Cough Interview with Parker Chandler: Suffering at the Gates of Madness, or: What to Do When Evil Fuzz Gets More Evil
With the release of their second album, Ritual Abuse, through Relapse at the end of October, Virginian four-piece Cough made it known that they’re not here to fuck around. The band, who released their Sigillum Luciferi debut through Forcefield Records in 2008, have been touring hard ever since, and returning to their formidable recording partner in the form of Sanford Parker, Cough crafted one of the bleakest and most weighted sludge atmospheres to come from the American scene in a long time. If Eyehategod and Electric Wizard had a baby and left it down by the river…
But it’s the touring that always does it. It’s hard to grow in a practice space. You grow on stage. And that’s just what Cough has done. They’ve gotten out on the road — they’re currently on a month-long US tour and they’re headed to Europe next year around Roadburn time — and the maturation they’ve undertaken is evident on Ritual Abuse, when deformed psychedelia hits head first into sonic pummel and all you can do is embrace it because they’re taking you whether or not you want to go. The sounds on songs like “A Year in Suffering” and “Mind Collapse” (good for 24 of the album’s 53 minutes between them) are grotesque, and for a very specific kind of listener, essential.
I spoke to bassist/vocalist Parker Chandler as Cough was just beginning the tour in Florida, and aside from the weather, we discussed working with Relapse, the band’s sonic development, touring, more touring, recording, and just how he, guitarist/vocalist David Cisco and drummer Joseph Arcaro — second guitarist Brandon Marcey hadn’t yet joined the band — came up with the 19-minute track “The Gates of Madness” that serves as their half of the An Introduction to the Black Arts split with venerable UK doomers The Wounded Kings. That’s a pretty good story in itself.
Uncut Q&A is after the jump. Please enjoy.
You guys are on the road a couple days now, right?
Yeah. Right now we’re in Florida.
Well, it warmed up a little bit. It’s been kind of chilly the past couple days, but it’s nice today.
How have the shows been so far?
You know. We’re meeting some good people. It’s kind of alternating between okay and good, day by day. We’re doing something we enjoy doing. Better than working.
A couple shows in, do you feel like you’re in a good groove playing-wise? I know you were playing a lot of shows before you hit the road anyway, but doing it every night’s always different.
Yeah. It’s tightening up, as is the case normally. We’re not fucking up too bad (laughs).
I was at the Brooklyn Vegan CMJ show. How was that for you guys?
It felt pretty good. It was a good time, hanging out with The Body and Royal Thunder. Fred [Pessaro] from Brooklyn Vegan knows how to have a party, so any time we get to meet up with him, it’s always a good time.
What about the response to the record so far? Everything I’ve seen has been pretty positive.
It’s some good stuff and some bad stuff, but it’s the internet age. You know what they say, “Opinions are like assholes – everybody’s got one.” They can sit on their computer and talk all the shit they want, we don’t really care.
How’s it been working with Relapse so far?
It’s cool. I think they did a pretty good job with the record, as far as the layout and everything. We had a bit of a say – we got to work with the artist we wanted to work with. They don’t really control much until the production comes in, and making sure we meet deadlines and all that good stuff. We’ve met a few of [the Relapse staff] and emailed back and forth with some other ones, and they’ve all been really cool people.
Did they help you out booking this tour?
No. Our friend Michelle [Temple, of Lechuza Booking] from North Carolina – we were gonna book the whole thing ourselves, and then realized that would probably be a bad idea (laughs) – so we went ahead and had our friend Michelle do it. She’s been booking recently. She plays in a band called Black Skies in North Carolina, and she set it all up for us. So far she did a pretty great job.
Well, if the shows are “okay to good,” it definitely could be worse.
(Laughs) Yeah, yeah. Definitely. I mean, we’re getting treated a little better than normal, than what we’re used to.
For the album, was there something that made you go back to work with Sanford Parker again to record, and was it any different the second time around?
