Pig Destroyer's Blake Harrison Chews The Gristle

Gristle-izers, 80's electro, tours and albums...

Blake Harrison is in his bedroom – but it’s not sexy time – it’s the only place he can get good reception in his house in Baltimore, Maryland. Pig Destroyer’s electronics wizard/sorcerer of samples is in the process of building a Gristle-izer. ‘What the fuck is that?’ I hear you say. Read on and learn some stuff.

I start by asking for Blake’s view on the hearty endorsements that the new album Book Burner is getting; “It’s been great. We’re over-whelmed with the response we’ve been getting.” He laughs when I point out that it’s been five years between Phantom Limb (2007) and Book Burner. Will we be waiting for another five years before next album? “That’s not our plan. I’m never gonna say never but it’s definitely not our plan – there were a lot of mitigating circumstances that took up a lot of our time and energy between Phantom Limb and this record – you know, other things going on that prevented us from putting the record out a lot earlier but we definitely don’t intend waiting as long [to release the next album]…” Indeed, there were many ‘mitigating circumstances’: drummer Brian Harvey left, then Dave Witte (Municipal Waste, Birds of Prey & Burnt By The Sun to name just a few) was recruited but then he had to leave due to injury. Finally Adam Jarvis (ex-Misery Index) has joined – how’s Adam working out? “It’s amazing. Not only is he a phenomenal talent, he’s a super cool guy and I’ve known Adam for about eight years…he’s a great guy and a great talent. I think he makes the band a lot better.”

I ask if they had any sage advice for Adam when he joined but Blake just laughs, adding “He’s been all over the world with Misery Index so I think he had more advice for us.” Between Phantom Limb and the new album Scott Hull (guitar) had another child (he’s now got two); do you have any family or have you managed to avoid the madness of children? Blake's laughing again as he responds with a resounding “No! Not yet – I’ve managed to dodge that bullet so far…”

I hear you guys had to build your own studio, Visceral Sound; how did that come about? “It was cool. We were practising in Brian’s parents' house,” he hastens to add “Brian didn’t even live there at the time and Brian’s parents kind of wanted their basement back - and I can’t say I blame them.” He offers thanks to the old folks for “…putting up with a bunch of dirty metal heads coming to their basement every Sunday and making a bunch of racket for a couple of hours. So we built a practice/studio in Scott’s house. Not only was it a place where we could record our own material but it’s a place where we can practice too. It took a little bit of time because we’re not really contractors (that’s builders to you and I) but we did it all ourselves and we’re really pleased with the outcome.”

The administrator in me rears its ugly head; did you get planning permission from local council? “No, and maybe we should have?! Basically Scott had an unfinished basement and we knocked it up down there…maybe we shouldn’t talk about that! But I doubt the city council people from Maryland would be reading an Australian publication…” Don’t be too sure, Mr Harrison, the reach of MaF is vast…

So the name Pig Destroyer relates to the destruction of the police, but I get the impression that you guys are not overly political. Is that a fair call? “We’re not really, at all. There was more of a slight tinge of that in the earlier days, around the first record Explosions in Ward 6 (1998) but we’ve never really thought about the band that way. We thought it would be a cool name and that the crusty punks would be lined up around the block…” Regarding personal politics, he adds “We’re pretty liberal in the band. Politics in America can get pretty scary; I’m more for the Obama camp but it is kind of the lesser of two evils. With any politician, no matter who you are, it’s never gonna be perfect, no matter what… and even if they’re perfect for you, they might not be perfect for me so it’s kind of ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’…I don’t know about anyone else but I definitely voted for Obama.” I suggest that maybe Pig Destroyer could get on the Obama Campaign Trail. Maybe write a soundtrack for the President to come out to, like Rocky? This amuses Blake no end but as he says “It’s probably not a good idea…”

