I was lucky enough to get JR Hayes on the phone for a 20 minute interview where he talked about the new Pig Destroyer album, how the band almost broke up before it was even released, and even the upcoming presidential election. You can either download it as an mp3 here, listen to a stream of it here, or read the full transcription of it below. The headshot photo is by local photographer Josh Sisk and is used with permission. As usual, my words are in bold. Now get to it!
Hey this is Metal Chris of DCHeavyMetal.com and I’m here talking with JR Hayes, the vocalist for the DC based grindcore band Pig Destroyer. Their new album, Book Burner, is their first full length release since 2007 and will be out on Relapse Records on October 22nd. Book Burner is one of the most anticipated metal releases of 2012 and Axl Rosenberg of Metal Sucks has already dubbed it “the best metal album of the year.” So to start off JR, why don’t you tell me what the fans can expect from the new album.
Well uh, I don’t know if we’re going to win any new converts cause we’re pretty much doing what we always do which is just try to make the craziest grindcore record we can make. I think that the trick with grindcore is, you know you’re trying to make it as chaotic as possible but then at the same time you’re trying to make it memorable and it’s kind of a difficult balance to achieve sometimes. I’m really happy with it.
So you’re having an album release show for Book Burner at the Ottobar in Baltimore on October 19th. Now are copies of Book Burner going to be on sale at the show?
Well you know we did a Terrifyer album release there and we thought that Relapse was bringing us copies and they didn’t know that so we actually didn’t have any copies of our record at our record release show and that was really embarrassing. So uh, I would hope that there would be copies there, yeah.
So is that why you’re doing it again in Baltimore instead of DC, because you had done one there previously?
Well we’ve probably played at the Ottobar more than any other one place. I mean we even go back to the old Ottobar when it was a little closer to the harbor. You know I’ve always kind of considered that our home stage. Two of our members live in Baltimore. I do love playing DC but I definitely have a very close relationship with Baltimore as well.
Yeah, yeah that was a sweet show. I really enjoy– used to enjoy playing the Casa House and [the] Black Cat’s always fun. The Warehouse was my favorite though. I was very crestfallen when it closed.
Yeah me too. So here’s another question about the new album: What is the Book Burner cover art supposed to represent?
I’ll be honest with you I didn’t really think it that far through. That photograph was taken by my friend Chris [Taylor] in Richmond and it was going to be a 7″ cover for a Richmond band. It never ended up coming out cause the band broke up and I always admired that picture you know when I saw it like seven or eight years ago, it might have even been longer I’m not sure. I was just hanging out with him one night and I just kind of randomly asked if he still had it and he did. As soon as I saw it again I knew that, at least in my mind, that was the cover of the album. I don’t know if I could tell you why. But just something about that image I was very passionate about and [I] felt it was very evocative and you know I had Chris dress it up a little bit in his unique style and Pat added some different colors and stuff and I think it turned out really good.
Yeah it definitely stands out, it’s very unique.
I think with the cover you know me and Scott [Hull, guitarist of Pig Destroyer] were doing the artwork for this record and we kind of more knew what we didn’t want. We didn’t want just a book burning, you know like just completely literal with it you know like cause that just wasn’t interesting to us. It wasn’t really all that important what the image was as long as it was a strong image.
Ok so I read the story that you wrote, The Atheist, and I thought it was really good by the way. It sort of seemed like the first chapter of something maybe. Is there going to be more added to this or a continuation of any kind?
I’ve seen a couple people mention that. That was actually Adam’s [Jarvis, drummer for Pig Destroyer] comment when he first read it that he wanted there to be more. For me it all kind of wrapped up in a nice package and I don’t really see where else to go with it but I try to never say never you know? Maybe the inspiration will take me and I’ll want to do something with it. I think for me the most fascinating thing about it is that it starts out seeming like it’s not really fictional and then it kind of twists and becomes fictional all of a sudden and I think that juxtaposition was what made it interesting to me as a single piece.
I remember in the story there were these almost stormtrooper like characters that were called book burners and so it kind of got me thinking is the album Book Burner supposed to be taking place in the world of The Atheist or are there any other kind of tie ins with that other than the name?
