Instrumental technical metal trio, El Drugstore (East of the Wall, etc), are currently working on their first full length debut record. The record is tentatively titled Plague Ship and is being eyed for a Spring 2013 release. American Aftermath are here to hook you up with your first taste of new El Drugstore! Below, for your streaming pleasure, is a demo version of their new song “Fascinating Underpants”. The track is full of spiraling licks and jarring rhythms that will melt your measly brain upon listening. Guitarist Kevin Conway describes this track as being one of the more “straight-forward” tracks on the record but trust me when I say it is anything but. Check out this awesome track below! As an added bonus, we have an exclusive interview with guitarist Kevin Conway (ex-East of the Wall) that can be viewed below as well. Check it out nerds!
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH KEVIN CONWAY
Hello Kevin! How are you doing?
KC-I’m well. I’m hunkered down at my parents’ house because my apartment was evacuated thanks to Hurricane Sandy. So I’m here hanging out, eating all of my parents’ food and trying to bide my time by writing music and reading.
Let’s start off with a little background history on El Drugstore. When did this instrumental mind crusher come into being?
KC-I believe we got started in late 2008. At the time I was playing in both East of the Wall and Biclops. I’ve been playing music with Rolando (bass) since we were 10, and he had just moved back from Santiago, Chile, where he had been playing in an awesome free jazz collective called Los Ogros del Swing. We wanted to start a new project together since we hadn’t been able to play together during the 2 years or so he was in South America. Ro had seen me play with Seth (better known as Squid, drums) in Biclops and he expressed interest in the three of us getting together. The first few months of our existence, we were strictly improvising. Ro would usually bring in some sort of “head” that we could use as a jumping off point, and we would just go on half hour long tangents. The other major difference between now and then is that Ro was playing upright bass. I think the plan at the time was that the majority of our music would be strictly improvised, and then we would occasionally comb through the tapes and pick out odds and ends that we liked to turn into more composed pieces. The early stuff sounded like Stinking Lizaveta covering Ornette Coleman. We eventually abandoned that course because we could never get the tones quite right with the upright bass, and we decided we wanted to focus more on composed pieces instead of improvisation.
At the time of El Drugstore’s inception you had other musical projects going on, including East of the Wall. Was it difficult juggling these different projects and how do you think El Drugstore survived during East of the Wall’s growing popularity?
KC-When El Drugstore got started I was playing in East of the Wall and Biclops. At the time Squid was only in Biclops but would join East of the Wall about a year later. Ro was also playing in an awesome trio called Sassafras Spine. Needless to say, getting the three of us in the room at the same time was a challenge. That might have been one of the motivating factors behind not composing a lot of music initially. We would really only get to play once or twice a month, so how can you keep momentum going compositionally when you’re working that way? We solved that problem by focusing on improvisation. As we started to focus more on composed pieces, we all made sacrifices in our personal lives to be able to get in the room more.
Ultimately, the reason we survived is because there has never been an “agenda” in this band. Obviously, we’d like people to hear our music, but we’re very much outside of the machinations of the music industry. We don’t tour. We release our records ourselves. We don’t expect to make a dime. If a song is taking longer to finish than we anticipated, we take as much time as we need because there’s no booking agent breathing down our necks to get back out on the road. This band exists strictly to create music that we find interesting. Anything else that happens, good or bad, is incidental.
I want to take a little detour for a moment since we are on the subject of East of the Wall. You announced your departure from the band earlier this year and I am sure I am not the only one curious about your decision. Could you shed a little light on what drove you towards your departure?
KC-I spent almost 5 years in East of the Wall, and I will always consider it to be one of the most important experiences of my life. We made 3 full length albums and 1 EP that I’m very proud of. I got to travel all over the U.S. and Europe and perform our music for people who legitimately gave a shit about it. I’m very proud of the things that I accomplished with Squid, Brett, Alfie, Beards, Ray and Mike.
That being said, by the end of last year it was clear that my priorities had changed and if I didn’t leave the band I’d be holding them back. I wasn’t particularly interested in being on the road several months a year anymore, and that was a major part of their plans moving forward. I told the guys I was leaving in late January, but I agreed to do the spring tour with Black Tusk/Prong/Intronaut/Hull/Royal Thunder etc. and continue to help work on the new record in the meantime. I played my last show with East of the Wall in Knoxville in early April. I’m a much happier person since I left the band, and I left in a way that allowed me to maintain my friendships with all of the guys and not diminish the way I felt about my experiences with them in any way. Having worked on a good chunk of the next record with them, I’m confident they have great things ahead of them and you’re all going to be very excited about the next record.
