originally written by Erik Highter
It’s an oversimplification to say that “unclassifiable” bands always slip through the cracks, but it’s too often the sad truth. Even in this day when nearly everything is available to hear, we find comfort in the short hand of a+b or x/y sub genre classification. It’s easier to talk about, easier to digest, and gives both a starting point for understanding and comparison.
It’s also a bit of a fool’s game, where an artistic endeavor is broken down into disparate parts that rarely equal the visceral or emotional response to listening. I’m as guilty as anyone of playing that game, but it’s when I stop that the music starts to resonate on its own.
Take Prizehog. This Portland trio’s latest album, Re-Unvent the Whool, takes a whole bunch of familiar sounds and “re-unvents” them as something new. There are moments throughout where the familiar breaches the surface in an entirely recognizable form, but all that does is tease the listener. You think you understand, that it really is only a+b, but that glimpse of a certain sound, a stylistic trope, is a red herring. That moment of recognition is quickly subsumed by a whorl of sound completely unexpected. Prizehog is difficult to pin down or easily categorize, but that doesn’t mean Re-Unvent the Whool is a difficult or impenetrable listen. In fact, after only a few listens I found there were riffs, choruses and whole passages that popped unbidden into my brain. I was hooked.
My excitement over the album quickly led to me wanting to know how more them and their art. Thankfully, they were kind enough to take the time to answer the rambling, multi-part questions I sent them.
While trying to get a handle on the latest record, Re-Unvent the Whool, an odd description popped in my head: this is psychedelic rock on drank. Much of this is pitched down, slowed, detuned, wobbly and discomforting. Yet there are melodies and hooks a plenty. The mix of elements is ear-catching but gut-wrenching, and I have to ask how these songs come into being? Does it start with the melodies, the tuning, the pounding rhythms, a vicious synth sound, or just wicked riffs? Or some combination of all of the above? How do you construct them from that start?
Our songs are constructed in all sorts of different ways; No two songs are necessarily written the same way. There’s no fun in writing songs as a band the same way every time, for us anyway. It could start with even just the idea of a sound or riff attached to a concept of how big and weird the sound can actually get, how to get to that point, and where it can be taken from there. Then there’s the insane staring into space figuring it out mentally. A lot of times, Rion will have a song basically written, but it can change form in the process of playing it together, depending on how it feels. Or sometimes a small part can just turn into a multi-layered, seven-minute song.
We play all the time, so things mostly come together naturally. We take our time working on subtleties to make songs even more fun to play, with ins and outs that never get boring and probably make it a weird experience for someone hearing a song for the first time. We are definitely not one of those bands that write an album a week before recording it. We span time. Put down in writing, these songs are a series of shapes and numbers only we can truly understand. We use weird hieroglyphs to convey parts or changes, with scattered numerals making it look like some crazy alien math homework. People we have shared practice spaces with have spent long times trying to figure out songs of their own just from our space-calculus.
It seems like a good method, and open-ended enough that it could make sense to anyone and be open to interpretation, which might just be how we come across musically. We can tell you with certainty: There is no one way we do anything.
I called it psychedelic rock, but there’s more to your sound than even that broad descriptor can cover. It’s heavy – downright sludgy at times – but it isn’t metal per se, or at least not of any definable genre. While there is obviously an audience for this melange of space rock, psychedelic blues, ambient doom, and generally off-putting weirdness, have you found your lack of musical boundaries a hindrance when it comes to finding that audience? And what kind of audience have you found? What, if anything, defines a Prizehog fan?
We’re still finding our audience every show we play. Over the course of our 8 years as a band, we’ve had an ever-growing nexus of friends and like-minded bands, artists, and fans all over the world that aren’t trying to fit their preferences into some stylistic taste. It’s 2014; ain’t nobody got time for that. That kind of thinking IS the hindrance. If anything, our lack of boundaries leaves it wide open for opportunities to meet and play with all kinds of great bands and artists, in turn, in front of all kinds of audiences. We’ve met people from all walks of life that are into our music, from 7 years old to 70.
As hard as it may be to define our music, it’s just as hard to define a Prizehog fan. One thing, it seems, is our fans aren’t trying to stifle the idea of being open to non-conditional ways of going about creating something new or different. They’re obviously people that have love and hope for a future that isn’t a regurgitated copy of the past, and can accept that boundaries need to be pushed, not set. And because of that, we are able to create strong friendships with people who are obviously on the same page. Or sometimes, it’s really just a guy or gal that watches us live and wonders “what did I just see happen?”
Following a similar train of thought: when looking through the old flyers on your website, I see bills with like-minded sonic miscreants and outliers like the late, lamented Mayyors, industrial metallers Batillus, new label mates Rabbits, the singular Author and Punisher, Thrones, and The Body. On the current tour you’re playing a series of dates with the long-running Vaz, shows with Eight Bells and hepa/Titus, as well as newer acts like Insect Ark and Bludded Head. Do you see yourself and these artists as part of a scene? Is there a unity to be found in approaching heavy music from outside of genre norms? In your experience, does this eclectic approach bring a live audience together or push them apart?
We’ve never really been connected to one particular “scene,” nor do we have the desire to be, unless you take the word literally by definition or something – ‘a sphere of activity.’ We’ve played with every sort of artist we can think of at this point. From country groups and classical ensembles to metal bands and noise projects, performance and visual artists, and everything in between.
Really though, mostly all the bands we’ve played with are already or end up being our favorite bands and really good friends. It’s not necessarily a scene. It’s more of the fact we’ve been able to play and hangout with or meet all the people we’ve played with, and we just happen to also be playing with bands that aren’t trying to fit themselves into a easily describable stylistic group, at least musically. How we see it is when you have a more eclectic show, musically or artistically, it brings all kinds of people together, both on stage and in the audience .
Before recording Re-Unvent the Whool, Prizehog moved from San Francisco to Portland. To both these ears and the reviewer for Aquarius Records, it’s amplified everything you were before: the weird got weirder, the sludge got thicker, and the hooks got hookier. How has the move affected the band internally? And externally? Is Portland still receptive to transplants, even in the post-Portlandia pushback?
Internally, there hasn’t been any huge dynamic change, and externally, the move to Portland has given us more time and space to put into playing and writing, so that may shine through on our new record. As far as being receptive, Portland has always accepted us with open arms and swollen ears, and since moving here, has been very welcoming to us. Really though, we’d probably be here if that weren’t the case. We’ve always had a way of just playing and playing until people come around and realize they are digging on what we are doing. It might just take someone realizing that we do this for no other reason besides fun and to share it with like-minded people.
So yeah, that “Portlandia-pushback”… really has no effect on our music or creativity, positively or negatively. We are the biggest influence of our music. We could be anywhere, and still do what we do. We’re not a sports team. If that were the case, we’d just be pulling some bogus play on current themes in Portland that won’t last forever. That kind of stuff comes and goes. We’re in this for the long haul. We’ve always gained inspiration from things that we actually love, that are timeless to us, and that have an importance to our take on humanity, instead of being effected by any sort of stylistic trend or pop-culture.
That being said, don’t look to us for inspiration or the next cool thing; we ain’t a paradigm.
Since I’ve gone on far too long and asked far more than five questions, let’s end with a fun one. Free of the confines of space and time and life and death, what three bands would you put on a bill for your own enjoyment?
Well, if you got to ask more than five questions, we get to turn your Friday night bill into a sick all day festival: Hank Williams, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Jethro Tull, The Ramones, Brian Eno and Robert Fripp, Thin Lizzy, Miles Davis and Alice Coltrane, and Queen.
• • •