When I listened to Pyrrhon‘s second album, The mother of virtues (2014), I instantly thought of the intense creativity of the early Relapse bands. Bands like Cephalic Carnage who never shied away from experimenting (going as far as releasing a nineteen minute Doom song), the manic violence of Luddite Clone, Exit-13 and it’s mix of sludge and grindcore; bands that came in the wave of Brutal Truth and saw extreme metal as a canvas to throw their creativity at instead of focusing on specific labels. Seeing them live a year after only confirmed it all when i witnessed their love for improvising, a talent most extreme metal bands lack as it comes in contradiction with the idea of reproducing original material with the utmost precision that early Thrash metal built up as a template to follow. Pyrrhon does not throw away the rule book, but they definitely know when to use it and when to ignore it. Hopefully, this interview will only confirm this idea for you too.
Could you introduce yourself as a band for people who have no idea of who you are ?
Doug (vocals): My name is Doug. I “sing” for an experimental metal band from New York called Pyrrhon.
Your performance in London was quite remarkable because you displayed as a band a real feeling of being in control of your material and of bringing it wherever you wanted as opposed to performing note for note. Do you think there is room for improvisation in future shows ?
Doug: Absolutely. Improvisation is a huge part of what we do in a couple of senses — we all modify our individual parts during composed sections, and many of our songs have group-improvisational moments where there’s little or no specific structure for us to adhere to at all. For the most part, our recorded work features improvisation that appears briefly in the context of structured songs, but our new EP features a couple of fully improvised tracks, and we’re always looking for new ways to incorporate improvisation into our music.
On Implant fever and on Invisible injury you write about being blindfolded from the true nature of reality. What do you think then is the role of the artist when it comes to exposing certain ideas ?
Doug: I’m hesitant to suggest that artists, and musicians in particular, have specific roles they’re obligated to fill. All music reflects those who create it, and so it’s as naturally diverse in terms of intent and character as people themselves are.
Music can express thoughts and emotions that might otherwise be inexpressible, and that’s a big part of what we try to do in Pyrrhon. Because we’re more or less a metal band, it makes sense to use the band as an avenue for us to explore darker subject matter that most people find upsetting to discuss or think about. The idea that reality as we experience it somehow isn’t what it appears to be, and that sinister forces are taking advantage of our ignorance in ways that we aren’t aware of or perhaps couldn’t understand even if we were, has thus become one of the recurring lyrical themes for the band.
In metal, and in most contemporary music, political ideas are left to very specific bands whereas most seems to focus on personal issues. However, the lyrics on The mother of virtus seem more politically charges. Do you think there is a need for bands, or at least lyricist, to address problems related to their own environment rather than their personal life ?
Doug: I’m not sure that politics and people’s personal lives are really so separate. It’s a common delusion in certain quarters that if you just don’t talk about politics they won’t affect you, but ultimately every person’s life is shaped by the society he or she lives in, and societies are shaped by politics. People in wealthy Western countries who go through life believing that they’re somehow above the issues of the day are on track for a rude awakening, especially at this particular moment.
That being said, writing good political lyrics is extremely hard to do, and a lot of people have fallen on their faces in spectacular fashion that way. I’m personally hesitant to write lyrics that talk about politics in a really didactic or declarative fashion for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is that I frequently don’t have answers or solutions in mind for the issues that trouble me. And if I did, screaming them in a crazy Donald Duck voice over a band that sounds like Deicide falling down a flight of stairs probably wouldn’t be a good way to get them across to the masses.
To the extent that I write political lyrics, I try to write them in a more impressionistic sense that’s rooted in my personal experience of the world. Lyrics are not the best venue for articulating nuanced policy positions, but they are great for communicating feelings, and I try to capture the way certain social issues make me feel in my work. This approach feels much more honest to me, and most really effective political music relies on some version of this approach, in my opinion.
All of this being said, I would certainly like to see more metal lyricists focus on the scary things going on around them, rather than on made-up demons and such. It’s always struck me as funny that a community of musicians that regard themselves as so artistically uncompromising and in touch with the darkest parts of life is content to rehash the same religious fantasies over and over.
Is the lyrical content of Pyrrhon’s song discussed among band members or is it just mostly your point of view as a vocalist ?
Doug: I write all of the lyrics myself and have more or less complete control over their content, but we talk about the subjects that I end up focusing on all the time. The four of us are very close friends with similar worldviews, and our conversations definitely inform my lyrics. In that sense, the other guys are part of the creative process that produces them.
It is often said that great bands come to life during politically troubled times. Do you feel influenced by the current political climate in the US ?
Doug: Yeah, my fears about the geopolitical present and future — not just in this country, but around the world really — have been an animating creative force for me since the early days of the band. The fact that a not-so-subtly fascist con artist whose chief competency is yelling at people on camera will be the Republican Party nominee for president soon is really just one expression of a much broader and deeper set of interconnected threats. I’m not worried about running out of lyrical subject matter any time soon.
Could you talk about your side project Seputus ? How did it came to life and what do you hope to accomplish in it that you would not be able to do in Pyrrhon ?
Doug: Seputus actually predates Pyrrhon by a number of years. Steve Schwegler, who recently joined Pyrrhon on drums, formed the band with me as a studio project in 2005 — I was finishing high school at that time and Steve had recently joined the Navy, so we wrote material using primitive track-trading methods. We recorded a couple of albums over the next few years in this way, but they never saw proper releases, in part because we didn’t really know how to make that happen and in part because I wasn’t always satisfied with my performances on the recordings.
The project kind of lapsed into inactivity for a few years around the time that I got involved in Pyrrhon. Around the beginning of 2013, some experiences Steve had in the military convinced him that he should start writing music again, and he essentially made a whole album by himself using a laptop while still in the service. Erik from Pyrrhon got involved kind of at the last minute; we showed him some demo versions of the material shortly before we finalized it and he asked if he could play bass. Obviously he shreds super hard and we were happy to have him involved.
As for the differences between Pyrrhon and Seputus — Steve has a similar musical background to the other members of Pyrrhon, but his songwriting sensibility is totally unique and idiosyncratic. I would characterize the Seputus material as much more cold, direct, and machinelike than Pyrrhon’s music, but it’s also catchier. The new album is really one-of-a-kind; you can tell that it was conceived under very harsh circumstances.
With which artists outside of music do you feel you share a similar aesthetic ?
Doug: That’s a good question. Off the top of my head, I’d point mostly to novelists — Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, J.G. Ballard, Blake Butler, Ray Bradbury, Umberto Eco, Neal Stephenson, Paolo Bacigalupi, Cormac McCarthy, etc. Most of these writers deal with technology, hidden power structures, postmodern complexity, and the unintended consequences of human activity in a way that has informed my lyrics, but some of them just have really beautiful prose styles that our music hopefully carries some residue of. We’ve also been aesthetically influenced by movies. Certain work by David Cronenberg, Charlie Kaufman, Darren Aronofsky, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorcese, Gaspar Noë, and the Coen brothers have all made big impacts on us as a group, but I’m not sure if you’d recognize their influence or those of the novelists I named just from listening to our records.