The Vomit Arsonist: The Toilet ov Hell Interview
For over a decade, Andrew Grant has released “obsessive, claustrophobic and manic death industrial/power electronics” as The Vomit Arsonist. I recently had the chance to talk at length with Andrew via email about the history of The Vomit Arsonist, the inspiration behind his music and his live performances.
Loathe as I am to begin an interview with this question, it must be done: for our readers unfamiliar with The Vomit Arsonist, can you give a little background into the history of the project and how it came to be?
If my memory is correct, and it may not be, The Vomit Arsonist is roughly 13 years old. I started it when I was about 17, as a way to explore what was then a relatively new genre of music to me—noise. I played in industrial bands, and we started playing with more and more noise acts, and I became completely enamored with this bizarre form of music…so I decided to try my hand at it. The initial results were terrible, which was sort of the point. My equipment consisted of a $10 Radio Shack microphone, a couple effects pedals, and a broken radio. That was it. There was (is?) this noise duo called TURPENTINE CONSUMPTION who I used to see all the time, and they were just awful…but in a good way. Whatever show they were playing, their goal was to irritate the audience to the point where they’d leave. They weren’t provocative or violent or anything like that, at least, not that I remember– they just used the most insanely deafening frequencies to force people away. I’ve seen them clear a room many times, and I thought that was the funniest fucking thing. Eventually promoters caught on and started forcing them to play last. But that’s sort of what I wanted to do. I wanted to irritate people with awful, horrible noise. So that’s how it started out. It needs to be noted, however, that what I was doing 10 years ago and what I’m doing now are two entirely different things. I feel it would be disingenuous to call myself a noise performer, or noise musician, or however you want to put it. In my opinion, it’s no longer an apt description of what I do.
What made you decide you no longer wanted to alienate audiences, and how would you describe your intentions now?
To be fair, I didn’t start performing live until 2006, I think, and by that point the project had morphed to the point where alienating people was no longer something I wanted to do. So I never actually got to do that. Not on purpose, at least. In 2005, I moved to Providence, RI and The Vomit Arsonist became my main musical output. Within two years of my moving to Rhode Island, I had some really heavy life changes to deal with, most of which were not my decision nor something I wanted…to make a very long story short, I had all this horrible shit going on in my life and I channeled it into the music, which changed the sound. Things got darker, more real, and less “noise for the sake of noise.” It became intensely personal. I started writing lyrics, rather than spouting off stream-of-consciousness nonsense. In short, I hit a very dark place in my life, and my music reflected my experience. As for my intentions now…I don’t know. I don’t have a political agenda or a message I’m trying to get out to people, nothing like that. The whole thing is really self-centered, actually. It’s about the things I see in my life, my insecurities, my problems, and how I interpret them.
What other projects did you have before deciding to focus on The Vomit Arsonist? How did those projects reflect your worldview (if at all)?
I played guitar, and later, started doing some noise stuff, in an industrial/EBM/metal hybrid kinda band when I was in high school and a couple years after high school. The Vomit Arsonist came from that. It was fun while it lasted, but as I got more and more into noise and older industrial music I lost interest in that type of industrial music altogether…although I will admit, I have a soft spot for some of that early, pseudo-harsh EBM. It didn’t really reflect my worldview at all…I was a kid, and I was pissed off, but my hatred wasn’t really focused on any particular thing. It was all very misguided.
Your music has undergone significant changes in style since the project’s genesis, as apparently has your perspective. Whenever I see this question in an interview, it comes across without exception as lazy at best, yet in this case I’m genuinely curious: has the development of your music naturally progressed in a sphere of its own, separate from your philosophy, or did you make a conscious effort to mature musically in parallel to your ideology?
This is a great question. You are correct, the music I produce now is nothing like what I was producing a decade ago. As far as the reasoning behind that…I’d say it’s both a natural progression as well as a conscious decision. When I first started out, my knowledge of noise and industrial was relatively limited; I knew the Japanese noise guys (Merzbow, Masonna, Incapacitants, etc.), and I was really into Neubauten, Test Dept., Coil, Foetus, Controlled Bleeding, things like that, but there were two things– completely unrelated– that helped push me into what I’m doing now. First, I discovered power electronics, dark ambient and death industrial. I don’t remember how, exactly, I’m sure someone showed me a compilation or something. Acts like Brighter Death Now, Navicon Torture Technologies, Steel Hook Prostheses, Atrax Morgue, Whitehouse, MZ.412, Megaptera…I heard all this stuff and it was like a new world had opened up. I’ve always been a metalhead at heart, and the stuff these guys were doing had a really dark, sinister and nihilistic edge that you’d find in metal, but not necessarily in noise. Basically, I wanted to emulate all these projects.
