It’s been a hot damn minute since LA’s Black Sheep Wall released new stuff, but thank the sludge gods Songs for the Enamel Queen will be released this week. Seven tracks of devastating sludge, emotionally heavy post-metal, and earwrecking hardcore is just what the doctor ordered for an hour break to hang all your anger, suffering, insecurities, and just bullshit of the world in general on. And it is a BEAST. I can’t turn away from it, the heaviness, nastiness, delicate intricacies, and deeper dive into what their last album “I’m Going To Kill Myself” eluded to in the experimentation department. I had the chance to ask the band about the new album and the looooong silence between albums, how Covid affected them, their love of longer songs, record labels, upcoming plans for the rest of 2021, and so much more. The band was so amazing with their answers and you can tell they really love what they’re doing and absolutely take it as serious as possible, I’ve got nothing but love for them. Seriously folks, please do yourself a favor and grab a copy of this album from the links contained within. This thing is so damn therapeutic and so damn heavy. GET SOME. NOW. At the same time, read on to see how this all went down.
Ripping the bandaid off; besides Covid and the ongoing world implosion, what the hell was going through your collective minds during the creation process for Songs for the Enamel Queen? (This is one of your deepest, darkest yet most vulnerable feeling albums, hence this inquiry.)
Jackson Thompson: At the beginning phases of writing this album we made the conscious decision to stray away from being heavy for the sake of being heavy. I’m Going to Kill Myself stretched us about as thin as we could manage with exploring the monotony and options of the one note riff and we were looking to create music that was dynamic and emotive. The one note riffs still found their way onto the album, but I suppose we have some identity there we can’t let go of this late in the game. The instrumentals for this album were actually recorded four years ago before we all needed a collective break. Leading up to that break we experienced a lot of frustration and disappointment within and outside of the band. Thankfully we were able to come back together and finish an album we’re all really proud of.
Jason Grissinger: This was the first opportunity I had to write songs with the band and it was an amazing experience. I’ve been in many bands throughout my musical career and these guys are the best musicians I have ever played with, hands down. In my 20+ years of playing bass I’ve never been pushed so hard to stretch my abilities both physically and emotionally and it was amazing to feel that. I think this album has so many different elements than any other BSW album. There’s so much depth and texture to each song. We really spent a lot of time writing and dwelling on these songs to make sure they were the best they could be.
It’s interesting following your arc as a band. From my viewpoint the first two albums were heavy as lead sludge, the last one incorporated a few new things with hardcore and post-metal and this one seems to be the perfect culmination of them all yet with even more experimentation, more of the hardcore edge and more of the post-metal (darker) side. Is this just from maturing as a band and having different viewpoints and experiences or born from not wanting to tread the exact same waters?
Jackson Thompson: There’s a specific space captured on I am God Songs that benefited from the lack of expectations/establishment/whatever that we carry today. We were high school kids in a garage hoping that we could play at the local rec center. That album is hard for me to listen to because I personally (not the band) think I made a lot of errors in the drum writing/playing. That being said, I know it’s part of what makes it special and so I like all of it for that. With No Matter Where it Ends, we were overwhelmed with a burden of a follow up and needing to meet expectations. Writing NMWIE was when I first started to “understand” sludge/post metal rather than just hear it. I was like “Ohhhh, double kicks don’t exactly belong here – we need less fills – this is about guitar tone and the drums only exist as a supporting instrument.” Now I listen to that album and worry I (again not the band) screwed that one up as well because I missed out on a lot of opportunities to be creative. At the same time though, that album has a relentless quality that was exactly what we intended when we wrote it. I’m Going to Kill Myself is the first album of ours that I hear and feel proud that it sounds like me – but that one is weird too! It’s wacky and has a 33 minute song that is pretty much one note. So, to answer your question, I think Songs for the Enamel Queen is both a maturation and a somewhat deliberate ideal to let go of expectations and make music for the sake of music.
Jason Grissinger: With my brother Brandon being the vocalist and previously the bassist, I’ve loved this band since they first started. I’ve seen so much progression and maturation in the music over the years with each album’s release and I think this album showcases the height of that maturity thus far. When we came together to make this album, everyone had really grown and developed their playing style, their techniques, and their musical influences which really drove these songs in the direction they went.
You guys have never shied away from long songs (see “Metallica,” “Flesh Tomb,” “Xiorama”) and your success in this comes from the fact that they’ve never felt as long as they are. Never a dull moment kind of thing. Do you have a particular approach or end goal in mind for the longer tracks or do they just happen organically?
Jackson Thompson: I assure you that these songs feel long to other listeners, but I’m glad they don’t to you! “Metallica” was intentionally the longest song we’ve ever written, but the rest happened organically. Playing at a slow tempo certainly helps!
