Doug Moore of Pyrrhon: An Exclusive Toilet Ov Hell Interview
Front men in heavy metal bands usually hope for a select criteria in which fans praise them – something along the lines of charisma or a dozen scary adjectives bloggers use with abandon: brutal, ferocious, grim, intense, hardcore, mysterious, et cetera, pushed ad naseum. Pyrrhon’s Doug Moore has both charisma and an intimidating presence, live and on record. The first adjective I would use to describe him, however, would be intelligent.
I received a copy of Growth Without End about a month prior to its proper release, and I have listened to it every day since. It’s a logical followup to The Mother of Virtues. The band sprints through five tracks, combining the sound they honed on The Mother of Virtues with a flair for Botch-esque math I hadn’t heard on their 2014 album. I got a chance to interview Doug regarding Growth Without End, all things Pyrrhon related, and a few other odds and ends as well. You can read the interview below in its entirety.
Edward: Hey, how is it going Doug? I’d like to ask the hard question first, if I may. What happened with Relapse Records? I read what looked like an official statement saying Pyrrhon didn’t move enough units there, but is there anything else you can tell us?
Doug: That’s all there is to say about it, really. The album didn’t sell well enough for Relapse to make money, so they discontinued their contract with us. It happens all the time.
Edward: Were you familiar with David Hall and Handshake, Inc prior to Pyrrhon getting picked up by him? Great label. Can you tell us anything about what is has been like to work with him so far?
Doug: Yeah, I’ve been aware of David and Handshake Inc. pretty much since he got started — I’m a Sulaco fan, and their most recent album was one of Handshake’s first releases. I got to know David personally a few years ago when I covered some of his work for Invisible Oranges. He expressed interest in working with Pyrrhon during the album cycle for The Mother of Virtues and put together a video for “Sleeper Agent,” so Handshake was a natural choice for Growth Without End.
David’s been great to work with so far. He’s a one-man shop, which naturally means he has fewer resources at his disposal than a big operation like Relapse, but also means that the label/artist relationship is much more direct and intimate, especially since we’ve been friendly for a while. I’m kind of anal about how the band is promoted and presented publicly, and David has been very patient with my nitpicky diktats regarding promotional copy and such. He also clearly has a lot of faith in what we’re doing artistically, which is invaluable to us.
Edward: Speaking of the video for “Sleeper Agent”, Pyrrhon seems to aim for an unsettling visual presentation, like the covers for The Mother of Virtues and Growth Without End. Is this intentional? What is the band’s motivation for that visual identity?
Doug: Yeah, that’s definitely intentional. Like most bands, we want the visual aesthetic of our releases, merch, videos, and so forth to match our sound. In our case, that means we’re looking for stark, unsettling, metaphorically rich imagery that’s consistent with each release’s lyrical themes. We’ve got a substantial advantage in pursuing this goal because of our long partnership with our visual artist Caroline Harrison. Caroline has done all of Pyrrhon’s art since our very first demo, so we’ve developed a seamless collaborative process with her and have complete faith in her ability to do work that’s consistent with our vision. She’s also my girlfriend, so she witnesses a lot of the creative process for the lyrics firsthand and has an unusually intimate understanding of the thoughts and emotions that inspire our music.
Edward: Speaking of your relationship, I read an interview you gave where you mentioned not wanting to bring children into this world. Does that still stand?
Doug: It certainly does for me, though I’m not speaking for the whole band. I don’t like kids very much, for starters, but there are also a lot of powerful ethical arguments against having children given our civilization’s current state and future prospects. On top of that, a lot of people who have kids do so for bad reasons or before they’re really emotionally prepared for the responsibility, which leads to a lot of real misery for both parent and child. On the other hand, the urge to procreate is the core instinct that drives all life, so it’s hard to outright condemn everyone who heeds it. It’d be nice if people were a little more responsible about it, though.
Edward: Growth Without End is very heavy on cancer imagery and themes. The cover is of a cancerous cell. Several song titles directly refer to cancer: “Cancer Mantra”, “The Mass”, and “Viral Content”, and “Forget Yourself” does indirectly. I’ve read the lyrics too, the songs are about cancer. Your band has even posted images of cancer on Facebook recently as part of your promotional machine. Why cancer? Is this based on a recent experience for you or one of your bandmates?