There was a more personal, arguably more important aspect to my shift in sound, however. It wasn’t music related, but rather where I was at in life at the time. I was with this girl for a few years, and one day, apropos of nothing, she decides it’s over. But we kept in touch, she wanted to remain friends, she loved me but she needed time away, all that shit…it’s that same old story everyone’s gone through at some point. I allowed this girl to absolutely fucking ruin me for over a year because I was “in love”, and I suppose, deep down, I’m some kind of emotional masochist. As a direct result of this situation, which rapidly got worse and worse, several close friends severed ties with me, or I with them. In addition to that, I lost a few members of my family. A messy, extremely drawn-out and prolonged breakup, shitty friends and dead family members make for hard times, especially when they’re essentially all happening concurrently. Things started to get better after a while, but my personal philosophies on life as a whole had completely changed. Life wasn’t good anymore, it wasn’t fun, it wasn’t something to look forward to or enjoy, it was this shitty existence that you had to just get through with no real purpose and for no conceivable reason. I was angry, I was suicidal, I was numb and I wasn’t connecting with people on any level, and the music began to reflect that. It needed to reflect that, because it was really the only thing I was doing at the time. I got up every day, went to work, came home, got drunk by myself, and locked myself in the studio and recorded for hours. I followed that routine for a long time. It wasn’t healthy, but I got the Wretch album out of it—which was my way of dealing with the aforementioned female and the problems created by her ending our relationship. But, to answer your question with far more brevity: my philosophies fed the music, and the music fed my philosophies. As the music got darker and more personal, so did my views on the world.
Shining’s Niklas Kvarforth has been quoted as saying his intent in crafting dark music is to “force-feed [the listener]…self-destructive and suicidal imagery and lyrics.” Though credited with the creation and naming of “suicidal black metal,” Kvarforth later turned on the term, denouncing bands labeled as such for using their music as catharsis. Is your goal in communicating your pessimistic Weltanschauung a sort of therapy for yourself or some other purpose?
It’s absolutely therapy for myself. Like I said, I have no message, no goals, and no concrete ideas that I’m trying to get out or force-feed to the listener. I’m not trying to change anyone’s views, or make them think a certain way, or trying to convince them that my views are correct. It’s how I see things and how I interpret them, nothing more. That said, if someone gets something—anything, really—from my music, I’m fine with that. Although it’s not really my intention, there’s a small part of me that hopes a listener would take something away from it…maybe identify with it in some way. Everyone’s been through painful experiences, and the types of experiences I tend to write about are usually pretty general, so I’d like to think that someone, somewhere, has gotten a little more than just a listening experience from my work. But I’m probably wrong. Who knows.
Greg Puciato of The Dillinger Escape Plan has said in interviews that going onstage and willingly entering a negative mindset night after night can’t be healthy. As someone who draws their art from a place of real, often negative emotionality, do you attempt to get into that headspace every time you perform live? How affecting is that for you?
I try to, yes, but I don’t usually have to work very hard to get there…it’s kind of an ever present thing, you know? But it certainly affects me. For the past year or so, I’ve been having panic attacks before I perform, and often during the performance itself. These attacks aren’t new to me, as I’ve been having them on an almost daily basis for my entire life, but I’ve only recently started getting them before shows. Never used to happen before, in all the years I’ve been doing this. It sucks, and it certainly makes things difficult. A good example: I performed with MK9 in September, and it was a show I was really looking forward to, as Michael Nine has been a huge influence on my work, I was thrilled at the idea of getting to see him live, to finally meet him in person and share a lineup with him…and a few hours before I had to be at the venue, I was ready to call the promoter and cancel. I kept saying to myself “I can’t do this, I can’t even leave the fucking house, there’s no way I can perform, how am I going to get through this?” But I bit the bullet, as I always do, did the show and everything was fine. So that—call it my negative headspace or just plain old panic—makes performances difficult. On the other hand, I guess it makes things more real, maybe more visceral, having to fight through this horrible, crushing feeling during a performance. Of course, no one really knows any of this is going on but me; panic and fear don’t usually manifest themselves visually, so it’s not like people are watching and noticing how bad off I am. I hate to say this, because I really do love performing live, but when I’m in the middle of a gig, all I want is for it to be over. And I know that’s just anxiety talking…but when I’m done, the panic and anxiety subsides, and I feel better…even if the show sucked. I suppose I’m grateful for it; it’s about as cathartic as anything can be.
