It sounds idiosyncratic to say that chaos bodes well with order, doesn’t it? They’re basically disparate ends of a spectrum appliable for basically anything. Somehow, this is exactly what Pound manages to accomplish in an odd sense, at a musical level. Pound is in a way, the ultimate -core band, bridging gaps between sheer and unrelenting chaos, literally mind-blowing mathematical levels of precision and complexity, and straight, hypnotic, and balanced grooves.
Hailing all the way from Seattle, Washington, USA, the unique duo that is Pound, brings to life a wild and nauseating experience since its inception nearly a decade and a half in the past. It all began with nothing more than a couple of like-minded aspiring musicians sharing their love for their craft and realizing they can stick with it as a thing. Or, as guitarist Ryan Schutte, and drummer David Stickney put it:
Ryan: ‘I think it was sometime in late 2007, early 2008, but it wasn’t really a band at that point. We were both frustrated with other projects and didn’t want to be in a band. We just wanted to practice our instruments and get better at making music.’
David: ‘When we first started, we weren’t even trying to write music, we were just making up wild exercises to get better, and trying to figure out polyrhythms. Then we listened to what we were doing and realized we really liked it, so we decided to try to flesh them out into real music. Our friend was having a birthday house party, and asked us to play in his living room. It went spectacularly, people loved it, we looked at each other and said ‘I guess this is a thing now?”
Pound is a seemingly innocuous kind of name to attach to such a bombastic musical experience, while the song and album titles definitely feel like an apt descriptor, as weird as they are. Does it all mean anything, or nothing at all? Apparently settling on Pound just came naturally as well as the song titles:
R: ‘It just kind of fit. There really isn’t much of a story behind it.’
D: ‘Honestly, if we could go without having a band name, we would. It’s just a placeholder so that people know what to refer to us as. It could be anything.’
R: ‘We try to keep things as open ended as possible. We want the listener to be able to go into our music without any jumping off point. No expectations, no frame of reference. We want people to be able to find their own meaning in what we do and we want them to know that they’re a part of it too. The song titles are all dumbed down drum tabs. You can play them. Again, we want people to be able to connect with our music and have the songs mean whatever they need to mean for them.’
As time passed, it all started coming together as a unified vision with a clearer musical aim behind it. An emergent mass materialized as a sonic mélange which took a little from seemingly everywhere. You can see mathcore, djent (for the lack of a better word), d-beat, hardcore, technical metal, progressive metal, and sludge metal elements converging throughout the band’s tunes. It’s quite impressive to see such varied ends being organically shaped into a unitary whole, but more so in a different way, how Ryan and David arrived here:
R: ‘We both like and listen to all kinds of music. I think that’s one of our biggest strengths as a band. We try to add as many of our influences as we can into what we do, without blatantly ripping off other people’s music. I think our music is just an honest amalgamation of our genuine love for music.’
D: ‘It’s a product of indecisiveness. We have so much genuine love for so many different genres it was too hard to make a final decision to stick to only one.’
R: ‘What David said. There’s a little bit of everything in there because we genuinely love everything. Why limit yourself to one or two genres with multiple projects when you can just have everything you want all in one band? It took some time to figure out ways to blend it all together without it sounding like riff soup, but I’d like to think we figured it out by now.’
This would, of course, lead us to believe that Pound is in turn influenced by a wide variety of things in the artistic spectrum and we would be correct. It only makes sense that such a varied output will be the culmination of a diversified love as well as just as diversified tastes.
D: ‘Our original influences were Meshuggah, Car Bomb, Nasum, Dillinger Escape Plan, Floor, Trocotombix, Black Cobra, Gorod, Lightning Bolt, Cloudkicker, and Eagle Twin, but the list of bands that inspire us now is a mile long.’
R: ‘I draw inspiration from a lot of different places. Some of my best ideas have come from taking concepts from other art forms and trying to apply them to music.’
When the line is drawn, the sound of Pound ultimately eludes a clear and succinct description. I kept trying to condense it into something that clearly enunciates everything that’s present. I failed, no matter how I put it. So, what if we get some input from the band itself on this matter? Don’t expect the answer to clear anything up though hahaha:
R: ‘We get asked this question a lot and I still don’t have any solid answers for it. It’s such a chaotic blend of different things. We usually just say that it’s heavy and leave it at that. A lot of people get too bogged down with genre labels, and while they are important and serve a purpose, sometimes it can take away from the music. It’s incredibly liberating when you stop labeling yourself and your art and just do what comes naturally. It can be exhausting trying to cram yourself into a box that you don’t belong in.’
I definitely agree with this on every level, except the crazy level where I need to categorize everything so I can neatly sort it. Although, indeed, it is very important for artists to focus on their craft instead of what monikers are assigned to categorize it by fans and/or critics. It’s also something of a pity that there can be fans and/or critics that are more hung up over what labels should be applied to an artist for categorization purposes, instead of simply enjoying their output and leaving that as a ‘side-quest’.
