US math-grind duo, Pound, caught the imagination with their 2019 sophomore effort and are here in the UK for an extended tour of Europe. Their travels through England culminate with an appearance at the Tech Fest before they head on to Belgium, the Netherland and France. Today, I meet them at the Tombstone Takeover festival in Stevenage, where their nine-string guitar riffs and low tunings single them out as the most unique artist on a bill of powerviolence, grindcore, post-metal and sludge bands.
Drummer, David Stickney, laughs when I ask him how he would describe the duo’s music. “I mean, I would honestly just describe it as we just take everything that we like and try to do it all at once. We never wanted to pigeon-hole and just be like we are specifically this kind of band.” His bandmate, Ryan Schutte, also smiles at what must be a question they get all the time. Those that like Frontierer, Car Bomb and Meshuggah will find much to like in the band’s music, but they sound like none of those groups, either. “Ryan got really into d-beat in the past decade, so we started incorporating a bunch of that. I was always super into really frenetic, chaotic bands like Dillinger Escape Plan and an old band called The End… We kind of melded those two things, and then we got into stoner doom, like YOB, and stuff like that. We were, like, how can we do all of this at the same time?”
Today, we’re in a corner of The Red Lion pub in Stevenage old town, underneath the dart board, while Bristol blackened post-metal quartet, This Ends Here, blast through their set outside. A couple of people look over as they wait for their drinks to be served at the main bar. Ryan’s long beard and hard-to-place American accent remind me of ex-Faith No More legend, Jim Martin. David listens to his bandmate with a fidgeting posture as he and I discuss the record industry. Pound are on the boutique New York label, Silent Pendulum, which specialises in jazz and experimental metal. It’s a deal that works well for them because it’s mutually beneficial to both parties. “A lot of independent labels are doing some really cool work because they’re in it for the right reasons,” says the cerebral guitarist. “They’re not gutting bands, and they’re giving various small bands an opportunity to build and raise a platform and generate some analytics that allow them to move on and up to bigger things… A lot of the small labels are stoked when one of their bands leave and go to a bigger level.”
As a disruptor within the metal genre, I move the conversation towards their views on how the creative destruction of technology changed the music industry. Ryan has a positive take on the most obvious change to how we consume music these days. Streaming continues to divide people and destroyed much of the revenue available to the big record labels that relied on physical unit sales for most of their profit. “I think there’s a lot of misconceptions when it comes to streaming. A lot of people tend to push back on it, and with me it really feels like the death rattle of the previous paradigms of the industry… If you’re a musician in your basement recording your own music and your own material, you can upload it to streaming platforms for next to nothing, and then your music is out,” he explains. Nevertheless, record labels are useful intermediaries that can sweeten the concert promoters who worry about low ticket sales for the bands appearing at their venue. The best ones also represent an ideal, a certain standard, almost like a cluster effect for like-minded artists. Does Ryan see it that way?
“A label is a bank. When they’re funding a band, it’s like a loan, so the band has to pay that back before they start making money,” he says. The artists that see a contract offer as their shot at the big time can often be myopic when it comes to what they’ll be giving up. “It’s really important to think about, like, how is this a mutually beneficial relationship? What are we actually getting out of this that we can’t do for ourselves? Is the label providing resources that we don’t have access to? Are they providing us with industry connections that we wouldn’t have access to, otherwise?”
Metal groups like Shadow of Intent and Red Handed Denial are an example of artists that are already big on social media and comfortable with their merch income. Signing a typical three-sixty deal would see them surrender a large percentage of their income for endorsements, appearance fees, CD and vinyl sales, and even touring and merchandise income. Pound are not a band with a big internet following, but they gained attention in 2019 with a feature in Kerrang! and continue to build their fanbase through touring. Ryan is sceptical about how the PR industry works but recognises its value. “I think PR is such a huge component of what goes into this. I mean, it’s kinda scummy and it’s a little bit against what the whole punk rock ethos is all about… But people have to know your band exists in order for you to go out and play shows,” he admits.
