In addition to setting the world alight with their album Blossom, Pupil Slicer have been tearing up stages all over Europe. This August found them back at their spiritual home (ArcTanGent) so The Midlands Rocks cornered vocalist/guitarist Kate Davies and bassist Luke Fabian for an exclusive chat.
You’re festival veterans. How does ArcTanGent fit into the scheme of things?
Kate: It’s the best one. It’s my favourite one. I’ve been here three times and we’ve played it twice, and I’ve also been both times we’ve played, just to hang around. The line-up is post-rock, post-black metal, math core, and electronic…which is me! This is the only festival where people come up and talk to us, just now someone came up and asked me if I was Pupil Slicer, and I was like ‘Yes, I am the Pupil Slicer!’. It never happens anywhere else.
Luke: I’m going to comment on the wider ecosystem; we played Radar earlier in the year, which is a brilliant festival, but personally, I’d like us to play Reading or Leeds. That’s the next level from Boomtown. For me personally, a very important thing is that I really want us to play Wacken, we’d probably be one of the first openly queer bands at Wacken. That’s like the final stronghold of what mainstream metal is, we’ve played Download, so we’ve done it on home turf, but if we could go and do it away, that’d be a big deal. Glastonbury would be a big deal if we could play there, because of this whole culture. We’ve played Hellfest and we’d really like to play Outbreak, we’ve done Roadburn.
It’s been a whirlwind since you released your debut album, and this year especially, things have gone into overdrive and you have dates for the rest of the year. What’s your survival plan? How do you keep sane in it all?
Kate: I’ve got my two-word answer: you don’t!
Luke: It is really an emotional, draining, complex thing. Kate’s Autistic, I’ve got ADHD, that’s quite a combination. You add all that together along with pressure, work, rivalry, love, hate, all these things and it is well intense. But it’s good though, we get through it.
Your new record flows exceptionally well. It’s not just a collection of singles. Do you think the album is making a comeback as an art form?
Luke: It’s because we’re music fans, mate.
Kate: I hope so. I love albums, I’m an album-enjoyer rather than a single-enjoyer, so something like that last Load album, the one before the ambient record, was a huge influence, it felt like you could still do a massive conceptual album. The flow of an album is so important to me, and that was so hard to do on the first album, that was a collection of songs we’d written over the years. It was planned out; what songs have we got so far, what else do we want to achieve on this album, we had a little text document; we should have a more hardcore song, we should have a song that goes in a certain direction to cover all the thing we wanted to get in there, and we did it to execute the album. Then I started writing the lyrics, but once you had the album it was easier to build back, to create a narrative across the album. I think musically and lyrically we strove to create the best album we could, and we’re really pleased with how it came out in the end. But, to go back to your point is the album making a comeback, I’d like to think so. However, I feel like that’s discrediting all the fantastic albums that have been released over the past 20 years. However, in terms of sheer numbers it’s probably smarter to go for singles and treat each single like an album and create this thing where every song is a banger single.
Luke: I like at least to try to keep up with new music and see what’s popping, but if I look a band up and they’ve got six singles, and not one EP, it literally turns me off. I haven’t listened to your band, but I know already that all you are doing is pushing your shit in a certain way. There’s not even an EP there, that’s a bit poor. But to take the album concept further, I just watched this thing with Travis Scott where he did a whole album with videos, and the whole thing was on apple music. I thought it was pretty cool to drop an album, and the whole thing had a visual companion.
I also found your new record an angry listen. Is that a case of art imitating life?
Kate: It is more a storytelling device. It’s a lot more fantastical and I wanted to talk vibes of cosmic horror and psychological horror, it is more conceptual, and that’s the direction we were going on it. We don’t get too angry in this band, we’re a pretty chilled bunch.
This album seemed less personal. Was that a conscious decision?
Kate: The first album was semi-autobiographical, whereas this album was trying to create a story. However, in that there are still elements drawing upon personal experiences. David Lynch is a big influence in his approach to storytelling and world-building, So, it is less personal, but I still feel attached to the story I’ve created on the album, I am really proud of it.
Have you thought about what direction you’ll go next?
Luke: Straight hardcore!
Kate: That’s the problem. We want to go full-on street hardcore, post-blackgaze all the way through, horrible death metal, and then pure balls-to-the-wall, math-grindy and totally inaccessible…all those at the same time!
Luke: Alex, our guitarist who’s currently playing with us is a virtuoso; he learns Racer X, Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert, he can actually play that shit, and when you come to festivals like ArcTanGent, you don’t get shredders in a classical metal sense, so I want to add in a bit of that, and have people go “what the fuck?!”.
How involved are you in the presentation of the band? Your new video and album sleeve have a very definite look. What message were you hoping to convey with them?
Kate: I’m not sure, I had this image in my mind of how I wanted them to look, just based on the visuals the album created in my head when I was writing the story. But it is was hard think to achieve on a budget so a lot of the videos are nudges towards other things we like, and I tried to create them as companion pieces to things that relate directly to the lyrics, but captured the vibe without directly being tied in. I got the art commission, and I had a roadmap of what I wanted it to look like, and when it came back it was perfect.
Pupil Slice has take you to some amazing places. Did you ever think the band would go this far?
Kate: I had no idea, I’m just coasting through life. People say ‘Oh, Godflesh want to play with you’, I’m like ‘What?!’. It’s just happening.
I imagine you must have to pinch yourselves sometimes.
Luke: Constantly, and nothing is taken for granted. We always try to inject perspective, because these things aren’t ordinary. We are very lucky.
Finally, if I had a magic wand and could make any Pupil Slicer dream come true, what’d be?
Kate: A bill with Nine Inch Nails, The Prodigy, Converge, Code Orange and us.
Luke: I think touring with a top tier metal band like Lamb Of God, Trivium, Machine Head, if you played with them for a couple of weeks, you’d see how it actually works, that’d be really good for us.