July/August 2012

Brian Chippendale

[Musician/Artist, Lightning Bolt]

“If, when walking in a dark corridor, you lose your balance and find yourself falling into a large cardboard box, do not resist.”
Elements used in Brian Chippendale’s art:
Paper drenched in cat piss
Dead bugs squashed in with hairs
Flecks of skin
Flyers not cool enough to save
Flyers so cool they need to be absorbed directly

Brian Chippendale wears a green, lucha libre–looking mask when he drums. He sings and screams, too, but you can’t see it, since the microphone is strapped to the inside the mask and the vocals are processed into a jungle of knotty feedback. He’s usually set up in the middle of the audience, where exuberant fans flail and sweat all over him. Both in Lightning Bolt, his longtime duo with bassist Brian Gibson, and Black Pus, his solo project, he plays loud, abrasive music that floats between metal, punk, and maximalist jamming. In concert, the abstract wall of sound instigates both moshing and the sort of transcendent elation achieved only with frightening volume levels. Noise tends to be the word most often used to capture Chippendale’s style, and he is understandably conflicted about the term.

His visual art bears a similarly electric aesthetic, and is always found on the cover of his albums. Where gunshot snare-hits fill every moment of his music, scrawled, inky marks cover every centimeter of his art. Chippendale’s work forks in two directions—narrative, black and white comics, and abstract, colorful collages—though both emerge from his obsessive illustrative technique. His comics (Ninja, Maggots, If ’n Oof, and Puke Force) are experiments with varying forms, sizes, processes, genres, and mediums, from online strips to science-fiction tomes. His layout often betrays typical left-to-right reading, and he sometimes draws over found texts, creating a woozy, disoriented feeling as the reader stumbles through his absurd story lines.

Much of Chippendale’s style was born during his time at Fort Thunder, a Providence warehouse space where he lived and worked after leaving Rhode Island School of Design. With artists Mat Brinkman, Jim Drain, Leif Goldberg, and others, Chippendale constructed a maze of installations—the walls and ceilings spray-painted, wheat-pasted, and inundated with cultural debris and music gear. Since closing, in 2001, the space has become legendary among underground comics and music enthusiasts, its aesthetic now found in museum exhibitions and finely published books around the world.

Over the course of a year, I interviewed Chippendale about the intersections of and distinctions between his art, music, and lifestyle. He often took months to respond, due to all kinds of touring and what seemed like a meticulous rewriting of his answers, but he always responded with the effusive, unwavering energy he stuffs into every nook of his art. —Ross Simonini


THE BELIEVER: Usually when your name is mentioned, so is the word noise. Not just in reference to your music, but to your art as well. Do you think this word is meaningless, or do you have an interest in the noise of the world?

BRIAN CHIPPENDALE: Drawn to the noise of the world? I actually don’t function well in a noisy environment. I try to keep my life as simple, as noise-free, as I can, though I seem to have a high tolerance for mess in the house. I dropped out of college because I couldn’t take more than three classes at a time without getting overwhelmed. So, noise and me? I think the music industry, or the art industry, can’t deal well with people who cross borders in terms of media or genre. Noise is a catchall phrase for overwhelming stuff with abstract elements or “energy,” elements involving harsher tendencies. But really—noise? Noise? What does that even mean? I put “noise music” on sometimes because it builds a wall that drowns out the singular sounds that people make—conversations that can leak into your thought process through a wall, through the floor. This winter, I was drawing in a sunny window, solar-battling my forty-four-degree house interior, when a violent conversation broke out below, in the parking lot. A handful of dudes screaming at each other about I don’t know what—a party they went to? An M16 assault rifle? They weren’t fighting, they were just psyched and loud. But it wasn’t noisy—“noisy” is abstract. I think I might be “loud,” but I’m not that “noisy.” Most likely I am just sick of the term. It’s an empty, abused word at this point, not unlike fact.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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