Shipping News are a band from Louisville, Kentucky. Their sound is equal parts post rock, punk and hardcore elements. Last year, they released a monster of an album called One less heartless to fear (shameless plug – review) and we loved it quite a bit. Since we (Tonan & Sam) are unabashed fans of the band, we managed to cajole an email interview with them. They are Jason Noble (guitar/voice), Jeff Mueller (guitar/voice), Kyle Crabtree (drums) and Todd Cook (bass) and they make a very cathartic sound when they take the stage…
Thanks for taking some time to answer our questions. One Less Heartless To Fear is one of the most brutal and rawest albums we’ve had the pleasure to have in our dirty hands. Thanks! – Tonan & Sam
1) We missed you! Where you’ve been these past years (besides doing stuff with Rachel’s, Shannon Wright and more)?
Todd Cook: I’ve been playing and recording with Kyle and Rachel Grimes in King’s Daughters & Sons, with our friends Michael Heineman and Joe Manning. I participated in a brief string of shows with The For Carnation, centered around a performance at the “Ten Years of All Tomorrow’s Parties” festival in the UK. I also had the pleasure of touring with my old friend Imaad Wasif and Adam Garcia.
I met Imaad in the mid 1990s when I was a member of Crain and he was in Lowercase. More recently I’ve been playing in an as yet unnamed band with Evan of Young Widows, Neil of Phantom Family Halo and Sapat, Drew of Workers and my friend [and co-worker at ear X-tacy record store] Jonathan GlenWood…
Kyle Crabtree: Life in Louisville, Kentucky. Work and music. Collaboration with Shannon Wright (with Todd on bass) resulting in several European tours and the 2007 release Let in the Light. King’s Daughters and Sons is working on completing a full length record (available 2012).
Jason Noble: Hello! Yeah, these last few years have been sort of insane. Without going on a ramble… most of our time is spent making things, usually music or visual art. I’m happy to say most of the crew from the early 90s are still happily working together. Jeff and I get together to make stuff … not always band stuff. I was very happy to help Gold Jacket Club (one of Kyle’s other bands) record an instrumental album in 2008. Todd and I worked together at ear X-tacy for many years. It’s all pretty personal. The crazy side is… I’ve been in a cancer treatment program since 2009 and thankfully I’m still around to say “b-b-b-bust a move.” Through the kindness of the band and our friends and family – my wife and I have been able to keep going. Working on new music (The Young Scamels, Per Mission and Shipping News) has been an enormous help for me to keep focused and positive. It has drastically altered our plans for touring and all that but we’re hopeful!
Jeff Mueller: It’s nice to be missed… thanks! I’ve moved from Chicago to New Haven with my wife and son. Working at our print studio is a constant. Play guitar in our house constantly, working on some quieter songs lately.
2) Define yourselves: “Music for Shipping News is…”
Todd: I hesitate to define, as our music is an evolving beast. The singular vision of four like-minded yet distinctly different human/musical viewpoints. The ultimate goal is always “TASTE.”
Jason: Seriously, sometimes the only way we know if something works or will end up in the shredder is the word “TASTE.” Not like, aesthetic purity of style or grace – just if it feels like our music and has the purple deathhead RMSN hovering around it. We’ve had many songs we “liked” but couldn’t find a reason to continue working on. It’s a subtle and brutal democracy. (By the way… “Taste” is a phrase Mr. James Brown exclaims during one of his epochal stream of consciousness vocal rants).
3) From my point of view, the sounds of Shipping News keeps away any protagonism, as drums, bass, guitars and voice keep a balanced share of a track. Is there any philosophy in this regard when making music?
Todd: I think we generally employ a “less is more” approach. I like to be locked in with Kyle as the rhythm section to allow Jeff and Jason room for melody, texture and atmosphere. This has never been a stated “philosophy” but since my involvement in Shipping News, we haven’t set out to create things we couldn’t reproduce with guitars, drums and vocals.
Jason: Somewhere in 2002 – we had a brief discussion like – all four of us will write the songs equally from now on – and we’ve tried to live up to that as much as possible.
