Repulsion are nothing short of titanic. On record they remain a standard despite generations of tweaks to their ubiquitous sound, the effortlessness and disregard for musical boundaries rarely found anywhere else. On stage they are superhuman; catapulted into our time, seemingly unchanged, they are a perfect snapshot of fantastical grindcore.
At the inaugural Temples Festival in Bristol, framed against dozens of younger bands, they still stand out as gargantuan.
Shortly before their set, bassist and vocalist Scott Carlson (also of mourned doom pioneers Cathedral) spoke to us about the influence of the internet on experiencing music, the current state of grindcore and the importance of the UK’s extreme metal…
Thanks for taking the time to come and have a chat! Firstly there was a huge buzz about you guys when you were announced for Temples Festival – everyone was over the moon. How do you guys feel about playing things like this considering that a large part of the music here was founded on an influence you guys forged?
Well we’re always happy to play a metal festival or any sort of music festival we get to see a lot of other bands and friends. We’ve done a lot of headlining shows too; those are great. Music festivals always have a real energy and excitement from the fans and the musicians. It’s always great!
Anyone here you’re particularly looking forward to seeing?
Well I just watched Beastmilk and they were fantastic. I saw a lot of great bands on Friday as well, Friday was pretty stellar. Blood Ceremony and Satan’s Satyrs I really liked a lot.
Did you catch Brutal Truth’s last UK show?
Oh! Yes, I’d be remiss not to mention that I watched the entire Brutal Truth set, it was great, fantastic.
Certainly for this part of the country this is a big grindcore event, especially with you guys and Brutal Truth.
Yeah they really tore it up and they’re not young men anymore, they’re trying really hard; they left right after the show to go to Neurotic Deathfest. They’re pushing hard! [laughs]
I really like that he’s (Dan Lilker) taking the time out to concentrate on studio stuff. I respect that he’s taken that decision.
Yeah definitely. You can’t do it forever I suppose – I mean look at Lemmy, he’s getting to the point where he can’t do it anymore. Maybe that goes to show that you can’t do it forever especially when you’re doing it hard like extreme metal bands are. Motörhead certainly perform at an extreme level all the time so maybe if you’re just up there strumming on your guitar you can go forever but when your show is part physical after a while your body can’t do it anymore like an athlete. There’s some athletics to singing really hard and playing really hard.
Is there anything you particularly enjoy about playing the UK? I remember there was a London show a couple of years ago that had a big buzz about it.
Well because most of our heroes came from here – Judas Priest, Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden or Discharge and GBH and Amebix – a lot of our major influences came from the UK and when we were kids it just seemed like the greatest place ever because heavy metal came from here, so it just an honour to play in the UK. I’ve been coming here a long time [as] I’ve played with Cathedral. It feels like a second home. Good beer by the way too! [laughs]
Had a band from Finland yesterday who weren’t impressed by the beer! I think there’s an attitude at the moment for very extreme music in the UK as Carcass have come back. Napalm Death are always doing things too.
They’re like the standard bearers for that sort of thing.
Their performance is always fantastic! With regards to a festival with a lot of bands with a very retro style – I mean Blood Ceremony have very obvious links to Jethro Tull and Black Sabbath – do you see a lot of new bands with very obvious Repulsion influences?
That’s really hard for me to pick out – I met Matt [Beastmilk singer] and he told me he’s a fan of Repulsion.