Of course, it’s not just this that makes Pound the absolute unit which it is. Sure, songwriting, phrasing, performance, and all that jazz play a big part in a band’s sound. However, what about the actual stuff that literally makes a band sound? I was genuinely curious what goes on at that deeper level. Besides a massive and highly customized double drumkit on David’s side we also have an equally massive setup on Ryan’s side. We’re looking at a bass rig and a guitar rig all for one wild 9-string baritone guitar. Gear nerds rejoice, as you’re in for some sweet details.
‘I spent a lot of time getting my rig dialed. The trick is in the two different signals. There’s a ‘guitar’ rig and a ‘bass’ rig. The guitar rig has a lot of distortion and the bass rig stays fairly clean. It allows me to get some really gnarly distortion while still getting a lot of clarity. I have an octaver pedal on each rig and when I hit both, I get that deep rumble.
‘I used to use Whammies, but I switched to Drops and a Ricochet. One octave drop into the splitter doesn’t get the same effect as one into each rig. Not too sure why. It just sounds a lot bigger if it’s two pedals, one on each signal chain. The pedals dip the frequency below what the speakers can handle which causes them to just shake and rumble.
‘The guitar rig is a 300 w head and the bass rig is a rowdy 6000 w PA head. My bass cab is a custom Emperor cab loaded with high wattage handling speakers.’
How about that? It pretty much explains the crazy hard kick we get when turning our speakers up, right? I honestly would’ve never imagined that, that is how it all comes together at a gear level, but there you have it, you learn something crazy every day, right?
Thankfully there’s, I think, plenty of musical meat to bite into. So far, we have two albums of this absolute madness to chew on. A self-titled full-length album, and a sophomore record taking things to a new level. There’s of course more to come down the road – even more thankfully.
Pound is the first instance of an organized effort behind all the years of churning out riffs and crazy practice routines. It was met with plenty of acclaim by fans within the adjacent areas of this musical area, which, of course saw the band slowly gather traction. Although, when switching to the follow up record, we notice a massive step forward in literally every direction. That would make it one of the few cases where a band advertises their new record as harder, better, and faster as a fact and less as false advertising. •• still stands well and it probably will for a long time. It’s definitely a fine cut from the upper echelons of extreme music. I even had the chance to review it two weeks after it was released. You can check that out if you want my account of it in some more details.
Alright, cool, but how does this craziness all come together? Well, apparently, we’re looking at a madly prolific band which is hellbent on drowning us in their works. As one would imagine based on the tunes, it’s a highly calculated affair, while also being organic:
D: ‘Typically, Ryan will write the majority of each song, although I will provide individual beats or riffs as jumping points. Then, once Ryan has a skeleton of a song outlined, I’ll go back through and change drum beats, or suggest a part be repeated, or sometimes even come up with new riffs, and generally just tidy up and fill out the rest of the song.’
R: ‘I write music constantly. I just write and write and write. I’m always writing. I keep every riff and every song, even if they don’t get used. I’ll write 30-40 full songs and then use 8-16 of them for the album. Once I start writing a new album, it’s a new batch of songs. I never go back and re-use old ideas or material. I always want to do something new and different.
‘The majority of our songs are written in Guitar Pro and then learned. It’s taken me almost a decade, but at this point, I have a pretty firm grasp on what our music is supposed to sound like and what we can/can’t reasonably do on our instruments. Things morph and evolve and change depending on how the songs feel when we start playing them, but for the most part, the songs are about 80% done before either of us touches our instruments.
‘David has the insane ability to hear a riff and just instinctively know what needs to go with it. Whenever we’re struggling with a section or a part, he’ll sit down and come up with five or ten variations of it. Sometimes that leads to some massive re-writes that make the songs better and stronger.
‘For the most part, I just let the music change and evolve naturally. I try not to force riffs that shouldn’t be there, even if it means cutting out a good riff or a part. It’s all about keeping a solid flow.
‘Before I start writing for an album, we’ll sit down together and talk about the musical directions we want to take things in and the areas of music that we want to explore. I’ll try to add those things to what we’re already doing. It forces us to keep changing and evolving our sound without losing sight of who we are and what we do.
‘We’re a band that is constantly having an identity crisis while knowing exactly who we are, if that makes sense.’
A thing that fans have always inquired about in relation to the band’s music, as well as me, was how come there isn’t a vocalist amidst this violent spree of sound? Surely some unhinged screams and rattling growls could complement all the sonic punishment, no? It seems that the process described above is so natural and finely tuned that an additional link in it would possibly compromise it:
R: ‘A large part of it due to our songwriting process. Our creative output is really high and adding another person would slow that down a lot. It would also completely change everything about what we do. The dynamic would be different, the songs would have a different meaning, it wouldn’t be the same band.
‘We’ve tried a few people out over the years, including on different instruments, but nothing has felt right. There wasn’t that lightning strike moment of connection and without that, I don’t think it’s worth pursuing.’
What is on everyone’s mind at this point is obviously where is Pound going and more importantly how is the group’s evolution seen from the inside. I think that if anything, this only further attests to the incredibly prolific characters of the duo while also showing us that they are a pair of relentlessly creative souls:
R: ‘The first album was an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink kind of thing. We just threw everything at it. The second one was much more focused on d-beat. There are so many cool things that you can do with that simple 16th note, 8th note, 16th note pattern. It was a lot of fun digging in and seeing how far we could stretch and warp it while still keeping some of that d-beat sound intact. It’s become a huge part of our sound.
