The title of DC grind outfit Pain Tank’s new record, 97,901,726 Confirmed Kills, represents the band’s attempt at tallying all of the deaths caused by wars America has been involved in. It may be a simplistic title, but that large figure is ominous and cold; reminding one of the harsh realities of war and human suffering and briefly bringing them out of their indifferent state. The costs of conflict and humanity’s capacity for inhumanity runs a thread throughout the album, and is set to the tune of harsh, dissonant and vile grindcore. Recorded live in just a mere eight hours, 97,901,726 Confirmed Kills ugly, confrontational sound is the soundtrack to mankind’s undoing the world didn’t know it needed.
Svbterranean recently caught up with Pain Tank vocalist/noise maker Steven Kerchner, drummer Tony Petrocelly and bassist Chris Dugay to discuss band origins, the new album and the current state of world affairs.
How did Pain Tank come to be?
Kerch: Tony had already recorded a few demo tracks under the name Pain Tank prior to he and I getting in contact with each other. I first reached out to him about submitting tracks to a compilation he was working on, and we hit it off from the start. He asked me if I was interested in doing vocals on a track he had recorded…after hearing it, I agreed and ended up doing a total of five songs. The topics ranged from my dog to various traps of human culture and our cognizance of them. It was just going to be a one-off thing we treated as a joke, but one night many months later I found the recordings in my truck and drove around doing some death metal karoake. I hit him up and we discussed the possibility of playing a few shows and seeing what might happen; he agreed and we worked on filling out the line-up. I had played the songs for Chris (bass) already, so I knew he would be interested, and I knew it would be a good fit for James (Shaw, guitar), so we reached out to him and the current line up was born.
Chris: My initial introduction to Pain Tank was at Kerch’s, he had worked with Tony on some songs that were right up my death metal alley. Some chatter later, I agreed to meet up at Tony’s along with James & things just took off from there. This wound up to be the most serious joke band I’ve ever been a part of.
Compared to previous acts you’ve been involved with, how did you approach Pain Tank differently, and how did writing and performing with Pain Tank push you as a musician?
Tony: This band couldn’t be more different than anything I’ve done up to this point, mainly because I had never played drums in a band before. I’ve played guitar and bass in bands for over 20 years, but just started drumming very recently. Pain Tank coming together the way it did was both nerve-wracking and satisfying beyond belief; as a drummer, I had never played without a metronome, I had never played blast beats, hell, I had never jammed with other musicians. I could barely keep a steady beat. At the end of our first rehearsal I actually apologized to them for wasting their time because I thought it went so poorly; luckily they saw enough potential in the situation to stick with it, and I practiced my ass off in hopes of getting better. I’m happy to say I’ve improved, and I’ve got them to thank for having faith in me and giving me the confidence I needed to persevere.
Chris: Musical venting in short. It’s pushed me out of my comfort zone, which is something every musician should do periodically. It can lead to new ideas in how one plays, creating new material and spicing things up; for me, it helped solidify my improvisiation skills. We as bipedal animals are creatures of habit, and shaking up those habits can greatly enhance things positively.
Kerch: Lyrically I had to make this stand outside of other projects, so I interpreted our name as a concentration of pain and expression thereof. The album focuses on the cruelty of imperialism and resulting conflicts, which allows for very diverse subject matter. Recording 97MCK opened my eyes to the possibilities of what we’re doing; it inspired me to really push the envelope when writing lyrics for future releases. I’ve written lyrics for upcoming releases that caused me such great disturbance while writing them that I physically began to tremble and experience elevated heart rates.
In general, what made you gravitate toward grindcore and hardcore?
Tony: I’ve always been a dyed in the wool metalhead, but I remember very clearly hearing [Napalm Death’s]From Enslavement to Obliteration for the first time, and it changed me forever. I’d never heard anything so vicious, and I was instantly hooked. I also had the good fortune of growing up in the Louisville, KY area in the early/mid-nineties where there was an incredible punk/hardcore scene which birthed some amazing bands.
Chris: By accident. Thankfully no one involved was hurt in the process. Yet.
