Ahead of a Cork stop on their upcoming Irish tour, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with Body Hound bassist Joseph Thorpe about the math rockers’ beginnings, their extended-player and the future.
A band blurbing themselves up as sounding like “Yes playing Meshuggah songs” is bound to raise eyebrows, but considering Body Hound’s pedigree in awkward and noisy tunes, it’s not that much of a stretch. The band came together initially as a departure from UK grindcore outfit Antares, before being joined by ex-members of multi-headed prog beast Rolo Tomassi, including bass player Joseph Thorpe, who explains the band’s early movements. “Body Hound was initially just Calvin (Rhodes – guitarist) and Ryan (Bright – drums), although they played under a different name at the time. They rehearsed at the same place that a lot of Rolo stuff was recorded, so I used to hear them jamming and I always thought it sounded incredible. At that point Calvin had this synth pedal and it sounded way more like The Locust. I’d been friends with Calvin since we were teenagers, and when him and Ryan stopped playing together I managed to convince them to do the opposite, with me. Calvin and the other Joe (Nicholson – guitar) are a symbiotic entity, so there was always a place for him in this new band. Since he’d left Rolo Tomassi to study he was really keen to carry on making music.”
Rolo Tomassi’s body of work is a tall shadow to get out from under, with the raucously noisy synth-prog band having toured the world, garnered critical acclaim and become a live favourite. Eagle-eyed Cork heads may well remember the band destroying the Quad on Tuckey St. a few years back. No surprise, then, that Thorpe is keen to place the spotlight on Body Hound’s constituent parts as they are now. “People seem to get really involved with the Rolo Tomassi thing, like having your name in lights equals certified talent. Calvin and especially Ryan have had very little praise in the press relative to how phenominally talented they are. Nobody seems to realise that they are the band. I liked the stink they were kicking up and they were nice enough to let me roll around in it.
I can only answer from my perspective, but for me it was about taking all of our musical interests and doing something that was completely unfettered by anything other than that and our own impulses.”
Debut extended-player Rhombus Now released in April of 2014, and the songs thereon have become the backbone of the band’s set. Thorpe gets into how the band look at the record now, and the yardstick it sets for future endeavours. “The tracks on RN were all based on stuff from the duo incarnation of Body Hound. We learned them together, chewed them up and spat them out. It’s a process of regurgitation that is still very much how we approach writing, at least in as much as we often revisit things that were considered finished. Those recordings capture how those songs sounded on the days they were done. Having said that, some of the alterations might go unnoticed, but we know they’re there. It’s like getting a tattoo in a place that it’s not likely somebody else would see outside of an intimate situation. The tattoo says ‘are you quite finished with that?’ Considering it now, I think we did ok considering the time and resources we had. There’s things that it’d be nice to change, but hopefully it’ll serve to highlight the progress we’ve made since then. You don’t take over two years to write a new record for no reason, or something.”
Much talk surrounded Body Hound at the outset centred around influences, musical reference points and the whole, well-worn game that still gets played among musos of “sounds like”. It’s something Thorpe has thought about a little. “I’m always interested to hear what people think we sound like. On two separate occasions we’ve had Nomeansno, which makes me laugh because they were pretty prog for a punk band the only real similarity is my bass sound, kind of. Just to be clear, I really like Nomeansno. I think the fact that it’s a talking point means it does different things for different people. That feels good, and I’m flattered anyone wants to talk about us at all.”
After the EP’s release, the band processed to impress at progressive/math rock symposium ArcTangent festival in 2015 and again last year, which played a part in directing the band’s fortunes. “That festival is just a big, wet, steaming drunk launching pad for bands who play nerd music. It’s brilliant. Every year you’ll meet people who’ve come over from other continents to hang out in a sodden field near Bristol. It’s a magical place and it’s very close to our hearts. Anyone who goes there will tell you the same.”
Ireland has been a fertile breeding ground for math-rock, post-rock, and other forms of guitar experimentalism in the last decade. Was this a big pull-factor in getting across the water? “Some great bands have come from Ireland over the years. Personally I’ve been a big fan of We Are Knives, Bitch Falcon, The Redneck Manifesto, Jetplane Landing, Girl Band… last summer I was playing a festival in Portmeirion and we saw this band Documenta who had three thousand guitarists and they played in a lighthouse. I think they’re from Belfast. We can’t take any credit for booking any of these dates. We were asked by Vasa if we wanted to go and we said ‘yes’. In this situation we were mindless drones. Sometimes being a mindless drone pays off, and you get to play in cool places. I’m really excited to come back to Ireland. Last time I was in Cork I ended up at a stranger’s birthday party.”
Body Hound are here on the 10th, supporting Scottish outfit VASA, with Cork post-metallers Ealadha also on the card. How would Thorpe describe the live show to those of us seeing them for the first time? “Part of the official press release for these dates, which I wrote when I was less tired, reads: ‘the band serve this up with a live show soaked in sweaty zeal’. We’ll be at An Spailpín Fánach on the 10th of February. We’ll be having a really brilliant time playing our stupid music and trying to maintain a good ‘fun:correct notes’ ratio. If you come and you hate it, just imagine we’re playing all your favourite songs, we’ll still look very happy and damp. We’re really loud because our drummer is really loud, but we’re not a blunt instrument. We put a lot of thought into what we play. If you suspect yourself of enjoying acoustic drums, electric guitars and physical enthusiasm then there’s something for you here.”
As with a lot of tours at this time of the year, Body Hound’s Irish excursion is prelude to a big twelve months of touring and recording, the latter preoccupying the band throughout the next few months. “I imagine we’ll spend a lot of it wishing we could have four more days in Ireland. The cold, harsh reality is we’re writing and recording a new record. After that we’ll be looking to get it out there and to play as many gigs as possible. Hopefully we’ll go to more places this band hasn’t been before.”
Body Hound co-headline a gig with VASA on the 10th of February in An Spailpín Fánach on South Main St, with Ealadha in support. €8 on the door.