Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Exclusive Interview - Ethan Lee McCarthy (Primitive Man)

This past Friday, Mick and I ventured forth to Chicago's Cobra Lounge, one of the city's truly great, unheralded venues, for one of the most extreme shows we've ever seen.  After a couple stellar craft beers from All-Rise Brewing, we were fortunate enough to bear witness to the heavy ugliness of Denver's Primitive Man and the glacial doom of Seattle's Bell Witch.  I had been set to see both bands before, before being stuck at work and then stuck on my honeymoon, so the show was a culmination of years of waiting.  And I gotta say, it did not disappoint.  Bell Witch was profound, playing the first half of their monstrous track/album Mirror Reaper.  There is a lot of quiet in the album, and it would be easy to lose the audience, but (short of one or two drunkards) Bell Witch held the audience in the palm of their hand, everyone swaying with rapt attention.  As great as Bell Witch was, Primitive Man was the highlight for me.  One of the heaviest, nastiest sets I've ever borne witness to, the trio was louder than they had any right to be, absolutely pummeling their instruments and the audience.  I've seen a fair share of heavy bands at Cobra Lounge, but it wasn't until Friday that I actually worried about the structural integrity of the place.

After the show, though, is when things got real good, as Mick and I had the absolutely delightful opportunity to speak with Ethan Lee McCarthy, the guitarist, lyricist, and vocalist from Primitive Man.  In our chat, we covered the Denver music scene, the best Chicago pizza, and why Kansas City is just fronting about how cool it is.  It was a blast to chat with Ethan, and I hope you enjoy it.  Primitive Man and Bell Witch are on tour now; you really owe it to yourself to see them.

Durf: You guys are currently out on tour with Bell Witch. It’s just a couple dates in but how’s it been so far?

Really good, man. We’ve been friends with those Bell Witch dudes since before Bell Witch was a band. So it’s great to be out here with them. The shows have been great. No complaints.

Durf : You’re touring in support of Caustic, the band’s new full-length album. How has your experience with the fan’s response to the album been?

Also really good; which is nice because to us it sounds a lot different than Scorn. We were afraid that people weren’t going to like it as much, that were letting everyone down by not playing older stuff. I was worried that would alienate the crowd but no one has given a shit. It’s been really positive responses from people who have been listening to us for a while about the record. I’m really thankful for that.

Durf : Like you said, Caustic does sound different from Scorn. There’s a lot more noise elements involved. Was that something you guys planned going into the studio or was it something that happened organically?

Well I’ve been doing noise music for a long time. It was something that we kind of hinted at with Scorn and then we put out this double LP with all that stuff that was on Crown and Throne. We’ve done things in the studio with noise with Primitive Man but never really got to incorporate it live and never really got to do it as much of it on the records as we would’ve liked to. So we wanted to give it more of a presence on this new stuff. It was a deliberate change.

Mick : Do you think that’s the fullest vision of what you imagine Primitive Man being? Do you think that angle is something you’re going to pursue more on in future work?

Definitely. We have some stuff that I can’t exactly announce yet but there are some shows next year that we’ll be doing noise sets instead of our regular set. We’re going to be getting more into that in 2018 in a live setting. We’re not in our final form yet but we’re working on it (laughs).

Durf : One of the things that I’ve always loved about your records is that the album titles and the song titles always match what you’re going to hear. The songs live up to the album titles and the album titles live up to the songs. Which comes first in the creative process for you?

We write music independently of any lyrics. I write all the time and my lyrics come from that. So we’ll do the music and I’ll go through my lyrics. Sometimes I’ll pick some out and I’ll sing them and it won’t feel right so I’ll switch them out. That’s kind of how that shit ends up coming together. Lyrics and titles are the last thing but they definitely have to feel right with the music that we’ve written. I have stacks of stuff that has never used because they didn’t fit the songs.

Durf : I had my next question but I just lost it. So I guess to interlude, I believe you spoke with a buddy of ours a while back. Our buddy Tom said to mention Taylor Ham to you and you’d remember.

Taylor Ham?

Durf : Tom’s this guy from Jersey and he’s always going on about this Taylor Ham.

OH YEAH THAT’S RIGHT!!! (all laugh) He was telling me that when we go there that I have to try it. I really have to find out about that shit because they’re really fanatical about it. I’m glad you mentioned that because I might have forgotten. Yeah, I need to get that goin’.

Durf : Tom and his goddamned obsession with this ham, telling everybody about it...

Well here’s the thing. In Denver we have green chili. Everybody’s always like “oh man you gotta try the green chili, blah blah blah”. It’s the same shit.

Durf : Or deep dish pizza.

Exactly. Always when I come here I either get Lou Malnati’s or Pequod’s. I actually didn’t get to do that today and I’m really sad about that. Everyone wanted to go eat at classier places and I’m like “Fuck that”. Give me the most ignorant-ass pizza you can find, please.

Durf : So talking about Tom and his Taylor Ham just reminded me of that question I lost. It seems like over the last couple years, the Denver scene has been blowing up with bands like you guys, Khemmis, and Dreadnought. We talked with SubRosa a little while ago and they talked about how the Salt Lake City music scene and how it’s so collaborative between everyone. Is your experience with the Denver scene similar?

