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Loincloth Interview

A Conversation with Guitarist Tannon Penland

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Loincloth

Loincloth

Southern Lord Records
Updated January 11, 2012
There’s a stigma about instrumental music being nothing but endless wanking and one-upmanship between members. While bands like Animals As Leaders are trying to disprove that opinion with their atmospheric, technical work; Loincloth are going in the opposite direction. Their songs are short, rough, and all about the riffs; there are no solos or breaks for each instrument to go off on their own. This is a unit concerned less with showing off and more with ripping apart the very foundation and formulaic nature of instrumental music. I spoke to guitarist Tannon Penland about their new album Iron Balls Of Steel, and what kind of reactions they get from active listeners of instrumental music.

Dan Marsicano: How did you guys form and where did the idea come to form an instrumental band?
Tannon Penland: The idea behind that really stems from a tradition here in Richmond, Virginia, with a heavy scene that was formed in the late ‘80s and ‘90s; bands like Breadwinner and Butterglove. An extension of that was some of the Raleigh bands; Confessor was one of those. Pen (Rollings, who was originally in Loincloth) and I were massive fans of the rhythm section, in particular. When those guys would come here to Richmond, we over time slowly got to know them and became friends with Steve (Shelton), their drummer. He was aware of the fact that we weren’t really concerned with the vocals or the guitar leads inside of what they were doing. He was always kind enough to bring us recordings of Confessor that were instrumental.

Years later, I was returning to Richmond visiting, and I was sitting with Pen. We were hanging out, thinking how wonderful it would be to just focus on the riff with that monstrous rhythm section in Confessor. Somebody in the room overheard this idea and strangely enough, that rumor got down to Steve. Shortly thereafter, we got a call from him and he said, ‘Hey, I heard I was in a band with you guys.’ We said, ‘Yes you are, and let’s get on down to it.’

Do you see Loincloth having appeal to the average metal listener who may not usually be into instrumental music?
Loincloth is a very polarizing band. Some hear it as arcanely tedious and pointless; they hear it as linear. I’ve forever heard that kind of response to it. Others seem to register what we’re doing and what we’re doing is kind of pulling the carpet from pre-existing, simple riffs. I think if you’re into truly angular kinds of music, at the very least, Steve Shelton’s approach to rhythm couldn’t do anything less than thrill you, in my opinion. Loincloth is an odd beast. It’s unrelenting. You have to have a taste for that.

A lot of the songs on Iron Balls Of Steel are short. Did the band do this on purpose in order to avoid being too tedious, with the lack of guitar leads or vocals?
Yeah, partially, that was the idea. As we were moving towards the end of the record, I really wanted to see as an experiment, as Steve and I were composing this, if we could get to simply the core of the idea with an exclamation point; get in and get out. That was done very specifically. Quite honestly, I’m very happy we approached it that way. There were other compositions that, although I like quite a bit of the direction of where they were going, we both agreed that it was entering a place of tedium and we needed to pull back from length. As a result, we wound up tossing a few tracks that were more in that vein.

Do you think it could be a disadvantage to have songs that short because for some people, they may not be able to grasp it completely or believe the ideas are incomplete?
Certainly. That of course is a criticism that we’ve heard before. Yet, I think that all depends on how and why you’re listening to something; with what convention you’re listening to something. As Steve and I wrote this, we spent a lot of time getting to a point where we could look at one another and go, ‘Yes, this is complete.’ In our eyes, and in its intent, it is complete. To answer your question, yes, I could see how that could stand in the way and how it has stood in the way for some, but I think for others, they get that exclamation point and understand that that is the idea purely.

It took the band a decade to release a debut album. Why did it take you guys so long?
There’s a lot of factors in that. We’ve always been a long-distance band. I was living in Raleigh, North Carolina, and when we began this, we were absolutely thrilled to get in the car and drive three-and-a-half hours, sometimes five hours, one way to meet up with those guys, work for 10 hours, walk out with 15 seconds of music, hop back in the car, and get back home. We did that for some time, and as a result of it, we were able to do the first four tracks, which were a single on Southern Lord, and another one came out on Swami Sound System Vol. 1.

Somewhere in that time, life just happened. Unfortunately, myself and another member ran into a lot of difficult situations in our lives that ultimately took us away from being able to focus on Loincloth. It was always in the back of my mind, because I love this music and I revere these individuals inside of it, so I wanted to complete a full record with them.