I’m surprised by Ryan’s willingness to downplay the Kerrang! spotlight. Most up and coming bands would kill for such coverage. Maybe this is because both men in Pound are friendly and humble people who live and breathe music. They’re music fans as much as they are musicians. This means they’ll always continue to incorporate new influences into their art. “One of us will come into the room and be like, ‘Hey check this out. It’d be really cool if we did something like this but put this kind of spin on it.’ …If it ends up being something that works out, then we’ll try to incorporate it in as many different places as we can. We have the core elements of our sound, but we’re always trying to push things in new directions,” says the guitarist. “Not only does it keep it fresh for the listener, but it keeps it interesting for us. Neither one of us have any desire to make the same album over and over again.”
So, how do they approach song writing? Their music is complex and often bewildering in its rhythmic intensity. Do they compose their riffs and time signatures like Pupil Slicer, who write to a metronome and pre-programme their songs before handing them to the drummer to learn? “No, about ninety percent of our writing process is on the laptop,” explains Ryan. “For our version of jamming, we have a big flat screen TV in our practice room. I have my Wi-Fi connected to it, and then Dave’s got a keyboard and a mouse and his drumkit. We have the score up on the screen. We’ll go back and forth and edit things and work out things. If we find something that we like or if we want to work out to see if something is actually doable, then, we’ll put the keyboards down for a minute and try to play through it to see how it feels.” I ask the drummer how he remembers his parts for the rhythms that sound impossible to follow. He gets excited at this point. Does he rely on muscle memory after countless hours of practicing? “We don’t often do that. We’re writing on such a timeline, with tours and recording, and we only have a certain amount of time to get an album done. So, what ends up happening, I’ll write something that’s impossible for me to play. I’ll try to play it and put in some practice time. But if I can’t play it, we’ll ditch it. Then we’ll re-write it.”
The journey from rock music to experimental mathcore is often an unusual one. We talk about gateway bands. How did they avoid the ubiquitous nu metal that was popular at the time of their youth? “I was very into a lot of the earlier Ozzfest bands. I was super into Marilyn Manson,” offers Ryan. “That got me into a lot of really awesome guitar music, and seeing Soulfly got me into Sepultura, and then I started going backwards from there. Then I was really into a lot of the Scandinavian stuff like In Flames, Children of Bodom, Soilwork – a lot of bands like that. Without all that stuff, I wouldn’t have gotten into grind, powerviolence and sludge and all the other things.”
David cites Tool, System of a Down and Rage Against the Machine as three of his earliest influences, but Meshuggah got him into the heavier side of things. He couldn’t get past the hostile vocals at first but had to train himself to look beyond this element so he could engage with the mind-boggling rhythms. Now, like most metalheads, he enjoys this part of the extreme metal experience. Ryan interjects at this point. “What’s the biggest complaint you hear from people that don’t listen to metal music about metal music. It’s the vocals. They always complain about the vocals,” he says. Of course, this does not apply to Pound. They have no vocals, no lyrics, and unconventional song titles. Are these mathematical equations? Where and how do they generate them?
David chuckles. “The song titles are rudimentary drum notation, so it’s literally, like, the Xs are kick and cymbal together, the dash is snare. It’s usually the first riff of the song.” I look up at the ceiling for a brief moment. “That’s quite original,” I say. “And clearly you have a sense of humour as well.” They both agree. “Besides, when it comes to poetry or lyrics or anything like that, we are so bad. We don’t know what we’re doing,” says the drummer with a glint in his eye.
The band have no plans to use a vocalist or recruit other members in the future. They like the advantages that come with being an instrumental duo. “It’s how fast we can move. I mean, we can put out music so much faster. We can plan tours a lot quicker. Everything’s just faster and more efficient. There are so fewer moving parts because we don’t have to worry about other people’s schedules.”
We wrap things up after a good forty-five minutes of conversation. I offer to buy them a drink, but they’re on stage in an hour. You can’t have too much alcohol in your system when playing music as complex and intense as Pound. Their next stop after Brighton and Sheffield is a joint headline show at Satan’s Hollow in Manchester with Dutch experimental rock duo, Grey Lotus.
*** Pound released their sophomore album, ••, on 31 March 2019 via Silent Pendulum Records. You can catch them at the UK Tech Fest on 30 June.