Interview with vocalist/bassist Brendan K. Duff
By Thomas Pizzola
They say that interviews are only as good as their subjects. You can ask all the right questions, but if the person you are interviewing refuses to talk, then you are dead in the dirt. Fortunately, Pristina’s main man, Brendan K. Duff, isn’t one to mince words and speaks right from the heart, confronting some difficult issues that brought him and his band from their last record, the critically acclaimed The Drought (ov Salt and Sorrow), to their newest platter, Hopeless.Godless.
Pristina, which also consists of guitarist Mike Rabtoy and drummer Mike Banfield, play noisy, metallic hardcore that just cuts right to the chase. On their new record, they confront their demons head-on to provide one frightfully successful catharsis. It’s a trip to the heart of darkness and back. And you’ll see from the answers provided it was a record that was birthed under some very tough circumstances.
Why the long delay between The Drought and Hopeless•Godless? What was going on?
I have to take responsibility for that. What happened is my personal life went to shit, and then I completely fell apart. Things got bad with me shortly after The Drought came out, and I think we only played something like six shows from 2010 to 2012.
In the press release for the new record, you describe that the conditions under which the new record were made was “the darkest period of your life.” What were some of the things that happened that made this so? What were you and the band dealing with?
Well, the spiral started the day my wife decided to leave me. I didn’t see it coming, and it just floored me. I did anything and everything to keep our marriage together, but it was just over. I thought I knew heartbreak, but a divorce is a whole other thing entirely — a whole new level of pain. From there man I just couldn’t cope. I had been clean for a while, but I didn’t care about anything anymore and started using dope again. I was in this state for quite a while until I had a near fatal overdose. That woke me up enough that my mother was able to convince me to go to rehab.
I went to a place in California and it turned out to be a great thing for me. Straight up, that place and the people I met there saved my ass. When I got home I started the process of getting my shit together. My music has always been how I work out my problems and emotional damage, so I just put everything I had back into Pristina. I’m lucky my boys were still there when I got it together. I just wanted to get all the pain and anguish out of me and into the music.
The new album also has a more raw production style. Do you believe it better fits the urgency of the songs? How is this album different — or similar — from the last one?
You nailed it — the entire point of making the record sound like it does is that it quite literally “fits the urgency of the songs.” The album’s mood is just dark; an emotional void. The subject matter being what it is, how could we justify making it sound like some big-time, over-polished turd that was made in a million-dollar an hour studio? No, we went the polar opposite route. I wanted it to sound cold, raw, and minimal. That had a lot to do with why we decided to record it ourselves. No one knows our vision better than us, so why fuck around and bring outsiders in? This whole record is an inside job.
When we made The Drought (ov Salt and Sorrow) we went big. We recorded with Steve Austin in Nashville, had Rennie Resmini and Scott Angelicos sing on it — that was a huge production. Don’t get me wrong, that whole experience was fucking awesome. I am so proud of that record, and I imagine we’ll do another album like that someday. But Hopeless•Godless is a whole other thing. It had to be just us. Making the album was just as cathartic for me as the music itself.
What made you go with The Path Less Traveled Records?
That was a no-brainer. TPLT put out the vinyl version of The Drought and I loved working with Sean, who owns the label. We had a 10-minute phone conversation and it was a done deal.
There have also been some member changes since the last record. What happened? Will you continue to play out as a trio?
Mike Rabtoy joined right around the time The Drought came out. He’s been with Pristina for a while now, but no one knows since we’ve barely played out. When he joined it was like the missing piece of the puzzle. Unfortunately, our other guitar player lost interest in music and left shortly after. Since then, the three-piece set up has been working out really well. We all dig it. If the right guitar player came along, we would possibly consider it, but at present we’re not looking for anyone else.
After what you and the band have gone through, do you believe the band is in a better place? What about you?
We’re doing great, man. One thing that has always blown my mind about Pristina is our bond. We are still tight friends. I love those dudes. We play music that isn’t exactly easy on the ears, so for many years our only true allies out there were each other. I still look forward to jamming with them every practice and every show.
As far as me, considering a year or so ago I was living in a shitty motel with a needle in my arm and a gun in my mouth, I would say I am in a much better place these days. I’ve been clean and sober again for almost a year, and I feel like the worst has past.
Do you think coming from Connecticut affects your outlook as a band? Do you think that a band from that state has to work harder to get noticed?
I don’t know if being from Connecticut necessarily has anything to do with it, but our outlook has always been an “us versus you” kind of mentality. It could be the kind of music we play. We have never found a place where we feel we truly belong. We don’t really have a scene or style that fits in with anything else. We’re heavy as fuck, but we’re not metal. We’re not hardcore…we’re just Pristina. People definitely have a misconception that Connecticut is some upper-class place where everyone is white and lives in a mansion. Truth is, Connecticut is a fucking dump just like anywhere else. There is gang violence, white trash, homicide, selfish assholes, and all that. Meriden, which is our home base, is ghetto as fuck. I don’t feel comfortable at our own practice place without a gun.
Connecticut had an amazing music scene for many years. No matter what kind of music you were into, there was a show for you on any given day. I have seen and played hundreds, maybe thousands of shows that changed my life forever here. Unfortunately, for the past few years it’s a hollow shell of what it once was. With very few exceptions like Brass City Boss Sounds and Manic Productions trying to keep it alive, Connecticut is a dead scene now. Pristina probably only plays like two shows a year here.
What are the future plans for the band? More recording? Or will you be doing some live shows to celebrate the release of the new record?
We will be making up for lost time. We are already writing new music for a follow-up record. We’ve been talking about doing a split EP with Mouth on Tailpipe, and we also have an unreleased three-song EP that I would like to get put out if there’s an opportunity. We will definitely be playing a lot more shows. No more three-year periods of inactivity. We promise.