On October 11, Lightning Bolt, the long-running noise-punk duo formed by bassist Brian Gibson and drummer Brian Chippendale, released Sonic Citadel. The record marks the seventh full-length for the group since forming in 1994. Throughout the album Gibson’s signature buzz-saw tone, Chippendale’s familiar crackling vocals, and the drummer’s slashing snare shred.
Check out the album’s opener, “Blow to the Head,” where the duo tears through an absolute sonic barrage of distorted bass, oscillating synths, and Chippendale’s fat, rolling single-stroke blasts. On “Air Conditioning,” Chippendale drives through Gibson’s head-jerking bass jabs almost recklessly. And the drummer packs rapid tom and bass drum combinations between relentless crashes on “Tom Thump.”
We recently caught up with Chippendale to dig into the record.
MD: What was the writing process like on Sonic Citadel?
Brian: Generally, going back to Lightning Bolt’s beginning, we’ve jammed out songs. We’ll hit ideas and then maybe stop to review. I record everything and have four-track cassettes of basically every practice we’ve done since 1994. Through this free-form process we might stumble on stuff, go back, and orchestrate it. That’s generally been the process.
This time we changed it up a little bit, and a lot of it had to do with me. This is the first record we’ve done since I had a kid. So time is a little different now. Probably a third of the songs came from jamming. A third of the songs came from us digging back through time and remembering things. I also brought in a couple of mostly finished songs that I’d written. That was fun, because I landed a couple riff s on the record, which is pretty rare.
MD: Was there a specific goal for this record?
Brian: Honestly, the goal was that it’s our twenty-fifth year, so let’s get a goddamn record out by any means necessary.
We’ve tried to attach concepts to records in the past, and I think we even did this time, too. We said, “There’s one song; let’s form an album around its idea.” And then it always just falls apart. [laughs] Every time we set out with some sort of concept, we end up just writing riff s and solving problems and kind of coming out with what we come out with.
Also, we didn’t tour before recording this, which was different. The past albums have tended to kind of have a tour energy to them. I don’t want to call this one laid-back by any means. But it doesn’t fully go off the rails, for better or worse. A lot of times we’ll come off of a tour, and I’ll be playing so fast that I can’t even play the groove. If there ever was a groove, it’s just gone. This time with certain songs, it was helpful that I hadn’t gone into a crazy machine mode. I was just playing.
MD: How do you maintain that physicality of it, in terms of technique?
Brian: I try to play daily and stay in shape generally. But I think it comes down to just playing as much as I can. Maybe I’ll play an hour a day. Or maybe these days with my kid, I’ll play thirty minutes just to get to some level of fluidity for the day.
MD: Did you guys work with any outside producers?
Brian: For this one and the last one we worked with Seth Manchester at Machines with Magnets, which is just a solid Pro Tools–based studio here in town [Pawtucket, Rhode Island]. Seth is fantastic. He always offers ideas if we’re stuck. Sometimes he’ll do an edit before we can get the edit out of our mouths.
MD: You’ve maintained such a unique and consistent drum tone throughout your career, especially with your snare.
Brian: We were bouncing a little bit of the drums through a Tascam 424, which is this old cassette four-track for home recordings. And there’s always been something really magical about those recordings. I think Brian and I have always wrestled with the thought that there’s a certain dryness to studio recordings. We lose that magic of a home recording, where you can almost do anything and it sounds fantastic and fantastically garbled. So we were actually running the snare and the vocals through the four-track as a preamp to distort it to get a little crispness in there, or like the frizzled thing that I think my snare has. My snare has this high ping and distortion to it. It’s a ’70s Ludwig Supraphonic that I tighten as much as I possibly can.
MD: Twenty-five years is significant in terms of being in the same band.
Brian: Being a two-piece helps. Although sometimes it can feel like one guy wants to go left and one wants to go right, so you just don’t go anywhere. [laughs] But the bright side is that you can be pretty telepathic about what you’re doing.
And we’re lucky. We’re still friends after all these years. Also, we’re both good at milking some new territory out of some pretty limited, specific stuff , in terms of instrumentation and sound. And we’re psyched about that. We’re into limitations and trying to find new things. It still feels like there’s some territory left.
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