‘The third and fourth albums will be coming out next year and they have much more of an evolution. I took a lot of influence from Knut, Keelhaul, Cloudkicker, Antigama, Die Choking, The Refused, Beaten to Death, 7.5 Tonnes of Beard, Black Sheep Wall, and Saver. There’s also a bit of Latin influence in there too. I wanted to add some new influences into the mix and David really wanted to do some slower doom and sludge bits, so that’s the direction we took things in. I got really into feedback manipulation, so there’s a bit of that on there as well.
‘We’re currently in the process of writing our fifth and sixth albums and we’re really trying to push our limits harder than we ever have. It’s shaping up to be much faster, more technical and a lot more aggressive, with a lot of super ham-fisted sludge riffs at the end. It’s been a difficult year and we’re both feeling pissed off again. It feels good to get some of that out.’
That sounds like quite a handful and now we can rest assured that at least another 4 albums worth of amazing tunes are headed our way. I think that there’s no other way of spinning it, Pound is definitely as maximalist in sound as it is in every other way. So, naturally, I wanted to know on a deeper level how do things look like. I mean, don’t you? Both Ryan and David give us a glimpse of what they look into achieving ultimately through Pound:
R: ‘Ultimately, we just want to be able to do this for a living. Music is the only thing that makes me feel whole and content. It’s what I want to do with my life. I want to build this band into the best version of it that it can be and then I want to use that platform to help other small bands.’
D: ‘Music got me through being an awkward, lonely teenager, and still often gets me through the insanity of adult life. It was so much fun sitting there and listening to the same 10 seconds of music over and over, trying to figure out that one crazy drum fill, getting my tiny mind blown by titans of technical wizardry like The Dillinger Escape Plan or Meshuggah. If I can do for one single lonely teenager out there what countless bands did for me over the years, and inspire them to try it out for themselves, that would mean the world to me.’
R: ‘David and I had similar experiences. Growing up in a small town without a lot to do and a lack of diversity can be very lonely and isolating. There’s this constant sense of looming inevitability, like your future is already written for you and you’ll be stuck there forever. Music was my main escape. It made sense when nothing else did while exposing me to this huge world that existed outside my own. It introduced me to new ideas and places and people and it just instantly felt like home. I want other people to get those same feelings when they listen to the music that we’re making.’
As we can see, the cathartic effect of music resonates strongly and it can mean the world to both those who make it as well as those who consume it. I can actually relate a whole lot to these points, for better or worse. I think this is definitely a part of what makes music so special – the sense of communion it can bring, the liberating aspects of it, the means to escape in it, and everything that sets it apart from any form of art. I think that people finding their path like this and further adding to the beacon which they found is something of a scintillating beauty.
Finally, I’d like to emphasize that for all of us – everywhere, the past 18ish months have been fucked up to varying degrees and especially for musicians that relied on touring to keep their craft alive. With that in mind, I asked our Weekly Featured Artist to offer their two cents on how things have been going on that side:
R: ‘The pandemic broke me. I lost my dream job/career, my partner left me, we lost over 100 shows that I spent 7 months booking, and it all just completely destroyed me. I started having anxiety attacks that got progressively worse, culminating in one that was so bad it left me foggy and unable to function for a week. I’m still healing from that and am nowhere close to the same level I was before it happened.
‘I couldn’t approve mixes or work on merch or anything. Whenever I tried to do anything, my anxiety would spike and I would start to feel foggy and I just had to stop doing everything for a while.
‘David sat me down and asked me what I wanted to do and I said, ‘Well, I’m still writing and I still like playing,’ so he said ‘Alright, cool, then let’s just do that until you feel ready to do other things.’
‘He saved the band and probably saved me from a hospital trip with that one conversation.’
D: ‘There were a lot of negatives, as Ryan has mentioned. Both of us losing our jobs and tons of tours and shows, Ryan falling apart and the world just kind of collapsing around us was really hard. But focusing on the positive, we live together, and losing our jobs and being forced to stay in our homes for months on end allowed us (and continues to allow us) almost unlimited time to hang out in our basement and shed riffs for hours on end. We have both improved tenfold on our instruments, and written upwards of 5 albums, something we would never have had the time or energy for in the past. On top of that, we have both been able to focus on our health more, both with diet and exercise.
R: ‘As much as the pandemic tore me apart, it allowed me the time I needed to rebuild myself. It showed me what was really important to me and forced me to redefine who I am and what I want to do. We’re coming out of this stronger than we’ve ever been in all areas. Mentally, physically, and musically. We’re ready to take on the big risks involved with taking on bigger things.’
I’m certain that at this time, such stories are unfortunately no stranger from the long line of tales from the pandemic. However, if anything, this particular story tells us of more than just loss, it speaks to us of resilience and imbues us with hope. Strength can be eventually found to brave even some of the harshest circumstances. For some it can be a simple discussion, for others it can be listening to a record, it can be anything. The important thing is to find something to hang on to, because there always is something and to pound on.