Coady Willis on playing parties with projectile vomiting and people jumping out of windows
Scott Martin Business doing pleasure: Coady Willis (center) and his Big Business colleagues.
Coady Willis and Jared Warren formed Big Business in the wake of break ups by the Whip and Dead Low Tide. Prior to that, the two had been in a number of noteworthy -- even legendary in some circles -- Pacific Northwest bands like Karp and the Murder City Devils, groups that essentially helped to define a noise rock and punk aesthetic that proved influential in the decade ahead. Although Big Business's heavier sound has often been described as "sludge," the band's music really has little in common with stoner rock beyond a penchant for crushing dynamics and rhythms that have some swing to it.
In the last handful of years, Willis and Warren became part of the rhythm section of the Melvins and helped expand the noise palette of that group while maintaining a distinct musical identity of their own. In advance of Big Business's tour in support of its latest release, the Quadruple Single EP, we spoke with drummer Coady Willis about being in the Pacific Northwest at an interesting time, the difference between his drumming style and that of Dale Crover and the sheer fun of playing shows close to the crowd.
Westword: Did you grow up in Seattle?
Coady Willis: I was born in Bellingham, Washington. I went to middle school and high school in Mount Vernon, which is in between Bellingham and Seattle. As soon I was out of high school, I moved to Seattle. I lived there about thirteen or fourteen years.
When you were coming up, what was it like for you learning about music and going to see it?
When I was in Mount Vernon, not lot of stuff came through that place, believe it or not. As soon as I was able to drive, I would sneak down to Seattle, and my friend and I would go to shows at OK Hotel. I saw one of the first Built to Spill shows there. I saw Mudhoney a bunch of times, and they were always awesome and crazy and kind of scary. I saw Nirvana a couple of times, and they were awesome. I saw Bikini Kill, and I once saw this band Tribe 8 -- that was one of the scariest experiences of my young life. In the middle of the mosh pit were all these shirtless lesbians while the lead singer was swinging a black dildo in the air before cutting it in half with a knife.
Yeah, they're great. Lynn Breedlove used to put on a strap-on and have guys give her head while she was on stage.
Where did you see Bikini Kill?
I saw Bikini Kill, Nirvana and Mudhoney at a Halloween show at the Paramount Theatre. I saw Bikini Kill once in Bellingham at this place called the Showoff Gallery.
How did you get involved in music? Assuming you had a band before you were in Murder City Devils.
I had a bunch of bands with friends in high school but nothing of note, really. I started playing when I was fifteen. I had an uncle who played drums, and he was a firefighter, and he was kind of my childhood hero. So I always wanted to play drums, but my mom never wanted me to. Finally I got a job and bought my own drum set behind her back. She showed up one day, and there they were in her house. She just accepted it and said, "You can't play them while I'm home." So my days were spent waiting for her to go to work or leave somehow so I could get back there and play.
You grow up in a small town sometimes, and it's like do you want to play music in not your ideal band or not play music at all? I was just trying to play as much as I could, play parties or whatever. When I was seventeen, I think, I was in this band with some of the older kids in town who had been in other bands. We went down to the Lake Union Pub in Seattle, and they snuck me in, and I got to play a show at seventeen in a full-on bar, which was very exciting for me. That band was called Bland. Exciting! We were not very good.
Presumably you met Buzz and Dale while you were in Murder City Devils before Big Business. How did you meet those guys?
Well, Murder City and Melvins never crossed paths, believe it or not. It was just totally different scenes, and by the time the Devils started getting any sort of traction at all, we were almost done. The majority of our band's career or whatever, we were playing little, shitty rock clubs and stuff like that, parties. Toward the end, we started getting to play festivals.
After that band, Spencer [Moody] and Nate [Manny] and Mike Kunka from godheadSilo and Enemy Mine started this band Dead Low Tide, which was a little heavier than the Devils. That band opened for the Melvins on a west coast tour. That's how I met those guys. Jared has been friends with Dale's wife Maureen for a long time. She used to work at Jabberjaw in L.A. I met Dale through that band, and we'd see each other around and sort of keep in touch. When Big Business started and toured up and down the West Coast, we would stay at Dale's house and hung out with him. When they had to fire Kevin [Rutmanis], I guess Jared was their first choice for a new bass player. That's how we ended up in the Melvins.
When you were in Murder City Devils and Dead Low Tide, you definitely played at the 15th St. Tavern.
I remember it well. It was always a fun show there, always rowdy and crazy. I was going through some old pictures yesterday and scanning them and found a bunch of pictures from the 15th St., actually.
Did you ever see or play shows with Jared's old bands Karp and Tight Bros. From Way Back When?
The Devils and Karp never played together. But I saw Karp twice and then we played two or three shows with the Tight Bros. That's how I met Jared. He ended up moving to Seattle after Tight Bros. broke up. Eventually Scott [Jernigan] moved to Seattle as well, and that's when they started the Whip. After Scott had his boat accident and passed away, Jared was hanging out in Seattle for a while.
I think that's how Big Business got together six or eight months after that happened. Dead Low Tide had broken up and neither of us was doing anything, and I'd see him around town, and I admired his musical talent and all the bands he'd been in. So I worked the courage one day to ask him if he wanted to make noise, no strings attached. We tried it, and it was really fun.
What have been your favorite things about playing drums and what have been your least favorite?
Least favorite is the non-portability of drums. The lifting them and loading them--that can get old.
And tuning them, though most people not familiar with drums might think that sounds counter-intuitive.
Even that now, once you learn a drum kit and understand how they behave, it's not that hard. I'm not too much of a freak about that. I can get them to where the rack tom and the floor tom sound good when you hit them at the same time, and the kick drum sounds good. Cool. That's good.
It's the funnest instrument to play. I can't think of another instrument that would be more fun to play. It's cathartic, and you get to beat the living shit out of your instrument every night. I guess that can also get expensive. Cymbals are really expensive. The nature of it is that, yeah, it breaks eventually, so it's kind of a constant repairing things bit by bit. Usually there's one thing on my drum set that is broken. I miss it when I can't do it. If I go a day or two days without playing, I kind of start to freak out a little bit.