Experimental metal duo The Body find serenity in extreme music

By
Photography Sam Gehrke

Published May 8, 2018

PHOTOGRAPHY BY SAM GEHRKE

To grow up in the American South is to be exposed to divisions of wealth and race, of urban and rural life. As Lee Buford of experimental metal duo The Body puts it, the South offers a “more utilitarian way of life than anywhere else in America.” Comprising two best friends, Buford on drums and Chip King on guitar, The Body have sharpened their Southern Gothic view of humanity over 20 years spent releasing brutal music that touches on metal, industrial, and more. Their latest—I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer, out this Friday, May 11 on Thrill Jockey Records—is their most focused, skeletal record yet.

It took six years for The Body to follow up their self-titled debut with the infamous 2010 LP All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood, which contained an extended choral passage that left critics in disarray. Since then, the duo have recorded several solo and collaborative releases, including records with boundary-pushing peers like Thou, Braveyoung, Full of Hell, and The Haxan Cloak. Unlike traditional metal, which both Buford and King despise, their music offers no chugging riffs or sacrilegious imagery. “There are other ways to be heavy,” explains Buford. “I think we’re more influenced by intensity. It doesn’t matter what genre it is, it’s more the context.” They explore the hypocrisy of society, combining harsh feedback, dub-like bass, choirs, and existential recitations from modern literature.

They also listen to a lot of pop. Specifically, Taylor Swift and Carly Rae Jepsen. This may seem strange, given their decidedly un-chart-friendly sound, but that dichotomy reflects Buford’s upbringing in Little Rock, Arkansas. “It’s just such a bizarre place,” he tells me. Buford grew up listening to gangster rap like N.W.A. and Memphis horror-core rapper Evil Pimp. His tastes got him into trouble, when, driving into Little Rock in his mom’s minivan, a scene out of a black comedy unfolded before his eyes. “We were listening to hip-hop … we pulled up to a stoplight and there’s a van in front of us, and it doesn’t move,” he recalls. “I’m wondering what’s going on, and this dude in a full-on Ku Klux Klan robe peeks out from the back of the van … I floor it and drive away, and the Klan guy starts chasing us, high speed chase style, and now I’m my mom’s car with a Klan dude chasing after us.”

The culture clash of Buford’s upbringing emerges in the roiling cross-currents beneath the surface of his music. I Have Fought Against It… is the Body’s “most anti-metal record yet.” “The West Has Failed” recalls Santigold’s “Disparate Youth” with its listless dub architecture. Towards the end of the track a left-field dancehall sample supplies a jolt of ghostly dread.  “It was in the same key,” Buford explains. “It was just meant to be—Jah looking down on us.”

Despite misanthropic themes, Buford believes that people wrongly attribute malevolence to The Body’s music. “If Taylor Swift writes a sad song it’s still very much listenable. We kind of do the same thing but to the ultimate degree … but none of it is scary.” This distinction is important—there is darkness in The Body’s music, but no futility, and no fear. “There’s no theme that’s evil or anything. It’s kind of frustrating when people say, ‘This is what you listen to in your nightmares.’ It’s an 808 drum beat.”

He rejects traditional metal on musical grounds: “Everything sounds the same … I think [metal] is the only genre where that’s so heavily rewarded.” There are also political issues Buford finds impossible to ignore. “Reading comments about all that shit that’s come out about Inquisition, Watain, and all these bands [with ties to Nazi ideology]. There’s fucked up people in the world. People saying ‘I don’t care, I still like the music’—it’s one thing to think you’ll still listen to the band, but in a public forum, to state that—have some fucking tact.”

After 20 years of playing moribund dirges, it’s Buford and King’s lifelong friendship that allows them to find positivity in a bleak world. “Me and Chip are negative, but we’ve learned to live. If you hang out with us, we’re really funny. We don’t mope around.” It’s a cliché to observe that people who make difficult music are not extreme humans themselves, but the power of The Body’s bond is particularly endearing. “I think because [Chip and I] have each other and the things we do … I don’t have the urgency that other people feel. Chip and I have made our way in the world together, so I never feel like I’m alone.”

I HAVE FOUGHT AGAINST IT, BUT I CAN’T ANY LONGER (THRILL JOCKEY RECORDS) IS OUT FRIDAY MAY 11, 2018.