Noothgrush: Interview With Chiyo

San Jose’s Noothgrush need no introduction but we’ll give ’em one anyway: legendary sludge band whose contemporaries include Neurosis, Sleep, Eyehategod, Grief and the Melvins and whose influence can be felt on a whole generation of sludge bands including Cough, Unearthly Trance and myriad others. We recently spoke to drummer Chiyo Nukaga about the Bay Area scene that spawned Noothgrush, living with Matt Pike and life before the Star Wars prequel trilogy…

What was the Bay Area/San Jose scene like when you guys started? Who were the best/biggest bands around at the time? Did you know Neurosis/Sleep and those guys?

I think the Melvins were just getting big at the time, Lori was still playing with them and though they were playing small bars, they were playing often and getting bigger by the minute. Neurosis was also getting bigger and moving onto different venues from Gilman Street [Berkley, California] etc. I was living with Matt Pike [Sleep/High on Fire] at the time I asked Gary [Niederhoff] and Tom Choi to start a heavy slow band with me. This was shortly after Asbestosdeath [precursor to Sleep] broke up, and I remember Sleep going to their European tour with Cathedral and Penance.

Who inspired you to learn drums? Who inspired Noothgrush as a band?

Dale Crover [Melvins] and Chris Hakius [Asbestosdeath, Sleep, Om] inspired me as well as Peter Donovan from Grief, Ellen Mieczkowski of 13, and Joey Lacaze of Eyehategod. Noothgrush was inspired by those bands as well as Star Wars, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Gary’s previous band, Wood.

Noothgrush’s releases seem to be quite scattered with a lot of split records and EPs. Did you guys decide to focus on shorter releases as opposed to albums or did the chance to record albums never come about? Besides Erode the Person, was there ever talk of another album?

Yeah it wasn’t really intentional, splits were kinda popular back then and we just kept getting proposals for splits with our friends’ bands by our friends’ labels. It was all DIY. Unfortunately, we never really talked about recording another album after Erode, even though we had worked on three new songs that we used to play live. We never recorded those.


Do you have a favourite of your records?

I think now since Erode is on 12″ of 180 gram vinyl, maybe that one. Also loved the Corrupted split 12″, Agents of Satan split 7″, Gasp split 7″, and our first and only 7″ that is not a split on Slap a Ham Records.

What was behind the decision to call it a day in 2001?

It was one of those things that wasn’t really a decision, I don’t remember us sitting down and having a discussion about quitting. I’m not sure, I think we just toured and recorded a lot and needed a break?

How did Live for Nothing (the new Noothgrush live compilation) come about? Did Southern Lord approach you guys? Did you guys choose the live sessions that were used for the record?

Yeah, we were stoked when Greg [Anderson of Sunn O))) and founder of Southern Lord Records] asked us if we had any material that could get pressed that wasn’t out already. We coincidently had a few other releases coming out that were either represses or unreleased previously recorded material. The live mixes, I think there are at least seven in total, were never officially released. I think they are a good representation of our live sound because some of the studio recordings for our splits were rushed due to deadlines and the songs evolved as we played them at shows from the time we first recorded them.


Would you say that you guys are active again at the moment? Obviously you’ve done a few shows recently – are there any more in the pipeline?

We thought since we have 5 new releases and represses that it would be a good time to play a few shows. It has been ten years since our last show in San Francisco and who knows if the three of us will be here in another ten years, ha ha! We have played in SF and Seattle on the West Coast this past August and have an all ages show at a venue we used to play at very often, Gilman Street. This show is right around the corner on October 22nd 2011, and we have one more show at Maryland Deathfest in May 2012.

Is there any chance of any new recordings, perhaps of the three unrecorded songs you mentioned earlier? Are there any future plans for Noothgrush besides the gigs?

I wish I could say that there was a new recording planned since we did have those three songs that were never recorded but for now, we have no plans. The only plans are for the two remaining shows, except for a repress of our split with Corrupted. Choking Hazard in Montreal is releasing some unreleased recorded songs and covers including an early Grief cover we recorded for fun from their Dismal EP.

How has the response to Noothgrush been for you over the years? As something of a cult band, how does it feel to know that your band inspired the new generation of sludge/doom bands? Do you still get kids coming up to you telling you how much they love Noothgrush?

Yeah it’s been very heart-warming to hear such things from so many people around the world. It used to make me sad to see our records priced high on eBay, but now I think most of our songs are available without the high cost of online auctions.


Are there any bands out at the moment that you particularly like?

Yeah lots, I can go on for a long time so to name just a few, Mournful Congregation, Atriarch, Alaric, Worm Ouroboros, Loss, Laudanum, Brainoil, Embers, Amber asylum, Undersmile, Dark Castle, Uzala, Dispirit, Human Anomaly. Sorry, I could go on and on…

There’s a hardcore Star Wars theme to your music – are you a fan of the films or was that side of the band Gary or Russ’s doing? If you are a fan of the films do you have a favourite?

I think that was more Gary and I’s obsession. We did really watch the original trilogy so much to have been able to recite the dialogue to all three movies in our sleep. We were collectors and just incorporated it into our artwork and songs and had a lot of fun while doing it. We had no idea that George Lucas would later create the next trilogy back then, nor that there were a million others like us. Ha ha, well at the time, we were still able to find the original action figures and other Star Wars goodies at garage sales, flea markets, etc. We only had the VHS trilogy box set, DVD’s were not invented yet.

What has been the high point of being in Noothgrush? What was the low-point?

We were lucky and had many high points. We did get to know many good people from great bands and toured with many of them. We got to play with many bands that we loved musically but were also good friends. We did have low points too though. Some shows were very poorly attended, or were just broken up by the police or faulty bookers, etc. I think overall though, things were great, I mean we are all alive still, though we have some fallen friends. We’re grateful for our faithful fans who kept asking us to play one more show.

Do you still support/pay attention to the Bay Area scene? If so how is it doing now compared to when Noothgrush started?

Great question, things are really different now in some ways, but not in others. Musically yeah, things are different, seems like people are more open minded to different genres and having mixed bill shows. Unfortunately, the Bay Area has more shows and touring bands than ever it seems and sometimes people can’t go support every good band that comes through town, especially if there are more than one good show you want to go to on the same night.

Live for Nothing, a compilation of two college radio sessions is out now on Southern Lord Records. Fingers crossed for Roadburn…

More info on Noothgrush can be found at their Facebook page at:

Interviewed by: Tom McKibbin