4) I hear rather lovely, intense and highly original bass lines by Todd Cook as a main feature in Shipping News. Do you think your bass lines are highly influenced by any specific music style or bassist or would you prefer to stay away from your influences?
Todd: Thank you very much! As a voracious listener to all forms of music, no specific style is a direct influence, though Electronic and Dub musics are dear to me as a low frequency dweller… Jah Wobble’s playing in Public Image, Ltd. is a favorite and an influence. I must give Jason credit where it is due, as he wrote the bass lines for “Antebellum,” “The Delicate” and “Bad Eve!” Jason is a fantastic bass player and we trade ideas all the time when we’re writing new material. Ultimately Kyle, Jason & Jeff would be the biggest influences on my playing in Shipping News.
Jason: We TOTALLY coveted Todd for so many years. When he finally joined the band we were amazed. While he is very generous for giving me compositional props – Todd has greatly influenced my way of thinking about bass. Playing with him has expanded my sense of what the bass can actually create. Nowadays – I’m just thankful to be able to talk shop with him … and I still get as wet as a Miniature Schnauzer’s muzzle when he plays a low “D” chord.
5) Again, for Todd, any news from Dead Child?
Todd: Sadly, no. DEAD CHILD is in fact, dead.
6) Jeff , your vocal delivery in ‘Axons and Dendrites’ and ‘Bad Eve’ is very stream of consciousness, is the lyrical composition decided this way?
Jeff: I’ve always tried to write lyrics that have significant, defined purpose… while not being altogether obvious. I generally start with a very clear story, and then work backwards. In some ways, the goal is for someone to be able to strip the intended message away and then appropriate the song to their own experiences.
7) Now, Jason, you’re more aggressive and almost punkish in your delivery, what’s your influence as a vocalist?
Jason: Jeff and I have often tried to carve out a place for words and lyrics that are not exactly “personal narrative” – (like, we almost never use the word “I” in songs). I much prefer to include thoughts, confrontations and ideas in the songs that may stimulate a question. Or stories. I definitely ask everyone (in the band) what they think, and make changes when the words don’t work well. Sometimes it’s just about rhythm. Also, we all have similar taste in authors – so, I end up riffing on people like Alan Moore, Octavia Butler or China Mieville instead of approaching it as a diary session or singer-songwriter thing. I don’t mean that it’s impersonal, not all all… but I like the open-ended approach. As for delivery – for many years I never actually sung at all and just screamed.
Now I try to look at each song and make something fit. Lately – I guess the more aggressive or urgent songs just push the more declamatory Chicago/DC concept of a kind of “poetic” or “violent” talking. I mean, Steve Albini, Dan Higgs, Fugazi, Naked Raygun created a whole way of using words in heavy music that opened many doors. Scratch Acid, Drive Like Jehu, Candy Machine, PJ Harvey. And there’s a strong influence from Public Image, Moonshake, Wire – it’s endless. Of course Bastro, Crain, Slint, The Web, MetroSchifter… many Louisville bands. Shannon Wright and Uzeda too! I like when lyrics exist with some freedom from the music – without describing it.
8) Run of the mill question for Kyle: influences for drumming?
Kyle: Thanks for the question. That’s not an easy one actually…My earliest real influence as a drummer (not surprisingly) is John Bonham. I discovered Led Zeppelin at age 10 or 11 and I’ve been a giant fan ever since. Also, Dale Crover (Melvins) and Jack Dejohnette (Miles Davis etc) are all-time favorites of mine. Though, I have probably taken influence from slightly less famous musicians even more so than rock’s legends. I claim Louisville music as a serious influence – friends, family and bandmates (current and past) included – definitely a product of my environment. I think Louisville has had an above average number of bands with great drummers -like, seriously-great drummers. So going to shows here and seeing people play live has always had a big affect me. I consider myself lucky. In 2009, Louisville lost one of the best drummers I’ve ever seen anywhere – the late great Tony Bailey. Tony played in a million bands, including Dead Child. Tony’s abilities were rare and greatly admired. Much respect.
