Life on the road isn’t easy for a working drummer in the industrial scene – just ask Bradley Bills of CHANT… in fact, that’s what Dawn Woodkill has done, allowing us into his world of percussive and musical pursuits.
An InterView with Bradley Bills of CHANT
By Dawn Wood (DWoodkillMW)
CHANT – the tribal-infused apocalyptic drum project created by Bradley Bills from Austin, TX – spent the last decade solidifying its mark in the industrial/rock world with a constant U.S. tour schedule supporting everyone from Pigface to Combichrist, Psychic TV to Orgy, and landing tours with My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult and Lords of Acid. CHANT gained an international audience following dual U.S. tours in 2013 with KMFDM and a 2014 European tour with Die Krupps (for which Bradley also served as drummer), and the momentum has led to a partnership with WTII Records for distribution to release CHANT’s eagerly anticipated third album, Brave New Apocalypse, as well as an unprecedented, never before occurrence of being invited by KMFDM for opening slot on the 2015 tour.
When did you first form your musical project CHANT and what musicians join you in the band?
Bills: My first live show as CHANT occurred in early 2003, though I’d been working on the concept for a few years prior. Named for a meditation connection I felt through tribal drumming or chanting, the music and show was much different than it is today. Originally, I wanted to form a group with multiple drummers like Crash Worship, but with more crafted song structures in line with Siouxsie and Budgie’s group The Creatures. But what ended up occurring was a solo performance – still very over-the-top drumming, but instrumental and techno/trance driven. I had written off that CHANT was a ‘project’ just to showcase my drumming and perhaps land other drumming gigs. I think it wasn’t until 2006 I felt this urge to write lyrics and that I really needed a creative outlet of my own. I needed vocals and I just couldn’t bring myself to include someone who may one day quit and risk starting over, so I poured everything I had into learning everything I could and continued as one-man show for six or seven years after. In recent years, I’ve had some very talented individuals who I’d met through the Texas industrial music scene join as live members, Kristopher Robin and Alvin Melivin. Their contributions helped realize my original vision and more. Live, CHANT is a full-fledged tribal/industrial assault, with multiple drummers and an intense multimedia synchronized light show. Musically, it can be cinematic and the great thing about it is that I can take it in any direction.
For whom was your first national act tour and how did you land it?
Your live show is impressive and quite the sight to see. How do you think you have evolved and do you have any new additions for your upcoming shows?
Bills: Thank you for the kind words. As I mentioned earlier, visually it’s more impactful as a live band than a ‘one-man-show’ and I’ve been so pleased to have talented people to work with. Kristopher Robin did the heavy lifting on the light programming and went through the punishment of creating all the crazy concepts I had in mind. And Alvin built a lot of what you see in live videos, the structures, everything so towering and on wheels – we knew we had to go big or go home. I just think of what I want to see live and I want to see live drums that hit you in the gut and a SHOW but above all, something that feels real and genuine and not contrived. We really think things through so that when we’re all on stage, we can just get lost in the emotion and intensity of it all. I think in this the next phase of CHANT, fans will see rotating members and introduction of video or other forms of multimedia. I’m a big Peter Gabriel fan and always want to push the envelope of theatrics, so I may go in that direction.
In addition to CHANT, you also drum for Die Krupps and My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult. Any others I am missing? How on earth do you find time to balance it all?
When you are not touring, what are your favorite things to do?
Bills: I really love relaxing with friends, family, and good food and drink. I also really love to travel without having to tour – you don’t get to see much on tour.
What inspires you?
Bills: As far as inspiration for the subject matter I write for CHANT, generally, I call it observational analytics. I really soak up the pulse of the world conversation, be it politics, religion, hope, love, or violence and themes develop that I find myself wanting to make musical commentary on. Things are pretty dark right now – seemingly so – so I have a lot of aggressive and self-reflecting thoughts spinning around in my brain. But in general, I’m not a brooding, negative person; quite the opposite. Getting on the road and meeting people from all over the world is the best form of inspiration. Social media will make you feel divided, but when you get out there, sit down, and share a meal and a drink with just about anyone and talk love, life, and family, you’ll find we’re all very much the same and will get more inspired and optimistic about your life and the world around you – yeah, not very goth (laughter), but it’s true. I guess I get all my intensity out on stage! (Laughter)
Do you personally have a major influence in music who has helped in evolving into the amazing, hardworking, talented musician you are today?
What is your favorite place to tour?
