Full Of Hell: Interview With Spencer & Dylan

Even for a band continuously willing to push themselves, Full Of Hell’s new album Garden Of Burning Apparitions is the work of four men going beyond their own limits. Jamie Grimes talks to Spencer Hazard (guitar, noise) and Dylan Walker (vocals, electronics) of the abstract grind pioneers about the making of the record, collaboration, and 80s toys.

Full Of Hell
Full Of Hell

Firstly, before we get to the current activities in the world of Full Of Hell you guys played your first post-pandemic gigs back in July and August. As a band who have a reputation for being road dogs, how did it feel to finally get out on stage again after the break? Did playing these shows feel different to playing pre-lockdown in any way?

Spencer: It honestly was pretty nerve wracking. Like it’s a surreal feeling and it’s almost like you’re doing something forbidden. It’s honestly hard to explain because on one hand it felt amazing doing something we love after having it taken away for two years, but on the other hand the world is still obviously very fucked up. I’m just ready to get back to normal life and try to move forward.

Going back a bit now, but I know unfortunately you guys had some gear stolen in late 2019 at the end of the Weeping Choir cycle. I was wondering  how/if that effected the band in terms of changing your approach to anything? For example I know some of that gear was custom made, did it make you take a break from this thing you’ve been working so hard at for so long? Or was it a case of just replacing things and carrying on?

Spencer: I’m pretty nervous about getting back on the road. After everything was stolen, we had to totally rebuild as fast as we possibly could because we had a few shows almost immediately after that we couldn’t cancel. We had steady touring planned, including a residency at Roadburn, so we couldn’t take any time off, but all of that obviously fell apart. I do think this was a learning experience though. Everyone who knows us or has toured with us knows we never take chances, but the theft proves you can’t even let your guard down for a second so this upcoming tour we will definitely be more on our toes.

it’s a surreal feeling and it’s almost like you’re doing something forbidden…

You guys seem to have been pretty prolific during the Pandemic in a number of ways, but what were the mechanics of writing and recording Garden Of Burning Apparitions like for you with the event of lockdowns over the last year or so? Did you have to work in fits and starts? Or was it a case of blocking off time and just nailing it over a particular period?

Spencer: Usually when we write a record it’s in between touring so it takes a little while longer because there’s no downtime at all. Having your entire year fall apart right in front of you can be pretty discouraging but I had to preoccupy myself, so it was kind of a blessing personally to actually have free time to just focus on writing and crafting a record as a whole. This was definitely one of the fastest writing sessions I’ve ever done because I didn’t have to worry about running through sets or learning old songs, Dave [Bland – drums] and I could just meet up and run through all new material.

Full Of Hell
Full Of Hell

Musically it feels to me like Garden… is both a refinement of and expansion of what you’d done on the two preceding records musically, and the three records overall I think are the place where you’ve really developed a musical identity/language that is uniquely yours. When you guys started work on the album was there any kind of discussion on where you wanted to go musically on this record? Or is it simply a case of just writing and seeing what comes out?

Spencer: This record I definitely felt like I didn’t box myself in. The last two records I was definitely on more of a death grind/death metal kick so that was my goal. On Weeping Choir I wanted a death metal influence but I also wanted to look back at past records we’ve done and try to incorporate previous influences. With Garden… I definitely feel like I nailed that more. This is one of the first records where I’ve been like, ‘if it sounds cool to me, I’m going to use it’ compared to ‘this is too metal’ or ‘this isn’t metal enough’.

I think Seth Manchester is the first time we actually got what we were looking for, he was very open to ideas we had on sounds…

You recorded Garden… with Seth Manchester at Machines With Magnets who has worked on some seriously ground breaking records over the last couple of years (the likes of Lingy, The Body, etc all come to mind). How was that experience and what kind of role did Seth play in the process – was he merely an engineer or did it feel more collaborative?

Spencer: This was one of my favorite recording experiences. The last few records we wanted a ‘producer’ to just tell us what sucks or what works. I think Seth Manchester is the first time we actually got what we were looking for, he was very open to ideas we had on sounds, and how we wanted to record certain things, but if it didn’t work he wasn’t afraid to tell us it didn’t.

Speaking of Machines With Magnets – you guys knocked out a pretty insane live stream for Decibel Magazine (and debuted a couple of the songs off this record) from the studio – was that done while you were recording Garden…? Or did you guys manage to record any other non-album material while you were there?

Spencer: We got asked to do the Decibel thing right before we went to the studio. We also booked a few extra days in case of fuck ups, so it was perfectly timed because we finished recording the record early and could do the live stream set without feeling rushed.