What we finally were beginning to realize at that point, we found that Pen unfortunately, because of his experiences, had grown away from playing music. It was another roadblock, and we had to essentially sit and think about what we were going to do, and ultimately, Steve and I decided we need to get down to it because we love it. I eventually moved to Raleigh, where I spent two years, and the majority of the material was worked out. Although it took a very long time for us to get around to do it, over the course of seven years, it probably equals a year-and-a-half of time that we actually worked on it.

Did you use any of those difficult situations in your life to fuel the music that came up on Iron Balls of Steel?
Perhaps, to an extent. I think when you run into challenges, such as people close to you dying, how that stops your life, how it forces you to focus on your own life...in a simple, generic form, it helped me to prioritize. In that sense, Loincloth spoke to me very loudly. I think to a certain degree, it’s a lot of the angst that, in certain moments, some of those riffs were written in that time, and they do speak of a kind of tension happening and perhaps in small doses, reflect that. In the most direct sense, I would say it would only be a very small portion of that angst anxiety, and confusion that influenced what we were doing compositionally.

With no vocalist, that means there are no lyrics. When it comes to getting a theme or message across, did you find it hard to be able to do this without having those two present?
No. If there’s a theme, it is just truly worshiping at the altar of the riff. That’s what we do. The theme is guys that have never stopped loving heavy music, and simply want to participate in that dialog in its most direct matter, and that’s right at the root of the riff.

I always find it interesting how instrumental bands name their songs, since there are no lyrics. How did the band go about titling these songs?
Just raw adolescence; middle-aged men being extremely adolescent and perverse in a practice space. We’re really silly people. We all thoroughly enjoy laughing. That’s pretty much where the song titles are coming from; making each other laugh.

When you listen back to the album, are there any songs that really resonate with you?
I think “Underwear Bomb” is one because that was written towards the end. Towards the end of the recording process, it was getting really stress-y. I had a lot of difficult things that were going on that I had to tend to, and I was moving from Raleigh back to Richmond. I was quitting my job and reconnecting to my life back in Richmond. Because of that, some of the shorter songs, like “Underwear Bomb” and “Slow 6 Apocalypse,” were written in that stress-y space. I think we were able to use that in a way to bring forward a greater exclamation point. I really love those tracks.

I truly love “Trepanning” because it’s a song that basically Steve wrote in full. That can be a challenge because Steve is a drummer and not a guitar player. I was trying to figure out these ideas that he had through him and all of him, and to get through that monster and step back from it and see the larger picture is quite extraordinary to me. I adore it because once again, I had an opportunity to take instruction and go from there. I love the very last track (“Clostfroth”) because it gets into something very primitive and it plays with a twisted sense of the doomier kind of metal we love, such as Trouble. You wouldn’t directly hear Trouble in it, but Trouble was a big influence.

Is the band looking to tour in support of Iron Balls Of Steel?
Last night, I took a train down to Raleigh to see those guys, and I was giving them copies of the record we were sent. We were all excited about it and once again, forced to look at our immediate situation, which is pretty difficult in terms of going out and doing anything. The thing that we all agree on is that we’re extremely lucky because we all know how difficult it is to find a group of people and pursue an idea with little to no compromise. This happens to be one of those records for all of us. There are certain things that one of us may like more than the other, but we all agree that we loved what we did.

We would love to go tear some walls down with it if we could, but because we’re old goats, our lives are a bit more complicated. In the immediate future, nothing. We’re leaving that possibility open and trying to have that conversation. There are a few things that are immediately standing in the way of any possibility of that, and we’re trying to move those things out of the way to see if we actually could.

If you could tour with one band, past or present, who would it be and why?
I’m a massive Voivod fan. Voivod is one of those bands that, to me being a teenager in the ‘80s, they were a portal; a door opening to the infinite world of possibility. Why I would think it would be an interesting tour is that much of the music that is happening within Loincloth is partially due to a band like Voivod. There’s a ton of other bands that I would include in that list, but it would be an interesting show to begin with a band like us that was helped along, at least I was, by a band like Voivod. It spoke to me about throwing out conventions that were used in the process of listening to music and writing music. It would be a damn heavy show.

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