BRUTAL TRUTH: GRIND FROM THE HEART
Started in 1990 by bassist Danny Lilker of Anthrax, Nuclear Assault and SOD fame, grindcore legends Brutal Truth are a hurricane of weed smoke, blast beats and skull-crushing riffs. Records like Extreme Conditions Demand Extreme Responses, Need to Control, and Sounds of the Animal Kingdom established the band as among the very best in the genre. A sudden break-up saw the band step away at the peak of their powers and left everyone wondering, but after the better part of decade, Brutal Truth was resurrected for the eyehategod tribute record following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Recently reformed, the band has found a new popularity among fans of extreme music and even released a new record, Evolution Through Revolution. We spoke with Lilker and drummer Rich Hoak about the fundamentals of grindcore: weed, puke and yoga. This interview by Adam Beck.
We seem to live in an age of nostalgia, with every band getting back together with the original lineup and playing their seminal record—even some that put out new records that end up sounding like shit. How is it that Brutal Truth can come back after the better part of a decade and put out two really solid and refreshing records?
Danny Lilker (bass): I guess that really depends on their motivations. Maybe those bands are just lazy and rest on their laurels, and not really put a lot of effort into the shit that they can play. I’m still playing in Nuclear Assault and we’ve intentionally decided not to do a new record because we think that our old thrash stuff is what people want to hear. We did a new record back in 2005 and the outcome wasn’t as good. Going back to Brutal Truth and the quality of our new records compared to other bands who have reformed … we just didn’t want to suck. We don’t think when we write music—we just write music! We fucking get high and turn into robots—I don’t know what to tell you.
How would you say End Time stacks up against some of Brutal Truth’s back catalog? Would you want to compare it to the earlier material like Extreme Conditions? Or Need to Control, which I’ve read isn’t your favorite?
The problem I had with Need To Control is how it came out production-wise. I like the music on it, I think it just sounds a little too dull—there’s not much high-end and brightness on it. Grindcore should be kind of sparkling, you know? With the new stuff, now that we have Eric [Burke, guitar] writing in the band we’ve entered a whole new era. We did go back and write some stuff like Extreme Conditions with evil death metal riffing, but we did it at the speed of Sounds of the Animal Kingdom. In one way it’s brand new and a totally different Brutal Truth, and in another way it’s a mixture of all the old stuff smashed together.
Are you at the point now with End Time that you were right before you broke up—playing so tight you don’t even look at each other?
We always had a natural chemistry, but when we started back up again we had Eric so we had to build up a whole new thing with him. Eric is an amazing guitar player so it didn’t take too long to get that whole cohesive thing going again. As long has you have good monitors and you can hear what is going on onstage, that helps a lot. Some people might think that’s cheating and say, ‘Hey man, be punk rock—just play it loud.’ But when you are playing that chaotically and you want to do it correctly, you have to hear what’s going on, and you can’t do it in a vacuum.
You famously said in a previous interview that ‘we rip off bands and affectionately make it our own.’ Who did you affectionately rip off on End Time?
It didn’t really happen this time—the last time it happened was when we recorded Evolution Through Revolution. Toward the end of recording I was running out of riffs and I was driving around high, listening to classic rock and I would hear a riff from Jimi Hendrix or Yes or Rush and I thought to myself, ‘If I just grinded that riff up, it would be killer.’ It didn’t really happen on End Time because for some reason the creativity just kept rolling through to the end, but on the song ‘Get a Therapist … Spare the World’ on Evolution Through Revolution the main riff—not the crust riff at the beginning, but the part after that—is actually from the song ‘Roundabout’ by Yes. It’s from this part they had in the middle. I’m not sure anyone could peg that, but go ahead and try.
Is weed an essential part of Brutal Truth?
We do like to smoke weed in Brutal Truth … it helps us do what we do. It actually makes us play faster, which I don’t think people understand—because we think we are playing too slow. We might not write the crazy shit we write if we weren’t high when we wrote it.
If someone was brand new to Brutal Truth, where should they start and what should they expect?
What I try to tell people who have not experienced extreme music is to remember there is a macro outside the micro. Meaning that if you hear a really fast beat that you might find puzzling at first—like 1-2-3-4 really fast!—if you sub-divide that and still tap your foot slowly, you’ll understand what we’re doing. We’re not just playing a bunch of noise. What I’m trying to say is get ready for something that you haven’t heard. What we are doing is valid and if you take a big fucking hit of weed you might understand what we are doing. A good place to start is the new one, End Time, because that’s the one I’m most proud of at the moment. There’s no good Brutal Truth record to start a grindcore or metal novice out on. Either way they are just going to go what the fuck is that? … It’s built on a certain meter, and if you sub-divide that meter you can hear the quarter notes instead of the 64th notes.