Full Of Hell ‘Garden Of Burning Apparitions’
Full Of Hell ‘Garden Of Burning Apparitions’ Artwork

Spencer, I have to ask about some of the guitar stuff on the record. Your playing takes in a lot of higher range and discordant stuff rather than just relying on power chords all the time, you’re very subtle with how you do it but you utilise effects/pedals in a very unique way I think compared to a lot of grind/metal/whatever guitarists on this album; the little bit of chorus on Celestial Hierarchy, the weird bit crushy reverb at the start of Murmuring Foul Spirit, and that insane kill switch thing on Industrial Messiah Complex all spring to mind. What does your pedalboard look like at the moment? And how do things like effects influence your writing if at all? Also did I see Sam playing a Bass VI rather than a standard bass during the recent live stream?

Spencer: My pedalboard constantly changes except my Earthquaker Dispatch Master, that’s a pedal I could do an entire tour with if everything else fails. My favorite delay I’ve ever played. I’ve just recently started falling in love with fuzz and distortion. Just this year I bought a RAT and Big Muff (two of the most iconic pedals ever). I always prefer the amps distortion, but I discovered all of the different feedback tones you can get with tastefully adding a fuzz to it. Also, a pedal that appears a bunch on the record is the MXR Blue Box. I think it’s totally underrated especially for the price.

I usually write the songs before thinking of what effect I can use to spice up the song. Chorus is one of the first effects I ever got and we’re huge Gas Chamber fans. I think they utilized chorus perfectly and I wanted to capture that sound on the record.

This is the first record we have ever used multiple tunings. C standard is our go to, but I had a guitar in E-flat and had a few song ideas that actually fit that sound way better. So, we thought if we are tuning differently we might as well go all out and get a Bass VI. I definitely think the sound of the VI compliments the songs and gives it a unique tone. So all E-Flat songs feature the VI and all C songs use the 4 string.

This is the first record we have ever used multiple tunings. C standard is our go to, but I had a guitar in E-flat and had a few song ideas that actually fit that sound way better…

Kind of related… what’s going on with Derelict Satellite? It sounds like there’s some scrap metal or chains in amongst the walls of noise. Spencer, I know you build and sell noise devices but are there any you’ve built specifically for Full Of Hell only?

Spencer: I’ve built Dylan a few things over the years, one being a junk guitar that shows up on this track. The track is actually a collaboration with Ryan Bloomer (Intensive Care). I recorded a bunch of stuff at home and sent it to Ryan to remix, we then brought it to the studio and used the room mics to pick up natural sounds, such as junk metal being smashed. I consider Ryan a noise legend, so I was so glad to be able to work with him on a track like this.

There’s always been a strong noise element to Full Of Hell but the album overall has a bit more of a noise-rock and industrial feel to it in places than the last two, I was wondering if starting Eye Flys/Sore Dream/Industrial Hazard fed into the writing of Garden… at all?

Spencer: Eye Flys definitely has had an impact on the way I play guitar. It’s one of the first bands I’ve been in for years where I don’t have to write everything, I have to learn someone else’s style. Today Is The Day and Sonic Youth have been big influences on my guitar playing almost since we started this band, but Zeni Geva was one of the main inspirations for this record. Desire for Agony and Sexual Behavior In The Human Male by the Gerogerigegege had the biggest impact on my writing this time around.

Full Of Hell
Full OF Hell

Stepping back in time a little bit, you guys are constantly collaborating with other artists and one of the most unexpected and exciting collabs was the Full Of Health record. I was wondering if you could shed a little light on how that came in to being? Are we going to see any other collaborations with artists from different (eg more electronic for example) genres from you guys down the line?

Dylan: Oh man. Those guys are really cool! I had first heard of Health back in high school but hadn’t kept up with them. I didn’t even know their sound had evolved into what it is, they really sound like nothing else to me. As far as I can be sure, it all started because a kid in Austria made a meme of a bunch of stock images of people working out, eating healthy and edited the logo to say Full Of Health. We printed it on a shirt as a joke and word got back to Health (probably from kids making the joke like 10k times).

They are super prolific and always seem to be working on some kind of collaborative music, so I think it just made sense for both of us. It was a really easy experience, Spencer wrote a very bare bones structure for a song, we recorded it and sent it off to the Health guys and they did the rest. Like I said, super easy, super fun, those guys are great. We have never really thought critically about genre when it comes to doing these collaborations. In the future I think some projects will seem very in ‘our lane’ and others will seem more outlandish than anything we’ve done so far.

I’ve been going through a sort of forced retrospective period of my life while live music has been in stasis…

Back to the album now and one for Dylan – Your lyrics have always seemed to have something of an apocalyptic bent to me that I’ve, in places, taken to have themes of a struggle between humanity and spirituality. Obviously we’ve lived through an unprecedented event in terms of how humanity functions that’s been, in some ways, analogous to an apocalypse in terms of how we live our day to day lives, so I have to ask if that fed into the lyrics on this record? Like I’ve seen you mention Reeking Tunnels touches on the idea of people living in a state of fear?