Jason Grissinger: It was definitely an organic process writing this album. We’d be jamming on a song and then someone would bring in another really cool riff that we just HAD to use. So, the songs really developed into these longer and complex tracks. I think a really great example of that is the song “New Measures of Failure.” We had been jamming on it for a bit and thought the song was complete, until Andrew showed us that awesome clean riff at the end. We knew we just had to make it fit into the song and I think it came out great.
2015 saw the release of I’m Going To Kill Myself (killer album cover by the way) and here we are in 2021, six years later and smack in the midst of a pandemic. Why now? Or, has it been ready to roll and the waiting got to be too much and you just said fuck it, why not?
Jackson Thompson: As I mentioned in a previous question, we’ve had these songs on the backburner for quite some time. We needed a BREAK from the band to enjoy it again. We started talking about finishing the album before the pandemic struck, although I think all the yuckiness of the last year definitely helped us appreciate the band again.
Brandon Gillichbauer: Musically, the songs have been recorded and ready to go since about 2016, but I don’t think I was ready or in the right headspace to finish my part on them. After two failed attempts to put vocals to them (something that would have sounded much more in the vein of “I Am Going to Kill Myself”) the band, as well as myself, needed some time apart. I had made a couple attempts to finish the album lyrically over the next couple of years with no real success. I think the timing just wasn’t right and the wounds from 2016 hadn’t fully healed yet. In 2019, ironically the year of every band from my adolescence coming back, we all sat down together and decided that maybe it was time to finish the album; which really meant it was time for me to get off my ass.
Scott Turner: When it seemed like the album was doomed to just sit on ice I think I posed the idea to just release the instrumentals on the internet for the sake of just getting anything out there. It was at that point that we were able to go back and listen to the album with all the aforementioned wounds being healed and really appreciate it. I think we thought it was too good and that we had put in too much effort to just shit it out on the internet unfinished.
I will say, to the last question, myself and I think a lot of fans will find this album cathartic in the sense of having an outlet to hang all our frustrations, anger, and uncertainty on for an hour and just let go. But to me, that’s always been the draw of your music. How do you process hearing from fans that your music has helped them through, or deal, with life in general?
Jackson Thompson: It’s hard to answer this one without coming off really sappy, but it honestly means the world to me. There have been a lot of rewarding things about the band, but nothing as much as when someone tells us they’ve really connected to the music. Most people we know personally do not like our band at all, and who can blame them? I get it. When fans have reached out and told us that our music helped them through something, it’s among the most intimate experiences I’ve had. We put our hearts into the music and when someone “gets it,” it’s kind of like they understand a piece of us as people that I feel is denied otherwise. Truly, I am overwhelmed with gratitude that anyone wants to listen to something I do for fun with my friends. There’s a part of me that almost can’t cope with the idea that some people hold our band to such a personal degree, and yet I completely disregard that notion when I think about who those bands are for me.
Jason Grissinger: I joined the band in 2015 and played bass up until I recently moved to Texas. I’d say that in that time, I’ve never felt more love and respect from the fans than any other band I’ve played in. Most of my musical career was in rock bands, playing LA venues to “fans” who were just there to look cool in the scene and couldn’t give a shit about your songs. Joining this band changed all that and my perspective on what fans really are and how much the music means to them. BSW brings so much emotion in the music and people really gravitate towards that and feel like they’re a part of something. On our tour in 2015, we met some of the most dedicated BSW fans. That really showed me what this band means to people and the emotion that holds us all together. I was so excited to be a part of that. I still remember the first show I played with BSW. At that time they didn’t have a bass player and they had an upcoming show, so I told them I could fill in on bass for the show. That night someone approached me and thanked me for filling in and for my dedication to the scene and the band. They said BSW meant everything to them and they were so excited to see us play. That moment really made me realize how much this band meant to everyone and I had to be a part of it.
My eyebrow raised a bit when I read ‘sludgecore’ in the promo materials but it’s amazing at how close that actually is here and how great it works. Drop the sludge out and you’ve still got a hardcore album and vice-versa for the opposite direction. How did you strike this perfect balance?
Jackson Thompson: That’s Scott’s writing style. It’s what he does. I think he did it by accident.
Scott Turner: I wouldn’t necessarily call it an accident. It’s really just an amalgamation of influences. Hardcore has always been a thread in my life ever since I was introduced to it and while it’s not at the forefront of my listening habits these days I think I’ll always be a “hardcore kid” at heart. It was actually Daniel from Admiral Angry and Brandon who were the first people to introduce me to more extreme music like death metal, grind, etc. and that led me down the path to find some of those “thinking-person’s” bands like Cult of Luna and Neurosis. All that to say, I think drawing influence from bands like Coalesce, Deftones, Sleep, etc. at the same time leaves us with our style!
