Despite the relentless output of records, save for some piecemeal rumors, there’s not a ton to go on when it comes to PC Worship, a Bushwick-based band that spans several rotating members (but is always led by Justin Frye) as well as influences of punk, drone, even free jazz. They’re known for wild improvisation but also their success in collaborations with Parquet Courts (a popular band that is in many ways their opposite). But most critics and music bloggers have agreed: PC Worship is nothing if not inexplicable. And their new EP, Basement Hysteria, set to drop November 13 when they return from a month-long European tour, sees the band containing the tradition of drone-clouded noise worship.
I visited Frye last week at his basement studio in Bushwick, which felt hermetic and cut off from the intermittently rumbling and quiet industrial block outside. Save for the incoherent jabber of a woman quietly droning on the radio, it kind of felt like being inside a womb. We sat there, me on a sagging couch, both of us surrounded by a mixing station, recording equipment, and strange instruments, some Justin had built himself.
Justin has the power to make your questions seem stupid. I mean, you know you’re in trouble when you start getting one or two-word responses, but the look of aloof derision on his face made things that much harder.
I made the mistake of asking if PC Worship’s relationship with Parquet Courts may have helped them get more attention as a band. After all, Parquet Courts is a pretty big deal at the moment and last year it seemed that PC Worship had assumed the roll of their cooler, but more esoteric older brother. Justin and the band toured alongside Parquet Courts, played in a super group with them as PCPC, and released their last record Social Rust as a split between Northern Spy Records and Andrew Savage’s label Dull Tools, all of which seemed to indicate not just a close working relationship but that Parquet Courts was promoting a band they like, presumably in the interest of sharing the wealth.
“You know better than I do,” Justin responded, implying that he either a) doesn’t pay any attention to what people are saying about PC Worship or b) thought this might be the dumbest question anyone’s ever asked him.
It became apparent Justin wasn’t going to just hand me this interview. It wasn’t enough to say I’d liked the band’s albums– as much as you can call this rotating outfit a band and their amorphous, free flowing fits of punked-out jazz noise albums. Nor did it seem to matter that I’d seen them live a handful of times and that I had prepared some rote questions in hopes of getting interesting answers.
Justin might be a hard shell to crack– and once things got going, he came through as a real chiller– but that just means we could cut through the bullshit. And actually this ambiguity and un-graspability are to be expected from a guy who heads a band like PC Worship. Their sound is constantly evolving, partly because Justin is so interested in exploring untraversed or at least under-traversed terrain in rock music. Once you’ve come up with a label for what they do, they defy your expectations once again. But the sound is cryptic for a reason. Home honed instruments aren’t exactly easy to process at first.
While some critics have argued PC Worship is carrying the torch of a new downtown avant-garde (located in a new downtown altogether, Bushwick), others characterize them as hard partying Brooklyn scenesters. Both are probably true.
Justin’s can seem like an ecstatic, meandering project at times. But simply because improvisation rules PC Worship’s method and their aura is imbued with a sort of stoner unconcern doesn’t mean there’s a lack of rhyme or reason here.
“Every album I or we have made, the process is extremely intense. It’s a pretty visceral project, it takes a lot of energy,” Justin explained. “Regardless of how nonchalant it might seem, there’s a lot of thought that goes into everything.”
Basement Hysteria finds the band pushing the boundaries of rock even more, traversing into extended, jazz-like compositions complete with piano and, of course, saxophone.
You have two opportunities to catch them almost immediately upon their return from their European tour. Count yourself lucky if you’ve got tickets to their show opening for Panda Bear at the Bowery Ballroom on Oct. 13, coz it’s already sold out. But tbh you’ll probably have better luck seeing them on Nov. 14 at the Acheron alongside The Men.
Do you have a big following in Europe?
No, not really. For years, really, when we got prompted to play European shows we were never able to make it work because people didn’t know who we were. Now we can do enough touring to make it worthwhile to go there.
It looks like you do a lot of recording here?
Yeah, we pretty much do all of our recording here. It’s expensive to record with other people. I’m not opposed to it. But recording also plays a very large roll in my writing process. On the record we just made, it was recorded mostly live. We recorded versions of most of the songs on it, three of them probably we recorded three of four versions of and then changed the structure.
Is that your usual process?
The usual process for me is to record stuff all the time and play a lot of different instruments and try and organize ideas. It’s less an ends to ‘PC Worship’ and more just to do it. A lot of times I’ll have friends come over and we’ll play songs and just party and hang out. Sometimes that can turn into music we play in PC Worship.
Sometimes I’ll record demos for something and I’ll teach it to the band and we’ll figure out a better live version of it and then we’ll record that and change it. The process is pretty open-ended.
Is that how you approach music in general? Is it more about playing music and less about having a band with practiced songs?
Definitely, definitely. I don’t think we’re trying to craft any songs or anything. I mean, I guess we are. I’ve been in bands where we had a really specific way to play songs. That is what it is, but when you’re playing the same songs night after night, it makes it more interesting when the songs are more like a canvas to do other things on. Whenever I’ve been on tour and playing the same songs the same way night after night, it can become pretty benign.
But how does functioning with so few constraints work out? I imagine that can get kind of crazy.
I mean, the constraints and rules are whatever is my aesthetic or interest or approach. That creates certain confines. Obviously it’s a rock band and that in itself is a pretty structured format.
Do you do other art work?
I make visual art and a lot of it manifests itself through this project and through other areas. I play a lot of other music too. I play upright bass. I’m a pretty active musician outside this project too in different ways.
Out of maybe— I’m not sure how many releases— over 10 releases, there’s been one tape and one LP I didn’t do art work for.
Can you tell me about the art book 2014, the one you worked on with Andrew Savage?