Kerch: I’ve always enjoyed all kinds of heavy music and have always been deeply rooted in hardcore. A former death metal band of mine could only get on hardcore and punk shows when we got started. Pain Tank didn’t set out to be any one thing, we just got together and wrote what we thought sounded nasty, then had to figure out a way to describe the sound. After much internal deliberation we decided “hardcore grind” suited us well.
What can you tell us about the writing and recording of the new record, 97,901,726 Confirmed Kills?
Tony: Because initially we weren’t taking the band seriously we only got together once a month, and we only jammed the original five songs which we have since dropped. Once we started writing new material and realizing this was a viable entity, we started getting together once a week and really focusing on tightening up; we went back and forth on whether it would be best to record live or multi-track it. In the end we decided that we sounded best in a live setting, and we’d like to think we succeeded in capturing our sound as well as we could at the time. The actual recording took place in the span of about eight hours on January 28 & 29, 2017 in my studio, Trepan Studios, in Woodbridge, Virginia.
The record’s title refers to your attempt at tallying all of the deaths caused by wars America has been involved in. How did you go about tallying all of these casualties and what influenced you to select this title?
Tony: Given the nature of war, that type of number is really not something that can be easily quantified. Even if by some miracle we had gotten it right, with America’s endless military involvement around the world it would be instantly outmoded. We chose the title because it’s such a heavy concept. The figure is a mouthful to say…it definitely comes across much better in print, but it works because it’s an absurd number. It’s hopelessly enormous, and when you actually think how every number that comprises the total was once a person, it really has an incredible impact.
Lyrically, the record deals with the cost of war and humanity’s capacity for evil. These topics have been discussed in the realms of hardcore before. How do you feel Pain Tank approaches these themes differently?
Kerch: The name Pain Tank is purposely ill-defined and abstract; I choose to interpret it as a sort of think tank that focuses on human suffering. The first album’s lyrics revolved around suffering caused by war; we’ve been embroiled in wars, conflicts and police actions for decades upon decades, so it was an obvious choice. Future material will expand the scope of suffering beyond war.
Do you feel the lyrical themes of the record could be applied to the current state of the world?
Kerch: There’s no shortage of war, colonialism, and the oppressor/oppressed dynamic in the world today, it’s hard to imagine a time without those things…in that way, the themes are universal.
In general, what are your opinions on American foreign policy? How do you think the current administration has or will affect foreign policy?
Tony: Of course we each have opinions on the matter, but as a band it’s not really our focus.
Do you feel there are any real solutions to conflict or will we always be doomed to repeat ourselves?
Tony: It’s tough to say because we’re creatures of emotion. We’ve done so many incredible things, walked on the moon, cured diseases, mapped the universe, created such incredible art, architecture, poetry and prose, created the electronic infrastructure to put all the world’s knowledge at our fingertips…but as individuals we’re ignorant, scared, petty, jealous, devious, violent and vindictive. It’s hard to imagine it being any other way, and for some reason we seem to desperately fight tooth and nail to keep ourselves in the dark, in the past with the same old hatreds.
Chris: I dare say we will repeat ourselves. To what degree? Only time will tell. To me it’s like bullying, it will happen at some point, and in my experience it required conflict to end it, and I ended them well.
What is next for Pain Tank in the near future?
Tony: We’ve got plans to start recording songs for serialized mini-releases, maybe three or four short songs released once a month or so, in order deal with current events as they unfold. If things go according to plan, we’ll collect them all at the end of the year and release them as a compilation, either on CD or digitally…hopefully we’ll be able to do this for the duration of our existence as a band. In addition to this, we’re going to continue writing material for a more standard full length that will be focused on topics that aren’t necessarily being ripped from the headlines.
Any final words or thoughts?
Chris: Thank you for your time speaking with us. As for thoughts? Think globally, act locally. Be respectful of those around you or suffer the consequences.
Kerch: I’m immensely grateful for the response to this album – thank you so much for listening to it!!!
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Read our review of 97,901,726 Confirmed Kills here.