And then you’ve got a track like “Ren” when the acoustic guitar takes front and center and then horns! All the while, caustic vocals are driving the extremely dark mood surrounding the otherwise serene and somewhat experimental music. And this happens many times throughout, not just here. What was the thought process behind including these moments on this album?
Jackson Thompson: I think these kinds of parts are necessary if you want to avoid the monotonous nature of an album like No Matter Where it Ends. There’s definitely a time and place for that, so I don’t mean it as a diss, but it’s just not what we were going for this time around. I think they help break up the album and make the whole thing more listenable.
Jason Grissinger: I think these moments really highlight the maturity and growth of all of us as musicians. Growing up I always wanted to play the heaviest music possible. But as you become influenced by other styles of music and playing you realize it’s not always the one note riffs that make things heavy…and it doesn’t always have to be heavy. Sometimes it’s the lack of heaviness and sonic space that makes it heavy. For me, there was so much excitement in writing those parts on our new album, because they were different yet perfectly fitting.
I gotta say, the combination of “Mr. Gone” and “Prayer Sheet for Wound and Nail” is the heaviest thing in your discography. And that’s not something I say easily as a fan. It’s like “Mr. Gone” is the missile strike and “Prayer Sheet” is the fallout, and that track slays me everytime I spin this album. What’s the backstory on these tracks, and how did they come to be, particularly “Prayer Sheet”?
Jackson Thompson: Quite the compliment – thanks! “Mr. Gone” is definitely a special one for us because we have almost every past and current member of Black Sheep Wall on the same track. Everyone has their own thing happening, and in reading the lyrics you get a little bit of everyone’s writing style as five different people contributed to the lyrics on this track. There’s both a jarring disjointedness and eerie cohesion of all of them together. The transition from Trae’s vocals to Jeff’s vocals is among my favorite moments on the entire record.
Brandon Gillichbauer: “Prayer Sheet for Wound and Nail,” which is my personal favorite, was the first song I began to tackle lyrically after the hiatus. If I could put myself back in the headspace during the writing process, I remember thinking this was the most intimidating track. I knew the story I wanted to tell and I knew if I could nail this one down then the rest of the album would fall in line. It may be the most honest and vulnerable song on the album for that reason, and it needed to set the tone of being honest with myself regarding the subject matter of this album. In some weird way, in my mind, everything else hinged on this one track.
Jason Grissinger: “Prayer Sheet for Wound and Nail” was the first song I wrote with the band, and it was a very exciting experience. When we talked about writing new songs I thought it was going to be what you’d expect from a BSW album; super heavy and long riffs. But when Scott played me the opening riff, I realized then that this album was going to be different. There would be more space for us to develop these textures and add a different complexity to the songs than on previous albums. Whenever I listen to this song it really brings up such a strong emotion and I feel that excitement all over again.
From an emotional standpoint (I know, “it’s metal – no emotions!”), the amalgamation of musical choices here, lyrics, and intensity make this scarring to dig into and I don’t mean that negatively. Like I said before, it’s cathartic hanging our emotions on this album but getting under the hood and really sitting with this thing pulls out some true darkness. You can clearly hear some pain and just overall ‘fuck everything’ loud and clear. Is a new album for you an outlet or do you collectively set out to be as unsettling as possible?
Jackson Thompson: I know I already answered “it’s both” on a previous question, but I think this applies in part again here. Playing the music we play helps me feel balanced, like I have a place for the darkest parts of myself. But I honestly live a really privileged life and have an abundance to be grateful for. At least in my mind, this doesn’t make what we do any less authentic. I feel like some version of a balanced person because I have this band and music in general. There’s definitely compartmentalization happening, but that exists in almost every social context as far as I’m concerned. We’re not the same people with our families as we are with our friends as we are at our jobs etc. The pain in Black Sheep Wall is very real, but it is also a choice. Like, I don’t think we’ll ever write a happy song. And I know I said it’s both, but trust me, we could be more unsettling if that was the end goal.
Brandon Gillichbauer: It’s really a double edged blade. Writing and recording is definitely an outlet for me, but at the same time it’s also a lot of stress for me. During the writing process of this album in particular there were definitely low points of frustration and depression, dealing with writer’s block, and feeling that everything I was putting into it was yielding a result that frankly came off as immature or whiney. I spent a lot of time rewriting, rereading, and honestly hating myself. I think those are the parts of making an album that people forget about; the hell you sometimes impose on yourself. At the same time, when something lands exactly the way you want it to, with the right punch, there is no better feeling.
How did the deal with Silent Pendulum come about and how has that relationship been so far?
Jackson Thompson: The relationship has been stellar. They get us and offer us complete freedom and control. Love love LOVE them. Honestly, it’s kind of one of those too cool to be true type of scenarios.