Is the release you feel at the end of a performance reward enough to balance out the anxiety you go through beforehand? In other words, does the aftermath provide enough justification for you to soldier on in spite of what you know you’ll have to put yourself through before the next show?
I’d say so, yeah. Otherwise I wouldn’t do it anymore—which is a thought that crosses my mind from time to time, I must admit. The thing is, my anxiety is a chronic problem, even if I’m just sitting at home watching TV or doing nothing, it’s always there to some degree…it just amplifies before a show. If I’m sitting at home doing nothing and I’m anxious, there’s no release for it. But after a show, that’s when I get the release, and it’s great. I feel good afterward, like a weight has been lifted, it’s almost peaceful. After that, I can enjoy myself. So yes, I’d say it’s worth it. The way I see it, I’m gonna struggle no matter what, if I’m performing or writing or not, so I might as well try and make something of it.
We’ve spent most of this interview talking about the history of The Vomit Arsonist, so I’d like now to turn to the future. Can you tell us about your collaboration with Gnawed for the new Kalpamantra/Malignant Records compilation or any other forthcoming material you may have planned?
The collaboration with Gnawed came together pretty easy. Grant reached out and asked if I wanted to do it, and of course I said yes, Gnawed might be my favorite American death industrial/PE act going right now, so it was kind of a no-brainer. He sent me some loops, I added some sounds over it, he wrote the lyrics, we both recorded vocals…it was a simple process, and one that I’m looking forward to doing again. We’ve talked about collaborating more, maybe sometime next year. We’ll see. There’s another collaboration that I’ll begin work on late this year, I think, which is with MK9. We’d talked about doing it for a long time, but in seeing him recently, we cemented the idea and are going to move forward with it once he’s back from his current tour. The future…Cipher Productions is doing a 2LP reissue of Nature is Satan’s Church, the album I did with Theologian, in early/mid 2015. The first three sides will be the album, and the fourth side will have two or three artists remixing the source material. I’m pretty excited for that, the artwork that Leech and Gretchen Heinel put together is harrowingly beautiful, and I can’t wait to see it on an LP sleeve. As far as new stuff is concerned, I’m always working on something, even if it doesn’t have a home…I’ve got about 25 songs in various states of “done-ness”; some are just a synth loop, some are fully fleshed out. Most of them probably won’t get used, but I like having options, and the ability to take this part from this track and put it in this other track. I’m trying to put together my next full length, as well as a cassette for Dumpsterscore, and some other things, but progress has been slow. I tend to over think things and I get frustrated easily, so it’s rarely as simple as sitting down and writing or recording something. I’m also big on thematic elements, I prefer my releases to tell a story or have an overarching theme (however abstract those themes may be), and that adds a whole different element to the process.
“Arrival,” a demo from the upcoming Chthonic Streams compilation No Worker’s Paradise, featuring contributions from The Vomit Arsonist, Compactor, Redrot, Work/Death, BLSPHM, Filth, Gnawed and Existence in Decline.
Currently, my attention is focused on the upcoming Brighter Death Now/Deutsch Nepal/Raison d’Être tour…I’m one of the supporting acts for the Rhode Island show (along with Bocksholm, Post Scriptvm, Sewer Goddess and Nurture Abuse) so I’m trying to figure out what to do for that. I’m honored that I was asked to play, and it looks like it’ll be the biggest show I’ve ever done, plus I’ll be performing with some of my biggest influences, so it’s safe to say I’m a bit apprehensive.
Sounds like there’s a lot to look forward to on the horizon. That about sums up my questions, any final words for the readers?
Thanks to anyone and everyone who continues to support what I do. Keep an eye out for new things.