Author’s note: This interview was conducted in April; however, due to personal reasons, it fell by the wayside until now. Because of this, a few questions and answers may be slightly outdated.
Please enjoy the interview.
UK upstarts Pupil Slicer are one of the most promising acts in modern mathcore. They may have only released one studio album so far, but that record has already received a great deal of critical praise and a rapidly growing fanbase. In this interview, I sat down with vocalist/guitarist Katie Davies and bassist/backing vocalist Luke Fabian to discuss everything from the creation of their debut album Mirrors, to how they signed with Prosthetic Records, to their future touring and recording plans, and much more.
Regarding the reception of Mirrors: this thing has been blowing up! How’s it felt for you? I couldn’t imagine how overwhelming that would be.
Katie: Yeah, definitely! We never could have expected this. We’ve even had people saying “I don’t really like metal but I really like this album”!
Luke: To give you an example: literally about five minutes ago, I just looked on the Bandcamp page to see the sales of the second pressing of the album, of which we had 100 copies. And we had ten left… and we put those up yesterday! In Gojira numbers it’s not that much, but it’s still pretty mindblowing.
How did you come in contact with Prosthetic Records and get signed by them? That’s quite a big metal label to be on.
Katie: I was sending out the album once we got the master recordings back. Everything was done by the time we sent the record out – cover art, mastering, etc. And we thought about smaller labels thinking “oh, no one’s actually gonna sign us”. We originally tried to approach Holy Roar Records, but they shut down before we got a chance. So we wanted to go with a DIY label, but one that was… “established”, you know. But we also emailed the bigger labels, almost jokingly and not actually expecting them to respond. Then Steve [Joh] from Prosthetic sent us an email back saying he loved the record, and within a week we were signed! It was all very surreal; even now with the album out, it still doesn’t feel real.
For sure. When I initially did my research of the album, I was pretty surprised about it being on such a big label. Not to mention, a lot of my favorite modern bands – such as Gojira and Animals as Leaders – have put out records under them.
Luke: I think it’s because the label’s been making conscious moves to sign new and upcoming bands. There’s a couple of established bands on there, but generally speaking, it seems that finding new bands is the more recent approach they’ve been taking. They probably heard us and went, “Ok, this is good. This is a new, fresh band that fits our roster”.
Regarding your musical influences, I always hear the classic mathcore greats like The Dillinger Escape plan and Converge being mentioned. What originally drew you to those groups, and how did it impact the sound of Pupil Slicer?
Katie: I got into metal five years ago through Deafheaven; that was the first metal band I really got into. Then I remember someone saying: “If you like Deafheaven, listen to Jane Doe by Converge”. Which of course doesn’t even sound like that album! But I liked it, so then I was told “try Option Paralysis by The Dillinger Escape Plan” and I liked it! So those became my three favorite metal bands as they were the first ones I got into. I found that I had an affinity for a lot of experimental metal and post-metal music, which can even be found in some of Converge’s work. And of course, The Dillinger Escape Plan also had pretty broad musical horizons, like all of the jazzy and melodic stuff they incorporated. I also love Code Orange, whose music always sounds like it shouldn’t work but somehow does! I’m not saying we’re reinventing the wheel when we pay homage to these bands, but their experimentation does influence what we’re playing. The last song on our album (“Collective Unconscious”), for instance, was not the kind of song we would usually write, but we liked it and put it in anyway! We definitely want to experiment more with our sound going forward.
Luke: I was already into The Dillinger Escape Plan prior to Katie knowing about them, and I was always massively into their music. And our drummer Josh [Andrews] was really into a lot of metalcore and deathcore – bands like Job for a Cowboy and War from a Harlot’s Mouth – and I’ve always been into a lot of hardcore punk and metalcore myself. Regarding Josh’s drumming, he likes a lot of extreme metal – in that sense, he could do a lot of metalcore breakdowns but then also do blastbeats in a grindcore style. But he can also slow things down for those post-metal bits.
I definitely detected some post-black metal elements in Mirrors, so the mention of Deafheaven certainly puts some of that into perspective.
Luke: Right. I think Deafheaven was one of the biggest topics of conversation between Katie and I when it came to our band. I’m not really into them, only because there were already bands such as Wolves in the Throne Room and Fen who were doing this atmospheric black metal thing for 10-15 years. Then all of a sudden Deafheaven comes along and everyone acts shocked and amazed about it! I was like, “guys guys, this sound has been happening for a long time”.
Katie: But Deafheaven did it better! Seriously though, I do like Wolves in the Throne Room, Weakling, and other black metal.
Luke: ‘Cause they’re actually metal bands! Joking, joking.
Katie: Yeah, I only like hipster metal (laughs).
As far as the recording process goes, what kind of studio setup did you have? Being a trio and being able to fill out that much space sound-wise is pretty impressive.
Katie: We didn’t even record it in a studio! I recorded the guitar parts in my house, and Luke recorded bass in his house.
Luke: The person who engineered my bass parts for the album was Adam C. Taylor, who’s part of a band called Everest Queen; they basically play a form of progressive doom or sludge. Think Isis, Mastodon, etc. For the drums, we went for Mike Malyan (drummer for Monuments and The Algorithm), even though he usually doesn’t record other people’s parts. We recorded those parts at his house, and he also served as a good drumming coach.
This one is specifically for you, Katie. When I originally reviewed the album, I commented on how the lyrics were full of pain and anger; I was wondering at the time where these themes were coming from. However, I then read your post on Facebook about being transgender and how your experiences with dysphoria fueled a lot of the writing on the record. First of all, I commend your strength for putting that out there. Second, are there any other themes that are explored on the album, or are the transgender topics the central focus overall?
Katie: That was definitely the central focus, but I wrote a lot of the lyrics before I came out. There are also themes of abuse and manipulation, but I wanted to keep the lyrics relatable. A lot of my favorite songs are ones in which I connect with the lyrics, even if they don’t reflect the original intention of the artist.
As far as the next record goes, do you two have any plans regarding how it will sound? I know we discussed the post-metal influences previously, but do you have any other ideas to bring to the table yet?
Katie: First of all, we’re not dropping the grind and math elements; if anything, those will be MORE intense and disorientating the next time around. The main idea for the next album will be to dial everything up to 11, but I think there will be more effort going into the songwriting for the next LP as far as song structures go. Also, we’d like to add more electronic elements and playing with lower guitar tunings; still, we’re not going to become more accessible by any means. Still very intense and math-y. But we’re also not going to be technical for the sake of being technical.
And to wrap things up: once this COVID thing (hopefully) finally dies down, what bands are on your bucket list in regards to who you’d like to tour with?
Katie: So… Car Bomb, Converge, Code Orange, Daughters, See You Space Cowboy… Rob Zombie? Also Loathe, Nine Inch Nails, etc.
Luke: I was gonna say Rush, but they’re not even a band anymore! But for me, Mastodon, Slipknot… also Haken, although I know they’d never book a tour with us! It just wouldn’t work. More realistically, I’d like to play with some of our local friends here as well.
[30 minutes later]
Luke: Ok, so I think we just spouted off about 45 bands! (laughs)
Heh, it’s all good!
Alright, thank you for doing the interview! Hope we can talk again sometime.
Luke: Thank you; see ya later, dude!