Their dedication to life outside a van may well be the key that’s kept them around for more than two decades
Story by Benjamin Hutcherson
“Get in the van.”
This punk rock commandment — best known as the title of punk legend Henry Rollins’ 1994 memoir — has long served as a clarion call for punk and metal musicians to dedicate themselves to the touring lifestyle for months, even years, at the cost of financial stability and familial ties. The freedom of the road, the rejection of normative adulthood, and true commitment to one’s art are only available to those willing to drop it all and, get in that damn van.
While that maxim has proved effective for some — though, to be sure, it was disastrous for many more — the world of the professional musician has changed drastically in the decades following Rollins’ time on the road with Black Flag. East Coast grindcore stalwarts Pig Destroyer eschewed this trial-by-fire model, instead building a following by making their live shows rare commodities. The band’s infrequent performances became mythologized, and the chance to witness their unhinged fury left fans with no choice but to travel hundreds, even thousands, of miles. The dearth of live appearances wasn’t a carefully-executed marketing scheme, but rather an unavoidable outcome of balancing real-life demands with a collective dedication to intense, caustic music, explained Blake Harrison (samples/noise/grindcore “hype man”) during a recent interview with The Marquee.
“Scott [Hull, guitars] has a family, and his oldest is about to be a senior in high school. Adam [Jarvis, drummer] also plays in Misery Index and a bunch of other bands. We all have day jobs, all of the usual stuff to factor in, so we have to ask ourselves ‘Damn, can I afford to take off another Friday to do this?’ If we’re playing locally, by which I mean D.C. or New York or somewhere within a few hours of home, we have to rent a van and everything. Unlike most touring bands, we don’t even own our own van. It can be gnarly, man. Even at our level, it’s not always what it’s cracked up to be,” he said candidly.
He paused for a moment, then added, “Maybe there’s some level where it is, but I have yet to meet anyone at that level! The romantic notion of being in a band and ‘making it’ got dispelled pretty quickly. I sort of miss the old days, when we’d have a show in Baltimore and we’d leave at seven even though the doors were at six [laughs].”
Despite the myriad commitments of the band’s members, Pig Destroyer has been quite busy since releasing their 2018 LP Head Cage, which received tremendous critical acclaim from Pitchfork and NPR. “It may not seem like we’re as busy as some bands, but there’s a lot behind the scenes that people don’t see,” Harrison explained. “They only see tour dates and think ‘You only played 20 shows in a year, you’re taking it easy!’ There’s a lot that goes into everything we do, especially playing live. We don’t have management — it’s just me — so it’s the little things like ‘Hey, can everyone be at the airport at the same time on the same day?’ That takes time, you know? So, yeah, for Pig Destroyer, this is what being ‘really active’ looks like.”
He credited both the new album and the injection of “new blood — the group officially welcomed new bassist Travis Stone, formerly of Baltimore death/thrash outfit Noisem, to the lineup earlier this year — for a push to their latest wave of momentum. “We’re really excited to have Travis in the band. He brings a raw, more vital element to the band, which might have something to do with the fact that he was born after I graduated high school. I’m 20 years older than him. For a while, it was kinda just me going nuts and jumping around, but Travis definitely does a lot of that too.”
Harrison made it clear that the band is energized and cohesive in a new and profound way, though that hasn’t always been the case. “For the first time in a long time, we all feel like we’re going in the same direction. We’re all here for the right reasons, each of us is here for the same reasons the rest of us are here. That feels good, and then on top of it all, we’ve just gotten lots of really cool offers. Like, we just did a fest in Greenland. We just did some dates on the West Coast, which never used to happen. When you’ve got so many schedules to coordinate, sometimes you have to tell people ‘Look, thanks, but there’s just no way that show/fest/whatever can happen right now.’ Then six months later, you get asked to do something similar and you can magically say ‘Yeah, that sounds good, let’s do it.’ That’s the case with this Denver show, which we’re all pretty stoked about. Everything lined up just right.”
“The Denver show” to which Harrison referred is the first annual Denver Hex, a two-day metal and punk festival which includes 30-plus bands performing at three venues on East Colfax: Lost Lake, Goosetown Tavern, and the Bluebird Theater. Pig Destroyer will cap off the weekend’s festivities with a headlining set at the Bluebird. “We might play a special set for this one. Might,” he emphasized. “We’re doing two nights at Saint Vitus (in Brooklyn) later this year, and we’ve talked about playing the set from the second night. It’ll have songs we don’t play often and some we’ve never played live. But why not? I love Denver, man. We’ve only played out there one other time,” he said before trailing off, trying to think of the year Pig Destroyer last hit the Mile High.
“What? Black Sky was in 2015? It was really four fucking years ago?” he sputtered. “Damn, it’s been too long. We gotta make it back out there more often than that. Playing in Denver was always a ‘someday’ kind of thing, because we live on the East Coast and we can be lazy and play D.C., New York, Philly, and all of that real easily. We’re really glad to be able to play farther from home and make it back to Denver, especially with everything happening in the city’s metal scene right now. Plus, we can go to TRVE Brewing while we’re there. I’d say that’s a damn good way to spend a weekend.”
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