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Pig Destroyer

Pig Destroyer ditch concept albums (for now) and grind in vérité on Phantom Limb

With a few short lines on a map of the Washington, DC area, you can connect the affluent city of Alexandria, VA to McLean, where the girl in the Slayer jacket hung herself, and from Arlington National Cemetery along the Potomac River to Montgomery County in Maryland, where the DC snipers first struck. From there, a slightly longer line connects them to Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg, site of the deadliest mass shooting in US history. Two days after the massacre, the media are still unearthing information about Seung-Hui Cho, including a pair of bizarre, violent one-act plays he authored. J.R. Hayes, who’s written dozens of violent, perverse and blasphemous micro-epics for Pig Destroyer admits, “It did cross my mind: ‘Man, I hope they don’t find a Pig Destroyer CD in that dude’s apartment, ’cause they’re gonna be coming after me.’” Four days after the Virginia Tech shootings marked the eighth anniversary of the similar mass-shooting/suicide at Columbine High School, which turned violence in video games and music into a national debate and put guys who write the kind of stuff Hayes writes on the defensive.

“When there’s a murder/suicide, there’s a lack of closure and justice. People wanna see somebody burn for something like that,” he says. “So inevitably, somebody’s head is gonna roll, whether it’s the dean of the school or pro wrestling or Marilyn Manson. You can’t have something like this happen and nobody pays for it, so it’s like, pick your target. The Marilyn Manson thing didn’t really pan out, so maybe they’ll pick someone new this time.”

Previous Pig Destroyer albums wipe the floor with Antichrist Superstar in terms of someone-think-of-the-children content: splatteriffic first-person tales of stalkers and their victims, smeared with self-mutilation and surreal imagery as grotesque as anything dreamed up by Lynch or Cronenberg. Phantom Limb has tension, doubt and love scattered amongst the stench, rot, nausea and missing appendages. Like on “Alexandria,” an exploration of crippling fear and what happens “when your heroes sell you out.”

“The essence of [‘Alexandria’] was based around the [2002] sniper shootings. That was actually right near where I live, and it was a really strange time,” Hayes explains. “All of a sudden all these things you take for granted are taken away from you; you can’t go to the gas station or the store without having these feelings of anxiety. Everybody’s looking at everyone else and wondering if that guy is the sniper. I was trying to capture that vibe of when everything you thought you could count on seems up in the air. It knocks you into a different place and forces you to suck on reality for a little bit.”

The reality of “Alexandria” shares time on Phantom Limb with the gore-haiku “Deathtripper” and homicidal babes “The Machete Twins,” with none of the conceptual concerns of its predecessors. “With Terrifyer, I was working on so many things connected to that record like stories and [38-minute audio DVD] ‘Natasha.’ On this record, I wanted to do something different, but I didn’t really know what that was or how to get there, so I just took it one song at a time.” So the “Girl in the Slayer Jacket” originated as a character in a novel Hayes is working on. “The Machete Twins” were borne out of what could have turned into another album-length concept. “I wrote all of that song, except for the last [line], almost a year and a half ago. I was trying to come up with a story to write for the new album, but I couldn’t really get into it,” says Hayes. “Then one night I was sitting around drinking or something and I came up with the line about them chopping up the S.W.A.T. team. That was it; it was a song instead of a story and that had to be the last line of the song.” “Heathen [4] Temple” righteously hoists the anti-religion flag of ’80s thrash and crossover anthems like C.O.C.’s “Holier” and Sacred Reich’s “No Believers.”

Hayes remembers being suspicious of religion at a young age. “Listening to Slayer probably didn’t help,” he adds with a laugh. “For me it was like Santa Claus: Once I got to a certain age and I had become cynical enough to look at things, I decided it didn’t make any sense to me. It’s just hard for me to suspend disbelief. When I read [‘Heathen Temple’] now, it seems pretty barbed—there seems to be a lot of anger and hate in it, but it’s more just having it forced down your throat. In my extended family, some people cling to a lot of old racist views and things like that. That’s where the first line of the song comes in, that beliefs have to evolve or they become extinct. If you don’t change, the world is totally gonna squeeze you out.”

Through Pig Destroyer’s discography, Hayes’ lyrics pick relentlessly at one word: she. For every Natasha or Jennifer, there’s any number of nameless girls. (Or maybe one.) Some are monstrous aggressors; others are fetishized for broken limbs and bruises like a Trevor Brown painting or stacked up as “Cheerleader Corpses.” It’s the kind of thing that inspires reactions like Kevin Stewart-Panko’s review quip, “I feel sorry for any woman that J.R. Hayes has ever written a song about—assuming she is still alive.”

“I don’t have a problem with violence, and I don’t have a problem with how people portray women. It’s either good or it’s bad,” he says simply. “A band like Soilent Green can work that angle and do it in an interesting way, but then you have other bands that have the dismembered woman on the cover and every song is about that, and they just run it into the ground. We’ve been in zines where they talk about woman-hating in metal, and if that’s how people want to read it, that’s how they’re gonna read it. You can’t control what other people think of your band. I try to stay isolated from that so I don’t have to second-guess myself and I can focus on what I want to do.” He notes that “The Machete Twins” and songs from Terrifyer let the ladies do the dismembering. “So there’s a little bit of role-reversal; maybe some of that’s conscious. I do like strong female characters.”

One subject of Hayes’ lyrics is still alive and knows about her song. “Jupiter’s Eye” is the first song he’s written for someone else, a former girlfriend. “I wouldn’t say it’s a straight-up love song. There’s still some dark imagery in there, but it’s definitely pretty Morrissey for a death metal record. That’s cool with me. It’s one of my favorite songs on the record.