People’s musical tastes these days are way more diverse. If you went to a death metal festival 20 or 15 years ago I would say that most people there would be into nothing other than death metal and you wouldn’t be able to mix in bands like Beastmilk and Blood Ceremony, even Satan’s Satyrs which is more like a nasty garage rock sound. You wouldn’t really have such as smooth crossover between those bands but now…
I’m sure that the internet has something to do with it. People’s musical tastes have expanded, y’know. If you’re into metal and your friends are into metal you’re only gonna hear metal – that’s how it used to be when you couldn’t just hear anything. If you saw an article about a band in a magazine the only way to hear them was to buy something by them or hope they might get played on the radio. You didn’t have the opportunity to instantly access them and sample something. Now people are able to be turned on way quicker and by way more things – I saw kids downstairs when Beastmilk were playing with death metal patches on their jackets and they were dancing around with their eyes closed like they were at a goth club so… [laughs]
I’ve seen people wearing Jay Z shirts! It’s a big mix, especially with bands like Neurosis earlier who obviously have the punk influence but also have a big ambience. The amount of information the internet generates is phenomenal – you can learn the whole history of a band very quickly.
It’s very easy to become an expert these days.
Absolutely, I think a lot of people take that for granted.
Certainly, and it’s just ingrained in society and now it’s almost like you don’t have to learn anymore – if someone asks you a question the answer is just a click away so there’s not that need to store all this information in your brain anymore. Which is kinda scary! [laughs]
How do you guys warm up before a performance?
Matt [Olivo, guitarist] likes to take his guitar to warm up before a performance. He’s an incredible guitar player and he plays really, really fast – faster than most grindcore players. So he likes to play for 15-20 minutes and warm up, I think a lot of guitar players do that. I walk up cold, I might play my bass for a bit beforehand. I don’t scream or yell – I heard a guy earlier who was warming his voice up with growls backstage but I don’t normally do that, I tend to use that first song to get ready.
I heard some vocalists drink tea before they go on which might not be a very death metal thing to do
The band Impetigo from Illinois, Stevo, used to drink chocolate milk before he went on stage to fill his throat with phlegm!
That is quite death metal! Cool, so what kind of stuff are you listening to at the moment?
What have I been listening to…
I always get stumped whenever anyone asks me this!
Yeah I know! I listen to In Solitude a lot, I listen to old Celtic Frost records, I like a lot of psychedelic prog records from the 60s and 70s, I love Blood Ceremony and Uncle Acid and Electric Wizard. I like doom a lot ever since I heard Cathedral’s first album, I guess I never heard doom metal or doom before – I always loved Black Sabbath growing up so when I heard Cathedral I was blown away so that kind of music that they influenced has stuck with me for a long time. I don’t listen to much death metal these days I guess maybe because I play death metal it’s a little too close. I love all kinds of music. So new bands – I love the Beastmilk record, I love the In Solitude record. I buy new records all the time.
So you’d say there was a healthy schedule of new releases?
Yeah there’s a lot of good bands. Maybe not all the most original bands in the world – it’s a cliché but everything’s kinda been done. All you can do these days is do it well; do it from the heart and you can tell the bullshit from the good stuff!
Is there anything recently that’s particularly grabbed your attention that you think might be particularly well received in 10-20 years time? Bearing in mind the history of Horrified?
I don’t know… not that I was aware of it at the time, but I don’t hear bands now that are doing something so out there and extreme. I used to hear a lot of bands who were extreme and cutting edge and you don’t really hear cutting edge bands now – you just hear good bands. It’s different now. You don’t get tonnes of bands who are cutting edge. So it’d hard to think of things that might be huge in 10-20 years – I never would have thought that was gonna happen with our band, I figured when we broke up we would have been forgotten. I can’t remember the last time I thought people in 20 years would dig this – that’s a tough one.
Going back to what were discussing earlier – in a way maybe the volume and availability of new releases devalues new stuff. You can listen to all the metal that came out in a week in an afternoon –
And make a snap judgment! When I was a kid and I wasn’t so into [a new release] the first time I listened to it I would try to like it because I just spent my hard-earned money on it to see if there’s something of quality to it – sometimes if you listen to it over and over again you end up loving it and sometimes you never do end up liking it but now if you ever do end up listening to something and it doesn’t grab you right away you can just chuck it! Just pass on it. It’s very difficult for bands now to make a lasting impression because there are so many bands. I’m sure you hear this from other people – so many choices that it’s difficult to make a mark.