Dylan: Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but I’ve been going through a sort of forced retrospective period of my life while live music has been in stasis. One of the things I realized was that I’ve been singing about the same things since our very first recordings. Everything around me influences those fears, so yes, tumultuous times definitely feed into what’s on my mind and what I’m writing about. The potential of a human being can be very scary, infinitely more so in larger groups. When it comes to our basic needs, I don’t think there is much the average person wouldn’t do to survive. 

Full Of Hell 'Weeping Choir'
Full Of Hell ‘Weeping Choir’ Artwork

As with Trumpeting Ecstasy and Weeping Choir you worked with Mark McCoy again for the artwork on Gardens… and it really feels like even though he has a very recognisable style, when you work together, he always comes up with something that could only be Full Of Hell, and it seems like the three album covers tie together. How does the back and forth between you and Mark work and how conscious is the continuity over the last three sleeves?

Dylan: Working with Mark McCoy is a pretty easy and fluid experience. We sort of figured out a rhythm that works when we did Trumpeting Ecstasy. Mark had previously done the artwork for the Merzbow Collaboration as well, but it wasn’t until Trumpeting… that I felt like we really hit our pace, where he really started to dig into the lyrics and try and interpret them in his way. As far as continuity goes, I like to attempt that with almost everything we do, in the most natural way possible. I feel like I can only see the path a step or so ahead, so I’ve learned to go with the flow and work on this concept to the best of my ability, and it all tends to come to light when I need it to.

Weeping Choir became the sister album to Trumpeting Ecstasy when we started writing it. Garden… was always meant to be its own thing, not the third piece of the puzzle, but looking at it in the rear view I’m not so sure that it isn’t that third piece! A lot of the themes tied up nicely in this one. Mark has been great to work with because he understands what kind of aesthetic I’m into and what kind of band we are. It’s all been really natural.

Mark [McCoy] has been great to work with because he understands what kind of aesthetic I’m into and what kind of band we are…

Related to the art question I guess… but also the music videos you guys have done for this record really expand on your visual aesthetic. There’s something very haunted/haunting about the videos, the sleeves, etc… your musical influences are pretty well documented but I’ve not seen much of you talking about the visual aspect. I’ve always wondered if there’s anyone who’s a particular influence on that kind of thing in terms of film makers, artists, photographers? Am I totally off the mark suggesting the more surreal end of the horror genre might have something to do with it?

Dylan: We’ve always been a little torn on videos. None of us like music videos where the band members are in the video, worse if they’re playing. We’ve worked with a few different people over the years to make videos happen, and a couple of them were written and pieced together by me alongside my super talented friends Ian Killian (writing/direction) and Cody Stauder (camera/editing/etc). In those videos I would always be in a phase with a particular type of scene, or vague imagery I’d seen that I felt was either frightening or just really fascinating in a visual sense.

The last video we did together was for Burning Myrrh, and it was probably the closest we got to providing a direct visual to the album aesthetic/lyrics. On this new one we had Richard Rankin (long-time ally of The Body) make two videos for us. We gave him a bit of reference, but his work is always very surreal and haunting. I have always been a fan of horror but tended to lean more towards the surreal and reserved style. I think what you don’t see is so much more frightening than any full reveal or CGI or anything like that.

Full Of Hell
Full Of Hell

You made a limited amount of View-Masters to go with the release of the album – How the fuck does one  even go about making a View-Master in 2021?? I’m an old fart so I had one of those as a kid in the 80s but I didn’t think they were made any more. You made a tiny number of these to go with the album so can you tell us a little about how you came up with the idea?

Dylan: Haha – There’s a website to order them from! Seems to be popular with family reunions and work events, mainly. I can’t remember if Mark or I thought of this, but I’m pretty sure it was Mark. We were brainstorming for possible companions to the album that were just a little more out of the ordinary. I’ve always loved his approach to these kinds of things, so that was the inspiration for sure.

I hope we’re still going in 2029 and that we pushed ourselves to get better at what we do…

Finally – you guys are now into your second decade as a band (congrats!) having started in 2009 if I’m correct. You reissued your early work through your own label, which seemed like the perfect way to celebrate especially as it feels like a real statement of your consistent DIY ethic over that time. How do you think Full of Hell 2029 will sound?

Dylan: I have no aspirations for how we need to sound in 2029. I don’t think I could have visualized how we sound now back in 2009, so I can only speculate – haha. All I can say is that I hope we’re still going in 2029 and that we pushed ourselves to get better at what we do in the interim.

Thanks Spencer and Dylan for taking the time to answer out questions, and their latest album Garden Of Burning Apparitions is out now through Relapse Records.

Label: Relapse Records
Band Links: Official | Facebook | Bandcamp | Instagram

Interviewed by: Jamie Grimes