Ex-Cult Bring the Bummer Vibes on New Track ‘Let You In’
Contrary to his stage persona and the perma-snarl exhibited in the photo above, Ex-Cult frontman Chris Shaw is not a brute. Sure, the lyrics to the new LP Negative Growth are profoundly anti-social and downtrodden, but they are, at the end of the day, much more thought-provoking in their antagonism. It probably helps that Shaw is, by day, a writer for several outlets, including Memphis Flyer, Noisey and many others.
Ex-Cult's new album may be called Negative Growth, but as a label, that is wholly incorrect. The band's new effort, produced by Ty Segall, is their most realized effort yet: a blown-out punk assault featuring nine tracks spotlighting the dichotomy between Shaw's lyricism and caveman-punk stupidity. From "Let You In," which debuts here today:
I have been waiting in the dark to let you in
I danced with death until my song had to end
And I grow tired of biding time that is not mine
I find no justice on that side of the line
I have been waiting for the proof that you are real
To fill the void in my heart that does not heal
And I grow tired of biding time that is not mine
I find no justice on that side of the line
It's clear that Ex-Cult aren't here just to smash and mangle; they have a true VENDETTA ... which is a little bit more frightening. Stream "Let You In" from Negative Growth (available via In the Red on September 23) below, alongside an interview with Shaw.
Give me some insight about the track "Let You In," which appears here today for the first time — the inspiration behind it, and how it fits into the record as a whole.
I think we’ve joked before that Ex-Cult is not a feel-good band, and I am incapable of writing feel-good, positive, uplifting lyrics. Negative Growth definitely sealed the deal on that. All of the lyrics are pretty bleak, and were all written around the same time. The song “Let You In” is actually the second oldest song for this batch of songs; we’ve been playing it for about a year.
A lot of the songs on the album deal with fear, and then things turning out worse than you imagined. Or wanting something and then ultimately realizing that it’s not gonna work out. That’s sort of where the title comes from — that there are bad things coming and you can’t do anything to change it. Really happy and positive shit. Straight bummer vibes.
My next question relates to the aesthetic of the record. If you compare [2014's] Midnight Passenger to Negative Growth, the new record is definitely more blown-out sonically. There’s a lot of reverb on both records, but the new one is definitely really overdriven. It’s almost as if you're going for this practice space / boombox recording aesthetic. In an age where most music is scrubbed clean, where does your inspiration for that come from?
I think it works with the songs we were trying to write, but the inspiration and the ideas were definitely Ty [Segall]'s, because when we recorded the album, we went directly into the soundboard and didn’t use any amps at all. That in itself created the really blown-out guitar tone, and I think that was a product of us trusting him. Going into it, it's kind of weird to tell two guitar players “You’re not gonna use your amps on this album; it’s gonna be straight in,” but we’re stoked on it. I think that Ty as a producer can be pretty hands-off, and I think that’s how he was more so when we recorded with him in San Francisco. For Negative Growth, he had this idea, and I’d say this is the most hands-on that we’ve ever been with a producer. We kind of let him run with the ideas he had for the aesthetic and the sound.
Where do you feel we are with punk right now?
We’re sort of isolated in Memphis. I mean, we tour a lot, but my perception of what’s going on in the bigger cities has always been from an outsider viewpoint or whenever we’ve stopped through on tour. We only stop through a couple times a year.
But Memphis is definitely a more punk-friendly city than most. Just by virtue of having guys like Jack Oblivian, Greg Cartwright, Jay Reatard being part of that scene … obviously, even if it's not a major city, it's still a major punk city if nothing else.
I think Memphis has a good reputation and has always had good bands, but there really isn’t a good support system for any of the bands here at all. Whenever Ex-Cult plays, we’ll get 30 or 40 people to come out, so it's sort of a reality check in a way. We’ve had the opportunity to record in L.A. a few times, and we’ve seen the scene and the infrastructure in place — it's pretty baffling. It’s almost humbling in a way to come back and see where Memphis is, comparatively. There’s no music business here, really. I mean, Goner has had a hand in getting some of the bands out there to a broader audience, but other than that, there’s really not a lot to offer musicians at all. It’s depressing, and is something that gets talked a lot between the bands. It’s not a very supportive town.
