Interview: Pig Destroyer on channeling humanity’s dark side

Pig Destroyer: Book BurnerPig Destroyer: Book Burner (Relapse, 10/23/12)

“The Diplomat”

Pig Destroyer: “The Diplomat”

In a particularly furious burst of grindcore, Book BurnerPig Destroyer’s first album since 2007, opens with “Sis,” a densely compacted tune about a woman escaping from a mental institution. Fleeing the scene in her brother’s car, she “grins from ear to ear like a death’s head” as the volatile effects of refusing her medication overtake her mindFront-man/lyricist JR Hayes imagined the character as a broader exploration of “people manifesting their true self — even if it’s horrible.” 

“Sis” introduces the notions of escape and resilience that recur throughout Book Burner’s lyrical landscape. But the song also functions as a fitting analogy for the band’s entire body of work, which delves unflinchingly into realms of psychosis and sexually charged violence.

Like previous Pig Destroyer albums, Book Burner depicts myriad forms of advanced psychological decay. Once again, Hayes demonstrates his one-of-a-kind flair for narrative via harrowing portraits of people caught in the grips of homicidal desire, tortured sexual pathology, self-mutilation, drug addiction, blinding religious fervor, and merciless, all-encompassing despair. (“The American Head,” for example, refers indirectly to highly publicized incidents of Americans beheaded in the Middle East.) Meanwhile, the rest of the band — guitarist/producer and principal songwriter Scott Hull, noise sampler Blake Harrison, and new drummer Adam Jarvis (of Misery Index) — embodies Hayes’s stories with an overwhelming rush of riffs, blast beats, and ambient noise that surges with menace and woe. But where other metal bands attempt to provoke audiences by sensationalizing gore, Hayes typically avoids explicit details and relies instead on the power of suggestion.

“[The lyrical content] is definitely designed to be threatening,” Hayes says. “The music is designed that way, so I’m just trying to follow suit with the lyrics — to put the dirty clothes on it and just be as grim and out-there as I can be, which is really easy to do if you’re just trying to shock people. But I always try to put some sort of humanity or emotional context in there, because if you don’t have that, then you don’t care about what’s going on. You’ve got to have the character [developed] before anything else matters. And that’s what makes people uncomfortable. People don’t like to see that dark side of humanity in themselves, but it’s there, whether they like it or not.”

Indeed, Hayes’s ability to channel the points of view of his characters — such as, for example, a man who follows a woman through the streets of Baltimore with the intent to strangle her — lingers long after the music draws to a close. So how much of himself does Hayes put into his protagonists?

“I’ve definitely done some stalk-y fuckin’ shit when I was younger,” he concedes. “I’m not gonna deny that. But I don’t really have any of that stuff in me.”