Friends Remember Bill Bumgardner of Indian, Lord Mantis
Last week, much of Chicago and the extreme metal world at large was shocked and saddened by the news that Bill Bumgardner — widely known as the drummer of Lord Mantis, Indian and Burning Churches — had passed away on Sunday, October 9 at the age of 35. Indian and Lord Mantis have published statements regarding the loss of their friend and bandmate, which you can read here and here.
Bumgardner moved from Coal City, Ill., to Chicago in 2001 to pursue his musical dreams. After stints in a number of rock bands, including Sybris and Dino, he launched the blackened sludge band Lord Mantis with high school friend Greg Gomer in 2005, and soon joined ranks with local doom purveyors Indian, as well. He also became a popular bartender at Wicker Park late-night haunt, the Flat Iron.
Over the next few years, Lord Mantis and Indian — along with a handful of similarly minded musical peers — helped establish an international reputation for Chicago as a hub for far-reaching experimental metal. With Bumgardner providing the beat, his bands became two of the heaviest and most brutal in the city, if not the entire U.S. Indian’s Guiltless (2011) and From All Purity (2014), and Lord Mantis’ Pervertor (2012) are among the most gripping albums of any genre to come from the city this century — though given the severity of their sounds, the average Chicagoan will likely never know.
Indian broke up in 2015, and Lord Mantis experienced several lineup changes over the years that resulted in Bumgardner being the sole founding member remaining in the group, but like always, he soldiered on. Earlier this year, he delivered an absolutely pulverizing performance on Burning Churches’ debut EP, Defecation of the Tabernacle, and with a reformed Lord Mantis that included two of his Indian cohorts, released his final EP, NTW.
Though Bumgardner’s music was bleak, harsh and often downright disturbing, as a person, he was loved for his warmth, generosity, tireless work ethic and genuine nature.
In tribute to Bumgardner’s life and legacy, we’ve asked a number of Chicago metal musicians to share their memories of one of their own. Our thoughts go out to his friends, family and anyone who was touched by his music.
ANDREW MARKUSZEWSKI, LORD MANTIS / AVICHI (more at the Lord Mantis site)
I knew what kind of person Bill was, but I didn’t really realize just how special he was, and how generous of a person he was until he was gone. Really and truly. I had never really played with a musician like him until it happened, [starting] about eight years ago. He was so raw in his playing, just pure, raw and emotional. It brought out the best in me. Over time, he and I developed a bond and a really genuine, close friendship. We always supported each other and had each other's backs no matter what. It’s a painful loss for me. [Going] through good and bad, you know? And there was a lot of bad, but all of that bad shit you can go through with somebody and get out of it is when you really get close with somebody.
BRUCE LAMONT, YAKUZA / BLOODIEST / BRAIN TENTACLES
Me (yelling loudly): Yo, Billy boy! Boy! Boy! Boy! Boy!
Bill (yelling even louder): What up, Brucie! (Only my aunt and a few select others call me Brucie.)
A huge hug always followed.
This happened every time we saw each other. Every time for an uncountable amount of years in a million and one places.
This is what I'll miss more than anything.
Throw in countless Yakuza / Indian shows, Bloodiest / Indian shows, Feral Family band, jamming Circle of Animals songs, working together at the Empty Bottle for a bit, having drinks together, talking about and/or watching the Blackhawks and shit ... just being together doing whatever.
This sucks really bad.
Nothing else to say except ... Goodbye, Billy. I love you, kid.
GREG GOMER, BURNING CHURCHES, ex-LORD MANTIS
I've known Billy since high school. Some of my friends already knew him and said he was so funny, and an amazing drummer for our ages, which was 16 or 17 at the time. Shortly after that, I got to see him drum. He was already the best drummer in the tri-county [area], especially for such a young man. Throughout the years, we developed a friendship. He and my friend Adam Zeciri had a band called Monkey Butler. They were jamming in my basement and in my bedroom, and Billy's dad's basement, and played until they they exhausted the music scene in this area. As a group, four or five of us decided to move up to the city — into Superior Street Studios — basically, and we started progressing as a band.