It was a little bit different the second time around, but we went back to him because we liked what he did with the first record. Getting time with him is becoming more and more rare, as he’s getting bigger names to work with, so we figured if we had an opportunity to do it, we should go ahead and do it now. Relapse actually approached him first. He got in touch with us, said that they had contacted him, and he was already scheduled to record our second record anyway, so we were like, “Let’s go with him again. He knows the people to talk to over there,” and he passed it along when it was done.
So he was the one who got in touch with Relapse about Cough signing with them?
Relapse got in touch with him, and then he got in touch with us. They got in touch with him, because he had done the first record, and they liked the first record, and then he got in touch with us and told us they were interested in hearing what we had to do this time around. It was kind of neat how it all worked out, I suppose.
Was there anything you wanted to change about the approach sound-wise?
The songs are different, just because I guess you could say we’ve matured a little bit and we’re writing… [It’s the] same style. Everything’s the same way we’ve always done it, it’s just that now we’re at a point where we’re getting more comfortable with what we want to hear and how to play it, and it’s become a little easier. As far as the studio stuff goes, we basically did everything the same way as the first time. We go in, do our thing, and then when we’re done with that, Sanford hops in and messes with all his little toys and gadgets.
All the noise and echoes and effects on the album – that’s all him, then?
Yeah, all the synthesizers and stuff like that. All the heavy reverb. There’s some extra bass drum sounds and stuff like that he did, explosion-type things. It’s pretty cool. Little tricks he’s picked up along the way. He’s been recording for a while.
Talking about the growth of the band, the track I wanted to ask you about was “Crooked Spine.” It seems like what you’re talking about, the maturity, is really evident there.
We knew when we were doing that one that we were doing something a little bit out of our realm for what people would expect from us, but basically, that song, David wrote pretty much all of it. He was going through a bit of a rough patch and had to move out of Richmond and stuff. He was just kind of on his own. I think he moved back into his parents’ house and he was pretty miserable, so it’s kind of a sadder song (laughs). It wasn’t actually meant to be a Cough song, he was just messing around, playing his own thing, and the rest of us heard it and we decided we could probably make it heavy, and I’d like to think that we achieved that. That song specifically is something that people either hate or love, but as long we like it.
Why do you think that track polarizes people like that?
I don’t know. I guess it’s not nearly as abrasive, so it appeals to people that wouldn’t normally like us, and it’s not so abrasive to people who liked what we were doing on the first record, I guess they just don’t really appreciate it. I don’t know. Maybe they think we’re trying to take some turn and go in a different direction, but that’s definitely not the case. We probably won’t ever write anything close to that again.
Never say never, man. You never know.
(Laughs) I said probably.
You recorded the track for the Wounded Kings split the same time you did the album, right?
Did you know that song was going to be for the split, or was that originally going to be an album track?
That was written specifically for the split. We’d been talking to The Wounded Kings for a few months prior to recording, just getting all the stuff together and dealing with Forcefield and working out that whole aspect of it. It was really coming down to the wire on that one. On our way out to Chicago, we stopped at my mom’s house. She was just kind of holding onto a house for a little while, trying to sell it, so we stayed there, the three of us. We had driven through the whole night, and we got there, and immediately, we were like, “We have to write this song,” so we started jamming on no sleep whatsoever, and that’s how that came about.
How did you get in touch with The Wounded Kings to start with?
We just sent them a message online. We had heard Embrace of the Narrow House through a friend of ours, and we decided that they’re different enough from us but still in the same vein and it would be definitely cool to work with them, so we just sent them a message on MySpace and they were down. We’re supposed to go to Europe next year, so hopefully we’ll meet up with those guys. We’re supposed to play Roadburn. We’re doing like six weeks over in Europe. I don’t think The Wounded Kings are going to be able to play any of the shows, but we’ll definitely meet up with them and hang out.
Anything else in the works? Are you going to do more US touring before you head to Europe?
Yeah, hopefully. We don’t want to lay stagnant all Winter. We’ll get home in December, and I’m not sure what Relapse’s plans are for SXSW, but we’d like to tour down there, hit that, get that done, then head over to Europe in April. We might lay low for a couple months, try to write some new material.Cough, Relapse, Richmond, Virginia