Southwest Terror Fest Spotlight: Richard Johnson discusses Agoraphobic Nosebleed's new direction
Interview by Parisa Eshrati
Following the release of Arc, T&E Collective spoke with Agoraphobic Nosebleed's Richard Johnson about the new direction and upcoming releases from the band. We discussed the process behind the ANB solo-driven projects, evolving dynamics between bandmates, their most Spinal Tap experiences, and much more.
I want to start off talking about the ongoing Agoraphobic Nosebleed project where each artist creates a solo record. The intention behind this project was so the band could be genre-less, so what kind of sounds do you think you’ll explore for your record? Will it be totally different from what we’ve heard from Agoraphobic Nosebleed so far?
It will be totally different. My solo project is going to be industrial .Jay [Randall]’s is supposed to be punk, something that’s reminiscent of Gang Green. I’m not sure about Scott [Hull]’s record yet. Now that Kat [Katz] has released her solo record, we’re going to work on a normal Agoraphobic full-length record and then go back to the solo projects once that’s done. I believe Jay’s record is going to be next project.
I read that Scott is still writing the music for the solo records, so I’m interested in how the other artist influences these solo projects. Do you tell him the general sound you want and go from there?
It goes both ways. I suggested some stuff to Scott that I wanted to do and he didn’t want to do it ‘cause if he’s not into the style he’s not going to want to sit there and write it all. Even if I were to write some stuff he’d have to do the programming. The doom EP was a natural fit for Kat since she was in a doom metal band before joining Agoraphobic Nosebleed. For me, I’m an old school metal head – I like industrial. You know, your Godflesh, your old Pitchshifter, Ministry, and so on. I haven’t been listening to Author and Punisher like I should have but I saw him at Housecore Horror Fest last year. It was a lot more performance art than I was expecting, but it was really awesome to watch.
Anyway, it just starts off by Scott and I tossing ideas back and forth to each other. I think the main idea popped in our heads when we were doing the Despise You split. The vocals on the first song on the Agoraphobic side had a very Justin Broadrick [Napalm Death] kind of influence. That might have been the spark.
The latest release, Arc, is really personal and delves deep into Kat’s life as it talks about caring for her mother at the end of her life. Do you think that your solo record will similarly be very personal and play a cathartic role?
No, I don’t write that sort of stuff anymore. I used to write more personalized lyrics in other bands and gripe about personal relationships. I moved towards political lyrics and would pepper the other stuff in, so now I just gripe about politics in my other bands. The lyrics I wrote for a song off of Agorapocalypse has a very bleak vibe to it…so there might be some more of that. I just don’t want to do the same thing that I’ve done when we come around to my record. Since it’s going to be very genre-industrial I might try to write some industrial type of lyrics so-to-speak. Little phrases and imagery that might be more appropriate for the music.
It’s awesome that people have been really enthusiastic about Agoraphobic Nosebleed switching up their sound and have been really accepting of a new direction. I was wondering if you could think of any other bands that totally switched up their sound during their career that you’ve found inspiring for this transition.
You know, I think Agoraphobic can get away with it a little bit because some of our records sound so different than the ones that came before it. One example that comes to mind is the split we did with Apartment 213. That split had nothing to do with anything else we’ve done. Some bands can get away with it and some can’t. Some bands will be continuing on a path for awhile and completely change, and then people get pissed off. But if they keep evolving then people will eventually get used to that.
You’ve got bands like Voivod and Killing Joke where you can’t really assume what their next record is going to sound like. Killing Joke has gone through a lot of changes, they’re on a real tear now with the original lineup that’s really great. They did kind of a synthy album with poofy hair, one that sounded really aggressive and angry, etc. I really like that sort of thing when a band can be really dynamic throughout their career.
I really loved the album art for Arc and I saw that Kat put a lot of thought into finding an artist for it. Do you already have an idea or an artist in mind for your cover art?
I’ve thought about that a little bit. I might of just tweak some imagery, something that you kind of see on other industrial albums. Something monochromatic that looks like it’s gone through a photocopier a few times [laughs].
You guys only just started playing live and have had three live appearances thus far. Has the added pressures of playing live changed the dynamic between the band members?
Oh yeah, it’s really changed the work load. We’d be well on the way to the next record if we didn’t have to spend so much time prepping for the next show. There was a whole lot of prep that went into our first show ever at Maryland Death Fest last year. A lot of the pressure was on Scott because he had to get the technology side of it down the way he wanted it. We practiced a lot because it was our debut set and wanted to have as best control of the sound as possible. So for the second show we just had to keep rehearsing. The setlist was just slightly different than the first so it wasn’t as much pressure as our debut. When Scott starts adding different songs to the sets then we’ll have to practice more to make sure everything is just as tight as before.
