AOBW (l-r): Mike, Kunal, Grief

Art Of Burning Water is bad ass. Their latest album, 2016’s Between Life And Nowhere is a masterstroke of “PhD-beat inspired heartcore of the worst kind“. The UK trio has been caving faces with their inspired blend of brainy and emotional hardcore, d-beat, sludge and punk for over a decade and a half through an endless array of singles, splits, EP’s, full-lengths etc. (there is so much and it is uniformly excellent. Listen to “Prime Example Of A Lonely Child” from the aforementioned 20-minute, 10 song full length for a great representation of what they do. Warning: you may need to fix your walls after).

I recently hunkered down in the interhole with AOBW bassist (and soon-to-be father) Kunal to discuss his band’s music, ethos, (not) fighting nazi’s, and Denzel Washington:

Art of Burning Water has been self-described as “strong music for weak people” and “…a steroided immigrant noise punk outfit that does not need to be loved to live”. Serious music for serious times but you approach everything with self-deprecation and an obvious sense of humor. What informs this attitude?

Well we are just doing what comes naturally. We feel that so many bands act at being so very deadly serious about everything when in fact the struggle in their lives doesn’t really amount to a hill of beans. Not that we’re unhappy people right now, but there were moments. We also have other things going on in our lives (tackling the welfare system, jobs, wives, impending babies) but it doesn’t mean we’re not 10000% dedicated to making music we like, which means we don’t go out of our way to endear ourselves to people or to get “likes” and “hits”, so if you do like us, that’s all down to your fine taste. Well done to you. We are British too (albeit via Ireland, Iraq and India) so self-deprecation is par for the course.

This is also reflected in your (so fucking great) song titles, which is what initially drew me in. Here at Blocland, we’re serious about our love of music but reject the self-serious nature present in much of the blogosphere. What I’m getting at is, which of you geniuses came up with “Voivodian Solutions To Die Kreuzian Problems”?

That would be guitarist and singer Grief. In fact all the songtitles and various creative aspects of the bands originate from him. And the good thing about that song (having checked how it goes) is that it really does sound like Voivod crossed with Die Kreuzen. Incidentally, I used to laugh at Mike (the drummer) because he doesn’t know what ANY of the songs are called and there are about a hundred of them now. But having been in the band for a half decade now myself, fuck knows what any of the ones off the last few releases are called. Just hum the first few notes at us and muscle memory kicks in luckily.

Your bandcamp bio on Between Life And Nowhere is particularly inspired and, considering the album is packed with shifting dynamics, spot-fucking-on. It’s not single-tempo, monolithic D-beat. I’m not smart enough to turn this into a question. Could you say something pithy here?

You’re right, that’s not a question. And I leave the pithiness for the music. Our best blurb was for the previous album “Living Is For Giving, Dying Is For Getting” because we thought we were going to die but we ended up carrying on so we had to write another blurb. Writing blurbs is the hardest thing about doing records. Do you say blurb in the USA? Awful word.

In the great punk tradition, AOBW is fiercely DIY  With such an uncompromising vision, touring must be tough. What do you guys do to keep the lights on and could you please play Saint Vitus in Brooklyn?

We are fiercely DIY by choice, spurred on by actual necessity to be totally honest. I think it means doing what we want when we can. We don’t have to make records a certain length or release them at a certain frequency or whatever. We could gig more but like to reserve energy for the writing process (believe it or not). But gigs and tours do happen, usually around an invitation to somewhere exotic that we can work around, and it’s always physically arduous but emotionally satisfying. We’d love to play the States, or anywhere for that matter. I feel that recent political changes have meant that it would most probably be problematic for two-thirds of the band to get past immigration though? Job-wise, I have an engineering / design background, Mike works for a local council in West London and Grief is a full-time punk.

Grief delivered my favorite unhinged vocal performance of 2016 and your bass tone is filthier than a sewage-filled basement. Do you guys need a hug?

You keep the hell away from me. I already pay someone to hug me.

I live in Astoria, Queens, the most diverse ‘hood in the world. Your band is basically a microcosm of this. What advice would you offer a boring white guy like me?

Coming To America is set in Queens right? That’s the extent of my knowledge of the place. White people are OK sometimes – hell, I am having a baby with one and our drummer is exceptionally pale which makes it very handy when it comes to seeing him for cues in darkened venues (and they are always darkened let me tell you). Living in London makes you forget how multi-cultural the place is to the extent that you notice the lack of it in even fairly large settlements outside of it. Riz Ahmed (a great British actor and rapper who is in Four Lions, Rogue One, Nightcrawler and so on) made a great point about how the UK is a hotbed of multiculturalism and yet conveys an image along the lines of Downton Abbey, yet the USA’s image is that of freedom and opportunity, and yet it riven with deep-seated inequality. Or something like that. None of this is answering your question, but maybe just don’t do anything racist. And for god’s sake, stay off the dancefloor.

In an Anchorman-style battle royale between you, Converge, Melvins and Disfear, who would emerge victorious? Who would be the first to go to the trident as a weapon? Do you have any idea what I’m talking about?

