Clinging to the Trees of a Forest Fire's Ethan McCarthy on grindcore, running Kingdom of Doom and expressing his angriest, darkest feelings
Since 2005, Clinging to the Trees of a Forest Fire has been fusing the spiky and hyperkinetic dynamism of grindcore with death metal's unremitting darkness and sonic heaviness. Never content to settle on a mere sound, this Denver band challenges itself to create new depths in the expression of the unsavory side of human existence that society.
In its songs, it seems as though this band is incapable of ignoring and numbing itself to those enervating truths of the world in which we live. But rather than assume a reactionary stance comprised of tough guy platitudes, Clinging's songs sound like wails of psychic pain as much as outrage.
Prior to the release show for its new album, Songs of Ill Hope and Desperation on Prosthetics Records (streamed in its entirety here), we spoke Clinging's frontman Ethan McCarthy about the band's influences, its songwriting and the story of how he came to run Monkey Mania, renaming it Kingdom of Doom, and the night that lead to the end of one of the most successful DIY venues in Denver.
Westword (Tom Murphy): How would you describe the music of Clinging, and how did you first become interested in doing that kind of music?
Ethan McCarthy: I've been listening to heavy music for as long as I can remember. I have an older brother who's fourteen years older than me, so I've been hearing heavy shit forever -- Exodus, Slayer and all that early '80s dark music. That's what he was into. He tells me stories of me being three- or four-years-old headbanging to Exodus. I got into hardcore when I was older. I've loved death metal for years and then I got into grindcore after that.
Admittedly, I was into stuff like Dead Guy, Snapcase, Bloodlet and that kind of stuff. And Minor Threat and more punk kind of stuff later on. I liked Hatebreed but when I started to hear more bands that sounded like that, I wasn't into them as much. I've never been into being tough like that. I heard Napalm Death when I was in middle school, and they were death metal to me -- I hadn't really heard the term grindcore before. So a lot of these bands I was listening to growing up I never thought of as having a specific genre. Like Disrupt, to me, was like punk with death metal vocals. When I heard the term grindcore, I started seeking out those bands.
I feel like Clinging is a mix between a lot of grind and a lot of doom. We all kind of got into doom later on, after all of this. I liked Crowbar when I was younger, but your more extreme doom like Moss or Sunn or Khanate, came later. We have a little bit of death metal and black metal in there, too. All genres of extreme, underground music, but the foundation is doom and grind for sure. If we were a food pyramid, the base would be grindcore, doom and sprinklings of other stuff over the top.
WW: How did you come to run Kingdom of Doom, and what lead to the demise of that place as a venue?
EM: There were some kids living there before me. I played a few shows there, and had an awesome time. A lot of people were pissed because they were still using the name Monkey Mania, and it wasn't Josh Taylor anymore. I didn't give a shit, and I played awesome shows there. I was getting into booking shows at that time, and it was a new thing for me. I did a lot of shows there that were really successful -- fuckin' sweet! -- you know?
So those kids were like, "Hey Ethan, man, why don't you move in, and help us out? We need money, and we're having a hard time playing the rent. You book good shows, and we need a roommate." I got along with those kids, and thought they were solid people.
I told them I would move in the next month because my lease was up. I move all my stuff in throughout the month, getting ready, stoked, nowhere else to go.
Everybody is no longer living there except one guy. I give him money for rent, and then he tells me, "I'm going to Michigan to see my family for a week, and then I'll be back, and we'll get going." He goes out to Michigan, and two weeks go by, so I call him and ask, "Hey, dude, when are you coming back? Rent's due. It's coming up on the first. What's going on?"
He's not getting back to me for a while, but finally he sends me an email saying he's not coming back because he has some financial trouble. He fucking abandons me at Monkey Mania with no money from his end with a $1,500 warehouse bill. I'm there alone. I have no roommates, nothing.
I have nowhere else to go, so I figure I have to do what I have to do. So I got a bunch of friends together and we cleaned that motherfucker out. And when I tell you we cleaned it out, I'm telling you that we took four giant U-Haul's worth of trash around town for eight hours, dropping it in various dumpsters because that place didn't have its own dumpster. Then there was another five or six that I had to clear out when I left that place. That place is a project to move into. So not only am I fucked financially, but I have this huge mess on my hands, and I've never been in a situation like that.
So I started throwing shows and all these shows are happening that I don't know about. All these people are knocking on my door at random times. People are breaking in through the fucking roof to take stuff that's theirs, I buy a P.A. and had two P.A.'s stolen, and all this crazy shit while I'm still trying to get roommates. At the end of all of this, I had a solid two year run of awesome shows.