The idea for the band [PCPC] came about because we made that book. I guess Dull Tools for him is as much an avenue for publication as it is for music. We made that book of art and it kind of correlated to a time when their bass player had just had a kid and their drummer was just finishing school, and he had the idea of me and Shannon [Sigley] playing with him on this European tour they’d already committed to. And then we kind of filled the extra dates with this weird combo band we made. And the book… actually, I forget which one came first.
What was PCPC like as a band?
It was pretty fluid. Andrew and Austin [Brown], they came over to my studio a few times and I went over to theirs a few times and we wrote a handful of songs and kind of came up with some ideas and let them unfold pretty naturally with the group of people we had. I think everyone was pretty loose about it in terms of letting everyone have their own space to do their own thing.
How long have you been playing music?
Pretty much for as long as I can remember. My parents played music and were in bands when I was growing up. When I was old enough to be conscious of what they were doing, [I realized] they were in bar bands and stuff. We always had a studio in our house like this one [we’re in now]. My dad had a reel-to-reel and they recorded a lot of music on that. At a certain point I started messing around with recording.
Have you ever seen it as a job?
Have I ever seen music as a job? No, I’ve always done weird things to make money. I mean, we get paid to do shit. It’s not enough to live on, but it’s enough to facilitate the project in some ways. It’s just an unimportant byproduct. It is what it is.
Is that a conscious thing to keep them separate?
I used to do sound [for shows] a lot more than I do now. I pretty much only work at Roulette. I used to work at Cake Shop and a bunch of other venues. I worked pretty full-time in sound, but I had to stop because I was getting pretty burnt out on music in general. So I mean, I kind of diverted away from that.
Even though I still work at Roulette, it’s the only sound-related job I do now. Most of the other stuff I do makes it easier to maintain a distance. It sort of makes music more gratifying.
I just got more into doing art-related jobs. I do like art installation and art handling, day-job shit like that. It’s nice because you learn about things that are somewhat relevant, but still pretty far from whatever I do on a daily basis so it’s easy to kind of separate the two. I’ve never really aspired to make music as a profession. It’s always been a pretty visceral slash necessary component of my life.
Do you live in Bushwick still?
I lived in this neighborhood for about 10 years and then I was touring in other bands pretty relentlessly for a few years. Then I moved around to the area around Broadway/Myrtle, then I lived in Ridgewood, now I live in this area [close to the Meserole stop].
Do you like touring Europe more in some ways?
I don’t like it more, it’s different. You have new experiences. Like this tour coming up we’re renting a car in the UK. So it’s like, just having to drive with the steering wheel on the wrong side and going to these different places, you can’t attach yourself to your cell phone in the car. It’s sort of freeing in that regard. You’re separated from your common reality. It’s just a different experience. I also thinking touring America is really cool and really fun.
Was it a conscious decision to move to New York to be in a band?
No, I moved to New York to go to school. I went to the New School. I lived here for two years and then I moved back to the mountains of Virginia [where I grew up] for a year and a half. I didn’t really anticipate coming back, but eventually I came back and I’ve been here ever since.
Why’d you end up leaving?
After the first year [of living here] I didn’t really like being in New York that much. It was pretty intense and I was playing music with a lot of people from Virginia still.
I moved to Harrisburg which is near the border of West Virginia in the Appalachian Mountains. I moved there to just play music and the band I was in at the time toured moderately. We had a house there that was a tenth of the price that I was paying here and it was a really pretty, three-story Victorian House with our own studio there. Everyone paid like $150 in rent.
It was just a little more romantic and New York was such a hustle, I hadn’t quite wrapped my head around it yet. It felt good to come back here once I sort of, I dunno, once I realized what I wanted to be doing. I think New York is a hard place to figure out what you want to do, and a really easy place if you already know what you want to do.
Did you use any of the instruments you created on the new EP?
I used that guitar [points to a stripped-down guitar] that’s modified to be kind of a tune-less guitar, which I’ve used for about five years at PC Worship shows. It doesn’t have any frets and it’s played more akin to how a sitar would be played.
Wait? That one with the water bottle?
That’s a shitar. We made that four years ago. My friend Dan who plays bongos with us a lot came on tour with us and we made that to sort of add another layer of harmonics. But it’s actually similar in how the shitar sounds. But we just found that a water bottle worked the best [to hold up the strings.] It almost has like an old blues sound.
Yeah, totally. The fretless guitar gets used relatively frequently in this band still. It’s kind of its own instrument in a weird way because you play behind the bridge.
There’s a lot of music in the world that doesn’t rely on such a rigid form of tuning and I think there’s this scale, this system has been explored so heavily is that for me, what’s interesting is that it unveils an entire middle ground of notes and ways of getting to notes that are relatively unexplored in Western music.
Western music has a twelve-tone system and Eastern music deals with quarter tones. You can see it physically. There’s this amount of space between each fret and there’s notes all along the way, but when you have a fret, it makes it so that your intonation is more perfect.
Whereas on a cello or a violin it’s like an empty canvas, and there’s all these things in between you can play. It also makes it a lot easier to be out of tune. So most rigid classical music or even rock music, the idea is that you want to be as in-tune as possible. And I think there are a lot of interesting things about being out of tune or purposefully not in this tune.
Do you think that rigidity says a lot about Western music in general?
There are certain confines, I mean it’s an amazing system that’s worked well for a long time and still does for a lot of reasons. But there’s no reason to discount what’s in between. Particularly today when we have access to all kinds of Eastern music and all kinds of different cultures, there’s no reason to turn a blind eye to that stuff.
Correction: The original version of this post was revised to correct the release date of Basement Hysteria and to clarify that Social Rust was a split involving two labels.