The Haxan Cloak has scored the whole of folk horror film Midsommar
It took me a minute to listen to ‘Crawling Up The Stairs’, the second album from Texan rock outfit Pure X. I was so enamoured with their 2011 debut ‘Pleasure’ that I couldn’t help worrying the follow-up would fall flat: how could they match that slow-burn ecstasy? More fool me. If ‘Pleasure’ was like bathing in honey, ‘Crawling Up The Stairs’ is a shower under a waterfall. It’s so very verdant; bright-eyed and alive. Where their debut lent heavily on the feedback pedal, ‘Crawling Up The Stairs’ is sharp with new emotion. There’s the truth-telling funk of I Fear What I Feel with that electrified vocal, Thousand Year Old Child’s heart-pricking call-and-response guitar and bass, and the psych-rock confessions of Things In My Head.
By all accounts, 2012 was a tumultuous year for Pure X’s Nate Grace, Jesse Jenkins and Austin Youngblood. A skateboarding accident left Grace on crutches with a knee injury and caught up in a stressful financial/insurance situation, Jenkins was going through a break-up and Youngblood moved to LA to be with his girlfriend. The easy live-work-party situation that had framed the band’s existence when I last spoke to them in summer 2011 was no more, yet even the most cursory of listens to their new album will tell you that their obstacles have been the making of them. “Everything I thought I knew / Was just shadows and lies”, sings Grace on Shadows & Lies. ‘Crawling Up The Stairs’ is a grown-up album, awake as if for the first time.
The band are currently on tour in America (with touring member Matty Tommy Davidson on guitar, pictured above) so I dropped them a line to find out about the making of ‘Crawling Up The Stairs’, their new creative approach and taking time out from Texas.
Hey Pure X, where are you at and what’s the view like?
Jesse Jenkins: I’m here in my room listening to Chopin trying to stay zen as I make my way thru these interviews. I’ve got all the windows open. It’s breezy and sunny. Loquat tree thick with fruit outside.
Nate Grace: I’m in a human body receiving information through the 6 senses, constructing a view of a room, a guitar, a typewriter, a computer. All beautiful, empty projections that I get to fuck around with for a while.
Austin Youngblood: I’m at Venice Beach right now. Feet in the sand, taking in the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. The only thing throwing off my view right now is this telephone screen. I’m gonna have to let yall go so I can get back to this.
Your new album is really something else: it feels like waking up after the sweet sleep of ‘Pleasure’. How do you feel about it?
JJ: I see ‘Pleasure’ as a snapshot in time and ‘C.U.T.S.’ as a journey.
NG: I see them as two separate entities reflecting the time, place, and energies that they were created in.
There’s a whole world of different emotions on this new album: frustration, fear, desire. What were the circumstances of its creation?
_JJ:_ Well, we were all in major transitional periods personally. Nate was going through an intensely painful and drawn out knee injury where he couldn’t walk without crutches for 6 months. I was going through a divorce from my common-law wife of 9 years. 2012 was a hell of a year for everyone I know. The record was definitely a means of purging and healing and being reborn.
“2012 was a hell of a year for everyone I know. The record was definitely a means of purging and healing and being reborn.” Jesse Jenkins, Pure X
NG: I was on crutches in the studio during a lot of the recording. My knee was locked up. We’d set up a chair with a box on top of it to prop me up so I could do vocals. The record was literally all I cared about. I couldn’t work and I had nowhere to go. My girlfriend lived 2000 miles away. I just wanted to be in the studio every second of every day. But that wasn’t possible. So most of my time was spent just staring out the window waiting to get into the studio again. Thankfully I could still drive and I would go to this little golf course a few miles away. I’d sit there and watch the golfers and write for hours on end. Looking back on it I’m glad that it happened. All I had wanted before was time for us to write an album. And that’s exactly what I got.
How did your creative process for this album compare to ‘Pleasure’?