“That song was written as a gift to her, so she knows about it,” he says. “The other girls… I don’t really talk to much anymore.”

Run Like Hull
Surprise: The guy who puked up a 100-song 3-inch CD (Agoraphobic Nosebleed’s Altered States of America) into the world doesn’t have a lot of free time. Scott Hull juggles guitar/programming duties in ANB and Pig Destroyer with producing and mastering extreme metal records at his Visceral Sound studio, a wife and son, and a full-time job as “a computer nerd for the government ever since I left grad school a million years ago.” He’s got to answer interview questions over email during brief moments of downtime. “Even just on a day-to-day basis, it’s very hard for me to sit down and respond to email or check my voice mail. Pig Destroyer has a time every Sunday for practice, and shows are planned out well in advance.”

Being in two active bands with separate and distinct lyrical personalities (his ANB partner Jay Randall probably does not have a government job) forces Hull to keep his songwriting for each band distinct. “Which is why I really stay away from everything except the music for either,” he says. “Stylistically, I try to feed on different types of music as inspiration. I’ll listen heavily to Dark Angel, Slayer, Melvins and Brutal Truth before I sit down to write for Pig Destroyer and Despise You, D.R.I., Crossed Out and Excruciating Terror for ANB. The nature of each band’s lyrics doesn’t have much of a bearing on it, but I love J.R.’s lyrics for how intensely and uncomfortably personal they are.” As much as both bands are defined by their lyrics, they’re both products of Hull’s highbrow and lowbrow obsessions: ’80s thrash, Amphetamine Reptile noise rock, inflammatory zines like Answer Me!, artist Matthew Barney, the puerile gross-outs of the Meatshits and Dead Infection and, above all, le cinema. “If I could start all over again, I don’t think I’d be playing music. I think I would’ve spent all that time and effort on filmmaking,” he says. “I tend to do a little bit of audio filmmaking on the CDs I work on. ‘Natasha’ was very much an audio film. All the non-musical pieces that I put into Pig Destroyer aren’t there to be arty; they’re meant to create a mood and evoke imagery for the listener.”

In addition to drummer Brian Harvey, there’s actually a fourth member of Pig Destroyer to enhance the mood and chaos, but you won’t hear him much on Phantom Limb. And he’s not a bassist! Well, Blake Harrison plays bass on a couple of bonus tracks, but the rest of the time he contributes samples, noise and synths to PD’s live sets. “When we went on tour with Whitehouse and Wolf Eyes, we decided to mangle our sound by having a full-blown noise group, Secret Diary, come up on stage and create a wall of noise during the set,” Hull recalls. “I think a lot of people who came to see us were bummed, but I was totally stoked to have that extra chaos on stage. Blake isn’t really a ‘noise’ guy per se—his part will evolve into something more substantial, but right now we’re just developing it slowly.”

Outside of Pig Destroyer, Hull wrote the score for The Redsin Tower, initially planned for the long-rumored Zombi Destroyer collaboration with Pittsburgh synth-geeks Zombi before Hull sort of took over. “Steve [Moore, Zombi] and I share a lot of common interest in classic soundtracks and bands like Goblin, Fabio Frizzi, Jay Chatterway’s score for Maniac, John Carpenter… Based on this he recommended that I get involved in the scoring. I got into the whole process, almost to a fault, which I didn’t mean to do. That’s really what’s held up everything else in my life for the past year or so. Steve might have been slightly relieved, because he was in the middle of getting Surface to Air off the ground.” Of Zombi Destroyer’s future he says, “If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that things take forever to finally get done. If they’re really worthwhile ideas, they will happen regardless.”

Some of those ideas—Zombi Destroyer, an announced series of split 7-inches with Orthrelm, the Black Dahlia Murder and others—hit logistical snags. Other ideas, like adding an electronics guy to a grind band or pulling off ‘Natasha,’ work out no matter how implausible they seem. What’s even stranger than PD’s ability to generate so many projects while all their members work full-time jobs is the fact that commercially, they’re pretty successful for a grindcore band. And plenty of bands can get a play or two on Headbangers Ball, but most of them can’t namedrop Matthew Barney and author Dennis Cooper as influences and fans. “Dennis Cooper was one of the first writers I turned J.R. onto to get him out of his Noam Chomsky mode, and years later he got in touch with us,” Hull says. “There has been a lot of cross-cultural influence in what we do.”

Hayes says that tours like their 2006 trek with Whitehouse were “expressly for the purpose of playing with bands we wouldn’t normally play with. We just try to take shows with bands that we think are interesting or provocative. We kind of have a rule that we won’t play a show unless there’s at least one other band that we want to see, because that makes it worthwhile for us as music fans. We’re not afraid to play for anybody.” He recalls a show with indie-rockers Karate as one of the best he’s played. “It was totally weird; we showed up to 400 emo kids, but they were into it.”

“We basically started off wanting to be Arsedestroyer, cramming in a million riffs at a million miles an hour,” says Hull. “We had aspirations to do a couple of records like most of the powerviolence bands that were around at the time; we were just stoked to do split 7-inches and stuff like that. A full-length LP actually felt weird because we hadn’t done a bunch of other splits leading up to that, just the split with Orchid. For a long time, Pig Destroyer was seen as the bastard stepchild of ANB. It wasn’t until we did the Discordance Axis CD release show where the folks from Earache got in touch with us that we thought this might be bigger than we’d really meant it to be. We eventually went with Relapse, but at that point all sorts of shit started to happen that we never would’ve expected: appearing on MTV, Fuse, in Rolling Stone, Guitar World… it all seems surreal. I always gravitated towards things that would repulse most people.”

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