If any single phrase summarizes the Sex Church approach to reverb-drenched bombs, it’s unquestionably “virulent erosion.” The Vancouver-based outfit showcases a series of intense, furiously clanged and flanged slow/whoa! dissolves on its full-length debut Growing Over (Load). From the swirling active-chainsaw guitars and tea-kettle banshee shrieks of “Dull Light” to the nagging guitar crunch and strangled syntax of “Beneath the Bottom” to the warping, discordant weariness of the title track, this resolutely-no-last-names-please foursome—guitarist/proclaimer Levon, guitarist Caleb, bassist Nick, and drummer Mike—demonstrate a relish for feeding bloody hunks of garage, metal, and punk bait into the sonic equivalent of an especially ferocious garbage disposal, then just as malevolently withdrawing them.
Squalling interlude “Colour Out of Space” forgoes melodic substrata altogether, plunging fathoms deep into a dizzying feedback din that’s among the best no-form jams any Forced Exposure reader will hear this year. While these Ladies Night, Catholic Boys, and Modern Creatures veterans generated an impressive collection of EPs and 7-inches in its run-up to joining forces with Providence underground stalwart Load, Over ups the ante in terms of the players’ chemistry and intensity, a nocturnal black hole that acknowledges indie-rock touchstones as disparate as Come, Calla, and Dead Meadow. (Tangential side note: if you haven’t listened to this album at triple-speed yet, hang onto your face and give it a try. Seriously. Sick.)
SOTC emailed with Levon about Halloween, touring, and the band’s early influences.
On the Sex Church last.fm site, it’s noted that it rains a lot in Vancouver. Do you guys find that conducive to songwriting, rehearsing, and practicing generally? Has it been a relief so far, on tour, to be away from that weather?
Yeah. The rain in Vancouver is an influence on the band, especially in the songwriting department. The general gloomy atmosphere for nine months of the year that is in the area is both shitty and great. I’ve only ever lived in coastal British Columbia, so it’s all I know. It’s nice to see some sun on the road, though.
That’s fitting; so many Sex Church songs come on like storm surges, with the vocals seeming to arrive from several football fields away by CB radio.
Waves of depression.
Does the feeling you get playing live resemble the depression or despair that inspired the songs, or is it something more uplifting or positive? What would you compare it to?
Playing live is an emotionally draining and cathartic experience. Things rarely go as planned, unlike recording. Ultimately, it’s uplifting in some weird way.
I was watching a Sex Church performance someone shot on a cameraphone the other day, and there’s a protective inwardness to your stances onstage, as if you’re inclining to the music itself more than the audience. Do you guys experience that thing where people chatter through your shows, or are they usually caught up in the roiling tidal waves of sound?
I would hope that people aren’t yapping each other’s ears off during our sets, but I don’t think we’d notice. The audience is not usually a big part of our performance. I would say we are all lost in our own sound, not the reaction.
If you had to choose one, what’s been the best Sex Church show you’ve played yet, where everything gelled and felt right?
Too hard to pick, and nothing is really sticking out in my head right now. There are more awful shows that really stick out; for some reason I only remember failure and embarrassment.
Tell me about the circumstances under which Growing Over was written. What was going on?
I wish I had a better or more dramatic answer, but it was written in the midst of boring daily life in the winter of last year. Monotony can be inspiring, I suppose.
Growing up, what were you into musically? What made life worth living, what was absolutely indispensible? What made you know that you had to make music?
Nirvana, the Germs, Black Flag and lots of other real crap. I never had an interest in making music until I was around twenty and heard bands like the Oblivians, Gories, and Reatards that made it seem possible. I’m not sure that there was any profound reason to start playing music. It was just fun and made sense; a good way to pass the time, make noise, get wasted and hang out with friends at the time.
An interesting thing about Growing Over is that I never feel like I’m on solid ground with the songs; what at first seems at first like a garage tune or a metal stomp collapses before long into whirlpools of feedback. It’s like sitting in a normal easy chair for an hour and getting settled and lazy, but then all I’d a sudden the chair is pulsating and glowing like an Energon cube from the Transformers animated series, and its propelling you into space. Do you ever feel disoriented by your own music?
Yes. But that’s a good thing. Hopefully lots of people are.
I’m always fascinated by the fact that when asked whether they listen to their own music, the great majority of musicians say “No.”
By the time it comes out, you’ve already heard it a million times and are usually sick of it. There are a lot of other records to listen to.
Tell me about the album artwork. It’s interesting in that it feels Spartan and sensually confused even as the record itself is this clanging, determined force. Who created it, and what drew you to that aesthetic?
The cover art was done by our friend Jesse Lortz. I explained the theme of Growing Over as a moss of depression covering a body, and he took it from there.
What brought Sex Church together in the first place? Did you guys grow up together?
Myself and Caleb—the other guitar player—had played together for years in various bands. We started this one when an old one imploded. Caleb and Nick are both American, and myself and Mike both grew up in rural British Columbia. None of us met until our mid-twenties.
Of all the shows you’ve seen, which had the biggest influence on you, and why?
Cheater Slicks using feedback to attack the audience in Austin, Texas. The intensity of the Lost Sounds was pretty hard to top as well. Gris Gris would be another big one: the first truly psychedelic band I had seen, and they really pulled it off live.
On “Beneath the Bottom,” it’s almost like the band is holding a séance or working an Ouija board, and that electronic swirl above is a spirit; there’s a Neu!-meets-noise-meets-hardcore thing going on there. How did that song come together?
It was a pretty loose, semi-improvised thing going into the studio, but it came together and I think we really nailed it. We’ve never been able to play it as good live, or at practice.
Maybe you just need to enlist a ghoul on electronics.
We have a ghoul who may play some shows on synth/organ with us, sometime soon.
What do you guys do when you’re not preaching the gospel of Sex Church?
We all have normal jobs and wives/girlfriends. Watch too much TV, listen to records, and hang out with cats; boring stuff.
One of my favorite songs on the album, “Colour out of Space,” is relatively atypical for this album, just an experimentalist improv auditory overload of nightmare horns and victimized drums and looped noise; beyond an certain point its hard to pinpoint what’s happening in there. How did that song come together?
That song is meant to be a palate cleanser after “Growing Over,” to wake the listener the fuck up. It was recorded live in one take, then a saxophone was overdubbed.
Are you guys big HP Lovecraft fans?
Not particularly. The name “Colour out of Space” is a reference to the segment of the movie Creepshow titled “The Lonely Death of Jordy Verill,” which is based on the Lovecraft story. I was explaining the concept of the song/album name to our drummer and he said “Oh, like The Lonely Death of Jordy Verill?”
Ah, okay. I never saw the movie, but when I was in elementary school one of the older kids brought the illustrated comic book version in and let me look at it. Scared the bejeezus outta me.
It’s a classic. We’re all horror fans.
You guys must love this time of year, then, when theaters are crazy scary places to be.
Fall is the best time of year for many reasons. It’s not hot or too cold, everything is changing, the crisp air, and of course, Halloween.
Do you get into Halloween? What’s the most fucked up Halloween costume, prank, or haunted space you’ve ever been involved with?
I love Halloween. My favorite costumes have been the Zodiac Killer and Jombi from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. I wish I could say I’d been to a cool haunted house, but they usually stink.
If you weren’t making music or touring right now, what would you be doing instead?
Hard to say. Life would be more boring, is the only thing I know for sure.
Sex Church play Shea Stadium on October 29 with The Men, Dead Farmers, Pop. 1280, and the Unholy Two, and at Death By Audio on October 30 with K-Holes, Pygmy Shrews, and Call of the Wild.