Adam was part of our first incarnation of Lord Mantis, but Bill and I were already doing shows as a two-piece. People thought I had fallen off the face of the Earth because Bill and I were practicing in the studio eight hours a day. We'd get off of work at 2 a.m. and practice into 10 in the morning trying to build our chemistry and the ability to write music of our own. Before, it had mostly been covers. The darkness [of the music] came out because of our fascination with the unknown and the mysteries of the universe, and also our cynicism for mankind. It's a misanthropic view, and we expressed that through our music, but at the end of the day, Bill and I were two of the happiest individuals that ever walked the face of the Earth.
[With Burning Churches] I was living with Billy Fraser, who ended up being Lord Mantis’ sound manager for several of our tours. Eventually, he started his own thing and recorded some tracks on his computer. He and I would fool around on it in the living room, but I never took it really seriously until after I left Lord Mantis. After that, I left town for a while, and when I came back, Billy Fraser was working at Wax Trax and living in a loft, so I'd go up there and write and record guitar riffs and trial-and-error on ProTools … Once we had songs together, we were like, "Crap, who is going to be able to plays these insane drum beats?" Billy Bumgardner had heard we were jamming, and he reached out and said, "I've heard you've got some really good shit going on. I miss playing with you, Greg. I love you, Greg; I love Billy… " Once he got involved, it took everything to the next level as far as songwriting and how seriously we were taken by our peers.
Everything that's ever happened to me, as far as being successful in music in the city or abroad, has mostly revolved around Billy Bumgardner and the respect he carries around from our peer community. And a lot of it was just me and him to begin with. I also want to mention how instrumental the guys in Indian were in helping Lord Mantis develop its sound. Even after Charlie [Fell] joined, we’d jam, and the cross-pollination of musical ideas was just immense. They started sounding more like Lord Mantis: faster and more driven. And we started sounding more like Indian: slower and more doomy. Without that symbiotic relationship, neither one of the bands would have sounded the way they did, and that whole thing revolved around Billy because he was [the] metronome, he was the backbone. He always liked to call it "the quarterback of the band." He was the leader in that respect. I've never been self-absorbed; I'm usually very humble, but Indian and Lord Mantis were, for a moment there, probably the heaviest bands in Chicago, especially in the sludge scene.
ROBERT "GRUMPY" LANHAM, SWEET COBRA
Bill and I are from the same neck of the woods, about an hour-plus outside the city. I would see him around, and we had some friends in common. It was exciting to run into him years later, after we had both moved to the city and started playing in bands. The things about him that made an impression on me back then remained true.
I think a lot of what I could say about Bill as a person was evident in his playing. In music, you can meet a lot of assholes — lots of “look at me” flashy, cool-guy bullshit. Bill's playing always seemed focused, and served the mood of the song first and foremost. The restraint he showed at times was every bit as impressive as his chops, and I think ultimately said a lot about him as a person. The way he would clutch his sticks while he slowly delved out these gruelingly measured hits made for some of the heaviest shit I've ever seen or heard. It was a real privilege to know someone who loved what they did in that way. Someone who worked hard as a musician, and in his life, to continue pursuing it.
It's such a shame we lost such a genuine person so young. Bill was the real deal. My heart goes out to all his family, friends and bandmates.
STAVROS GIANNOPOULOS, THE ATLAS MOTH
For the last few years, The Atlas Moth has practiced next door to Billy's rehearsal room. I assume it was "his" room, as the rest of the musicians in his various projects revolved in and out of there. I'm a well-known night owl, and I’d often show up to record demos in our room during off-hours. I can't tell you how many times I would be playing guitar and get sidetracked trying to write to Billy playing his drums next door. Or be writing lyrics to Moth demos and realize I was writing rhythms to his drum patterns and not to our own songs. Bill was a one-of-a-kind drummer in style, writing and look. Anyone can attest that watching him beat the shit out of his drums was an absolute punishing experience, sonically and visually.
As intense and as downright frightening he was as a musician, Bill was also one of the nicest, sweetest and most genuine human beings I've ever met during this crazy life I've led playing music. His smile brought equal parts warmth and mischief that I will always remember him by.
