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Lightning Bolt: An Interview With Brian Chippendale

Lightning Bolt

Lightning Bolt is a two-piece band from Providence, Rhode Island. In the past 12 years, Brian Chippendale (drums) and Brian Gibson (guitar) have released four chaotic, spazzy art-metal albums that are only metal in the loosest way. Lightning Bolt songs are like crazy, wounded wildcats: dangerous and unpredictable, with jagged claws and scary fury (and speed and beauty). The band, which sprang from the vibrant Providence/Rhode Island School of Design noise scene, has a new album, called Earthly Delights (Load Records). As with previous efforts, Chippendale drums, grunts and yowls into the microphone, and Gibson juggles picks, strums, chords, effects pedals and feedback. (Their former third member, Hisham Bharoocha, now fronts the fantastic Soft Circle.) On Earthly Delights, however, the band has discovered the glory of hypnotic mantras, stretching the frenzied bursts with repetitive passages. “Transmissionary,” the 12-minute capper, is one of the year’s best rock songs.

Chippendale is also a respected visual artist. His hardcover comic Ninja is nearly the size of a flat screen, and the artist fills these broadsheets with intricate and chaotic patterns and worlds. Each page looks like the scribbles of a madman — or a 6-year-old boy — until you examine the underlying order, the meandering narrative pictographs and odd, funny personality at their heart. In anticipation of their appearance at this weekend’s FYF Fest, West Coast Sound caught up with Chippendale via telephone at his Providence studio/living space, Fort Thunder. (Check out LAWeekly.com for a full transcript of this interview.)

Do you include lyric sheets with your releases?

The last one had maybe a paragraph or two, and this one just sort of has one big, long paragraph of lyrics.

What do you mean, a paragraph of lyrics?

Yeah, what does that mean? I guess there’s not a ton, but there is more than a sentence. Basically, one song, called “Funny Farm,” has lyrics, and when we played it, I actually had a lyric sheet sitting there, and I was singing — for the most part — those lyrics. A lot of the songs, I kind of just wing it. I’m making sounds that sort of sound like words. I actually tried to transcribe a few of those into the lyric sheet. But I don’t focus too much on it.

What’s the point of lyrics when you can’t actually hear the words?

Yeah, that’s kind of true. What is the point? [Laughs] I think the one point is, when you’re a kid — I remember buying records and reading the lyrics and singing along, and also you’re singing along whether you actually understand the words. You’re singing along to the sounds. I like the idea of lyrics, and I would be kinda happy to have lyrics that would still be unintelligible, but once you learn them, you could make them out. But lyrics are a very hard thing to apply to Lightning Bolt, partially because the shows are so intense. I stick to the songs about 90 percent, but there are always little things that change within the songs, and I think lyrics — and it might just be my personal grasp of words — but lyrics are more rigid than the music, so then, therefore, if I attach those lyrics to it, it sort of stiffens the whole song, for our kind of music, at least. We’re not a band with a poet in the front. We’re making music where we like to have a human voice present.

Why did you call your record Earthly Delights?

Oh, God. Because, of the 60 names, that’s the one we both agreed on. That’s basically it.

You went to RISD. You have to have a better answer than that.

Come on, that’s what they teach you at RISD. They teach you to shit something out and stand by it. But there were a few criteria. We feel like this record — we thought, Should we just go for a whole different kind of name, something separate from what we’ve been doing? Our names kind of have a certain ring to them for the last three — I guess the main four. How many albums do we have? This is technically our fifth, but this is the fourth in our “well-recorded series” or something. They’ve all had names that — you’ve got “sky,” “mountain,” “rainbows.” There’s been some sort of nature element in there.

I’m actually very excited about the artwork for this one. I think it’s the best stuff I’ve ever done for one of the records. My stuff tends to be really full of color, no white space at all, but the new one has a lot of white space, which makes it feel really energized. I’ve been kind of getting into white space suddenly, out of the blue. The new one is basically drawn with marker. I drew some scribbles and flowers and nature elements with Sharpies and different kinds of markers on white paper, maybe a little bit of crayon, and there are some prints, and I took all that stuff and I collaged it into these sort of abstract landscapes ... kind of. And the record’s going to be a gatefold. We’d never done that before. For the last one we just shoved two LPs in like a thicker, normal single sleeve. But this time I was, like, “I really want to see this art folded out.” I focused and made six unique pieces for each surface you’ll see: Two on the inside and the cover and the back, and there’s an insert in the LP. It’s white, and it’s pretty busy, but it’s kind of beautiful in a way.

Lightning Bolt performs as part of the FYF Fest at the L.A. State Historic Park downtown on Saturday, September 5.