Well there’s also a track called Book Burner on the album too and the lyrics to that are totally unrelated to the story. Because the story wasn’t going to be included with all the different versions of the record, it’s supposed to be a limited thing, I didn’t want the people who were just hearing the record to feel like they were missing something, you know what I mean? So I kind of intentionally wanted it to be a separate thing but I just put a couple of little minor tie ins like book burner obviously just to kind of string everything together but I didn’t want the two parts to be dependent on one another. You know what I mean?
Yep. Now, how has working with Adam Jarvis of Misery Index been because he’s a great drummer and it’s pretty exciting that he’s working with you guys now?
Yeah I mean it’s been great. When we parted ways with Brian [Harvey, former drummer of Pig Destroyer] that was probably the darkest period that we’ve had as a band. Everybody was really down in the dumps and we didn’t really know if the band was even going to continue at all. Cause you never know if you’re going to find– You can bring in a million drummers and never find the right one. The chemistry has to be right. We were just really lucky in that we already knew Adam as a person and he’s a really driven guy and he wanted the job from day one. I don’t want to say he like forced his way in there but he was ready when we came calling and from the first song that we played together with him I knew that it was right. I was sold from the first song that we played.
Now Phantom Limb came out in 2007 and you had the single track EP Natasha that came out in 2008 and then you guys hadn’t really put out anything until this new album. Was a lot of that because of the line up change?
After Phantom Limb we took a couple of years where we were just playing shows and kind of enjoying ourselves and just kind of supporting the record the best that we could. Then we lost our practice space so we turned Scott’s basement into like a real deal studio. You know we built it all ourselves and you know double dry wall and sound dampening stuff. You know we went the full nine yards and that took us about a year and then during that time me and Scott were both working on the last Agoraphobic [Nosebleed] record [Agorapocalypse] and that was very time consuming and then when it came time for us to record Pig Destroyer that’s when everything just kind of fell apart on a personal level and we had like a year where we just either didn’t practice or our practices sounded like shit. It was terrible. It was really awful and to be honest I would have rather not done the band at all than kept [it] going like that. When you’re killing something that you love like that it’s just a horrible experience.
So what was the big turn around then for you guys? What really got you back into it to the point where you’re now putting out an album like this?
You know even when Brian was still in the band we had like maybe five songs written from this album and I thought that they were some of the strongest songs that we had written. So I knew that the inspiration to do it was still there but we just couldn’t physically do it. So we needed someone else to come in and inject some youth and some enthusiasm into it and then once you kick it and it’s going then we’re off. You know what I mean?
We just needed a kick in the ass basically and Adam’s a really enthusiastic guy. I’m used to Scott pushing everybody in the band but Adam’s definitely been pushing us as well. He’s also a very driven individual.
Alright now so who are some of your main influences in regards to writing the lyrics and performing with Pig Destroyer?
I think musically my influence is just all the great hardcore and grindcore singers. Jeff Walker from Carcass, Lee Dorian and Barney [Greenway] from Napalm [Death]. From a writing standpoint it’s kind of just pulled from all over. There’s a lot of people out there who write good lyrics. Leonard Cohen, [Bruce] Springsteen, Nick Cave, there’s a million people. The content of what’s being written doesn’t really matter to me as much as the style of the person who’s writing cause I think a great writer will get you into whatever it is that they’re talking about. So I’m just always looking for people with a very strong and confident style.
Ok now where exactly did the name Pig Destroyer come from and what exactly does it mean?
I remember that me and Scott were at an amusement park and we were standing in line to get on a roller coaster and we weren’t even talking about a name for our band, even though our band didn’t have a name at that point. We were just trying to come up with the most ridiculous band name we could come up with and I think he came up with Cop Destroyer and that kind of immediately morphed into Pig Destroyer and that was just the name of the band. Anybody who has ever started a band knows that coming up with band names really sucks. If you’re lucky somebody will say something that everybody just knows immediately that that’s it. It’s actually very much like how we came across the cover art. It was just a very random kind of– instinctually I just knew that it was right.
Just had the right feel.
Yeah it just felt right. It sounded right. Sometimes you’re in danger of over thinking things. I can be very picky and meticulous about working on some things but other things like album titles and band names it just has to be a moment of inspiration or creativity. It has to just feel… correct.
So what was the metal and grind scene like in 1997 when the band was just getting started?