MARK SOLOTROFF, ANATOMY OF HABIT / BLOODYMINDED
I was extremely saddened to learn about Bill Bumgardner's death, as a flood of voice mail messages, text messages and social media posts rushed towards me, seemingly all at once, offering a glimpse at just how many people were affected by this news. To have lost another friend this way is absolutely horrible. Several years ago, I documented numerous similar prior losses in a song called "Ten Suicides," and I am not even a little bit hardened to the effects of yet another passing of this kind. What I have learne, is to try to focus on the good memories that are stored away in my brain. I can easily recall many amazing Indian and Lord Mantis shows, during which Bill just pummeled the drums in that frighteningly precise manner of his, and with that thoroughly intense look on his face. I can also picture his big, friendly smile anytime I would run into him at a bar or at a show.
I was fortunate enough to not only play a few shows on the same bill as Indian; I had the absolute honor to record and play live with them. You think their shows were loud and heavy? Being on stage with them — not to mention in their practice space — was really something else. My small contribution to From All Purity, which was already a music career highlight for me, took on even greater significance this week. While I wish it was only an eclipse, my heavy music solar system is darker today, with one of its brightest lights extinguished. My condolences go out to everyone who was close to Bill. I can only imagine what his family, his bandmates and his dear friends are going through right now.
ANDRÉ FOISY, LOCRIAN
I didn’t know Bill very well, even though we used to live in the same part of town and shared the same record label. I did, however, know his music well. He was an absolute beast of a drummer. I have often returned to Indian’s Guiltless and From All Purity records since they were released. It was Bill’s relentless, precise and purposeful drumming that made the riffs on those essential albums so effective and powerful. I watched Bill play with Indian and Lord Mantis quite a few times, and he held those performances together each time. Bill had a rare quality in a drummer: the understanding of when to play and when not to play. This quality, and others, made him one of the best drummers in heavy music. I’m saddened that I won’t be able to hear his purposeful playing again in the future, but mostly, I’m saddened for his family [and] friends, and to my friends who were close to him.
SANFORD PARKER, PRODUCER / TWO FROM THE EYE / CORRECTIONS HOUSE / MIRRORS FOR PSYCHIC WARFARE
I met Bill when he joined Indian and we recorded their record [2007's Slights and Abuse]. Around the same time, I also did the first Lord Mantis record. That was the first time I worked with Bill. As far as I know, he was self-taught, and when I first started working with him, there were definitely some things that he was lacking as far as technique, but it was cool: He was very open to suggestions. I think he respected my opinion, so he’d ask me a lot about what I thought about his playing and how he could improve … By the second Indian record we did, he had improved tremendously. His style got a lot better and he got more technically efficient. But that’s the thing about his playing: He wasn’t the most technically sound drummer, but he had a certain style where you could walk into a room and hear him playing drums and instantly know it was him. That was one thing I always liked about him. Nobody sounded like him.
I don’t think either Lord Mantis or Indian would have sounded anything like they did with a different drummer. And he was always one of the hardest-working drummers I knew. He’d go to their rehearsal space and just play drums for hours before he had to go to work. Any time I had to go to Superior Street to meet someone or pick something up, he was in there playing. From my experience, I don’t know very many drummers like that, so that was always something I thought that was very unique about him: his dedication. He knew there was always room for improvement, and he’d ask me about something. I’d tell him, and the next time I saw him, he’d be that much better. He was always improving, and he always got better and better and better.
Lord Mantis and Indian had a huge impact on the mark that Chicago left as a music city. Any time I’d be out on the road or working, any time the discussion of Chicago bands came up, those two were mentioned every time. They were definitely on the radar of people outside the city, for sure, and I think they had a big part in creating the sound that Chicago has.
ADAM ZECIRI, ex-LORD MANTIS / ex-DINO
Since I met Bill, he's made such an impact on my life. We moved to Chicago in 2001. September 11 had just happened, and everyone was still freaking out about us moving to a big city, but we moved up here to chase our dreams and play music. That's all Bill ever wanted to do. "Bang on his bongos," as he called it. I'm proud of how devoted he was to his music, and how hard of a worker he was in general. We started jamming in Greg [Gomer]'s basement and Bill's dad's basement around 1998 and 1999 in the Coal City area. After we moved up here, we started another band, Dino, in 2003. Billy was singing at the time. A lot of people don't know he was a really good vocalist. When we started Lord Mantis, he was playing in Sybris at the same time. That's how hard of a worker he was. Music was his life. No matter what, I don't think it detracted from any other project. He gave it his all.
