Death Grips come from this planet—or at least they are passing through Sacramento right now—but their music comes from other worlds and other futures, or maybe the one exact night in 1987 when a guy in a Max Headroom mask took over Chicago’s television airwaves for 90 seconds of high-volume high-contrast media hijacking. (Nowadays they call it a “broadcast intrusion,” which seems like a particularly Death Gripped concept.) Last year’s Ex-Military was a fearsome album—beats sourced from several banned records, lyrics about life in the edge cities with shout-outs to the Minutemen and time travel. Newly signed to Epic, Death Grips made a truly heroic effort to answer these e-mail questions from L.A. RECORD. Their new album is out now and they are righteous. This interview by Rebecca Haithcoat and Chris Ziegler.
Where are you now? What’s the scene?
We are at our spot in Oak Park, which is a neighborhood in Sacramento, California. This is where we record all of our albums and practice. The windows are barred. Outside there are constantly young kids, prostitutes, law students, addicts and the police. There are a lot of trees here, a church, an apartment building and government housing across the street. Around the way is McGeorge Law School and the Wonder Bread factory. The people on our block are chill and they always say how they love the music. We throw our bottles and cans out front and they are gone within minutes. People always knock on the door and ask to watch us rehearse or for cigarettes … including the people involved in what is perceived as lower level activity and the police.
What’s the most comically ugly building in Sacramento?
There is the Ziggurat building in Sacramento, it is designed like a giant stepped pyramid. It’s an amazing building, it used to be the headquarters of a loan company called the Money Store.
Who were you before you were Death Grips? I ask because I just interviewed V. Vale of the punk zine Search and Destroy and Re/Search publications, and when I asked him the same question, he said, ‘Nothing! You only become yourself by doing!’ Do you think he’s right?
We’ve always been Death Grips in the same way that we are always on the brink of becoming Death Grips.
Death Grips are kind of ‘mysterious,’ at least by the overexposed standards of 2012. Why have Death Grips chosen not to break into the usual press cycle/internet-ism of like, ‘Hey! MC Ride from Death Grips is gonna list his Ten Guiltiest Guilty Pleasures!’ You’re obviously making sure you have some control over your image …
That’s been intuitive more than anything else. Our focus is in maintaining the purity of what we’re doing creatively, keeping the work speaking for itself. We’re music heads, and as fans, it’s often disappointing seeing the artists you respect morph into some kind of talking head—doing underwhelming things that they don’t need to be doing.
In one interview, you discussed ‘masochism by information.’ In my life, I’ve seen the term go from ‘information overload’ to ‘information panic,’ and now you introduce ‘information masochism.’ What is this process you’re trying to describe?
The process we’re trying to describe is acceleration. We see all things spiraling to a point where the elements of chaos become uncontrollable; systems shattering. We continually reference this in our art—our processes are designed to malfunction, that’s how we get really interesting sounds. We build songs out of those failures.
What kind of things happen once your own art has been poured into the information stream?
The art becomes someone else’s and mutates infinitely, like a feedback loop. The hope is that it’s enhancing reality for the people connecting with it, like it does ours while we’re making it.
I found a quote from Flatlander saying, ‘Music is the dumpster that we throw that trash into and other people dig around in there for things that they can use or relate to. We all dig for the trash.’ What kind of value is there in something that’s been thrown out?
This was similar to our concept for Black Google: transformation through deconstruction. The value is in the connection being made by recreating with what someone else has discarded. Beyond that, the outcome is subjective. We’d agree that pure energy (specifically within the self) starts on the base level—unrefined—then rises up to the top and trickles back down to start over, or is left for someone else to start over with.
You told someone your influences are ‘poverty and bass.’ So let me ask this: Whose poverty? And whose bass?
Our own poverty and bass, naturally, and how we relate with others, experiencing those things. Bass meaning movement and physical sensation, sexuality. Poverty meaning deficiencies in your quality of life and setbacks based on the natural hands you’re being dealt.
What was the worst environment you were ever high in, and how did you manage to leave?
It wasn’t a bad environment, but the day we signed in L.A.’s office, [drummer] Zach [Hill] was so smoked out that the gum fell out of his mouth on his hoodie and it took him a few minutes to even notice. Someone handed him a kleenex or whatever. As far as being high as fuck in negative environments, there’s too many times to mention.
What’s the most terrifying nightmare you’ve ever had?
Collectively, we find life experiences much more frightening than any of our dreams. However, there is a reoccurring dream we’ve all shared that is a sensation more than anything, and it’s physically non-human. It’s a dream where you have to push and you are a mass trying to acquire momentum … It’s a feeling and highly intuitive—not painful, but not entirely pleasant. It’s transitional.
You’ve got that new record about to come out on Epic. What musicians do you think made the most of being on a major label —took those resources and reached out and did something you feel is important?
Lady Gaga is an example of making the most out of going major with universally positive results. The way she’s inspired people to embrace themselves as individuals in an age of such gross conformity and harsh ignorance is admirable. We don’t see things as major this, minor this—that’s a very narrow and naive scope. We are street people, jungle people, digital people going on instinct, experience and energy. We operate on our own judgment of vibe and character. Our interest is in building our own vision—that no one’s fucking with. In November last year, we went to meet with Epic at the Sony offices in Los Angeles. To give you an idea of our initial expectations, Stefan [Burnett, vocals] had graffiti’d the fuck out of their bathroom before the meeting even started. We were genuinely surprised … they had the most legitimate human energy and understanding of what we were doing and what we can do of anyone we’d encountered on that level—we signed with them that same day. We’re a new group, but already we’ve met a lot of people on this path calling themselves ‘independents,’ ‘major,’ whatever. It’s unsettling how many of them are transparently sick and fucked-off in the head in all these worlds. It’s all disturbingly very similar.
DEATH GRIPS’ THE MONEY STORE IS OUT NOW ON EPIC. VISIT DEATH GRIPS AT THIRDWORLDS.NET.