By the time we left, there were at least forty people there every night there was a show, and people were having a good time. The police must not have liked that, because we were having too much fuckin' fun, and they swooped in that night of the Nunslaughter, thirty deep. This is after two years running, no one's ever been hurt, some crazy shit has happened but no one has been killed, no one's been seriously injured -- it's a miracle. And there were eight people living there.
The night of Nunslaughter, I think To Be Eaten starts to play -- or it may have been Catheter -- and thirty cops come in the front door and start kicking people out, kicking open doors, opening cabinets, fucking raiding my house. There were probably 250 fucking people that night. I mean, it was packed! People had three inches between them -- way beyond fire code.
They came in as if they wanted to bust my ass. Fucking came in, sat me down, handcuffed me. I'm fucked. They searched, and they didn't find any fucking drugs, and we weren't serving booze or anything. They could have arrested me, I'm sure, but they didn't. The fire marshal shut us down, and that was it.
I had a lot court shit to deal with and money to pay. I got most of the blame because it was kind of my operation. That was right around the time of the Democratic National Convention, and they just wanted to clean up the neighborhood. That sucks that that happened. Those years at that warehouse were probably some of the best I've ever had. They were also some of the worst in terms of being stressful and dealing with crazy shit.
Now that it's over, regardless of the crazy shit I had to deal with -- roommates, money and cops and crazy people -- the shows that were there and the friends that I made were totally worth it. I probably aged five years living there, but I had an awesome time. If I could do it again, I would.
WW: What do you think is good about the local music scene and what do you think could be improved?
EM: There's never a shortage of good shows. There's always something worth seeing. It's rare that a week goes by where there's not something worth going to see. That's what's good about the Denver thing. As for areas of improvement, there's a lot of elitism. When we first came around, people were not very accepting of us, and we've had to work very hard to not get shit on by our peers. But that still happens.
The thing that I've noticed is that as soon as you try to do something like tour or put out records, or whatever, people start to think all sorts of fucked up shit about you, and you hear about it from other people. We went from doing it all ourselves to being on Prosthetics Records, people may be saying we sold out.
But this record we're putting out is the heaviest thing I've been a part of. People have already made jokes to me about my "Prosthetic Paycheck." I'm still paying out of pocket, I don't know what you think. I'm just getting a little bit of press, and they're putting out the record. We still paid for half the recording, we pay for the tour, which I booked myself, and other merch. People are afraid to go to other venues and other places and crossbreed and get to know each other. A lot of venues are afraid to book the kind of stuff we do, and that's the biggest problem.
WW: Did you have any specific goals, artistic or otherwise, with this band?
EM: I wanted to make something that was really dark and really heavy that reflects the worst feelings I have inside ever. I spend a lot of time with kids as a professional, and I'm generally personable, so I don't always get a to talk about how fucked up I feel.
So that's what this is for. It's an outlet for all of us to express the angriest, darkest feelings you could have. I don't even try to have good feelings in my music. But maybe someone will listen to it and think, "I feel like that, too." That's what metal and punk is all about anyway. So I'm sticking with that. It's not like it's not that original an idea, but that's just what the band is.
Lyrically, it's really dark. Musically, we want to have the extremes of fast and heavy and really slow and heavy, peppered with all this other stuff, because we're musicians and like different styles of music. We want to be the heaviest we can every time we write a song. Some people want to write a pop song to uplift everybody. I want to make people think about what's wrong with your life and to understand and to come to terms with feeling that way.
People think with the new president -- I'm half black, so I don't give a fuck what his race is -- I still think he's a corrupt politician sending us to hell. And I sing about this in songs.
My peers don't want to hear that. It's taboo if you're under the age of forty. I talk about how you're fucked if you work a job you hate, and how you're fucked if you don't work. Some people want to go home and listen to safe music and forget about what's going on.
But you can't forget, because when the shit hits the fan, you have to be ready. I don't just talk about what's wrong, but I talk about the terrible feelings it brings me. Just these places you don't want to admit you go to, but I go there, and I write about it. I know what's oppressing me, but a lot of people don't know, and I think that's the positive aspect of it. Increasing awareness about the fucked-up things in life.
You ever feel like a terrible person for choices you've made or ways of thinking? I talk about that, thinking I'm a piece of shit, because I think it's something everyone deals with.
Clinging to the Trees of a Forest Fire, tour kick off show, with Hot White, Elitist, Kenmode, Gaza, No Thought, 6 p.m. Sunday, June 6, Blast-O-Mat, 2935 W. 7th Avenue, $5, All Ages.