Q&A: Corn on Macabre reflect on horror-themed grindcore and definitive collection, “DISCOGRAPHIC VIOLENCE”Books/Art/Culture,Features/Interviews,News Shawn Macomber
The late, great Rod Serling-worshipping, H.G. Wells-hyping horror-themed avant grind band Corn on Macabre may have once issued a wonderfully sinister sonic salvo entitled “Shut Up and Play Something Evil,” but it would be a mistake to presume this was a motivational mantra chanted before each practice. “The message definitely wasn’t something that we needed for ourselves,” the band’s former bassist/current Highness guitarist Brent Eyestone tells FANGORIA. “Our collective evil was in tune and finely calibrated before we even got down the steps to the basement.”
And how that iniquity has lingered! Though Corn on Macabre expired a decade ago, the band’s clever, gleefully deranged take on diabolus in musica feels as fresh and enlivening as ever on the long-awaited definitive collection DISCOGRAPHIC VIOLENCE, which lands in select stores this Saturday as part of Record Store Day.
“At the time Corn on Macabre was recording, technological advances in music recording were not what they are today,” vocalist/bizarro fiction author Billups Allen explains. “We wanted the tenth anniversary edition to reflect our original vision for the seven-inches, including bigger explosions and an unnecessary conversation with Jabba the Hutt.”
Earlier this week Eyestone and Allen graciously submitted to interviews for the following FANGORIA postmortem examination…
FANGORIA: Talk a little bit about the initial vision for Corn on Macabre. From the outside it certainly appeared as if the horror motif was an elemental building block, not an afterthought.
BRENT EYESTONE: If memory serves, Corn on Macabre was originally conceptualized as a grindcore opera. Billups and I used to see each other quite a bit between playing shows in old bands and then work-related stuff. He also used to work at a record store in Georgetown called Smash! and I remember buying lots of dark records and horror-related goods from him there. I recall our conversations being rather all encompassing toward our interests, which I still cherish to this day because of how difficult it is to find such likeminded friends like that out in the wild.
He had the name already cooked up…and I want to say that it organically morphed from the opera ambitions into remembering how short grindcore songs are into just becoming a band. He already had [drummer] Andy [Gale] from playing in ¡Shoutbus! together and I think I might have brought [guitarist] Cory [Stevenson] in because he’d just quit pg.99. There was definitely an understanding between the four of us right away that the band was going to be horror-centric. Given how obsessed we’d all been with the genre since childhood, it was very easy to dive in, move quickly, and practice enthusiastically with a unified passion guiding the way.
BILLUPS ALLEN: I recently noticed Corn on Macabre was a header in an old MAD MAGAZINE parody that I know I’ve read several times. I probably shouldn’t admit that for several reasons. [But] I didn’t mean to steal it. The band was mostly supposed to be horror-themed from the onset, at least from my end. I write and I do some poetry and horror movies are a big part of my life. I had a body of work I thought might be fun as metal lyrics. They were meant to be silly and kind of fun and maybe had a hint of a reaction to how I feel people sometimes take themselves too seriously in various punk and metal scenes. Discovering that in an old issue of MAD is pretty telling. I hope years of re-reading MAD somehow helps define who I am. I probably shouldn’t be proud of that.
EYESTONE: Cory was, and still is, one of most obsessive people I know when it comes to zombies. Andy had an unending and vast knowledge of cinema history in general, so it was really easy to drop into niche-y discussions of, let’s say, any given era of Italian zombie film output. It was always really cool hearing Andy piece together timelines from era to era, film to film. Also, since the songs we wrote were so short, there was always time to watch VHS tapes upstairs at Cory’s before and after practice. Many of those tapes found additional thematic narrative in Corn on Macabre songs. I want to say THEY LIVE, BAD TASTE, and DEAD ALIVE were some of the ones we geeked out over initially.
ALLEN: Andy and I knew each other well before Corn on Macabre. I have a good memory of watching THEY LIVE and BLACK SABBATH with him. I almost never have a bad time watching horror movies. If Corn on Macabre watched movies together, we had a good time.
FANG: Much like a great horror film, grindcore—when done well!—creates atmospheres of frenetic dread that work to jolt and overwhelm the senses. Did Corn on Macabre always view this subgenre as the best vehicle for the vibe/ideas you were attempting to relay?
EYESTONE: I think that, musically, it was very important to push it. There was also a gravitational pull toward the absurd and illogical. Billups was by far the most accomplished bass player possible for the band at inception, with Cory up there in his own right. But, since I’d never played bass in my life, bass duties fell upon me and Cory ended up with the guitar around his neck while Billups took solely to the microphone. I think that’s where a film like DEAD ALIVE/BRAINDEAD would come into play. When you’re first watching the end of that movie, it doesn’t follow devices you’re used to, you’re wondering what the hell is happening in your life in that moment, and yet you’re smiling and loving every minute of it. I’d like to hope we approximated that sensation for other people like us. There was definitely a lawnmower in the basement we practiced in…
FANG: I loved the way Corn on Macabre doubled down on its raison d’etre with the awesome, tripped out 70s cinema-esque videos for “You’re Okay, I’m Undead” and “Pterodactyl Shutdown.”