Yes, in certain groups. But there’s also certain groups that don’t fuck with each other at all. There’s for sure a division between one metal scene and the other. But I throw shows in Denver so for me it’s different because I work with people from everywhere. Generally, though, it is a good community. It’s a little different now because we have a lot of transplants moving in whereas before it was people just growing up with each other. But it’s still good. I would still take Denver’s music scene problems over the problems I’ve heard a lot of other places having.

Durf : You’re from Denver originally?

Yeah, man. Born and raised.

Durf : Do you view the influx of transplants moving in a good thing or a bad thing? Obviously, legal weed is great.

Yeah legal weed is cool. But it does have its disadvantages. We don’t have rent control so shit’s fucking expensive now, not to mention the overcrowding. It’s a different place than it was when I grew up. But when a city grows, you get a better music scene. Ben from Khemmis is from Memphis. Wouldn’t have met him if he didn’t move out. There’s people I’ve met that I’m really thankful for but then there’s also a lot of dipshits that moved here exclusively for weed. They picked up all their shit and moved to Colorado just for weed and I’m like “Nah son. You should have a better reason for coming here. You’re annoying and I wish you would go back to where you came from.” I had a guy, actually from Chicago, a couple weeks ago come to me and be like “Hey man, I just hopped on a bus from Chicago. I got $100 to my name and I’m just looking for a little bit of money to get a bag of weed.” I just looked at him and I was like “Fuck you. You’re out of your mind.” That’s the bad thing but generally it’s cool. I mean, it’s better than living in Wichita, Kansas where there’s nothing so I’ll take it.

Durf : It’s always nice when Kansas can offer some perspective.

What a shithole. There’s not a single place there that doesn’t suck. We always have to drive through there, being from Colorado, and you have to go through Kansas City to get anywhere worth a shit.

Durf : I’m from St. Louis. But Kansas City only looks cool because of everything that’s around it. It is the only cool thing for 200 miles in any direction.

You are so right! Speaking of St. Louis, do you know those guys from Fister?

Durf : Oh yeah.

They’re go friends of ours. Love going to St. Louis to see and play with them.

Durf : They’ve got that new split coming out with CHRCH.

I did the artwork for that. I’m stoked to see a copy of it.

Mick : Is there something about Denver that you would attribute to your band’s sound specifically, or was that more personal for you?

I’ve spent my entire life trying to sound like this with people looking at me like I’m a fucking idiot. It hasn’t really been until the last few years that I feel people have taken it seriously. There’s not another band in our scene that sounds like this so it’s not really a thing.

Mick : What was it then that geared you towards this direction of music?

I’ve always wanted to be the heaviest and most disgusting that there is. I’m just striving to be the most fucked up band that we could be while still expressing the things I want to express. We have a wide variety of really good bands in our city. But bands like Dreadnought holds their specific place in our city, Spectral Voice, Blood Incantation, they have their thing. Khemmis has their thing. No one sounds like any of those bands. Not to talk shit or anything, but if you go to like New Orleans, there are a ton of fucking bands that sound like Soilent Green and Eyehategod which creates this New Orleans sound. But I don’t think “the Denver sound” is a thing. I really think “the Denver sound” is just people doing their thing.

Durf : Well that’s a lot of cooler.

Well it’s like this place (Chicago) man. This place is a hotbed for great bands. I mean, there’s only one Indian. Same idea.

Durf : You guys are definitely some of the harshest/heaviest shit I’ve ever heard. I can’t even listen to the last track on your last EP because it makes me too uncomfortable. I figured that would be a compliment for you.

(laughs) I appreciate that for sure. I know it’s not an easy listen but I feel best when I express things that way. I can acknowledge it’s not easy for people to hear but I don’t know how to do it any other way.

Mick : It is as taxing on you to make the music as you hope it is for people to listen to it?

Sometimes. We will be writing it and by the time we’re done we’ll be really tired. And we’re playing with all this shit at practice that’s super loud so you can feel physically exhausted when we’re done. But we’re used to it at this point.

Durf : You hinted as some things you can’t announce. Anything else coming up soon?

We’ve already started writing new material. We have a lot of touring in support of this record to do. We’re touring a shitload next year. This tour gets done in the middle of November and then the holidays will come and then after that we’ll get back on it. We’d really like to try and put out another record next year, even if it’s just an EP. We’re putting out a split with another band but I can’t say more than that.

Durf : Do you guys ever stop writing music?

Here’s the thing. We’re all best friends so this is just who I hang out with. We don’t like to do anything but smoke weed and play music. This is just what we do for fun and have been fortunate enough to do it in other places. But when John and I started this band, we were just getting together, getting high, laughing, and just writing doom songs. We don’t stop because it’s all we like to do.

Durf : Mick and I just drink Rolling Rock and play NFL Blitz, which is way less cool.

I mean, that’s tight too.

Durf : It is tight. But it’s less tight.

It’s so much cheaper, though. Stick with NFL Blitz (laughs).

Durf : Ethan, thanks so much for your time.

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