You have to love a band like Lightning Bolt, which 18 years after forming still has a very open attitude toward its audience. The noise rock duo's singer/drummer Brian Chippendale recounts an encounter on this tour with a longtime fan complaining that the latest material eschews the jazzy skronk aspect of their style.
Chippendale acknowledged the criticism and immediately set about doing what he could. "We ran back out there after everyone was already leaving. I wanted to play [this new song] for the guy like 'don't give up on the jazzy parts,' but then of course the power went out before we got to the jazzy part," he says with a laugh.
In addition to a 2011 collaborative EP with the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne, the Rhode Island pair's output has included five albums (plus one cassette) of noisily mesmerizing roar that verges on psychedelia. The music moves much like post-rock, with swirling eddies building toward a climax, though the feeling's much more rhythmic thanks to partner Brian Gibson's use of fuzzed-out bass rather than guitar.
It's an exceptionally chaotic wash of sound which, taken as a whole, recalls the action painting of Jackson Pollock. Chippendale frequently sounds ready to go off the rails before Gibson pulls him back from the ledge, providing ample structural tension.
For Chippendale, the band's excessive volume is an essential part of the process — overloading the senses to amplify the music's primal power and bum-rush the listener's inhibitions.
"Loudness is important to the audience to block out the rest of the world and focus on that moment," he says. "The same goes for me as a musician. Volume and tempos shut off the worry and help me get to the root of it all."
The band rose to underground prominence in 2005 with the release of its fourth album Hypermagic Mountain, which took up residence on many of that year's Best Of lists. It would be another four years before the duo followed with Earthly Delights. After a decade of making music together, they were a little burnt out. But the time off has done wonders for their relationship. "It's better than ever really," Chippendale says. "We're just a little bit mellower and more comfortable financially than when we started."
Last year the two musicians got back to work. They collaborated with Coyne via e-mail on a four-track EP, while also recording eight songs for a new album. Chippendale sounds restless reporting that the sessions only produced one or two truly worthy songs. He believes they'll record the rest of the album after tour at Machines With Magnets studio in Pawtucket, R.I. (where Battles recorded Gloss Drop last year). Previously, the band has self-recorded on 4-track cassette in a home studio using "archaic digital equipment."
"I feel maybe we need to take a bigger step, and try a different approach," says the musician. "Go for a cleaner, bigger sound. Just go for the studio sound. A couple of the new songs sound like really good Motörhead, and they need to be recorded how Motörhead would record them."
In the meantime, Lightning Bolt remains one of those bands that you need to experience live to fully appreciate, which gives them at least one thing in common with Gov't Mule and the Allmans.
"We're kind of like a secret jam band while everyone thinks we're riff/noise-rock," says Chippendale. "There is definitely a kind of weird schizophrenia going on with us."