Married to the Game
Updated: May 5
I met Ethan McCarthy briefly at a Primitive Man/Full of Hell show in Los Angeles at the Teragram Ballroom. I went to their merch booth to grab a shirt, and he was the one selling. I asked about a shirt and he told me it was sold out. I asked about another, also sold out. The LPs? Sold out. This tour had only been on a week and I was stoked that so many people wanted merch from him. Of course I was bummed that I didn't get one, but my excitement for how quickly everything sold took the lead. A kind giant, he was apologetic, but there was no reason to be.
They played after Genocide Pact and I was enamored with their performance. I told my friends that were with me that PM plays "oppressively slow" and I think they still weren't prepared for it.
At that point, I was already a fan of the band, as well as Vermin Womb. But that performance really sealed the deal. Primitive Man is one of my favorite bands.
I reached out to him about doing an interview and he was super cool about it and you can read it in full below.
Your lyrics are obviously very personal and you once mentioned that you wouldn’t write about things you didn’t know. Has there ever come a point where you needed to learn more about something in order to write music about it?
I am mostly writing about things that happen in my immediate universe. I have written about things like climate change and shit like that but it isn't as if I'm stating facts in the lyrics. Maybe leave that to Bismuth.
If ever, when does the desire to write music become a need to write music?
It has been that for me for over 20 years.
“The Lifer” seems like a track about PM and your music career, but an obviously dismal perspective of it. Do you find yourself chained to your music? How long does the catharsis last until you need to do it again?
The song is more so about the need to create, being a touring musician, how there is nothing else for me and is sort of an ode to anyone else who feels the same way. How it can be an alienating and difficult life personally, mentally and financially. So, yes I am 100% married to this game and it takes up 90% of my time.
What drew you to harsh noise and what was it like exploring the creation of those kinds of sounds? I started messing around with harsh noise in 2004. It has been almost more difficult of a journey than playing in a metal band because there is no real "blueprint" or whatever when it comes to making this stuff. I think what really helped formed the direction I have decided to go with it was getting into SUNN, Oren Ambarchi, ZEV & things like that because it showed that you could use the artform in a way to write actual movements/songs. You know for many years I just got up there and screamed into some distortion pedals, punched my face til it bled and had a sound similar to something like vomir but with screaming over the top of it. As I get older it is more about atmosphere and movement with more of a drone undertone. Though I'll never give up the harsh aspect of what I create, I have learned to use it in a more sparing and tasteful way.
Your politics are an obvious motivation in your visual art. Seeing that your music is more personal, how often do those ideas about structural and systemic policies influence your music?
Well because I live in America the structures and order of things are always in the back of my mind and usually have some sort of mention in a song or two, here or there. Primitive Man's lyrics are about 70% personal lyrics about what is going in my life and 30% about world issues like racism, misinformation, economic inequality, the plight of the working class and so on. But we also have a huge back catalog of splits and whatever else on top of the full lengths so over the 9 (almost 10) years we have been a band I've been able to cover a lot of ground when it comes to topics.
Primitive Man feels like a deeply personal and intimate project. Have there been times when you hesitated to put your thoughts on display?
Yeah absolutely. Every album I look at the lyrics and debate about whether or not I should be as open and honest as I am being about the topics I am speaking on but I always choose to let it loose. Anything else would be a disservice to the artform.
Your music has helped me through some rough times in showing me that my misery isn’t/wasn’t unique, that others felt that way to, even people I admire. What kinds of things, be it music, books, etc., do you turn to when you need that refresher?
Music when I need to think something through, films when I need to numb my mind, books when I need to calm myself down and try to find some peace. Thank you again and I hope to see you on tour soon! Thank you! I hope you do too. Be well.
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