Ok, back on topic. El Drugstore released their first set of recorded material in the form of a split EP with A Fucking Elephant last year. Could you tell me a little about what went in to recording that record and how you became associated with Nefarious Industries?
KC-When we were making the transition from improvised to composed material, we decided to record an EP to document the early period of the band. 3 of the tunes that ended up on the EP (Schnurrbart, Shit-Eating Dog Kisses and Slamcart) were songs that Ro wrote at home and brought in sheet music for the guitar and bass parts. Squid composed his own drum parts in the room as I was learning to play the songs. I wrote most of the riffs for Those Arm Rests Are Fire at home and we arranged the song in the room.
We tracked the record live at The Thousand Caves in Queens with Colin from Dysrhythmia. We spent 1 day tracking. I think we did 2 takes of each song and then comped it in big chunks, so what you’re hearing is mostly performed live. I think we may have tracked the improv sections in Slamcart and Shit-Eating Dog Kisses separately so we would have more takes to choose from. I think we spent a few hours the next day doing some overdubs and a couple of guitar doubles, but we kept the majority of the record as just 1 guitar track. Since improv was still a large component of our compositions, we wanted the record to be pretty raw and live sounding.
Nefarious Industries is an idea Ro and I had years ago. We wanted to start the label mostly to release improvised material with a rotating cast of characters. When we first discussed making our EP a split with A Fucking Elephant, we decided to get Greg and Matt involved in the label and it has kind of taken a life of its own since then. In addition to our split, we’ve released awesome records from The DRX, So Is The Tongue, Mount Gomery and Tovarish, plus we have awesome shit coming down the pipeline from Arbogast, Seven Nines and Tens and Pigeon. A Fucking Elephant will be releasing a new EP this winter and we’ll be releasing the new El Drugstore full length this spring. The label has been a very gratifying project for all of us so far since we’ve gotten to work with some many artists that we love and respect.
What was it like working with Dysrhythmia/Behold the Arctopus/Krallice’s Colin Marston?
KC-I’ve worked with Colin on a number of projects and I’m very comfortable working with him. He recorded East of the Wall’s Farmer’s Almanac, and I believe he mixed and mastered the songs from our split with Rosetta and Year of No Light. He also mixed some Biclops demos that ended up becoming songs on Ressentiment and I worked with him on The DRX EP last year. Needless to say, I go back to Colin time and time again for a reason. He is a calming influence during the recording process. He doesn’t try to “produce” your music. He respects your process and assumes you know what your songs should sound like. The only time he really interjects is if something is majorly fucked up or if a take really doesn’t cut it. He works quickly and efficiently. He’s fun to hang out with and he’s way more humble than he should be given what an incredible musician he is. It’s hard for me to say enough good things about working with him. Also, my favorite Thai restaurant in the world delivers to his studio. Lunch at The Thousand Caves is my favorite. Curry puffs and drunk man noodle. Mmmmm. Oh god I’m drooling now.
How is a typical El Drugstore song written? I assume you do a line of cocaine in the bathroom and just start jamming. How close am I?
KC-Not close at all, but it sounds like the songs are coming across the way we’d like them to! As I mentioned before, our early songs were mostly brought into the room as sheet music. We rarely work that way now, but it does happen. Generally speaking, either Ro or I come in with a pile of riffs and the remaining guys write parts to those riffs and we start hammering out arrangements. The creative process in this band is pretty seamless. We all have total confidence in each other and respect each other’s input. We try to keep things as spontaneous as possible. Once the framework is done, it’s done. We might make small alterations but that’s it. If we have to take something apart and reassemble it multiple times, it’s probably not a song we want to have as part of our catalog. Our songs are pictures of little snippets in time. We’re not trying to write something immortal necessarily, we’re trying to capture the essence of a particular moment in time.
El Drugstore is currently working on a new record. What information can you divulge on the upcoming release?
KC-It’s tentatively titled “Plague Ship.” It’ll be out sometime this spring if all goes well, with an extremely limited run of CD’s and a digital release. It’ll have 9 or 10 songs on it depending on how we’re feeling about the finished product. We’re doing pre-production as we speak and will hopefully start recording later this year.
The song that is being debuted along with this interview is Fascinating Underpants. It’s one of the more straight forward songs on the record, but we decided to release it in advance of the record as an appetizer because it demonstrates how the band has evolved since the songs on the A Fucking Elephant split. Hopefully you all enjoy it.
