Describing itself as an “experimental noise collective,” Chicago’s meth. stir blackened metal and furious metallic/mathematical hardcore into a malleable, yet unforgiving, cascade of painfully pensive post-rock and ambient soundscapes. Their sound is as dextrous and cinematic as it is baldly emotive and elastic. The brainchild of multi-instrumentalist, Seb Alvarez, meth., the lowercase font, and punctuation are deliberate, has been twisting impressionable and jaded minds on the DIY scene since the release of EPs, The Children are Watching and I Love You and a seemingly non-stop barrage of weekend warrior runs and spates of touring. Prosthetic Records caught wind of the band’s adventurous air and devil-may-care attitude towards convention and will be issuing the sextet’s debut full-length, Mother of Red Light this coming August. For more ‘meth.,’ make sure to visit the band’s Bandcamp page. We tracked down Alvarez via email and got the skinny on the band and its background, the low-down on why seeing meth. live is a wholly different experience than listening to meth. on record and why they don’t fear the Faygo.
Being a relatively new face on the scene, can you give a brief history of the band?
Seb Alvarez: (The band) started as a solo project for myself in early 2016. I recorded a few demos here and there while playing in a bunch of other bands at the time, but it wasn’t anything I took that seriously. In 2017, I got together with my friend (guitarist) Zack (Farrar) and recorded The Children are Watching over the course of a day as just another fun side thing. About six months after that, the band I was in at the time (Tweak) was moving to Rhode Island and I decided to make meth. a full band once they left. Coincidentally, the vocalist of another band from our area (Black Nail) was planning on moving to Rhode Island as well and we more or less traded members. We recruited our lapsteel/synth player Matt (Meifert) and asked Zack to join our band and began working on the I Love You EP. That EP is us getting comfortable with each other and really finding what direction we wanted to go with the band. We started playing shows in April of 2018 and have been touring ever since.
Please tell us about choosing meth. as a moniker. Is there a particular reason or story behind this and does the lower-case and period have any significance outside of aesthetics?
Alvarez: When I chose the name meth., this band was just a solo project I did very sporadically. It fit the mood, vibe, and mindset of not only the music I was writing but where my head and life was at the time. I never really thought this band would be anything more than another one of the million other projects I was doing. As meth. went from a solo endeavor to a full band, we decided to keep the name and move forward as a band. The lower case and period are just stylistic choices.
To give you an appropriate sample of what meth. sound like, listen to the title track to The Children Are Watching.
What directed meth. toward its sound? Was it a deliberate thing based on past experience that drove you towards the noisy/experimental angle, or is this simply how things emerged when you started writing as a group?
Alvarez: It’s been a little of both. I’ve always had a history of playing in pretty noisy bands and, in a way, that’s always been a part of my approach to the writing process. When this band started, I knew I wanted to write something a lot darker while carrying that element along with it. The way it’s come together in its current formation though, is a piece of everyone involved in that creative process. We all have very different backgrounds in musical stylings and what we listen to and being able to incorporate everyone’s ideas and backgrounds is extremely important to our sound. It’s a combination of letting the members feel open to exploring something they normally wouldn’t in other bands, but making sure it doesn’t stray too far away from the vibe we develop on whatever release we are working on.
How long had you been working on Mother of Red Light?
Alvarez: We started writing Mother of Red Light before I Love You was done. So, roughly a year? The song “Inbred” has been in our set rotation since we started playing shows last year. When we got together and started really hammering out what we wanted for this record, we wanted to continue the concept we began with I Love You and really take the time to flesh out the songs and fully develop them. I Love You was very much just all of us getting our bearings together and learning how to write together. With MoRL, we wanted to really expand on that, write longer songs and lean more into developing an atmosphere rather than just writing really abrasive songs with elements of other genres. It goes back to trying to blend all of our collective influences rather than just playing off of one person’s idea for how a song should ebb and flow.
How much touring/live work did you do in the period following the release of I Love You? Did any of what you learned on the road and in live shows impact the writing of the album? For example, song sequencing, how people reacted to certain parts, song lengths, etc.?
Alvarez: When we released ILY and began playing shows, I had a plan for how I wanted to present and attack with what shows we played and where. I really wanted to establish our local base as all of us have been playing in bands in the Chicago area for 10+ years and I really wanted to separate this band from just being another band we were all in. I planned some regional weekend shows and rotated playing in the suburbs of Chicago and playing in Chicago proper and then eased into touring almost exclusively. The hard part of that and having six members to account for is a lot of our core band has trouble getting the time off necessary to tour as much as we have been and we rotate a lot of other musicians in and out as needed.
With that in mind, translating and taking notes from how songs are performed live vs. what ends up on the album doesn’t really mesh all that well. We definitely do play around a lot with what we do live, but the live setting is treated as almost an entirely different medium from what ends up on the record. I don’t really pay attention to how people react or if they are vibing with certain songs more. If they don’t like what we are doing they usually just leave anyways (laughs).
I noticed parts of the album were recorded in different studios with different producers/engineers. Was this ‘Frankenstein-ed’ method planned or not? Was the process of recording Mother of Red Light drastically different from the way you had done things in the past and did the varying places and people make it easier or more difficult to complete the final product?
