The music of Chicago’s noise-rock band Melkbelly incorporates elements of industrial sludge, shoegaze and math-rock to create a burst of deftly controlled chaos. Their 2017 LP “Nothing Valley” features delicious references to the unforgettable Bostonian bands signed by 4AD in the late 80’s/early ‘90s (read Pixies, Throwing Muses, and The Breeders). We asked them a few questions about their creative process and pedals.
What events, people, records and feelings inspired your latest record “Nothing Valley”?
Driving through the southwest on a tour leading up to the record, staying in toad-infested motels, frustration and anger with the current political climate, Kate Bush, Fleetwood Mac, Built to Spill, Lightning Bolt…
It sounds like all the band members had their fair share of previous bands, what made things click in Melkbelly?
Probably the combination of having a lot of similarities, but also differences in terms of musical interests makes things click in a more meaningful way. We’re all learning from each other and that’s what makes it work. There’s a lot of crossover in our musical tastes, like noise-rock and pop, but each one of us is also bringing something very different to the table in terms of influence and direction, and that’s a nice thing.
Did the recording of the album bring the discovery of new, now favorite gear? Or some new lessons about the recording process?
We did a lot of routing of various sounds, drums and bass most notably, through physical mixing consoles to capture the grittiness of their preamps. Dave Vettraino, with whom we record pretty much everything with, has a lot of tricks, and is always up for experimenting with us. He’s the closest thing to a 5th member of the band, and his input through our creative process is invaluable.
Your sound is very fuzz-driven, tell us about your evolution in the fuzz pedal department.
I was attracted to distortion and decay from the get go simply because I recorded all my first sounds/songs onto cassette tapes and the dirty breaking up happened naturally. Using pedals to recreate that texture and tone was the next step. I started with a regular old Boss DS-1 because I borrowed it from a friend. I prefer to keep my fuzz pretty warm and meaty but use a RAT to get some shrill hits on certain songs.
(Miranda) Also, our bass player uses fuzz too because there should be no restraints on fuzz. He uses DBA Apocolypse.
What else do you have on your pedalboard right now and how do you use it?
Tuner pedal (tune that shit up) Boss DS-2 (for crunchy meat) EHX Holy Grail Nano (gives me a larger room sound and adds drama) the RAT (screams louder than me to get the point across when I cannot) EQD Rainbow Machine (fills the void with drunk sounding white noise and makes strange, high solos sound even stranger and higher)
Your debut, 6 track EP from 2014 Doomspringa was recorded in one day, while the debut full length took a while and finally surfaced in 2017. What were the pros and cons of the two approaches?
Recording in one day is nice because you just flat out can’t allow yourself to get hung up on anything. It’s more about capturing the experience and being ok with whatever came out as an artifact. There are definitely upshots to that approach because then you can just keep moving on creatively, take what you learned and make something new. On the other end, working slowly allows your ears to breathe and take a step back to hear things you didn’t know were there to build off of. The desire is always to listen right back to what you just recorded but I learned something when watching a film called “Gerhart Richter Painting”, we’re he’ll spend an entire day on a painting and then not look at it for weeks before continuing to work on it. It’s important to practice that approach I think. Let the thing you make be what it is for a bit before tampering with it again. Your perspective of what it actually is can be skewed (for better and for worse) when you’re not that far removed from the act of making it.
What other like-minded local acts do you guys like to play with these days?
I feel like we’re lucky to play with/see a ton of like-minded local bands in Chicago, even though most of the bands don’t sound anything like us. The Hecks, DIM, LaLa LaLa, Meat Wave, Oozing Wound, Ne-Hi, The Funs, Courtesy, Lil Tits, Not For You, the list goes on and on. We’ve never actually played with them but Drool rules and I’d love to make that happen. I feel cut from similar cloth.
Check out this Consequence of Sound video with Miranda Winters where the guys at Alchemy Audio create some custom pedals for the band.