I eventually left Chicago. Some projects fell off, and I wasn’t happy. Bill and I were roommates at the time, and we had a heart-to-heart. The conversation helped me realize that this didn’t have to be what I was anymore. If I wanted other things, it was my life. So, he’s been a major turning point for two times in my life. I've always considered him a brother, and he will be missed.
EDDIE GOBBO, SOMETHING IS WAITING
When I was 21, I cut my teeth running door at a venue called the Note on the Wicker Park strip. Even though I had met him before in the Chicago metal circuit, that’s when I really got to know Bill. The Note was booked by MP Shows, which I worked for at the time. All the shows we did there had to be wrapped by midnight, because at about 11 PM, a line would form outside the club of people waiting to get in to hear a free DJ spin until close. When you’re a door guy, wrapping by midnight is unheard of on a Saturday, but working at the Note, I had that luxury. So, I’d always go out of my way to stay around after a shift and have a drink.
Now, if you work at a bar in Chicago and choose to drink there off the clock, you’re probably going to get the majority of your drinks for free. But I wasn’t an employee of the Note. I was an MP dude. So, in order to not overstep my bounds of this bar culture I was slowly figuring out, I would take out crumpled up singles to pay for my PBRs, and always made sure to leave a tip.
Bill was a bar back some nights, and a bartender others. Before doors opened one night, he said to me, “You know, we want you to drink here for free. You just got to know how to do it.” He was hinting at something. He continued: “If you and a friend are going to drink here, maybe throw down some money at the beginning of the night for a tip, and we’ll send drinks your way.” When I naively asked, “How much money?” immediately taking the cool out of the conversation, he said, “I dunno, $20?”
So, that night I did just that. A friend and I put down a $20 and ordered two PBRs. We then proceeded to drink till 4 a.m. on the same $20. This became my weekend life for the next year.
The Note eventually became the Flat Iron, a basic 4 AM bar without any live music. I remember thinking, "Man, this place is going to fail without shows." I was wrong. Like totally wrong. Business was gangbusters right off the bat. I decided to continue going there, but now I was officially an outsider, with no affiliation to this place. I walked in and went up to Bill. He immediately greeted me with a handshake and handed me a beer.
Like many other people who frequented there, I outgrew the Flat Iron. Though it contained a lot of people from a lot of different walks, it was a late-night bar, which meant many people were angry or on edge. That starts out fun, but gets old. So, the amount of times I saw Bill dwindled. It was usually a couple times a year, more times than not at a show one of his bands was playing. We’d bro-hug, exchange pleasantries and move on because, you know, there’s always time to catch up later. Something I’m starting to realizing is a fallacy.
This past summer, I headed once again to Wicker Park to see Bill’s band Lord Mantis play at a venue called the Chop Shop with a friend’s band from Philly called Hivelords. They killed it. Bill killed it. I busted out without so much as saying “hi” or “goodbye” to Bill, but one thing I will tell you about music: Watching a person on stage do their thing is WAY more powerful than a “hi” or “goodbye” interaction.
Fast forward about three weeks. I find myself, for god knows whatever reason, in Wicker Park on a Saturday. I am alone and on foot, and decide to pop into the Flat Iron. I went up to the bar and saw Bill. He immediately greeted me with a handshake, as he did so many times before behind that same bar. Then came the free PBR. I tipped him and walked away.
I downed that PBR like it was my job and moved on to wherever I needed to be. That was the last time I would see him.
Like so many people, I’m sad that no one was able to properly say goodbye to him. It also hurts to know that a man I had a lot of love and respect for was in pain. I feel so sorry for those that were WAY closer to him than I was. If I’m broken up, I can only imagine how they feel. He was a good dude, and I will no doubt remember him fondly, because like most good people, they give you a reason to.