Every band I know that goes to Japan comes back with a story—what’s your best Japan story?
The first time Brutal Truth went to Japan in 1993, while on tour with SOD, we played a small show at a club in Tokyo and everyone went fucking nuts. Our singer, Kevin [Sharp], puked in a plastic bag onstage … and people were fighting for the bag of puke.
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What’s it like writing the second record since your return? Did you feel less pressure with End Time than you did for Evolution Through Revolution?
Rich Hoak (drums): I have to say it was a lot different. As much as we say we’re totally grinding, we knew with Evolution that we have to not suck. We felt that as we were writing music that there was somebody watching over us. That was the awesome thing about End Time, we did our thing and proved that we didn’t suck on our reunion. With End Time, we didn’t have all the online commentators looking over our shoulders—it was a little bit more free. And when I say free, I mean mentally and spiritually. We are all senior citizens so we write albums—when we sit down to write songs, we write them for a record. When we recorded End Time we completely busted our nut and recorded everything we had, improvised some songs, and even wrote some tunes the night before we went in the smear, and that all goes down at once—it’s a snapshot so there was nothing left. There are bonus tracks on a different release, but there is nothing hidden in the vaults. We put it out and left it hanging there, and we wouldn’t take it back any day! My favorite tracks with Brutal Truth are always the shortest ones. ‘Branded’ was my favorite track on Evolution Through Revolution and ‘Trash’ is my favorite song on End Time. It starts with a four-count bass intro and then the band goes ‘bbbbbbbllllllllaaaaaaaBBBBB!’ I also dig the incredibly slow songs so I can just sit there and beat on the drums and not have to do a whole lot.
I heard that you masterminded the song ‘Control Room,’ which is 15 minutes long.
I’ve always been into making loud crazy noise, and over the last ten years or so I’ve had this transformational, spiritual and harsh solo project called Peacemaker. I’ve always tried to tie in Peacemaker into my other bands—Total Fucking Destruction and Brutal Truth—whenever I can. Brutal Truth has always been a rugged four-way thing, and it’s hard to describe how the division of labor is actually made, but one of the things I love to do in addition to playing drums is to make harsh crazy noise. So during recording I brought in a bunch of tracks that I had been working on—I told the guys, ‘I’ve got this great idea for a song—what can we do with it?’ So Doug [the engineer] and I were able to transfer about twelve or fifteen of these 16-minute tracks onto the computer so we could make a rough mix. I played drums over the top of that in sort of an ebb and flow with the electronics of the mix. Some of the other guys added things like feedback, screaming and farting into the microphone, too. We then sent the whole thing over to Jason Fuller, who did the final mix. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I can make a ‘Control Room’ remix to throw some extra stuff in there. I’d also like to do an extended version that’s about 20 or 22 minutes on a split album. I’m really into that wash of sound thing and that’s why I call Peacemaker transformational harsh noise. The songs are 25 to 35 minutes long so you can sit down at the end of the day and listen to it with your headphones, and then certain frequencies align your brain waves and put you into a state of relaxation. Peace is the victory, you know.
Aren’t you a big yoga guy?
I sort of dropped out of the fitness-yoga lifestyle, but yoga is a practice that you live and I learned a lot from the years I was into it. As far as my drumming, it helped me to sit up straight and build my core strength to keep me up. Through yoga I learned to breathe through my drumming, which also helps me when I do vocals for T.F.D. I used to do an extreme style of yoga called Bikram Style Hot Yoga, which feels like running 50 miles in 5 minutes. Unfortunately, I just don’t have the time to do it anymore but I know how to do the stretches and hold my body so it’s something I still apply all the time. To me yoga and drumming aren’t that different—both are an exercise of mind over body. In both things, I can smoke up, kick back, relax and let my muscle memory do its thing.
Is Bikram Style the one where they lock you in a room and turn the heat up to 110?
Yeah! It’s like the McDonald’s of fascist corporate yoga.
‘.58 Caliber’ is an almost spoken word piece about a Civil War bullet, not a typical grind song. Where did that come from?