We see each other a lot more because of practice and we’re all together in the same room, and that never really came up on the other records. Kat and I would both go to the studio to do our vocals, but Jay was able to send files back and forth to Scott so we didn’t see him as much.
Even though you’ve only played three times in all these years, what have been some of the most Spinal Tap moments?
You know, I’m not sure which issue it was but Decibel magazine ran a full page cartoon of us recording Agorapocalypse that really showed the Spinal Tap side of what was going on during that recording. Lot of partying, someone threw up on the couch, that kind of stuff. That was really great was because we gave them a few stories and they made a comic out of it.
When we did our first show at Maryland Deathfest, Jay stepped on Scott’s guitar chord and then ripped the peg out that was holding the guitar. Scott had to stop and shut the drums down while someone came up and duct tape everything together while we all just stood there and watched.
We also kind of had a Stonehenge moment where we tried to bring our own visuals to Maryland Death Fest and it didn’t work out. We had them for Housecore and it was great, but it didn’t get sorted out for MDF. They had a projector and we couldn’t get the laptop to work with it. Someone in the crowd, however, brought a giant plush cock that they were tossing around the crowd and it ended up on stage a couple times. So, at least we had that prop.
Probably our most Spinal Tap moment, though,…you know that track on Agorapocalypse with a drum solo? We “played” that drum solo live. The drum solo came up in the programming, Kat and I ran off stage and the crew brought the lights down. Everyone in the crowd was just standing there looking at a stage with no drummer and listening to a drum solo. I thought it was great, man. [laughs] It was so absurd.
Hahah, that’s amazing! It reminds me of the end scene of Spinal Tap where their drummer explodes and just disappears.
Exactly! And I’m sure someone has choked on someone else’s vomit at some point [laughs].
I know you’re staying busy working on the full length Agoraphobic album, but are you still doing any Drugs of Faith material?
Yeah, Scott has got most of the work right now programming the drums and writing the music. He’s going back and forth between that and writing another Pig Destroyer album, so the rest of us can write some lyrics in the meantime. I've written a few songs lyrically, but this is how the process generally goes ‘cause we have to wait for him to do the initial steps. He’ll send demos, and then we’ll get to the point where he says we can schedule the vocal sessions. That's when everyone has to put in their work. Until that we’re kicking back and doing our own things while Scott works. It’s a pretty cushy gig!
Drugs of Faith has been pretty active. We put out this split single with Cloud Rat and we got one new single that’s totally done. I have some other lyrics written, but we’re just trying to piece everything together. It’s just your normal band song writing process at this point. We’ve done so many splits, singles, covers, and whatnot so it’s time that we did another full record.
What have you been listening to lately? Any favorite new releases you’d like to mention?
I haven’t been very good about keeping up with the newest music. I mentioned Killing Joke before, I really have been enjoying that. I was really crushed when they cancelled their U.S. tour. I’ve been really happy about Lush getting back together. I saw Gogol Bordello live this year! They always come through D.C. around New Year and they always sell out, so this year I made sure to get my tickets early.
Didn’t they play Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike in its entirety at that show?
I think it was alternating ‘cause they did the Gypsy Punks record but they didn’t play it back to front, they changed the order. It was the first time seeing them, and it ruled. It’s such a cool thing to play one of your records all the way through. So many bands in so many different genres have gotten to do that. Like Bruce Springsteen is doing that with The River! I don’t know if he’s playing the whole record, but I know he put out this gigantic box set that you need a forklift to pick up.
Who knows, maybe Bruce will be a surprise guest at Terror Fest.
Hahah! Right? That would be an interesting mix.
What else we can look forward to you from the rest of the year? Any other shows besides Southwest Terror Fest?
We got Hell Fest, Death Fest and a few others that are in the works. This is a trip….playing all these shows. We don’t have anything else going on besides the full length and I don’t know yet when we’ll get together and do vocals. People keep telling us that they want a “proper Agoraphobic record”, and we’ll do that again at some point. We’re still really grateful for the response people have had with the solo project idea and Kat’s record. It’s been a long time since we’ve put out an album so it’s easy for people to get let down after so much time, but our fans have been really appreciative and honest. We’re really grateful for that.
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