Andrew Hulle: Our relationship with Silent Pendulum Records came about in a really cool way, actually. The owner of Silent Pendulum, Michael, is also the drummer for a handful of really great bands – one being The Number Twelve Looks Like You. We were connected by a mutual friend at a Number Twelve show in Los Angeles and remained in contact afterwards. It was really flattering when I found out that he not only enjoyed our music, but also wanted to press our debut album “I Am God Songs” on vinyl for the first time. Our band/label relationship grew from there and it was an obvious choice to release “Songs for the Enamel Queen” with him. Like Jackson said, it really feels too cool to be true and we’re incredibly grateful to be able to work with someone like Michael. It’s also worth mentioning that the person that does the designs and mock ups for Silent Pendulum Records, Taylor Bates, is also an enormous pleasure to work with.
There’s also Evil Greed who will be doing an EU vinyl variant of this album and offering back catalog as well. How did that come about?
Jackson Thompson: Michael from Silent Pendulum hooked this up! Thank you Michael! We also have the tape for “Songs for the Enamel Queen” coming out on Sludgelord Records.
Andrew Hulle: Yep! He teamed up with Evil Greed for EU distribution, which coincided with the announcement of our new album. They also did EU variants for some of our merch items too!
You were on Season of Mist for three albums, was it time for a change or just the way it rolls in the label world?
Jackson Thompson: Season of Mist is a great label with great bands. We’re really grateful they had us on for as long as they did. I don’t want to speak for them but I think they were hoping to see us break out of the very specific niche of people that like our music – that never quite happened, and it’s of no fault of their own. We don’t have the means to tour or be as active as a large portion of their roster. It’s all good! We have Silent Pendulum who I think really gets our niche and our thing.
Scott Turner: I feel that a band like ours that didn’t hold up our end of the bargain when it came to touring just gets chewed up and spit out by the gears of a label the size of Season of Mist. Like Jackson said, we’re grateful for everything they did for us, but we didn’t do ourselves any favors. Looking back on it now, a record like “I’m Going To Kill Myself,” which fiscally was a “financial disaster” for Season of Mist, probably needed some more tender, love and care when it came to marketing. Working with a label like Silent Pendulum now really puts into perspective what is possible when you work in tandem and are in constant communication, which is a luxury we’re afforded by not having to compete for attention with so many bands on roster like Season’s has.
You’ve toured with some amazing bands in your career. If touring was happening right now, what would be your dream line up to team with? Flip side of the coin, what line up would offer the biggest kinship to what this specific album has to offer?
Jackson Thompson: I’d put playing alongside Cult of Luna on my bucket list if I didn’t think I’d die sorely disappointed. They’re absolute heroes of mine. As far as kinship goes, I think Throes, Frontierer, and Pound are part of a similar circle. All killer bands as well.
Brandon Gillichbauer: My dream lineup would probably be the worst tour for us as I would just pick bands I would want to watch every night. That being said, I would love to put ourselves on a tour bill with Clipping and Daughters. I think that could work for both the fans and for my selfish ass. The flipside to your question I would probably have to say Pound and Remote Viewing.
Andrew Hulle: Totally agree with Cult of Luna being included on my dream line up. I’d also include Indian, Wake, and Bongripper…Loudest. Tour. Ever. For the kinship lineup, I think Pound, Steaksauce Mustache, and The Number Twelve Looks Like You would make for a ridiculously fun tour.
Scott Turner: Daughters and Cult of Luna for sure are bucket lists ones for sure. Would love to play with Neurosis but I think I’d be too intimidated. Another bucket list band, but one I think falls into the kinship category would be a band like Zao who have a new album coming out and feels like they still have so much to say. Also a band like Frontierer who also have a new album coming out this year.
Beyond the album’s release, any plans you can talk about for down the road this year? I know things are uncertain but any placeholders? Livestreams?
Jackson Thompson: It’s been a wild year and one of us recently had a baby. Three of us are engaged to be married within the next year. We have a lot of life to attend to. We’ll get to it though! Just a lot to sort out.
Brandon Gillichbauer: We have a few things in the works and some ideas buzzing around. Nothing is certain but I guarantee it won’t be another 6 years before you see us again.
Many thanks for taking the time to do this! Any last minute plugs, thoughts…anything at all feel free to put it here.
We have other musical projects!
Rowsdower (Brandon and one former member of Black Sheep Wall. PLUS the drummer of Admiral Angry) – heavy doom/sludge.
Benoit (Juan and Jackson) – progressive hardcore. We’re tracking a new album right now.
Black Cock (Juan) – hardcore.
Joy (Jackson) – sad solo piano stuff.
THANK YOU! We appreciate the opportunity to do this.
Many thanks to Black Sheep Wall for their time!