COMETS ON FIRE: ROCK DOWN ON YOUR HEAD

September 1st, 2005 | Interviews

Comets On Fire is the loudest band in the Pacific Standard Time Zone as long as the Melvins are out on tour, even though they use basically the same equipment as the Beatles. Guitarist/singer Ethan Miller speaks while cooking something hot for dinner.

Explain the difference between playing loud and just turning up.
Well…if you ever went and saw Devendra Banhart before he had a full band, he wanted the fucking crowd to hush up. If someone clicked a lighter to light a cigarette, it kinda boomed out over what he was doing. There was a beauty and an intensity to that, when people shut the fuck up–and when they didn’t and he got pissed, there was a different kind of intensity. And then if you saw J. Mascis’ rig with Dinosaur Jr, those amps are splitting your head: two full Marshall stacks, and that’s sheer volume, penetrating and piercing your head and the fucking sound hurts! And then Sunn 0))) who have like fifteen stacks but are playing mostly sub-bass drones, and it doesn’t hurt your ears–it just shakes you where you stand. But it doesn’t hurt you. And then there’s a band like us, probably using a similar rig as pop and garage and rock bands in the early ’60s, like the Beatles or Stones when they were playing on really small amps. Except the drummer is wailing the hell out of it. I think what I mean by playing loudly us that once it all comes together, it’s like a waterfall of abusive hard-hitting bombastic noise and rock coming down on your head. Even if it’s the same instruments Creedence might use, they’re kind of poppin’ and boppin’, jiggling away, and we are trying to take them to just beneath their dying point. Between Sunn 0))) and us and any pop group that uses the same set up, it’s maybe the same volume–it’s just in the way you use it.
I can’t believe you still have enough hearing left to carry this conversation on a cell phone.
Well, that’s not exactly expert talk on instruments.
It’s expert talk on loudness!
With Comets, we thought a lot and worked a lot to try and get at those higher volumes–even though sometimes the playing gets out of hand and someone throws a guitar offstage. It’s hard work to make sure the more normal aspects still shine through the drenches of sound. If there’s none of that, you might as well just improvise every time.
Have you ever played a blind show where people just showed up and they had no idea who you were or what to expect?
Happens all the time, even still. When we used to go out, no one had ever heard of us.
So they all died.
Or came and said, ‘What the fuck! You guys are fucked up!’ Or ‘You guys need to practice!’ Or ‘I never heard of you before but I’ll buy your shirt–that’s a cool shirt.’
What’s the nicest thing anyone ever said about the band?
When somebody says something extraordinary about your music that you never even realized. Julian Cope kind of went to a deeper level than ‘THESE GUYS FUCKING ROCK! PUT ON A KEGGER! BE FUCKING STOKED–‘
But that’s true, though. You rock.
That’s why I make this music! Fucking kegger jams! But Julian still wrote some stuff that was really insightful. [ED. NOTE: Interviewersince reprimanded for lack of insight.]