Friday, May 13, 2022

an interview with Pyrithe

Pyrithe sidestep expectatations of what it means to make heavy music with their chimaeric, oft-improvised blend of noise rock and sludge metal. The Pittsburgh trio's first studio album Monuments To Impermanence is out now through Gilead Media, and it gives this jaded hesher hope that the underground is still capable of creating something original. Drummer John Kerr was kind enough to answer my questions about his band's origins and songwriting. [Special thanks to Shannon Void from Perfect World Productions for coordinating this interview.]

Dreams of Consciousness: What is Pyrithe?

For the most part, Pyrithe is when my friends come over and try to remember how to play what we worked on last week. We also don’t know how to pronounce it either so say it however you want. I’ve been laughing about pronouncing it “Pie ree thay” lately.

photo by Noah Purdy

DoC: For those who are not familiar with Pyrithe, please give a brief history of your band - what brought you together, and how clear of an idea did you have of the type of music you wanted to make?

I was trying to put a live line up together for my old solo project and became friends with Zach [Miller, guitarist] after our mutual friend Jason introduced him as a potential lead guitarist. The live line up thing never went anywhere but Zach and I bonded over old Hydra Head records and orange accent stripes in album layouts. We knew we wanted to make heavy and loud music together but I can’t recall any specific goals beyond that, which in hindsight I think was part of the point. Weston [bass] and Vicky [Carbone, vocals] joined us after a few months of duo jams and we took it from there with a continued communal spirit. We all subconsciously brought our musical histories and influences into this.

DoC: In 2018 you released "WRCT", which was a live recording for the radio station at Carnegie Mellon University. How did this recording/live set come about? How do you feel about it now?

WRCT occasionally asks bands to perform live sets and for whatever we reason we became one of them. We’d flirted with presenting our live shows as one unbroken song and this would force us to attempt that in earnest. There’s weird regulations about dead air over terrestrial radio and as we’re not ones for stage banter in the first place, we had to fill every moment with sound. None of us had been in a studio together at that point either, so it was a kind of low stakes trial run for eventual proper recording.

Looking back, I think we all appreciate WRCT as a “snapshot” kind of thing. Almost everything from it shows up in some form on Monuments but with more polish, orchestration, and confidence. It’s definitely a demo, but demos are sick in their own right and in that sense it holds up. I’m also really happy there’s an “official” document of our original lineup.

DoC: How do songs typically start for Pyrithe? Do you have a main songwriter, or do you write as a group? How much of your recorded material is improvised?

We all (mostly Zach) bring in riffs, but the bulk of the songwriting and character building happens with the three of us in a room together trying shit out. Zach plays my riffs differently than I ever would and I’ll in turn force his riffs into the rhythms I want. So no matter who “submits” a part, it eventually filters through the collective. We’re also pretty picky. We’ve definitely thrown out more songs than we’ve written.

Most of our songs have fairly defined structures but there’s scattered moments of relative open-endedness. Songs like "Luminous" and "Heaving Roots II" are almost completely improvised, but the last section of "In Praise…" has orchestrated time signature and feel changes.

DoC: Monuments To Impermanence was released at the end of April through Gilead Media. What were your intentions with this album? When did you start working on it? What do you want people to experience while listening to it?

Speaking only for myself here, but I’ve always admired bands that adhered to a sound instead of a genre. I spent my most formative years obsessing over maudlin of the Well, Agalloch, King Crimson, and every Mike Patton project I could find. I loved bands who were instantly recognizable no matter what kind of music they were playing. I don’t think Pyrithe sounds like any of those bands, but I think we’ve come at a similar spirit through our disparate influences. Any two random moments on Monuments could probably sound like completely different bands, but I really think it’ll all make sense to people who listen from front to back.

Work on the album started from Zach and I’s first jam and basically didn’t stop until we hit record in the studio. There’s a riff on "Earthen Anchors" I thought of in the middle of recording it and wrote into the song for the next take. If we ever play any of these songs live, they will probably evolve even more.

And I honestly have no fucking idea what I want people to experience. I know how this album makes *us* feel because we were there when we were made it. It’s not “ours” anymore I guess.

DoC: Tell me about the recording of the album - where were the tracks recorded? What were the sessions like? Why did you choose to work with Spenser Morris, and what would you say he brought to your sound?

