Hunter Hunt-Hendrix of Liturgy on the band's philosophical underpinnings
Brooklyn's Liturgy (due Tuesday, July 12, at the hi-dive with Collapse and Barnacle) started as the solo project of singer/guitarist Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, who started writing the music with a drum machine on which he created the "burst beat" -- a way of taking the blast beat of much grindcore, death metal and black metal and altering the tempo while maintaining an overall rhythmic logic in time with the rest of the instrumentation.
Hunt-Hendrix has ruffled some feathers with his intellectually rigorous understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of the music his band is creating. If Liturgy is black metal, it is so in the same vein as Wolves in the Throne Room; you can hear an expansive and adventurous spirit in the music rather than an expression of the anomaly of an existence focused on existential, even cosmic, pain. In advance of his band's show tonight at the hi-dive, we spoke with Hunt-Hendrix about his philosophical understanding of his music and the central role of affirmation rather than negation in the band's aesthetic.
Westword: For Renihilation, you worked with Colin Marston of Krallice. How did that come about, and why did you choose to work with him?
Hunter Hunt-Hendrix: It's actually less Krallice-related than you might think, because Colin is sort of the guy who records a lot of bands from Brooklyn who don't even play metal. I had recorded with him before with a hardcore band I was in. He records Extra Life, Zs and other friends of ours. He was kind of the go-to guy in a way, and he did a great job.
In the Scion Rock Fest 2010 interview, you mentioned a "Transcendental Black Metal Manifesto." Did you really create one, and why did you feel it was important to do so, whether it was actually drafted or not?
Yeah, there's a manifesto. There was a symposium called "The Hideous Gnosis: Black Metal Theory Symposium," and I was invited to speak at it. There was a lot of academic writing on black metal. I'd always wanted to write something about this aspect of the band, the philosophical underpinnings, and I was sort of surprised to actually have the opportunity to do it.
That was in 2009. What's also surprising is how much that essay has come to dominate the identity of the band. People always ask questions about it. It didn't make much of a splash at first. It's only recently that people are really reacting to it. And that may be too bad, but it is sort of a surprise.
Why are you interested in Romanticism?
I like Romantic music very much, and I think that there's something very special about the Romantic period in classical music. And the composers -- Wagner, in particular -- have this cosmic ambition with what kind of effect their music can have. Like, they wanted to write a piece that could trigger the apocalypse, literally, and sustain it. There's just something about that attitude that was very influential as an alternative to a traditionally rock counterculture attitude.
What kind of drum machine did you use initially to create the "burst beat," and why did you think it was probably impossible to play before you started playing with Greg Fox?
It was a Korg drum machine called the ES-1. There's just a special toggle knob on it that you can use to increase and decrease the tempo. It's kind of unusual for a drum machine. Usually you have a button you press multiple times, but this one has a spinning wheel. So I would record these tracks on just guitar with metronome way back then.
Then I'd put the drum machine on top of it, almost like deejaying a record. There would be a blast beat programmed in, and I'd use the toggle knob to well or ebb and flow with the melody. It's kind of a super-primitive idea, but it was really exciting to be able to do that. I wanted to sink my teeth into that technique and what could come out of it.
The reason I thought it was impossible for a drummer to do was because it's very hard to keep in tempo while doing that. Greg and I have formed this relationship where I would have this idea of what I wanted him to do, and he would do what that meant to him. He's an amazing drummer in his own right, so he's sort of been able to react to my ideas and take them in a different direction, and I think that's worked out very well. The tension between what I want Greg to do and what he does is kind of the furnace fueling the music of Liturgy.
Did you have any creative input on the video for "Returner"?
Not really. The director Zev Deans had wanted to do a video for us for about a year and a half, and we said, "Go for it." We didn't write a treatment or anything like that. I just wanted it to have some kind of Jodorowski look, and that's how it turned out. He's going to make another video for us in the fall that's a little more ambitious.
As you said in the Scratching the Surface interview from 2009, if black metal is "an expression of nihilism," why do you feel it is important to transcend nihilism?
I think that it's just a logical step. I'm a Nietzschean. Living in nihilism is awful, and there's sort of a tradition, starting with Nietzsche and other poets, artists and philosophers, like Henry Miller and [Gilles] Deleuze, in thinking that nihilism is an estranged joy. In the music that we make, I think it's very connected to my own actual life, and I think the expression of it is an effort to get beyond something.
In a recent interview with Quietus, you cite Converge and Nietzsche as formative influences. Why those two artists in particular? I personally think of Nietzsche as a philosopher poet.
It's hard to really think about Converge in the same way that you can think about Nietzsche. I love Converge; it's so mythical. Jane Doe came out when I was a teenager, and to me, Converge is just an amazing band. The frenetic energy that they have, combined with the compositional [tension] that they created on Jane Doe, is really inspiring. They make such extreme music with such dynamic range that worked so well on the whole record. So brutal, but also so emotional -- but without really being sappy. I can't say enough good things about Converge.
There's an early book, Dawn, [by Nietzsche] -- I really love the aphorisms in that book. Obviously, there's Thus Spake Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil. There's a book by Deleuze [that was a huge influence, too] called Nietzsche and Philosophy. it's sort of this Deleuszian Nietzcheanism, which is takes as its basis the notebooks and unpublished writings that ended up in The Will to Power.
In that same Quietus interview, why do you think that true counterculture is the child of transcendentalism and an affirmation rather than a negation, as some might say is the legacy of the Cathars, Dada and punk?
My view is that if you fight against something or you're reacting against something, you're still a slave of that thing, that you're still sort of under its umbrella. And I think that there's a stronger attitude, which is sort of just to start with a fundamental creative force of being and affirming and go from there.
I've read references to what you've had to say about your own music in the negative, basically dismissing you as pretentious. However, it seems to me that you've spent some time exploring the intellectual underpinnings of your art and how to articulate it. Why is that important to you?
That's not a question I can really answer. I just felt it was important to know. It's true: I do think about this stuff a lot, but at a certain point, you can't think about it any longer. Putting together the aesthetic of Liturgy and doing the band, writing the stuff and all of this, has been a lot of work, and there's been a lot of suffering involved and a lot of growing involved. At the bottom, it's an inexplicable urge.