9) Do you plan to re-record any of the live songs from One Less Heartless To Fear or do you want to keep their current format and their rawness?
Todd: We haven’t really discussed this. Since the live versions captured the intensity and energy so well [a stated goal from the get-go], I’m not sure studio versions would be of value to anyone else. I think we’ll probably concentrate on new songs when we reconvene.
Jeff: I second this. That said, it would be interesting for me to hear what a few of the newest songs would sound like if I actually knew how to play them. I fumbled my way through so much of the Skull Alley show… though I’ve grown to fully love the missteps, they make the recording feel more genuine and interesting.
10) How you manage to continue as a band with all members living in different places?
Todd: First and foremost: patience. Louisville is such an easy place to be a part of so many musical endeavours, staying busy is never difficult. It’s always a welcome pleasure to spend quality musical time with good friends when schedules allow.
11) There are very impressive and rather prodigious changes in tempo in your songs that would go completely asymmetrical as music goes on. As a band, is it difficult to include changes like these in a music line? What’s the main reason to bring asymmetry like that to your songs?
Todd: Asymmetry and/or a linear approach to song writing is a particular favorite of ours. I feel my role in the band is one of collaboration and as such, the goal is to create music that we find interesting and enjoy playing. Speaking for myself, we’ve been successful thus far!
Jason: We start every practice with an hour or more of “free play” – usually without any discussion. I only mention that because odd things just arrive without a master plan. We try to challenge each other but often we discover that a song is stranger than we realized (like when we actually count it out) – instead of being some intellectual thing. It seems to be about feel and making things that have a small surprise or a catchy rhythm or phrase. And we definitely play some songs for a long time, and really try to “solve them” and yet they never fully come to life. While that is kinda bittersweet – they often lead us somewhere else that we hoped to go.
12) A few questions about some songs from One Less Heartless To Fear that caught our attention:
12.1) ‘Bad Eve’ is a particular fave of mine in One less heartless to fear. Would you like to talk about the lyrical content of this song ( I really like the stuff about “backyard Mussolinis”)
Jeff: Thanks! I’m pretty proud of the way this turned out, though it’s probably the best example of a song that works on the record, but I know there’s a lot more that could be done with it. I’m hesitant to say too much about the purpose of the words… mainly, it’s about the need to control at what ever expense, even if means losing control of yourself.
12.2) Again, ‘Bad Eve’. Is it feedback or an ebow what we hear in that chilling intro? (kudos to Mr. Cook again for the awesome bass).
Jeff: That’s feedback through a delay pedal. Todd is God.
12.3) “This is not an exit.” Is this from American Psycho? The song is a little unnerving but can’t stop listening to it religiously.
Jason: Thank You! Honestly, we are pretty unnerved sometimes. You know, I’m a fan of that film (and director Mary Herron’s other work like “I Shot Andy Warhol”) but I didn’t realize that lyrical connection and haven’t actually read the book. It seems like I should finally look more closely at that novel since it has such a big influence and still is controversial here. I would be dishonest if I didn’t tell you one of my fellow bandmates – very recently – said “Don’t just look at it… eat it.” So foul, my lovely, lovely friends.
I will say, the American sense of covering everything, focusing only on the surface elements (as satirized in that book and film) strikes uncomfortably close to my heart. The way we conduct ourselves sometimes, the bravado, the ego, the bullying of other nations, is so troubling. I feel that many people in the USA are moving away from that repellent philosophy. I feel that things are changing now but it’s not acceptable to just ignore the recent truth.
We can’t forget (or “clean up”) the photos from Guantanamo Bay or the million lesser known evils happening every day (assaults on immigrant families, attacks on voters rights, the whole Tea Party hate machine). That said, the only way to survive sometimes is to retain your idea of decency and hold on to your sense of humor and just keep working.
(By the way, thanks for the great questions)
Words: Sam J. Valdés López (additional questions by Tonan)
We’d like to thank Jeff, Jason, Kyle and Todd (Shipping News) and Mat (at Karate Body Records) for their time helping us out. Respect, guys.