We rented out Fire K Studios in the South of Pittsburgh for a few days and brought Spense in from Chicago to engineer the sessions. I met him in college and he's been one of my best friends ever since. He’s helped me out with more projects than I can remember and I feel weird not being in a studio with him. He’s one of those engineers who will immediately tell you a take sucked. He knows us, has seen us live, and knows how we sound.

The sessions were honestly pretty relaxed and unprofessional. We’re all ultimately friends before we’re bandmates, so there were a lot of breaks to the bar down the street. We hit the rehearsal space pretty hard leading up to the studio so we were confident and tight enough that we could relax and have fun a bit. We ended up recording a lot of stuff that we didn’t plan, like the piles of trash that the press write-ups seem to love mentioning.

DoC: You have a number of guests on this album (including someone who has been on this site a few times). Can you tell me who they were, and what their contributions were? [Also, please explain how someone "plays" trash.]

Our original vocalist Vicky does all the vocals and lyrics on "Glioblastoma". That was the first song we ever wrote so it felt appropriate to have the Original Vocalist on the Original Song. Couldn’t have been anyone else.

Doug Moore [Pyrrhon, Glorious Depravity] does all the vocals and lyrics on "Earthen Anchors". I met Doug years ago after Pyrrhon slept at my house on tour and we’ve kept in touch ever since. I asked out of the blue if he’d be down for an entire song and he said yes pretty much immediately. He recorded more vocals than he intended us to use, but we ended up using it all anyway.

My Noltem bandmate and friend Max Johnson plays kantele over "Heaving Roots II". We sent him the otherwise completed track and told him to play some stringed shit that wasn’t a guitar and he came up with that. We again used everything he sent us. My other Noltem bandmate and friend Shalin Shah plays a soft egg.

Me and Jason Cantu [Slaves BC] both played the trash. You play trash with purpose.

DoC: Like the WRCT sessions, Monuments To Impermanence was recorded live. What do you like about recording live, as opposed to tracking the instruments separately? What are the challenges that come with recording this way?

If you’re a band who regularly rehearses, recording live will always be infinitely more enjoyable and rewarding than tracking separately. You know what you sound like in real life together. If a recording does not represent that, it will sound completely alien to you and isn’t likely to convey your original intentions to the listener. We rehearsed a lot, knew our equipment, and trusted our engineer, so there were basically no real challenges during the live tracking.

The hardest parts of making this record actually came later. We’re three people, so only the drums, bass, and guitar were recorded live and all vocals and other instrumentation came later. None of this overdubbing process was particularly painful, but Spense and I were swapping files remotely by this point and that’s never as fun as just turning to your friend and seeing their face.

And of course COVID hit in the middle of all that. We originally intended to have a different vocalist on every song but we didn’t want to ask a bunch of people to book studio time in the early months of a pandemic, so I ended up writing a ton of lyrics and finishing most of the remaining vocals myself. I actually think it turned out for the best this way, but I still want to get the rest of those guests on something eventually…

DoC: The album will be released through Gilead Media, who have a varied/eclectic roster of bands from various genres. How did GM get involved with this release, and how would you say you relate to the other artists on the label?

Adam and I have been friends for years and I’ve always adored Gilead, so of course we meticulously designed Pyrithe to sound exactly like a band he would want to release.

But seriously, I just sent him the album after we got the masters because I thought he might like it. I never thought he would offer to release it. We didn’t even have to discuss it. We said yes like 10 minutes after he offered. Gilead was always one of our “in a perfect world” scenarios and I still can’t believe it’s happening.

I think we fit in with the other bands in the sense that we make uncompromising heavy music. I definitely don’t want to speak for the other artists on the label, but that’s the common thread in my mind. One of the best labels to ever do it.

DoC: What's next for Pyrithe?

Monuments to Impermanence is currently available for order from Gilead Media’s Bandcamp and webstore. The vinyl is coming later because it’s vinyl. Every version has a unique layout to that format featuring cover art by Caroline Harrison and inner illustration by Nate Burns.

We want to get back to playing live sometime this summer and have a proper record release show once the vinyl comes in. Other than that we have some special local things in mind that we’re in the early stages of planning. Our Instagram is probably the best place to keep up with these things.

We’ve also spent a lot of the past year or so writing our second album. So far there’s a lot more room to breathe and the extremities are all more extreme. Melodic parts are more melodic, fast parts are faster, low parts are lower. We’re probably looking to record it in early 2023.

Pyrithe on Facebook

Pyrithe on Bandcamp

Pyrithe on IG

Monuments To Impermanence on Gilead Media Bandcamp

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