lifestyle. He does music a lot more than the rest of us.

WWC: What can we expect in the near-future from Agoraphobic Nosebleed?

RJ: Nothing in the near future besides playing more fests. I figure we’ll slow down on that at some point because we’re going to do another full-length record before turning back to the EPs. Maybe the record’ll come out in 2017. I really don’t know.