Alvarez: Everything was actually done rather straight forward. We spent a good two months demoing and getting all of our arrangements finalized and tracked drums with Andy (Nelson) and then did everything else with Zack. Once everything was tracked we sent it back to Andy and went through that whole process and sent it off to Jack (Shirley) for mastering. It seems very disjointed in its development, but I prefer that in a way. It, again, goes back to trying to get a lot of different ears and opinions onto the record and picking people’s brains. Where that might differ from the previous two releases is that, for the first time, we worked with someone outside of the band in the tracking/mixing stage. I had worked with Andy in another band I’m in when he recorded our LP last year and wanted to see how his approach to meth.’s sound would translate. I always like trying to switch up the formula and process for each record I work on in any band to see which methods work and which don’t while also figuring out whose ears I trust and seeing what I can learn from everyone in the process.
With all that said, everything went rather smoothly. Having the freedom to track with Zack and not worry about time constraints to get the takes we liked was very beneficial. I didn’t feel like we were scrambling and there were multiple days where we tracked for 8+ hours and used absolutely none of it. With that type of freedom though, there is an element of overanalyzing our songs and feeling the need to pick away at parts that might not necessarily need fixing. We eventually just had to take a step back and call the record done, otherwise, it’s very possible we could still be messing with it right now (laughs).
The new album Mother of Red Light is to be self-released in August via Prosthetic Records.
What is the significance or story behind the album’s title?
Alvarez: Mother of Red Light and I Love You are both concept records that play off of the cult “The Choir of Red Light.” Both albums are written from a first-person perspective of a character who is kidnapped by the cult and brainwashed into believing he is God. MoRL takes place two years after ILY when the character’s god complex has been fully realized. The common theme of this album is the split personality between the main characters human side vs. his god side, the god remaining emotionless while the human side is essentially a voyeur to the atrocities the god side enacts. The “mother” is the catalyst of the story as themes of incest, death, mental illness, and religious psychosis become the overarching topics of the record.
How and when did Prosthetic come into the picture?
Alvarez: Prosthetic actually came into the picture rather quickly. We had our friend Jake Morse film our second show in June of last year and uploaded everything to YouTube. (Prosthetic A&R) Steve (Joh) stumbled upon it, sent us an email, and we signed in the following July.
With Prosthetic, its network, and experience backing you, how do you expect things to change for the band? Do you think you’ll lament or miss the DIY world or try and keep a foot in it as best as possible?
Alvarez: Prosthetic will definitely open a lot of doors we normally wouldn’t have had access to being a DIY band, but a good amount of any success we end up having is still heavily rooted in our backgrounds with DIY culture. I handle all of our booking and do all of our design work for albums and merchandise. Zack tracks all of our music and (guitarist) Richard (Kasbee) prints our patches and some of our shirts when we are in a pinch. Hell, I even sat and dubbed 50+ tapes before our tour in March (laughs). It’s nothing we find ourselves dreading by any means, it’s just second nature at this point and just feels like the steps needed to be in a band. So, no, I don’t think I could ever lament DIY and even if we get to a point where we are no longer playing in basements, art spaces, etc… I couldn’t see myself not helping out my friends’ bands or other bands if I have the means to be of any help. We are extremely excited and grateful Prosthetic is working with us, but I don’t think I could ever find myself completely removed from the DIY world.
How would you characterize and compare Mother of Red Light against your previous recordings?
Alvarez: MoRL is by far our most serious release to date. The Children Are Watching was written and recorded in a day. We intentionally made it sound very over the top by using drum samples and bass drops. The difference from that release to Mother of Red Light is pretty drastic. We spent a lot of time polishing this record, writing and scrapping songs. Every song on this record went through pretty intense overhauls from the original versions. There was a lot of critiquing between all of the members and picking apart sections of songs we liked vs. parts we would eventually scrap or save for other songs down the line. With I Love You, most of those songs are in stage one or two of the critiquing and writing process whereas certain songs on MoRL are in the nine or ten range, for various versions.
“Ascend and Dispose” is one of the key tracks off of I Love You.
You’re set to play the Gathering of the Juggalos later this summer. How does a very un-Juggalo-sounding band like yours get hooked up with this and what are you expecting of the experience?
Alvarez: Matt suggested we try getting on it just because. I found a contact on the website and sent an email. No different than what I normally would do. I didn’t think I’d hear anything back. Sure enough, about a month or two later they responded and offered us our time slot. I didn’t really know what to think just because the whole festival is extremely over the top, but we certainly were not going to pass up on it. I actually worked an Insane Clown Posse show a few years ago in Palatine, Illinois through my job. I’ll never forget my friend and co-worker Pat realizing he forgot to chain down the garbage cans and both of said garbage cans becoming airborne while Faygo rained over the crowd. I’m honestly not sure what to expect. I’m not sure if we will be received well and I don’t really care. I’m just excited to see what this whole festival is all about and if I get covered in some unknown liquids, well then that’s ok (laughs).