What would be your ideal environment for listening to a release?
Uh – my car is a good place. I’m in my car by myself – in America we drive everywhere ‘cos in LA it can take you 30 minutes to go five miles sometimes. It’s like having music in your car is good it helps pass the time. I can really listen to something and absorb it in my car.
A lot of people have said that vinyl is their ideal way of experiencing new music too.
Well I am a vinyl junkie! I’ve been buying records since I was eight, my whole house is consumed with records. Yes that’s the ideal way to listen to music when I’m at home. Sometimes I DJ with my friends at a metal club in LA so I play all my records there; I listen to the download cards in my car.
Quick detour – what is the state of your tour bus?
We don’t have a tour bus! We rented a tour bus to drive from the airport. That’s probably still immaculate! Most of our gigs are fly-ins – we play mostly festivals. We don’t have any albums to promote or anything like that. So our tour bus is a 747 with coach seating! [laughs]
Have you guys been working on anything else outside of Repulsion?
Yeah I definitely jam here and there Matt’s got a million projects and he’s collaborating with a load of people right now. He’s got a lot of different styles of heavy music. I have tons of idea I just don’t have a band the last few years there’ve been a lot of gigs and I made an album with Cathedral – we toured before the album came out so now I can get busy with something new.
Cool! When you released Horrified was there a sense that people would take to it or were you expecting opposition?
The sense was more like a real invasion! You could see it on people’s faces – when we did play gigs most of the audience that weren’t our friends were wondering what we were doing. We got a load of confused audience members who didn’t understand the speed or the drumming or the vocals – it didn’t make much sense to most people so we didn’t have many hardcore fans at our early shows, mostly just friends. We were aware that what we were doing wasn’t catching on [laughs].
Considering your status now did anything particularly ridiculous happen at the early shows?
We went to Detroit to play gigs as it was a much bigger city and like five people would show up! That was like an hour away. There we had friends who would show up. If we played beyond that no-one would show up.
I saw a video of Great White recently who played to about ten people…
Oh that’s brutal, are there even ten? At the football game – I saw that, I did feel for them.
Definitely a Spinal Tap moment.
With your live shows is there an approach to how you’ll plan it – will there be breaks or is it more improvised?
No, I’ll talk to the audience when I feel like it. Our shows are really loose in that way, we grew up playing at punk rock gigs and we’ve never really had the stage banter, yelling at the audience in my death metal voice or shit like that. I speak to people in my regular speaking voice and I don’t know any other way to do it. It works for other people, I’ve seen bands do it where they growl between songs and it works but I have to be myself out there. That’s how the band operates y’know our songs are all fantastical about gore or nuclear war or shit like that. We’re very unpretentious as far as our delivery goes, we just get up there and play.
Are there any parts of the set that people get particularly into?
People love Black Breath as it’s a little slower and they can actually mosh to it as opposed to the grindcore where you just flail away – a lot of people probably still can’t figure out what’s going on! But, uh, songs like Maggots in your Coffin are like a hit if you know what I mean. Uh, Radiation Sickness, Festering Boils… [laughs] It’s kinda funny cos we’re known for inventing this fast style of music but the songs that people react to the most are the slower ones – go figure!
Do you have any favourite lyrics from Horrified?
No, I was perusing over the lyrics today to refresh my memory – we only practice once before every run of gigs – they just seem silly to me today! [laughs]
Well, they are fantastical…
I was reading them and I thought “this is pretty funny!”
What’s next for you guys – have you got more shows coming up?
We’re playing at Hellfest and really looking forward to that and we’re playing a few festivals in Europe, at Brutal Assault – that’s it. We don’t have anything else planned. We don’t make records anymore! That’s all that’s on the schedule right now.
Temples Festival online: http://www.templesfestival.co.uk
“Horrified” out now via Relapse Records.