How do you think this record will compare to El Drugstore’s previous material?
KC-I think it’s totally different. I’m not going to say it’s better because the sets of songs are unrelated enough that I don’t think it’s an apples to apples comparison. I think it’s heavier and darker at times compared to the material from the split, but it also maintains that element of physical comedy that tends to run through our songs. These songs still have that “cartoon nightmare on acid” feel that seems to occur when the three of us put our heads together.
Can we expect to see El Drugstore making minds unravel on the road soon?
KC-Probably not. We’ll do some stuff in the Northeast when the record is out, but I don’t know that I’m particularly interested in doing the whole sleep in the van for a month thing right now. We’re pretty comfortable in the fact that this band is never going to be particularly popular. It’s not a goal of ours. That makes touring sort of counterproductive. Plus, I like the idea of making yourself scarce. Look at Neurosis. They never play in the U.S. There’s a mystique to that band because they don’t just trot themselves out there anytime someone throws some money their way. Obviously the difference is that people care about Neurosis and we’re hardly a skidmark on the universe’s underwear, so I doubt people will notice our “mystique.” Whatever, I’m getting old and cranky and I’d rather sit around the house in my underwear instead of living like an animal on the road for a few weeks.
El Drugstore is fairly complex band to say the least. How do you view complexity and technicality in music? What does complexity add to the overall listening experience?
KC-I think technicality is a double-edged sword. It’s a balancing act. I really have a hard time getting into bands where complexity is the main thrust of the music. I prefer music where the technicality is subdued. It adds layers to the listening experience. Let’s take Dysrhyhtmia as an example. The point of a Dysrhythmia record isn’t, “Hey! Look how good we are at playing our instruments!!” That record exists because it’s beautiful and ugly at the same time and you can get lost in it. It’s heavy one minute and then tranquil sounding the next. The music is a journey. The technical nature of the music just adds layers to that experience. The melodic and rhythmic density of the music makes every listening experience unique. You hear something you never noticed before every time you listen to it.
All that being said, I’m almost as likely to enjoy something simple and straight ahead if it’s well crafted. Complexity doesn’t give something value, nor does simplicity remove value. Great songs are great songs. That’s why I’m generally not a fan of the whole “djent” movement. Eventually people will realize that it’s played by a bunch of nu-metal kids who learned to played sweep arpeggios. It’s boring and I don’t care how well they play their instruments.
Were there any bands or albums that influenced you into pursuing this style of technical extreme music?
KC-Dysrhytmia and Stinking Lizaveta were huge influeces to us in providing a template for heavy, complex music that’s still compelling on its own merits. Well after the band was established, Dave and John from Burnt By The Sun introducded us to Breadwinner, and I think that we felt a connection with what they were doing immediately. I think some of our groovier moments are a reflection of our love of The Rollins Band, specifically Weight and Come In And Burn.
We’ve also been very influenced by a lot of jazz artists. I approach a lot of the songs I write for the band like jazz pieces, even though they don’t necessarily sound that way. I like to use some of those jazz structures and use them in an unfamiliar context. People like Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane (mostly the later stuff), Charles Mingus, Rashaan Roland Kirk and Albert Ayler all have all influenced the band in one way or another. I’d actually like to do an EP of jazz covers some day. I think if people heard how we’d interpret those pieces, it’d be more apparent how we process that music it and use it in our own.
How do you think instrumental music compares to music with vocals? Do you believe there is a distinct musical experience instrumental only music can provide?
KC-I like both, but I tend to create instrumental music. I like the subtlety it requires. I think there’s an art to conveying an idea or emotion without speaking. But ultimately, I don’t really like to think of them as separate things. A song either calls for vocals or it doesn’t. I can’t imagine El Drugstore would ever have vocals, but I’d like to think that if there was a moment where vocals were necessary, we would have the good sense to put them in the song. If Don Caballero can have vocals, we certainly could too.
Any final words of wisdom for the readers?
KC-Listen to good music and drink good beer. You’ll probably be pretty happy that way.
Thanks so much for taking the time to do this Kevin! Take care.
KC-Cheers dude. Thanks for your interest in our stupid little band.
Check out El Drugstore on Facebook.
If you’re in the Long Branch, New Jersey area tomorrow night, go check out El Drugstore alongside Dysrhythmia, Loincloth and Sydbarrett at The Brighton Bar. Doors open at 8:30. Entry fee is eight dollars and is eighteen and up only. GO GO GO.