Over the last several years, Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s Liturgy has become a force in the indie-metal scene, but he’s not a one-riff pony. He’s recently reunited with longtime buddies Jeff Bobula and Greg Smith (they were all once in screamo band Birthday Boyz together) sparking the rejuvenation of their longtime, yet elusive band Survival. After recording the songs nearly five years ago, Survival is unleashing their debut LP this week, where we find Hunt-Hendrix trading in his deafening Liturgy roar in favor of surprisingly melodic yet complex chant-singing; the guitars and drums hellishly mangled yet erupting into intricately-crafted riff massiveness. Hive recently spoke with the group about getting the band back together, burning instruments and why the Smashing Pumpkins were inspirational.
There’s so much going on with metal in Brooklyn. Since you guys hadn’t played live in five years, do you feel detached from “the scene” although Liturgy has been a presence? Do you think there is a scene?
Jeff Bobula: It’s tough to say. All these people in all the bands that we see and that most people will be talking about—and at this point we have lived and performed in the city for ten-plus years—they’re all friends of ours. So yes, there is definitely a scene. But it’s more like a camaraderie of musicians rather than a scene that sounds like one particular thing, which is probably somewhat obvious to people who are aware of what’s going on. I think only recently has the more exploratory kind of rock music that’s been happening in Brooklyn been actually getting its fair chance with press and with being able to play higher profile shows. Whether or not it’s the fact that people we know are now the people booking these shows or if the public has a new ear for something a little more interesting, I’m not quite sure.
Greg and Jeff, you have your band Crushed and Hunter, Liturgy is still active…
Hunt-Hendrix: Yeah, yeah. We were just in Mexico, we’re still playing shows and working on new material…
How do you guys balance all your bands and where does Survival stand?
Greg Smith: In the example of Crushed, we started that band during a pretty inactive period of Survival and it’s a really different type of songwriting and a different type of performing. Crushed is pretty much straight up hardcore, kind of like mean, pissed stupid hardcore — N.Y. and Boston hardcore-influenced. It’s super fun to play and it means we get to hang out with our singer a lot, who is weird and cool—Fred. Crushed is a very different outlet. It’s a different type of endeavor entirely (than Survival) so it’s pretty easy to balance in being such different bands. One practice feels totally different from the other.
When you do Survival, it must be an insane departure from doing hardcore.
Smith: It’s weird because in a way the songwriting of Survival is much less self-conscious actually than Crushedor other bands I’ve played in, even though we end up with something people have called math or post-rock or heavy rock or whatever. There definitely aren’t preconceived ideas about the genre of rock that we’re going to play. It just evolves based on our tastes in instincts and stuff. In a way, the [Survival] songwriting itself is a lot more open but at the same time super-elaborate. [Laughs.]
The songs on the record are pretty complex. Is that one of the reasons it took so long to get released? A band like Behold the Arctopus write songs that are so complicated, it takes them months to perfect them.
Hunt-Hendrix: [Laughs.] Not really. Our music isn’t that complex. It’s nothing like that. The time signatures change sometimes or there are parts that don’t repeat but it’s not really difficult music to play.
Smith: One thing that happens when you play with a group of friends for a really long time is that we didn’t have that much of a sense of urgency in terms of making the music public because it was just something we really enjoyed doing. That’s also why the songs evolved over so much time. We kept playing them, we loved practicing and rehearsing together and it wasn’t like there was a deadline. It wasn’t until we had the object of releasing a record that we made final decisions on the compositions and just finished them.
Hunter, in Survival the vocals are a different, more melodic, beast than what you do in Liturgy.
Hunt-Hendrix: It is very different. I would say the singing for the band has been the most interesting challenge and doing it live. When we performed as Birthday Boyz, it was like screamo hardcore, where we would all scream. But as we developed the songs for Survival that involved singing, we never really did that live and it got really pinned down during recording. It’s not much of an effort to get up on stage and just scream while you’re playing. But singing together and harmonizing in this kind of thing is the first time that I’ve ever put effort into doing vocals live. With screaming, you don’t have to pay attention too much while you’re doing it and with playing really loud music, it’s easy for vocals to just be in the background. In Survival, there’s a quality of the restraint to the singing, which I enjoy. It feels mature, in a way.
In the “Tragedy of the Mind” video, whose instruments did you burn?
Bobula: We burnt our own stuff.
Smith: Yeah, we can’t tour now [Laughs.]. We’ll never play again. Our friend Eric Wrenn directed the video and we were super-happy with how it came out. I think the pacing came out really well and there’s a lot of things we couldn’t have predicted as the instruments burned that came out really well on film. It was also shot on film, which part of why it looks cool.
The song titles on the record seem to center on themes of tragedy, pain and freedom. Is it a concept record?
Hunt-Hendrix: You would sorta think there was and there does seem like there might be. But I would think there isn’t. [Laughs.]
Are you guys anti-concept record?
Smith: It’s organic, man.
Hunt-Hendrix: Early 90’s alt-rock is a big influence, yeah. Smashing Pumpkins and Alice in Chains. For me, this band is post-hardcore meets Smashing Pumpkins.
The Smashing Pumpkins were huge for you in your younger days?
Hunt-Hendrix: For me, especially. When I was young, they were my favorite band.
Is Survival a grunge record?
Bobula: I wouldn’t say that.
Hunt-Hendrix: Yeah. Post-grunge [Laughs.].
Survival is out now via Thrill Jockey