Well anybody who was into metal in the 90s knows that the 90s weren’t really kind to metal. I wasn’t really paying a whole lot of attention to death metal stuff. I had already kind of gone through that phase. I was just fascinated by the whole Southern California grindcore scene and the Bay Area scene with like Spazz and Crossed Out. You had Assück from Florida. There was a lot of amazing grindcore bands that were out back then. A lot of American grindcore bands doing great shit so it was a lot of fun. Then of course you had the whole metalcore thing going on at that point too which is a whole nother can of worms.
So what’s the best concert you’ve ever been to in the DC area?
Oh man… Fugazi at Fort Reno was pretty amazing. I don’t know I mean it would be a list as long as my arm but probably my personal favorite show would be Nirvana and The Breeders and Half Japanese at American University [on November 13, 1993]. That was like probably when I was about 16 or 15. That show kind of set the tone for all of the shows I would see after that. That was a very important night in my life.
Do you have any favorite metal or grind bands from the area?
Well there’s Suppression from– well they started in Roanoke [Virginia] but then they moved to Richmond. I mean they’re kind of always, to me, the consummate Virginia grindcore band. You know you had Jesuit from Virginia Beach even though they were only around for a short time. Where I grew up in Sterling [Virginia] the big band was Pg. 99. I was at I would say probably at least 40 or 50 percent of their shows you know so uh, I’m very you know intimately familiar with those guys. They were very important to me personally just because they were from my home town.
How has being based in the DC area affected you as an artist or has it?
Oh yeah I mean uh, everything about this area influences me. The history– my family personally has a lot of history in the McClean [Virginia] area. I don’t necessarily like get down with all of DC’s music but it has a very interesting, one of a kind– I mean any city that can create stuff like Bad Brains and fuckin Rites Of Spring, I mean, there’s just a lot of unique bands from this area you know and very smart bands too.
Oh definitely. Being in DC here there’s always been a lot of political music here you know with Bad Brains and Minor Threat and then the Dischord [Records] bands. And you guys were a more political band when you started but you’ve sort of shifted away from that over the years lyrically. Why do you think you’ve evolved that way as a writer?
Well I was really political and then I started really getting involved in it to the point where I was going to all of these anarchist meetings and going out to protests and things like that. I just became really disenchanted with people and the attitudes. Then I think around that same point I got my heart broken really bad. That kind of set me off on a more personal direction I guess you might say. You know that’s just one of those phases that you go through in your life. I mean I still have strong political convictions but I don’t express them in the same kind of ways.
Now I wouldn’t normally ask this but since the election is coming up are you planning on voting and if you are would you like to say who you’re going to vote for for president?
Aw man I just really want it all to be over to be honest with ya.
Yeah I hear that.
I can’t get juiced about the Democrats because they always let me down but the Republicans are just so two faced and poisonous. I usually end up pulling the lever for the Democrats just because I can’t stomach the Republicans. It’s just too much for me. I feel like it’s almost a lose-lose. The only person who was– and I didn’t agree with him on a lot of issues but, I felt like Ron Paul was the only candidate who was proposing real change, even if I didn’t agree with it. You know these two candidates [Barack Obama and Mitt Romney] are kind of just like– it’s the old hot shit, cold shit argument. Take your pick.
Alright now back in April of 2009 David Rowell wrote a lengthy article about Pig Destroyer [link] in the Washington Post Magazine and I was kind of curious what effect did this have on the band?
The thing about us is we don’t play locally as much as a lot of other bands. We usually go out and play. So when I come home I’m kind of anonymous at my job and I’m just another dude which is kind of how I like it. But because that came out in such a huge publication that was local everybody I knew either heard about it or read it personally. So that was kind of unusual. You know like even my parents’ neighbors were coming over to me and being like “Oh we read about you in the paper” you know. So like you know those experiences are as cool as they can be.
Now way back in June of 2000 you were playing a show at the world famous CBGB’s in New York City and the microphone went out and you just kept on screaming at the top of your lungs. There’s a video of this that has been going around the internet for some time and has become a little bit legendary and on the video you can still be heard over all the guitars and everything. Do you remember anything about that show or was that a special experience to you? Because it’s kind of a legendary thing now and I kinda had to bring that up if I’m going to interview you!
Well at the time I was just– Cause I mean it wasn’t like the mic just shut off. The mic literally crumbled in my hand into like five different pieces. It was like it just gave up and died. It just fell apart and disintegrated. And so I was confused for a second and nobody really seemed like they were going to give me another mic so I just screamed. I didn’t really even think about it but the video is kind of funny. Any time you play at CBGB’s it a pretty awesome experience.