“We didn’t want to set any boundaries for this [record]. Nothing was off-limits.” Jesse Jenkins, Pure X
JJ: We didn’t want to set any boundaries for this one. ‘Pleasure’ was all about intentionally setting limits – recording everything live, using the same instruments, etc. I think it worked well in capturing a moment which was the goal. For ‘C.U.T.S.’, we set out to make an actual studio album with a story and an arch. Nothing was off-limits. We used a lot of different instruments and electronics. We experimented with song structures. We did a lot more singing.
NG: The songwriting was a lot more collaborative on ‘C.U.T.S.’. More stuff was written in the studio. Jesse really stepped up and brought some incredible songs in. Our engineer that we’ve been working with for like 8 years added a lot of great stuff too. By this point he knows what we like and he put in a SHITLOAD of great creative work. His name is Stephen Orsak. He’s worked with us on every recording that we’ve done and this record would not be what it is without him. So much gratitude for his existence.
I understand you’ve all spent time out of Austin in the last year or so. Do you think that affected the album’s sound in any way?
JJ: I’ve been here mostly. Youngblood lives in LA now and Nate has spent some time in NYC. We were all here during most of the recording though. I think we all felt stuck here actually which may account for some of the restlessness and paranoia that came out on the record.
NG: Yes, we were literally trapped in Austin for what felt like an eternity. After I could walk again and the record was done I did go to Brooklyn for a little while. But that was more of a celebratory thing for me. And i just had to get the fuck out of town and change up my brain.
Listening to Pure X was always about getting into an internal zone for me, but this new album – excitingly – feels like it’s reaching outward. Would you agree?
“During the last record I felt like I was already dead.” Nate Grace, Pure X
NG: During the last record I felt like I was already dead. Like I was a ghost making a record for other ghosts. Then I got a true taste of my own personal hell and I was terrified beyond belief. I suddenly wanted to live very badly, to be as alive as fucking possible. For me this record reflects that.
JJ: Yeah, I think it’s like shedding skin – it’s great that it’s coming out in the Spring when everything is shedding its skin.
I especially love the funk of I Fear What I Feel. Could you tell me about writing of it?
NG: That song started as a super late night free form jam at our house. We were just fucking around and it dropped on us out of nowhere. I’m playing bass on it.
JJ: That’s the only song we recorded live for this record. We switched instruments and had some friends in the studio playing with us – including Matty Tommy Davidson on guitar who is now touring with us. I had been singing the lyrics to myself for awhile and I wanted to try and make some kind of busted approximation of a diva house track. So we went into the studio at 3am and got loose and jammed on it for about 40 straight minutes. Then we went back and selected the best piece of that and I got into this worn down diva character that I had been imagining and sang over it.
What have you learned during the making of ‘Crawling Up The Stairs’?
“[This album] was nowhere close to easy in any way, but the final result is something that I truly believe is a living thing unto itself.” Nate Grace, Pure X
JJ: We learned how to pull triggers. We spent about a year and a half recording and about 3 days mixing with an amazing genius called Larry Seyer. He’s an older guy who worked on a lot of popular country records in the 80s and 90s. We wanted that very specific Nashville gloss especially for the vocals and acoustic guitars. But the speed at which he works is unreal. He would run through a bunch of settings really quickly, then we’d decide on something, and he’d print it to tape – no turning back. This was a revelation after spending so much time on our own layering and tweaking every little thing.
NG: Larry was Stephen’s mentor. We were insanely lucky to get to have worked with him. He doesn’t take on people’s albums anymore. Now he does music and live audio for this guy David Wilcock (who is really interesting in his own right). But basically he’s a true studio genius and watching him behind the boards was like watching Mozart on some alien spaceship shit.
And you know it’s hard to say what we learned from this record cuz we learned so fucking much. The past 2 years of my life has been like lesson after lesson after lesson. I feel like a completely different human. Making this record was a long, intense, laboring, beautiful terrible struggle that I am eternally thankful to have been a part of. It was nowhere close to easy in any way, but the final result is something that I truly believe is a living thing unto itself. Some kind of monument to all the growing that we’ve been doing as individuals and as a band. I feel like it’s the record I’ve always dreamed of making. I have so much gratitude for having been a part of it.