Doug: It’s reductive to say that “the songs are about cancer.” Most of them aren’t, though cancer and tumors are certainly recurring motifs on the EP. Various types of cancer run in my family, but I didn’t really have personal experience with the disease in mind when I was working on the lyrics for Growth Without End.
My interest in these images goes back to the writing process for The Mother of Virtues, and in some ways is an extension of some of the themes that appeared on that record. It’s kind of hard to say, since my writing process is pretty intuitive and often happens subconsciously, but I suspect that the impetus for cancer as a driving image came when I read The Emperor of All Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee’s history of cancer treatment, in 2012 or so. I found that some of the ideas from the book — such as the notion that since cancer cells can divide an unlimited number of times without undergoing cell death, they are effectively immortal — really stuck in my mind and began attaching themselves to unrelated concepts.
Cancer is a disease of uncontrollable growth, and it seems to me that human society is facing more and more problems characterized by overabundance and overgrowth. This pattern stretches from mundane daily issues, such as day-to-day information overload and the obesity crisis in America, to vast civilization-wide challenges like overpopulation, environmental destruction driven by consumer demand, and ever-expanding state security apparatus. (To say nothing of the fact that literal cancer is becoming more prevalent as life expectancies go up.) That’s why cancer and tumors feel like such resonant images for me, but the EP’s lyrics don’t attempt to address all or even a sizable cross-section of this pattern. Instead, I used them as a framework for exploring related issues that are on my mind a lot. For instance, “The Mass” is basically a metaphor for living with a chronic mental illness, and “Viral Content” is about the way that untrustworthy information spreads on the internet.
Edward: Can you elaborate a little bit about “Turing’s Revenge”? I assume that is about the mathematician Alan Turing. I recently caught The Imitation Game – the lyrics appear to be in reference to his forced chemical castration regarding his homosexuality: “victimless crime”, “crown unmanned me”, “chemical scalpel” et al. What is Turing’s revenge?
Doug: That song is indeed about Alan Turing, and is one of the departures from the ‘theme’ of the EP. His story is one of the saddest individual tales in 20th-century history, and I’ve wanted to do a song about him for years. It’s just happenstance that the resultant tune is coming out a few months after The Imitation Game, which is based on a book I read a while back called Alan Turing: The Enigma. Strangely, something similar happened with The Emperor of All Maladies, which was adapted as a documentary series by PBS a month or two back.
The “revenge” part is a bit of a fantasy for me. Turing’s mistreatment at the hands of his government seems especially outrageous given the role he played in the development of modern computing technology, which has radically reshaped the way society works. However, not all of that change has been for the better. I like to imagine that the infantilizing and stultifying effects that computers have had on the public are Turing’s revenge against a society that crushed him because of his sexual orientation.
Edward: Musically, Growth Without End seems like a logical continuation of The Mother of Virtues. Was writing shorter songs a product of writing an extended play rather than a full length album? We have talked before about you being a big fan of Botch, and the intro on “Cancer Mantra” sounds a lot math-ier than your previous material to me. Did you draw from a different set of inspirations on Growth Without End? From some of your previous interviews, I have read Pyrrhon’s influences range from some of the more obvious heavy metal bands i.e. Gorguts, to stuff outside of heavy music like jazz and King Crimson.
Doug: As I see it, Growth Without End draws on the same basic set of influences that produced The Mother of Virtues, but we approached the writing process very differently. The The Mother of Virtues writing sessions were extremely work-intensive and iterative. We basically had to learn how to play such challenging material as we went, and all of the songs underwent numerous rewrites and revisions before we recorded them. We still felt like we had a lot of creative momentum when we completed the album, but we didn’t want to go through the same draining process again right away. Instead, we challenged ourselves to write as quickly & spontaneously as possible, and to focus on producing short, compact songs. The original idea was to record a whole EP of sub-2-minute grind tunes, which didn’t end up happening, but we still feel like we accomplished our goal with the end product.
Edward: Speaking about the band’s writing process, would you say Pyrrhon has benefited from having a consistent lineup since An Excellent Servant But A Terrible Master? Is it fair to assume Pyrrhon is working on their next full length album to follow up Growth Without End, and if so, is the band planning another giant leap forward like the one you made between An Excellent Servant But A Terrible Master and The Mother of Virtues?