Ok well here’s something a little more recent that I wanted to ask you about. In 2010 there was another DC based grind act, Magrudergrind, and they had their album Crusher which was released by Scion A/V which is a branch of Toyota. Jay Randall of Agoraphobic Nosebleed wrote a blog post [link] saying that grind bands and metal bands in general shouldn’t be working with giant corporations and putting their logos on their albums and such. And I know that Pig Destroyer had played a Scion sponsored event prior to this in 2009 in Atlanta and I’m curious about what your take on all of this is. Do you think local grind acts should be working with big companies like this or that if they’re working with them it’s sort of selling out or what’s your take on all of this?
I just think that when you’re in the public eye, even if you’re just an underground band, when there’s people paying attention they’re going to get stirred up by certain things that they don’t like. And I definitely understand where people are coming from when they cry sell out or whatever. That’s just a risk that you take when you make a move. I was kind of uneasy about it. You know once we did the first gig with Scion and it was like– I felt that it was run really professionally. You know he promoted it well, like it was free for the kids to get in. I just really didn’t see any negatives and they seemed like they were really into what we were doing and I thought it was cool and we’ve done actually maybe half a dozen things with Scion. We played a show in New York at the Masonic Temple with Brutal Truth and I thought it was rad.
So is there someone at Scion that is just into underground grindcore cause it just seems really random that bands like Magrudergrind, Pig Destroyer, Brutal Truth…
The guy that we talked to, he is kind of in charge of putting these shows together, he’s just into all kinds of extreme bands. I mean I don’t know what his relationship is with Scion but he obviously has their ear as far as bringing out a bunch of money for promotion and stuff. When we played at the fest in Atlanta you know with like Boris was there Neurosis. Fuck it you know you get to play with Neurosis and there’s no negatives there for me. Plus I was upset cause I love the Magrudergrind boys cause they’re local and they’re a great band and I was really sad that they had to take shit on that. All of these other bands, including us, kind of got spared.
Yeah they definitely got the most attention for that.
Yeah you know they got singled out. I don’t think that’s really fair. Didn’t the Melvins just put out a free thing with Scion?
Yeah The Bulls & The Bees I think.
Yeah I mean if it’s good enough for the Melvins it’s good enough for me. I guess the times have changed a little bit. I remember in the early 90s it was if you put a bar code on your CD that was like a no no. Heh heh. You know so I mean, fuck it man, you know? It is what it is.
Now Pig Destroyer is going to be playing Maryland Deathfest XI in May of 2013. Do you know what day Pig Destroyer is going to be playing on?
Oh man I don’t even know if I’m going to be alive in 2013! [It's] so far away right now. I don’t know what day. Hopefully it’s like a Friday.
Are you guys going to do anything special for Deathfest? Maybe have a special set list or a guest come out or anything like that?
I don’t know we’re really impulsive about stuff like that. It’s hard to say. If we were going to come up with something we wouldn’t do it this far in advance. I think we’re just kind of a band that we’re just kind of focused on whatever the next thing is that we’re doing. For me it’s like we’re doing these record release shows so that’s the thing that I’m kind of looking forward to and I’m not really looking past that. Luckily Scott has a little bit more of a vision as far as that goes. I tend to just get very focused on one thing at a time.
Are there any bands that you personally are excited to be seeing at next year’s Deathfest?
I haven’t been able to get a straight answer from a lot of people who is actually playing.
Well of course I’ve got them all listed on the DCHeavyMetal.com calendar of upcoming concerts.
Oh OK, sweet.
Bolt Thrower was just absolutely crushing the last time they played. I think I’ll probably always remember that set the rest of my life. [It was] pretty brutal. I really wanted to see Godflesh last year but my pussy ass couldn’t make it up there.
Well that’s pretty much the end of the interview here I’m out of questions. Is there anything else you want to say before I let you get out of here?
I just hope people check out the new album and give it a chance and hopefully they dig it. We’re all really, really proud of it so we want as many people to hear it as possible.
Well it has been getting really good reviews in a few places and it will be reviewed here on DCHeavyMetal.com shortly as well. Thanks for taking the time to do the interview with me and I’ll see you at the Ottobar.
Oh right on. Yeah well come up and introduce yourself and we’ll have some beers.
Sure man, sounds good.
Take it easy.