Well there are five people in Disfear so that already gives them an advantage and I imagine they’re pretty booze fueled. I actually like Skitsystem more even though they were one of the most diabolical bands I’ve ever seen (thanks to the aforementioned booze). There’s a video of the bassist from Converge using his bass as a battleaxe onstage against some stagediver prick that was hassling them so he wouldn’t need a trident. I think we’d fight dirty towards the end after hiding in a corner once everyone had gotten tired, and by “we” I mean Mike as he has the muscles, I’ve never been in a fucking fight in my life.

Is Denzel the greatest actor of our time? (me: yes, yes he is)

You know what, I totally agree with you. Have you seen “Glory”? Not enough people talk about that film, although I guess it’s not really pushing the boat out but man is it stirring, with beautiful music over the ending. Plus he’s a beautiful man, even more so nowadays. Not to mention race once again but do you remember those leaked emails from Sony where they talked about him starring in “Flight” and how films with “coloured leading men” don’t go over with audiences as well or something like that? That must have been depressing. I’m not too fussed about seeing “Fences” to be honest with you (though I’m a Viola Davis fan) – I opted for “Moonlight” instead for my token worthy cinema visit this Oscar season (it’s excellent). Speaking of African American actors you’ve also reminded me that at one point around 1997 I genuinely thought Will Smith would be America’s first black president. Hard to remember now why that thought was in my cranium but for a while there he was untouchable.

Your songs are typically 1-3 minute blasts of righteous metallic hardcore fury yet your first recording as a band was the nine-minute “Carrying the Carcass…” in 2003. It was “…conceived as an attempt…to merge Killing Joke, Melvins, Voivod, Amebix, Neurosis and…King Crimson!” What the fuck Kunal?

Nothing to do with me, I have “only” been in the band for 5 years. There’s a rich history of long, slow, gnarly songs with AOBW but recently it has been on a fast, faster, fastest tip recently. I would love to play “Carrying…” live, it was the first thing I heard by AOBW and what started this whole awful abusive relationship with them.

You’ve mastered that sludgy down-tempo woozy riff often referred to as “the lurch”, which is perfect for nazi punching. Is kindness really strength, as it relates to these assholes?

Like I said, I’ve never been in a fight. You need a lot of strength to turn the other cheek that’s for damn sure. I would say that that song is more about (dare I say it) emotional strength, and having the ability to admit having problems and discussing them with others, and also to help others when they’re in the same boat. Maybe all these nazis need is a hug. A really hard one that makes their heads explode.

Who is Jill and how did you rope her into that guest vocal spot on “Kindness Is Strength”?

Jill is Jillian Mikkelson, Canadian expat, now living in London although she’s sadly heading back towards the end of the year. She works at a venue in London called The Unicorn which puts on free gigs somehow. Seen tons of great stuff there and played on some sweet bills thanks to her. She sings in Dysteria (who are well worth checking out) and provided a great counterpoint to Grief’s low growl on that track of ours. We should play it live with her, I’ll run that idea by the lads sometime. Her sister is an Olympic ice hockey player which would be cool if we gave a fuck about ice hockey here.

While working on Between Life And Nowhere, Kunal was listening to:

Christ, absolutely no idea what was spinning in our collective stereos at the point. Recently I’ve been listening to some heavy shit (Dismember, Knelt Rote, Disembodied), some dancey shit to pep up my long morning commute (Underworld, Lone, Surgeon) and some soundscapey stuff to wind down on the evening commute (Tim Hecker, Stars Of The Lid), plus the usual 90’s stuff I can’t let go of (Handsome, Soundgarden). Plus about a million others.

Between Life And Nowhere is out now on SuperFi Records. Purchase it at bandcamp.

Special thanks to Kunal for being such a cool fucking dude.

  • DFrye

    Noob school graduate, class of 2017 valedictorian.

  • Doris Montgomery

    So proud :tear:

  • Cooolin

    Blurb is indeed a really stupid word.

    • Cooolin

      But for real, fantastic interview, mate. And now giving these guys a listen … “Kindness Is Strength” is in-fucking-sane.

      • DFrye

        Thanks Cooolin! It really is. Cool guy too.

  • lobster man

    That thirst isn’t something that can’t be quenched by an ice cold, refreshing Heineken Light.
    Heineken: Open Your World

    Great work man! The bit about the UK being really multicultural and U.S. being, ya know, kinda shitty unless you have money is pretty amazing.

    • DFrye

      Hahaha thanks dude! Really couldn’t have asked for better answers. Good sport Kunal.

  • Saul_Wright

    Nice interview! Going to check these guys out because “Hardcore Band that listens to Tim Hecker and Stars Of The Lid” is pretty rad.

    • DFrye

      Thanks Saul. Just heed my warning: you may feel the spontaneously put your fists through walls and/or a nazi’s face.

      What I’m saying is, there is no indication of these listening habits in the music.

      • Saul_Wright

        Listening now, you’re right. It’s good, though!

  • meat

    love it