Pig Destroyer are famous, or rather infamous, for the scarcity of their live gigs but you recently played the Damnation Festival in the UK. How was it playing the new stuff live? “It was great. We’ve been playing the new stuff for a little over a year now and it’s a lot of fun.” He explains how they like to mix up the live sets “…because there are die-hard fans whose favourite record is Prowler in the Yard (2001) and that’s all they really wanna hear, then there are the people who want to hear the stuff off Terrifyer (2004)…but playing the new songs has been great – it’s a lot fiercer, man! That stuff’s pretty fierce to play live and it definitely brings a different energy to the live performances.” Given the rarity of live shows, is it always packed out? He’s quick to answer with a succinct “No!” before laughing “Sometimes…but that’s not why we do it; we don’t play that much, initially because we all have jobs and family and stuff like that so we’ve never made a living off the band and we never really intended to. It’s kind of cool and it makes it a little more special for us when we play live. It’s a lot more fun – and a lot of the crowd seem to get that too – but we do get a pretty good response because we don’t play that much. I think maybe this year we’ll play something like 15 shows or something like that? So that’s a big year for Pig Destroyer, man! Putting a record out AND playing 15 shows!”

I ask about Blake’s paying job - he’s an audio engineer – so at least it’s not soul-crushingly boring? Sadly, this is not the case: “It can be sometimes; you know; it’s still a job…we don’t do live stuff so it’s not like I get to mix with cool bands or anything like that. Recently the project I worked on was a casino and that was pretty soul crushing – after your fifth 20 hour day in a row, you’re getting tired; actually, the company was supposed to get a job in Australia but we lost the bid – I told my boss that I wanted to go because I spoke the language already!”

On to the video for The Diplomat (directed Phil Mucci). What’s in the briefcase? “I don’t know! It’s kind of like a Pulp Fiction thing; you never really know…I think the idea is that mankind’s nature is to destroy itself and The Diplomat is kind of coming down and introducing that idea to the primitive culture but I don’t really know what’s in there…” Personally I think the case is full of shiny biscuits…
He’s quite shocked when I ask how his Gristle-izer project is coming along. For those itching to know, it’s an effects board popularised by Throbbing Gristle, a totally sweet electro-experimental band from yesteryear. Blake thinks I’ve been stalking him: “How did you hear that?! It’s absolutely true, I ordered a bunch of parts today. It’s one of those things I’ve always talked about doing and put off forever.” 
Scott quoted White House as an influence on Pig Destroyer, and you obviously like punk & grind; any obscure electro-influences? “I wouldn’t say over-all as a band. JR (vocals) and I are into early Depeche Mode and New Order, stuff like that…as far as noise stuff goes, White House and Current 93. I really like a band called The Moon Lay Hidden Beneath a Cloud; stuff like that, we get into a lot of that though I wouldn’t say all of it is a direct influence on the band. You’ve got to take whatever you listen to, and it may not seem like a direct influence but it all gets pumped through your filter, so it kind of is an influence regardless.” And inspiration for your freaky samples?  “It kind of varies; much to my girlfriend’s chagrin, we’ll be watching a movie and I’ll say ‘Oh, that’s great – you’ve gotta rewind it’ so I can record it. It really all depends on what sticks out. I actually like a lot of over-dubbed cinema because even though the dialogue is delivered in English; it’s post-recorded so it kind of gets a different meaning to what the words say because it’s delivered dryly or not really acted. But there’s not really anything in particular…it’s whatever pops out at me. I try to take those things and compose them – it’s not like I’m needlessly lifting lines from a movie, although it’s not always 100% successful…”

So what’s next for Pig Destroyer? “We’re doing a bit here and there to try and get out and promote the record. After that we’re probably gonna start writing but I doubt there’ll be a new full-length out anytime soon but we might do an EP; I guess we just have to see where it goes. We’ve been talking about going to Europe next, maybe try and come to Australia. If not, we’ll try and come back in 2014.”
Will we see a new release in less than 5 years? “Definitely. Definitely less than five years.” You heard it heard it here first. But then he adds “But I don’t want to say it will be, because you never know and I don’t like to eat my words.”
Pig Destroyer. Taking it one step at a time.