We live in an extremely fractured era, whether you’re talking about society, ecology or politics. We set ourselves into lots of competing groups and beliefs, each raging against the other with few wanting to find common ground. Even heavy music has become more of a chaotic and fragmented scene in the last decade or so (although there are many who would argue that it has always been that way). More and more bands and fans seem to be trying to conform and confine, sticking to rigid genre tropes so they can claim to be trve purists. We have artists pushing themselves further into boxes to keep their fan base happy – the walls get bigger whilst the space inside gets smaller and smaller. It slowly begins to mark the tightening of creativity. Then along comes a band like Cloud Rat who thrive off chaos; who ignore your genre tags, swiping whatever they find interesting from varying scenes before running off to explore some more.
Hailing from Michigan, USA, Cloud Rat have been doing their own thing for over a decade now, taking bits from wherever they find inspiration and creating their own strain of music that is exhilarating, extreme and ludicrously heavy. Taking a grindcore frame and adding elements of hardcore, sludge, noise and even a bit of black metal, they have created a sound that is totally their own. This year has witnessed the release of their fourth album Pollinator, a release that has seen them take their unique sound and inject it with even more freedom and creativity. In both sound and lyrical ideas they have created an urgent, vital piece of art that demands to be in the top tier on the obligatory Albums of the Year list of anyone who enjoys loud abrasive music.
The twist to the already anarchic Pollinator comes with Do Not Let Me Off The Cliff, the album’s companion EP. The crashing discordant white noise attack of the LP is met by an EP of acoustic, electronic and experimental sound, highlighting the band’s songwriting ability and the sheer sonic diversity that Cloud Rat are capable of.
We caught up with guitarist Rorik Brooks to talk about engagement in environment, politics and the joys of doing your own thing.
Pollinator is an amazing piece of work. Did you have any expectations or goals in mind when you started the writing process?
Well dang. Thanks for the kind words!
We didn’t really have any lofty goals or expectations in the beginning, other than wanting to put together a cohesive full-length album again. I began writing while home from work with a debilitating back injury for a few months in early 2018. One personal goal, I suppose, was to become somewhat proficient using recording software. The song ‘Losing Weight’ was the first, written in about ten minutes, and was more of an experiment for me to learn Ableton, but it ended up being good enough to make the cut for the record. So eventually we ended up with a ton of material, but then partway through decided it would be best to have a much more focused and succinct collection of songs. So we ended up cutting a bunch of stuff and then refining what we liked best.
Do Not Let Me Off The Cliff is a wonderful display of your abilities as a band. Did you set out with the intention of writing an EP of such different music, or did you find that you had songs that wouldn’t fit naturally on Pollinator?
We were kind of back and forth for a while on if we wanted to include the more esoteric stuff on the record. Artoffact [Records] suggested maybe doing a separate thing, and we ended up going with that idea. Then there were a few factors that actually led to the …Cliff stuff. First, a late schedule change made it impossible for Brandon [Hill, drums and electronics] to head down and start tracking drums for the first few days of recording. Since we already had recording time scheduled at Lakebottom, Madison [Marshall, vocals] and I went down and recorded a bunch of mostly improvised acoustic and synth stuff along with our dear friend Dave. I even recorded a bunch of nice-sounding acoustic covers of some older songs, maybe we’ll do something with those at some point, I dunno. Anyways, that stuff went on the backburner while we worked on finishing Pollinator. A few weeks before we sent the record out for pressing, I compiled the improvised stuff, and then created a few more compositions at my little home studio. Madison recorded some more vocals for it and that’s how it ended up. Similar to Pollinator, there was a lot more material that was cut in favour of a more focused piece.
Do you have any plans to play any of the songs from the EP live, and do you see yourselves writing more music on a similar trajectory?
We didn’t set out with playing the …Cliff material live, but recently Roadburn asked us to do a set of it, and we accepted. We haven’t quite figured out how to pull it off totally, but our friend Andy Gibbs (Thou) will be accompanying, and I think maybe our friend Frank Huang (Max Volume Silence) will be doing visuals too, although we haven’t confirmed that 100% yet. If that doesn’t end up happening, print this anyways because we love him whether or not that happens haha.
Each of us individually are always writing in various eclectic genres for different projects, and though we don’t have any concrete future writing plans at the moment, I’m sure we’ll end up doing more stuff along these lines together.
What role do you think grindcore and other extreme genres have to play in such a politically unstable climate? Do you think bands should get involved in the political debate?