Bills: It’s true that in the realm of industrial… there is no greater feeling than playing in Chicago. The dedication and energy devoted to the genre there is something special, and either as a performer or a fan, something that everyone who loves darkwave, EDM, goth, industrial, coldwave, etc. should experience. But hey, I love my Texas home; endless great shows there for sure!
What is something about you that would surprise your fans?
Bills: The most common comments I receive after people meet me is how calm and soft spoken I am. I guess after seeing CHANT live and the intensity of the words and pounding of the drums, maybe people expect a wild, unfiltered person. Also, and I’ll say it, even though it may not be cool, but people are surprised to find out that throughout the entire span of CHANT and the touring, I’ve held down a standard 8:00-5:00 corporate job on top of everything else. I know you are supposed to market yourself as a cool, fulltime artist, and I want none other to achieve that, but I’m venomously independent and can’t stand anyone else having to support me. I just haven’t reached the point where I can walk away. I think people need to know that to support the artists and musicians they love because it is really hard out there, even if you have built an audience, the overhead to tour is extreme. You know, some of the most iconic musicians in the industrial scene, you learn, worked at the WaxTrax! record store or label – or other odd jobs – famous onstage, but still work off the road. Many don’t want to expose that and risk ruining the fantasy, but eh… like I said, rock stars bore me. I like knowing I work hard and earn everything I get; not to say I don’t aspire to be a fulltime artist, and I’m getting there, but I’m not going to pretend I’m something I’m not.
How do feel about all the ways and means of social media and have you found it to be something positive for you or something that is sometimes challenging to manage?
You created (in a brilliant marketing move) some ads to promote the gear you use. Did you get an endorsement?
Bills: Yes! DDrum provided me a Reflex Kit for the past few tours and it’s been great! I think endorsements are really important, but of course, you should promote and get behind the gear you use and love. I love Vic Firth, I love Evans, I love Novation/Focusrite and PreSonusLive gear – all different companies, but I give them all a shout out when I can; even make my own promotion videos and blogs when possible. I think if you work hard and do that, the right endorsements find you. 2BOX and Novation/Focusrite have provided me great artist deals and support, and I love their products!
CHANT’s music is powerful. I can totally see your music played in movies. Do you have a favorite genre of TV/film and have any of your songs been placed in TV/film?
Bills: I haven’t had any placements, but I love film scoring. I did score a rare indie film project, which is unreleased, of VJ Greekfire who worked on my music videos for ‘Revolt’ and ‘Need.’ I love sound design and love cinematic soundscapes, Vangelis’ Blade Runner score being my all time favorite. I hardly have any time for TV these days, but I try to stay up with The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. I always see the spoilers first though; a downfall from being on tour! (Laughter)
I have noticed (especially in the industrial genre) that drummers – correction – good drummers have a plethora of opportunities to keep them busy. Of all musicians, I see more drummers making great career strides and having the ability to work year-round between their projects and playing tours for nationals. Is this something that surprises you?
Bills: I agree, especially in the industrial genre, there is a list of drummers that come to mind that I always keep track of and it makes me smile to know they are out there – Justin Bennett, Jon Siren, and of course, Galen Wailing… all great guys and wonderful people. I think as a drummer, many can play to a click or electronic beat and groove to it, but not know how to play right on top of the beat and get really mechanical, which is really needed to sound correct live and do it without losing the feeling. I think those of us in the industrial world have that edge. I think industrial overall is having a surge, with the WaxTrax! documentary, which I just saw the screening of in L.A., and some great festivals such as ColdWaves, Terminus, and InFest growing. I think those of us drummers who have been out there get called on because we can do the job, we are reliable, and well… I can speak for those guys that they are fantastic to be around!
How do you balance recording new material and touring?
What tour is next for you?
Bills: Now that the Thrill Kill Kult tour wrapped up, I’m heading out for a couple of shows with Front Line Assembly and ReVco, which will probably happen by the time this goes to print. But I think to get CHANT back out there, I’d really like to write some new music. I’m just sensing that’s what I’m going to spend some time doing this next year. If I have a vehicle to bring CHANT out on a national level in 2018, I’ll probably take it because there have been areas of the U.S. we’ve not been able to hit since 2015.
Anything else you would like to promote?
Bills: Only that those who have followed CHANT’s path, which again, was originally just supposed to be a side project, should see more content under that name coming in 2018. I’m drumming for the Skatenigs reunion shows and doing a series of CHANT shows this year playing reworked songs from my first live shows 15 years ago. The new website launched with free downloads in the store to celebrate.
Photography by Heather Viereck – courtesy of Against the Grain Photography.