That brings me to a conversation that I recently had about “B markets” and the way that music scenes exist. Since major tours pass over many of these towns — at least in the first round of dates — does that create a bit of a smaller, self-contained scene that exists only among the locals and area bands? I can think of a few areas like that: Austin, to some degree, New Orleans, etc.
I’d say that’s true. Even though the crowds here aren’t big crowds — I’d say in our hometown we probably play to less people than we do in virtually any other city.
Would you classify yourself as the house band to local parties?
Kind of, but we don’t play so often because its so predictable. I can probably name 75 percent of the people who come to see Ex-Cult every time we play. So, it gets to be, “How many times do these same people have to see Ex-Cult play?” Unless it’s to help out a touring band or something. That’s sort of why we don’t play locally that often.
But back to what you were saying about secondary markets and self-contained scenes, I think that is definitely true. People are just as interested in watching the local band as they are watching the touring band they are opening for. As a matter of fact, a lot of time people will leave after the first two bands play, because they are the local bands they’ve heard of. A good example of that is when Hank Wood & the Hammerheads played on their own. They have the potential to do well in many clubs and bars across the country. When they played with Evil Army and OBN III's — both bands who have played Memphis a lot — they didn’t have a great turnout because people in Memphis had just never heard of it. But they support the other bands that they were aware of already.
Memphis has a great reputation — the punk and garage stuff has always done well, plus there is Gonerfest and the label. But it’s not easy to play music in Memphis. It’s not very hospitable for bands.
Hindsight is always 20/20, so coming off of Midnight Passenger, what were your goals for doing things different record-to-record?
I think on Midnight Passenger and the six-song EP we did for Castle Face, there was some flirting with longer krautrock-inspired passages — longer songs and jam stuff inspired by Can. But I think we got most of that out of our system with the Cigarette Machine EP and the first In the Red release. We sort of trimmed the fat and got rid of the longer parts and spacey jam shit, in favor of turning it all into a punk record. That was the main goal for the record. We did the early primitive stuff; the second record was like the Fall and Can-influenced [one]; and this was, “Fuck it, let's make a punk record.”
You’re going out with the band POWER for a string of dates. POWER are very much in the early '70s Detroit style, and that band Savoy Motel — who are also from Nashville — are similarly into that era, though more on the glam side. Do you feel like there is a resurgence towards back-to-basics stuff?
Totally, and you can probably fit Sheer Mag in that group as well. But I think that is rad, as long as there is a level of authenticity to it. Personally, I can’t stand corny or half-assed shit … it’s a defense mechanism because, if it’s taken seriously they can say, “Oh, it’s OK, I was just fucking around anyway.” Bands like that are super annoying. None of these bands are like that, and are instead twisting and turning shit that we’ve heard before into something new. Those riffs and song ideas are floating around, but you have to keep it original. Unlike most of these watered-down indie bands.
Speaking of which, let's just say that John Q. Watered-Down-Indie Band with a million Facebook followers has a date scheduled at the Garden and they want Ex-Cult to open. What do you do?
I probably wouldn’t play. I believe in the argument that if you’re stoked on what you’re doing and you believe in it, then you should probably put it in front of as many people as possible. That said, that sort of audience has a ceiling; there’s a threshold there. If they’re playing Madison Square Garden, the Ex-Cult might not be their thing, and that’s fair. We’ve played some pretty big shows where we thought, “This is pretty much a waste of both of our times,” but I’m definitely not opposed to playing big shows if it makes sense.
EX-CULT on TOUR
Oct. 2 — Dallas, TX @ Club Dada *
Oct. 3 — Austin, TX @ Barracuda *
Oct. 4 — San Antonio, TX @ Limelight *
Oct. 5 — El Paso, TX @ Monarch *
Oct. 6 — Phoenix, AZ @ The Rebel Lounge *
Oct. 7 — Los Angeles, CA @ Echoplex *
Oct. 8 — San Francisco, CA @ The Brick and Mortal Music Hall *
Oct. 9 — Arcata, CA @ Richard’s Goat *
Oct. 10 — Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios *
Oct. 11 — Seattle, WA @ Chop Suey *
Oct. 12 — Boise, ID @ Neurolux
Oct. 13 — Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge
Oct. 14 — Denver, CO @ Lost Lake Lounge
Oct. 15 — Omaha, NE @ Milk Run
Oct. 16 — Columbia, MO @ Café Berlin
* with support from Power