I think extreme music plays the same role as any other genre or type of art, in that communities are built around it, which allows for the communicating of ideas and opinions, which in turn filters back out into the collective “mainstream” world. Obviously now the internet has shifted the way we perceive everything and communicate in general, which maybe in some ways has dulled the effect of political discourse in niche communities, since at any given moment every single ounce of political thought is readily available in the palm of most people’s hands. Still, I’d say it’s a positive thing for anyone and everyone, bands included, to get involved if they so desire. And I also think it’s important to stay vigilant and not perpetuate unhealthy, unnuanced lines of thought, try to steer clear of disinformation and hyperbole.
You’ve stated previously that the album and its lyrics are inspired by a range of different factors, but is there an overarching theme to the release(s)?
There are a few themes at play, but the idea of communication is a central one. That sounds pretty vague, but the more that we have stepped back and thought about how the lyrics all tie together and what was happening in our lives during the creation of the record, the more the theme of communication keeps poking through. How hard it can be to maintain relationships; how misconceptions and misunderstandings can have cataclysmic consequences; how social media and being constantly connected has warped everyone’s brains – and now we’ve all been blasted with different seeds of information over and over, exponentially growing our collective minds into an abyss of pure saturation.
As a band you seem to have been quite happily doing your own thing outside of genre expectations for some time, what gives you inspiration outside of extreme metal?
We all have our tendrils in various different worlds. Brandon is a true noise lord/jazz head/hip-hop and K-pop aficionado, will fight to the death for Alien 3 appreciation and has currently deeply fallen into the world of modular synths. Madison is pretty heavy into goth, Italian disco, Kate Bush, raw punk, Art Deco, prog, ’80s Japanese metal, Nina Hagen and really incredible creative makeup stuff. And I have a deep love for drone and ambient, video game and film soundtracks, Bruce Springsteen, ‘90s grunge, Robyn, Bob Ross, etc. And we all pretty much collectively think Björk is the greatest living artist.
What bands or albums got you into more extreme music?
I was exposed to extreme stuff pretty early on, through the Christian metal scene actually haha. My mum got me some cassettes from a local Christian bookstore when I was around seven or eight years old. Vengeance Rising, Tourniquet, Deliverance, Mortification. I loved it. MTV Headbangers Ball was huge for me too, as it was for so many others. Ace Ventura/Cannibal Corpse too. Along with more mainstream stuff like Tool and Deftones, KoRn and Slipknot as well – all gateways into heavier lands. Metallica, of course. Poison The Well was maybe another key, I was just the right age for that to hit me really hard. Fuck I dunno, there are so many to list. I know for certain though that the first time I heard Pig Destroyer on a Relapse Contaminated comp, it was all over. I grew up in a small town so just absorbed everything I could and wasn’t too concerned about genre.
After a decade as a creative force how do you keep going as a band, and do you have any long-term goals that you want to achieve?
We make it work when we can, which is admittedly becoming harder to pull off. It’s tricky to find the time and energy outside of work and family, and we all live in different areas with vastly different schedules, with often different views on how to go about logistics and tours and everything else haha. But I think we have a pretty special thing going when we can all get on the same page. I can’t think of any long-term goals other than to hopefully continue making stuff that we like and that resonates with others. Maybe collab with Björk.
A constant theme of your music seems to be based on ecology and nature. Do you see the ecological future of the planet in a positive light?
Currently I’m feeling pretty discouraged about what people are doing to the planet, and am afraid that life on earth is going to be pretty tough for everything. But I guess I see it positively in that the planet and nature will go on long after us one way or another. I think that everything will be in balance eventually, regardless of humanity’s influence.
Conversely, I think nature/reality is just as brutal and cruel as humanity, and on a cosmic scale I’m not sure that anything should exist at all. God that sounds so fuckin’ edgy and melodramatic haha. But really though, everything is existing without consent and I don’t like it.
As a publication based in the UK, we were very jealous of the Black Flags Over Brooklyn event. How did you get involved and how was it on the day?
Our friend Kim [Kelly] put it together, whom has always been incredibly kind and supportive over the years. We’ve travelled together a bit as well, so it was pretty natural to be a part of it.
There were a lot of great friends there and lots of cool things happening and wonderful bands playing! Lots of folks putting in real effort to make something awesome happen!
But it was one of those days where we drove over twelve-plus hours to get there, play, then drove straight back twelve-plus hours the next day, all due to prior obligations and work stuff that we couldn’t get out of. Should have flown but were broke. So we were pretty hit of course haha. Typical!
Any plans to come to Europe?
Will finally be back over in April! It will have been five years, sorry for the delay y’all. Cheers!
Pollinator and Do Not Let Me Off The Cliff are out now on Artoffact. Purchase here.
Words: Nathan Tyler
Photo: Jason Tipton