Doug: Yeah, it’s been helpful to play with the same bunch of guys for so long, especially since our music involves both tightly-synced technical stuff and group improvisation. Everyone in the band has singular gifts that would be pretty tough to replace.
Though we’ve done some individual writing/reflecting for our next release(s), we haven’t commenced group work on a new LP in earnest. Come June, we’ll have put out 2 new releases and toured for 10 weeks over the preceding 15 months, which is a faster pace than Pyrrhon has moved at historically. We want to take a deep breath and ready ourselves before we dive into the process of writing a new album.
I wouldn’t say that we’re really “planning” for a leap forward, since we don’t usually have an endpoint in mind when we write new material. (And when we do, we often don’t actually arrive there, as with the new EP!) But we’re a restless bunch, and it’s a safe bet that whatever we put out next won’t sound exactly like any of our past records. We’ll pack it in when we start treading water.
Edward: Pyrrhon shares its rhythm section (Erik Malave/bass and Alex Cohen/drums) with Imperial Triumphant. Has that led to any difficulties in scheduling time to practice, record, or tour? Do you hear any similarities in Imperial Triumphant’s sound compared to Pyrrhon?
Doug: Nah, there haven’t really been many scheduling difficulties to speak of because of Alex and Erik’s involvement with Imperial Triumphant. They’re both quasi-session members of the band; Alex shares drum duties with Kenny Grohowski even on record, and Erik doesn’t tour with them. As to similarities — I think anyone familiar with both bands’ recorded work could pick out a number of them. As I understand it, Zach/Ilya from Imperial Triumphant asked Erik to join because he liked what Erik and Alex were doing together in Pyrrhon so much, so it’s natural that some commonalities came out in the music. That being said, Imperial Triumphant comes from a very different aesthetic place than Pyrrhon, so we’re never going to sound like twin bands or anything.
Edward: In my mind, Pyrrhon are part of a culturally important movement in heavy metal today. Forward thinking, outside the box acts that are tough to pin down or categorize. Progressive acts, but not in the corny sense sometimes associated with that label. I’m thinking of bands like Psalm Zero, Couch Slut, and Artificial Brain. I’m aware you have toured with Psalm Zero, played with Couch Slut, and of course I caught your tour with Artificial Brain. How are you connected to all of these bands? Is there more to this than just your location, or is it a New York thing? Can you speak on if you believe this is a real movement in heavy metal today?
Doug: We’re actually doing a mini-tour with Couch Slut around the release of the EP in early June, so in a few weeks, we’ll have toured with all three of those bands. While we all share an interest in making bleak, thoughtful music that doesn’t adhere to the strictures of any one genre, I wouldn’t characterize the lot of us as a ‘movement.’ We all come from different backgrounds, draw on different influences, and approach writing music differently. The connection is basically an attitudinal and social thing; the term ‘movement’ implies some sort of shared agenda, which definitely doesn’t exist.
In general, the common notion that New York City has this super tight-knit, insular metal scene strikes me as overblown. This city is a big, isolating place. There are plenty of well-known metal bands around here whose members I’ve never even seen offstage, much less actually spoken to. And naturally, not everyone who’s playing metal around here gets along super well with everyone else.
That being said, the NYC music scene is definitely one of North America’s most vibrant. The presence of so many immensely talented & hardworking musicians here definitely encourages us to push ourselves harder and harder every time we write new stuff. Free improvisation, noise music, and other kinds of avant-ish oddball stuff also thrive here, so we’ve soaked up some of the more outré ideas from those niches.
Doug Moore onstage with Psalm Zero in 2014
Edward: Any chance of a Pyrrhon and Psalm Zero split or full length album? Separately, are you familiar with or a fan of New York’s Yellow Eyes?
Doug: Nah, I don’t see a Pyrrhon / Psalm Zero split happening. We’re obviously friendly with those guys, but our visions are too singular and disparate for packaging our music together to make sense.
I’m familiar with Yellow Eyes in the general sense, but I don’t know them personally and haven’t spent a ton of time with their music.
Edward: What is presently in your music rotation? What are you listening to? What do you think is the best heavy record of 2015 so far – or your favorite, if those are the same thing?