That was an improvisational song that I wrote with the drum riffs and wanted to put a bunch of noise on it. When I was recording all of the other drum tracks, Doug and I didn’t know what were going to do with it, so we had Eric and Danny lay down the guitar parts. Finally we had Kevin lay down some vocals. I told Doug to lock him in a room and not let him out until he did vocals on every track that I recorded. Doug is one of those crazy genius types and is really into collecting letters and manuscripts from the 1800s. He is also into collecting Roman and Greek coins that are 2,000 years old and really crazy stuff. In fact, what Kevin is reading on that track is a letter from Doug’s collection written by an army scientist in the Civil War—it discusses the merits of the .58 caliber bullet and its uses.
The eyehategod tribute record after Hurricane Katrina is what brought you guys back from the dead. If a hurricane wiped out the Brutal Truth base camp, what bands would you want on your tribute record?
I’d have to go with bands that would sell a lot of CDs in Walmart. AC/DC, Journey, Blue Oyster Cult, Charlie Daniels Band, KISS, Ozzy Osbourne—with or without Black Sabbath, Lady Gaga, Elton John, and maybe a few others. If it’s going to be a Brutal Truth tribute, let’s have some people on there that are going to sell some CDs and make some serious scratch!
Were you the one behind the Minutemen cover on the last record?
Yeah—I’m a huge Minutemen fan. I saw them play with Hüsker Dü in south Philadelphia back in 1984 and I’ve been a huge fan ever since.
Wow, I’m VERY jealous—what’s your favorite memory from that show?
Being in the mosh pit and being piled on by people. Minutemen weren’t a usual band—people all agreed that they were killer, but they didn’t sound like your usual hardcore band.
We live in an era in which every band is getting back together, playing shows and in some cases even recording new albums. Why is it that most of these albums seem to suck, but Brutal Truth continues to release new music that is both relevant and refreshing to the genre?
I think it’s because we are true fucking grinders that grind from the heart, and we live only to sleep, smoke and grind. That and most other bands that suck are posers. That’s one of the things that was hanging over us when we recorded Evolution Through Revolution—there is nothing I hate more than a bunch of fat old bald dudes up on stage playing a song from 30 years ago. Like watching Iron Butterfly at some casino back in 2008. Brutal Truth has never been a planned-out band. We don’t make a schedule. We get together to smoke weed, drink beer and play music, and see what happens.
Were you involved with the artwork and theme for End Time?
Orion Landen did the album artwork for End Time. He pulled the ideas from Kevin’s lyrics and themes. I’ve done a couple of T-shirts but Sounds was the only cover I did. I do, however, want to officially take credit for the weed scratch ‘n’ sniff card that comes in the deluxe edition of End Time! I was the one who tracked down the company that made those and told Relapse that they must include it!
Were you part of the testing process to confirm how realistic it smells?
There was no testing process that went on. The company that made those will make a scratch ‘n’ sniff for anything! They make ones that smell like oranges, bananas, apples, poop, mold, dead people, zombies—you name it. The company also did advise us to make a scratch ‘n’ sniff card as opposed to just a weed-scented product. Otherwise we would have problems with the mail orders!
Does weed help you play faster? Is it essential to the band when playing live?
It’s part of the whole thing, but Brutal Truth can play whether we smoke or not. Playing the type of music that we do people might think that we have to do pounds and pounds of cocaine, but it’s actually quite the opposite. To be able to play drums as fast as I do, I have to breathe deep and relax. Kicking back is the only way my body can do its thing.
Danny mentioned an incident on tour in Japan involving Kevin and a bag of puke. Have you seen anything even worse?
I’ve seen Kevin vomit a lot so I don’t think I want to talk about that—I might throw up myself. Don’t get me wrong—all that stuff is funny, but for the most part touring is a good experience. People are usually just hanging out, partying, grinding, and I’d much rather hear those stories than the stories of people dying while on tour.
I can’t help but bring the Minutemen up again here—you always hate to hear about those kinds of things happening to bands on the road.
Those kinds of things change history! Imagine if D Boon or Cliff Burton hadn’t died! Imagine what kind of a difference those guys would have made in their bands if they were still around.
I’ve always said someone should make a movie where stoners figure out a way to travel back in time to save Cliff from dying. It could be called This Wouldn’t Happen If Cliff Were Here.
Yeah—Cliff would have beaten the fuck out of Lars sooner or later. He’d punch him out over and over until he went back to Sweden.
BRUTAL TRUTH’S END TIME IS OUT NOW ON RELAPSE.