Kings of Ruin: Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive to Death\'s Sonic Rubble
by Eric Grandy, The Stranger (Seattle)
Spencer Moody is no stranger to doom. His many bands—Murder City Devils, Dead Low Tide, Smoke and Smoke—have all trafficked in dark, fatalistic tales, perhaps none more so than his current band, the unwieldy noise balladeers Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive to Death. Their songs are defeatist love letters sent across wires of lo-fi noise, notes of surrender and mourning set to layered eight-track recordings. Where Murder City Devils looked forward to an inevitably bleak future while drunkenly reveling in the present, Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive to Death live in the aftermath with resignation and look back with fond regret. Put it another way: Murder City were raging drunk; Triumph are achingly hung-over.
In person, Moody is brightly animated—a far cry from his gloomy stage persona—and his bushy, bright-red beard and moustache lend him an almost comically antiquated air. It's a Sunday night at the Cha Cha—his old haunt, now fated for demolition and replacement by condos. Friends are milling about, the Fall are on the bar's sound system, and Moody is in fine spirits, talking a mile a minute. He seems utterly unaffected by the sadness he relays in his music and just as unfazed by the much-heralded impending ruin of his historic Pine Street.
"Whatever," he laughs. "It's a fucking bar, fuck it. This bar has a huge place in my heart and my history in Seattle, but I also don't believe in preserving places in the sense of taking something that's a living thing and making it a museum."
"I hate it, but I realized a long time ago that a lot of the Seattle that I loved and the Seattle that I know is, or will be, destroyed. It's the nature of city government in general, and specifically in Seattle, that the developers control everything. Every city that gets a little bit of money or has a bit of a boom is gonna get wrecked."
Moody seems comfortable with wreckage. He has plans to open a junk/antique shop, so maybe he'll even be able to do some salvaging in between the wrecking balls and the high-rises. And musically, he's also open to working with rubble, scrabbling together tape collages, ambient noise, spare distorted guitar, and layers of dub to create Triumph's gray soundscapes.
"I'm not a good guitar player," Moody says. "I don't know how to play well, but Suicide is one of my favorite bands and Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska is one of my favorite records—so I know that you don't have to be able to do shit, it's just a matter of you just do it."
"When the Smoke and Smoke record came out, I really felt like that was the best thing I'd ever been a part of. But the way that Mike Kunka plays music—I can't do that. I'm not going to try to re-create that. I know that you don't have to be 'good' to be good, so we just fucking do what we can do and I love it. The one rule that me and [guitarist] Corey [Brewer] have is that you do whatever the fuck you want."
Beyond the beauty-in-dirt junk scavenging, there is also a kind of deflated apathy at the core of Moody's songs. Triumph's debut full-length, Dead Rhythm, is a caustic collection of hiss and laments, full of battle-weary captains, pigeon-hearted cowards, and lost lovers. The vocals are often faint, buried in the mix, and the emotions conveyed are faded and distant.
"At this point in my life, it's kind of a form of apathy, and maybe it's not the best thing, but I'm not trying to change anything. I'm not trying to fight anyone or anything, and I don't have to like what's going on on this block, or with our government, or in the world. And I don't like it, but I just don't know what the fuck I'm supposed to do about it."
Recently, the band released a "lost" album, Drunk on the Blood of the Saints and Martyrs, for free download on backporchrevolution.com. The record is even more sketchy and buried in static than their debut, with little for the listener to hold on to musically or lyrically.
Their live shows are another matter. Moody is a magnetic frontman. Years spent onstage have made him coolly comfortable behind the mic without diminishing his chaotic intensity. Guitarist Brewer approaches his instrument with a kind of sideways genius, scratching out skeletal melodies and scathing rhythms, and Dann Gallucci pounds his drums slowly but furiously, full of carefully measured menace.
Both Dead Rhythm and Drunk on the Blood of the Saints and Martyrs were recorded as back-and-forth tape collaborations between Moody and Brewer before Gallucci joined the band. Now the trio are preparing to record what will be their first "really live" album.
"We're gonna record it in Dann's basement," Moody says. "We're gonna have the Cave Singers come in and do one song with us. It'll be totally different, 'cause the last ones have been me and Corey sending recordings back and forth. This'll be the first one where it's like a 'real' band, and I think it'll be awesome."
"I've never had any regrets with bands," he says. "I've had personal regrets. But that's the great thing about making music—it's not that important really—if I was an engineer and fucked up building a bridge that would be a big deal, but if I write a stupid song that's not really a big deal.