Doug: My favorite heavy album so far this year is probably the new Leviathan [Scar Sighted], though I try not to think of music as a horse race when I can avoid it. Some other recent acquisitions I’ve been jamming include:
The Austerity Program – Beyond Calculation
Maruta – Remain Dystopian
Spray Paint – Rodeo Songs
Low – Things We Lost in the Fire
Christian Fitness – I Am Scared of Everything That Isn’t Me
Bjork – Vulnicura
Blurring – Blurring [S/T]
Obsequiae – Aria of Vernal Tombs
Antigama – The Insolent
Beauty Pill – Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are
Dystrophy – Wretched Host
Edward: Can you fill us in on your fitness or workout routine?
Doug: That kinda depends on the day and the week. The short answer is that I do a mix of conventional barbells-and-dumbbells weight training, body weight workouts, high-intensity interval training, and cardio stuff like running. I usually work out six days a week and cycle through two to four of the above types of workouts during a given week. Generally speaking, I try to eat mostly vegetables and lean proteins, though I’m not strict about it. Training is more about the process than achieving specific measurable goals for me; I mostly do it because I find it therapeutic and calming, though the health benefits are obviously nice as well.
Edward: If you were a pro-wrestler, what would your name be?
Doug: Haha, I’m not sure! It’s been almost 20 years since I last paid much attention to pro wrestling. I’d probably work under my own name or a variation on it, since I’m crappy at pretending to be someone I’m not. Or I could be DOOM ROGUE, which is comic book hero-esque because it’s an anagram of my name.
Edward: I could be way off base here, but based on some of your previous answers it sounds like you could be interested in politics. Are you, or do you think they are pointless? Any thoughts on the 2016 presidential election?
Doug: Yes, I’m very interested in both American and international politics, though I’m certainly not an expert in either field. I wouldn’t characterize Pyrrhon as a ‘political band’ the way that Napalm Death or His Hero Is Gone are political bands, but the personal is always political in this country. The cultural and historical backdrop of 21st-century America pervades our lives, so it’s ended up playing a big role in our music and lyrics.
I vote dutifully and will almost certainly follow the 2016 race, but largely because contemporary presidential elections constitute hilarious theater, rather than because I expect any of the major-party candidates to hold much appeal for me. It’s basically impossible to win national office in America without utterly compromising one’s personal ethics and principles, so the people most qualified to run are typically those least qualified to govern.
America has been creeping in a vaguely more socially liberal direction lately, which is good, but structural gridlock and legitimized corruption have largely destroyed the government’s ability to meaningfully address major challenges on both the national and state level. I have a hard time imagining any major deviation from the current status quo without a Constitutional convention, a civil war, or a widespread systemic collapse. Given that half the country considers the Constitution holy writ and regards any effort to alter it as a form of blasphemy, the second and third possibilities look far more likely to me. That’s part of the problem with predicating society on perpetual economic growth — eventually you collapse under your own weight.
Edward: I caught some of your other interviews where you predicted a grim future for the United States – do you think there is any hope for us here?
Doug: Let’s just say that this country is not alone in facing severe medium-term problems and even worse long-term issues, and I’ll be pleasantly surprised if we survive the former well enough to grapple with the latter.
Edward: That’s all I have for you, question-wise. I would like to say thank you for taking the time to speak with me! Do you have anything else you’d like to speak about, be it Pyrrhon, anything else related to music, or anything else entirely?
Doug: No problem, man. Sincere thanks for asking thoughtful questions and for your ongoing support of the band.
Growth Without End will be out on June 2 via Handshake Inc. and is currently available for preorder on our Bandcamp. We’ll be playing local NYC shows in support of the EP this spring and summer, as well as doing a mini-tour up to Toronto and back with our buds Couch Slut. We’ll probably line up another show or two this summer before we really buckle down and start writing in earnest again.
We’re also all working on other music outside of Pyrrhon. Some time within the next year, Erik and I will appear on a new album by a project that I’ve been involved in since high school; Dylan has been writing solo guitar music that he’ll likely record soon; and Alex is in about 50 bands, so you know he’s got some shit coming out. Keep an eye on our Facebook page for news updates if that’s your thing.