Referring to Valley Cottage, NY experimental noise outfit Gridfailure as "prolific" is somewhat of an understatement. So far this year alone, the project has issued a split cassette with Never Presence Forever, the Hostile Alchemy full-length, an appearance on the impressive Death Season Six compilation, and Dendritic—a collaborative album with Megalophobe. In just over four months, that's as much as comparable artists might release in two to three years!
But there's no sign of a slowdown, which brings us to yet another full-length collection of abstract sounds and concepts in Scathed (pre-order now for just $5), slated for release on June 2nd through Darker Days Ahead. Stream "Condescender"—a six-minute spread of sinister dark ambient swaths, murky melodies, and vengeful vocal textures—below, followed by an intriguing discussion with the man behind the madness, David Brenner...
Alright, so... I have to begin with an unrelated question, because the other day you just casually mentioned that you've recently collaborated a bit with trumpet player Mac Gollehon—who has played with David Bowie, Billy Ocean, Duran Duran, Onyx, and many, many, many more. How did that come about!?
It was a chance secondhand hook-up that just worked out very well. I had this idea to put together this jazz sort of ensemble meshed with the usual power-dementia, horrorcore, lo-fi snuff Gridfailure madness, so I just set out to do it. As I've already been importing contributions from and performing live-recorded collaborations with all sorts of folks, I just kind of widened my search. At a BardSpec event in Manhattan earlier this year, I was conversing with a fine young scribe by the name of Matt Bacon, whom I've known for years, and this idea came up. He happened to be working with this trumpet player, Mac Gollehon, in some capacity and said Mac would likely be into doing something with it. Digging into Mac's history floored me—he's been on over 200 gold and platinum albums: Hall & Oates, Buddy Rich, Chaka Khan, David Bowie, Onyx, Blondie, Miles Davis, Grace Jones, Sheena Easton, The Rolling Stones, Billy Ocean's "Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car"... just way too much to encapsulate.
I connected with Mac and sent him a bunch of in-progress material; he had ideas and everything. He came out to The Compound in early-March and we just kind of went into it blind—my ally Benjamin Levitt (Megalophobe) was here for the session—and it was instantly a natural fit with some of this madness. The first thing Mac played was a single take to the track "A Corpse at Every Funeral," from the Gridfailure & Megalophobe Dendritic collaborative album, which blew us away while he was playing it. He hammered out a bunch of trumpet and some keys and synth stuff, all of which is dispersed throughout several upcoming releases—plus we've got much larger recording plans in the works, and we're going to collaborate live in the coming months. It's pretty incredible to be working with him in this capacity.
The second half of your new album, Scathed, is slightly more subdued—stripping away a bit of the chaos and veering toward the types of dark ambient/death industrial sounds that really grab me. "Condescender," in particular, is one of the more sinister tracks, with hints of melody and bits of rhythmic crunch.
Scathed was kind of a randomly planned release. Hostile Alchemy was supposed to be a harsh noise/dirge-ridden album; but after all the great contributions from the album's collaborators were mixed in, it became much more abstract, dystopian, melancholic, and in parts heavily melodic; so I was left with the urge to unload some gnarled, scathing dirge. At that time, the Death Season Six compilation was coming together through Minneapolis-based harsh noise/dark ambient/experimental label Darker Days Ahead. I had a track on there, alongside a wide range of tracks—stuff from Teeth Engraved With the Names of the Dead, Never Presence Forever, Megalophobe, Dusthallowed, and a bunch of other great artists. I mentioned to owner/artist Cory Schumacher how I had a lot of other material in the works/completed and he was interested in hearing something, so we just put the idea together in mid-February and I crushed out the record in just over a month.
I grew up over the hills from where Relapse was founded, and got into stuff like Cold World and Merzbow and tons of other early stuff like that, so I think that's kind of the tone on "Condescender." But I'm not sure I was going for any specific vibe on the song at the start, as I wrote lyrics for the track directly after I recorded it. The backbeat is from an analog drum machine into an extensive effects chain including a loop pedal, heavy duty compressor, octave, distortion... it was just kind of a broken, mechanical, spiraling rhythm that almost fits the song. And, yeah, brutal metalcore deathvox on everything. There are no collaborators on the Scathed album: I performed/recorded all vocals, guitars and bass, drums/percussion, keys/synth, theremin, didgeridoo, xylophone, harmonica, effects, and whatever else; and handled mixing, photos/layout, and everything else.
The anguished vocals are so buried that—perhaps more so than elsewhere—it almost creates the impression that you intend to conceal the message herein?
The lyrics are audibly obscured in Gridfailure, but not to hide the content or words. I've always thought about delivering vocals as another instrument rather than words, so to me, if the vocals sound cool, the content is secondary. Sometimes I freestyle verses while experimenting with pedals and that stuff makes it into the mix without having written down a word, so things become lost that way. I do put a lot of thought and time into some lyrics, though; and most of those lyrics end up having a lot of duality, parallel meaning, and attributes of a severely detached alternate personality. "Condescender" is just not poetic or artsy in content. It's about a condescending false prophet buried in my past. It's about denying falsehoods and decimating your enemies. But it's mostly just inflecting caustic hardcore vocals into post-thermonuclear vibes that I'm going for.
I've shared with you on multiple occasions just how impressed and blown away I am by Gridfailure's constant motivation and outpouring of material. Excluding compilations, I believe Scathed will be your seventh release within a year's time!? How the hell do you do it, and what do you have cooking for the near future?
I have an unreal amount of material kind of in limbo. I work from home, record at home, and as I have no bandmates to work around, I can work as much as my post-work duties allow; so I play, write, record, edit, or do something with the project every single day. I have formerly been in hardcore, punk, metal, etc. bands; but most of that was all back in the mid-'90s through Y2K and into the 9/11 era—outside of playing/recording with Theologian for a year from mid-2015 through mid-2016—so, I'm kind of making up for lost time now.
What I've released this year is not even half of what I have recorded and in the works over here. Teeth Collection is an album I've worked on for almost a year now and is 90% complete, Drought Stick is a double-disc album which is maybe 70% complete outside of vocals, I have several new collaborative projects ongoing, tons of ideas and skeletons of songs/albums, and much more in the works. I expect to release at least two to three additional albums, EPs, splits, or collaborations in the second half of 2017—on top of the three records and comp track I've released (or will have released) between March and early-June, when Scathed is out. I am filming more videos, making my own shirts, making new art, and plotting tons of other creations.
No bandmate drama. No time restraints due to other players. With Gridfailure, I'm just learning and playing anything I can. Most of it is just greased-up mistakes, experiments, and freeflow ideas that get shaped. I think of the project more like art class than band practice. We'll see how much this setup gets monkey-wrenched when I start playing out live in the coming months...
Scathed is now available for pre-order for a mere $5 through Darker Days Ahead.