With decades of musical experience shared between its members from various musical backgrounds (Kowloon Walled City, Thrice, Curl Up and Die), Less Art create a unique and crushing sound that is garnering attention in the heavy music scene. Their debut full-length recording, Strangled Light, is being met with praise by both reviewers and music nerds alike, and for good reason. Armed with a tremendous low-end, complex guitar arrangements that balance post-hardcore melodicism and dissonant angularity, and emotionally potent lyrics, Strangled Light is one of the more crushing “post-hardcore” releases in recent memory.
Svbterranean recently caught up with guitarist Jonathan Howell and vocalist Mike Minnick to discuss the band’s inception, the new record and more.
Could you please introduce yourself and your role in Less Art?
I’m Jon and I write music and play guitar.
I’m Mike and I sing (kinda).
Could you briefly tell us of how Less Art came to be?
Jon: A few years back, Ian and Riley decided to create a jokey, 1-off gridcore project called Puig Destroyer and asked Mike and me if we’d like to be involved. We both said yes and the resulting EP kinda took off. We knew from the beginning that we were never going to play live (all songs were written by email and assembled by Scott Evans (Antisleep Audio, Kowloon Walled City)) but the project was so much fun we decided to record another EP and then a full length. At some point, Mike mentioned that we should try creating a real band so Ian[Miller, bass]/Riley[Breckenridge, drums]/Mike and I started writing and when Ed[Breckenridge, guitar]heard about what would eventually become Less Art, he wanted in. 18 months and numerous Del Taco visits later, here we are.
How do you feel Less Art has evolved from its inception to now?
Jon: When we started, we were committed to making this band happen but we still needed to do the work of writing an album. There may have been a little of a “wait and see” vibe because each of us knows how writing an album can be a huge ordeal and well… sometimes shit happens. Bands don’t work out for a thousand reasons. But then we started finishing songs and we were stoked with how they were turning out. Ian, Mike and I flew to LA a few times to practice and write with Riley and Ed and those sessions went well. The closer we got to finishing the album the more confident everyone became. Now, there’s no more “wait and see.” We’re all committed and ready to crush it.
The band’s name is taken from a line in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”. What influenced your decision in choosing this as the name?
Mike: The name came from the Hamlet line “more matter with less art” and we thought it fit well with what we wanted to do with the band. Be direct and to the point.
Compared to your other musical projects, how do you feel writing and performing in Less Art has pushed you as a musician?
Mike: I was pushed by the level of talent I was working with. I’m a fan of all the other members and what they have created in their other projects. That gave me a good kind of internal pressure to up my game on these songs: I didn’t want to be a weak link. So, I made a conscious effort to explore issues I’ve avoided in the past because they’re uncomfortable or difficult to write about. I’m a pretty reserved person and I think of my older musical output as somewhat reserved but I’ve tried to be fearless on this album.
The band’s sound is often described as “post-hardcore”, with many comparisons being made to Drive Like Jehu and Unwound. What was your first exposure to this style of music and what is it about this particular style that drew you to it?
Jon: I started listening to “post-hardcore” in college. I loved how dissonance was as prominent and important in the songs as the melody.
Do you feel your time with your other musical endeavors influenced the sound of Less Art in any way? If so, how?
Jon: From the outset, we knew we were gonna use Kowloon Walled City’s “tuned to stupid” tuning (for the nerds: that’s C standard with a drop A#). When you’re tuned that low, in order for the playing to retain clarity, it’s helpful to dial in a bit less distortion than is present in most metal/punk/hardcore. By using the same tuning/tone accommodations as KWC, some of the Less Art songs retain KWC’s stark, moody vibe.
With multiple projects going on at once, not to mention day-to-day life, how do you balance everything out for Less Art?
Jon: A lot of planning. Right now it works out that both Kowloon and Thrice are writing new music so we can slot in some record release shows and touring. Things will get trickier when the other bands pick up but that just means we’ll have to be selective about whatever opportunities we pursue.
What can you tell us about the creation of the new record, Strangled Light? Writing, recording, etc?
Mike: We all wrote ideas on our own.
Jon: Yeah, we wrote song ideas separately, discussed/arranged them through email conversations, flew to LA or the Bay Area for a couple long weekend practices and everything was 90% done by the time we were ready to record. Recording the record was a super easy process for Ian and I because we’ve worked with Scott (Evans) for so long. All in all took 10 days to track everything and then Scott spent a lot of time getting mix & master right.
A lot of the album’s lyrical themes are introspective and deal with death and loss. How do you feel the music of Less Art compliments its themes?
Mike: The music is pretty dark and moody. It’s also heavy and dissonant. I listened to the songs as we wrote them and let the music affect me and steer the direction of the lyrics. I want it to match. For example, if the song feels frustrated, I want the lyrics to be about my frustrations.
In general, how do you feel “heavier” forms of music help convey these types of messages/themes?
Mike: I tend to write about negative topics as a way of writing them out of my system. I was sort of death-obsessed and feeling anxious about my own mortality. So to try and deal with it, I worked that shit out through these songs. I think heavy music can work well for that as it lends itself to cathartic expression.
The track “Mood 7 Mind Destroyer: Guilt” is a reference to a creature in the comic series “Seven Soldiers”. How does this character tie into the song thematically?
Mike: The character represents guilt and shame and the lyrics of the song represent my own demons with those issues. I’ve always thought Mood 7 was a great character name that also worked well as a song title. It fit pretty nicely.
Since this comic seemed to have some influence on this particular track, what other forms of art influence your creative process not just in Less Art, but in general?
Mike: Comics are a big one for me, personally. I use a lot of the tricks I’ve picked up through reading and studying comics and apply them to writing lyrics or adding vocals to songs. Things like pacing and structure. I also watched a lot of plays during my last year or so of living in Chicago. I’m sure that seeped into my brain and influenced my writing during the process of making this record.
What do you want listeners to take away from Strangled Light?
Jon: The album rules. I want people to listen to it on repeat. That’s it.
Strangled Light is now available via Gilead Media. Order here.
Follow the band on Facebook.