ALLEN: Yeah, the films were the best part for me. I wish we had done six of those. Devo is still a favorite band of mine. I love their videos and multimedia agenda. That’s the sort of thing I always wanted to be involved in…
EYESTONE: I loved making those videos because it brought together so many of the brilliant people in our artistic community and allowed for this gigantic snowball of creativity. I remember it being important to not perform musically in the videos and to make them more like scenes from movies we’d personally want to see. Billups and Hillary Kolos—director for both—spent a lot of time plotting the execution of all the ideas and putting together cast lists. It meant a lot to show up to film and see so many people we love and respect just completely eager to help us realize the visions for those songs. Even Andy’s mom came in and knocked it out with a breakthrough performance as “Scientist #3.” “Scientist #1” was so riveting in her role that Billups ended up marrying her. We also got to work with film, which is rarely done anymore. I look back fondly at that entire experience. It’s one of those life moments that reassure you that you can make anything you want on any budget, a bunch of friends, and a lot of heart.
FANG: Did you find people from outside the hardcore/metal scenes taking interest in Corn on Macabre because of the thematic content the band explored?
EYESTONE: There was a bit of that. I want to say it was at a show in Ithaca, New York…members of a film society and two professors came to the show and cornered some of us afterward. That conversation was the most “academic” I recall, but it wasn’t terribly unusual to have deep conversations about film along our travels. In many ways, putting ourselves out there as guys that like weird movies and weird music opened up doors and allowed us to meet and spend time with even more people like us.
FANG: Billups, after the band broke up you wrote a horror novella, UNFURNISHED [http://www.dischord.com/release/unfr1/-4 ], as well as several short stories. Did the conceptualization and writing of Corn on Macabre lyrics serve as a good training ground for your later adventures in long-form writing?
ALLEN: My desire and confidence to write was definitely boosted from being in bands. Writing lyrics gets you going a bit. When I first wanted to do music, I was really intimidated to try. I didn’t know how people figured how to write a song for instance. How do you write a chorus? Where do you put it? I had a friend, Charlie Post, who was a really good songwriter and he introduced me to The Minutemen and the beat poets. That was a real eye opener at a time when I was too vexed by the process to stick my neck out. We wrote some songs based on a few rants I had written and that really meant a lot to me.
EYESTONE: After we called it quits, I remember certain years where I wanted to find time to approach Billups about doing another “franchise” that would enable us to write and play about a new set of ideas and characters. I think a lot of that comes from the realization that, while I’m a highly functional human being, I’m also a legitimately weird human being. Same goes for the other guys. Being in a band like Corn on Macabre gave us all the freedom to be odd and sing and play however we wanted or deemed appropriate.
I recently started a band called Bleach Everything that returns to that almost id-fueled way of going about playing music. I found a similar calling that Billups did in Corn on Macabre where I really felt the need to sing for something. I thought the aforementioned misanthropy would come pouring out in the lyrics, but a lot of it has turned into odes to Mothra, first-person perspectives of Gary Busey believing that all of his films are documentaries, and the alien-fueled havoc that surely breaks out on most manned space missions.
FANG: The performance history on the FINAL CHAPTER DVD describes the band’s swan song as a “surprise final show announced from the stage.” As fans of cult horror films is there perhaps something weirdly satisfying about Corn on Macabre ending as a cult band?
ALLEN: I felt the band broke up too early, but I’m always a fan of ending projects before they get tiresome.
EYESTONE: Do you want to be the SAW IV-VII Blu-Ray “valu-pak”? Or do you want to be the original 1974 version of BLACK CHRISTMAS, which you used to have to order from Canada because it didn’t even have reliable U.S. distribution? I’ll take BLACK CHRISTMAS any day. It wasn’t for everyone, it wasn’t formulaic, and there was utter satisfaction in finally discovering it and somehow acquiring it for your own home entertainment and collection. We played music for us and people like us. With DISCOGRAPHIC VIOLENCE, I genuinely hope that a new generation of people who appreciate the same themes can discover the LP and love it as much as we loved making it.
FANG: Finally, did writing and playing these songs deepen your love for the horror genre?
EYESTONE: Absolutely. Horror has always been so much more powerful and fulfilling to me when I’m in environments where I’m surrounded by others to share, create, and discuss it. Sitting around at practice and driving in vans talking about horror with these guys gave me lists and lists of movies and books that I was able to spend years viewing, reading, and enjoying. There were also countless recommendations from the people that enjoyed our music and wanted to share their individual horror canons with other people that might enjoy it. Communities make life better…and the horror community has given me so much to feed off of every single year.
ALLEN: Probably not my personal love of horror, but similarly to what Brent said, I enjoyed meeting people who read the same magazines and shared movies and books. I love when people are positive and have recommendations about what they are into, and when you’re involved with something like Corn on Macabre, you meet people with similar interests. I hate this negative, bitchy Internet culture that is forming around metal and horror. I’d rather listen to people speak well of shitty music when they are passionate about it.