Dead Horse—the new full-length album from Kansas City’s noisy rock crew Bummer, out this September from Thrill Jockey Records—lands with a jarring thud. It’s furious yet freewheeling, like the sound of a live performance on an open, muddy field amid a raging thunderstorm. The record’s volatile energy proves nearly unceasing across its runtime, adeptly setting the scene for the band’s sonic explorations of lived-in chaos.
Musically, Bummer strike a unique path with Dead Horse. The record is formidable, with bassist Mike Gustafson characterizing the music as a “wall of sound.” At times, a thread of something like classically minded, riff-heavy rock moves to the forefront of the mix, but Dead Horse turns out remarkably gnarled, twisting these components into something startling and inescapable.
While the record features ample, grimy atmosphere, the electrifying central path never falls out of sight. It’s invigorating to take in. With relatively pummeling instrumentals, the music feels strong, helping set the fullness of the listening experience in place. It’s unsettling, yet intensely ensnaring.
Via driving guitars, hard-hitting drums, and enveloping bass, in addition to menacingly intense vocals, Bummer ultimately pack something like blasts of sonic mania across Dead Horse as it barrels along. Those responsible for the record sound like they’re having a great time—as though they’re soundtracking a demolition derby—and it’s exhilarating.
Below, check out what Bummer guitarist and vocalist Matt Perrin, and bassist Mike Gustafson have to say about Dead Horse—including when an axle fell off their vehicle as they were driving down the road, and exactly why they’re inclined to sing about wanting to punch Bruce Springsteen. Drummer Sam Hutchinson performs in Bummer alongside Perrin and Gustafson.
There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on across Dead Horse. Are there things that come to mind in terms of the way that you wanted it to sound? Is there some kind of overarching thing, even if it’s just a vague thing, that you wanted the tone of the record to be like?
Gustafson: [Recording engineer Justin Mantooth] has always tried to do like a wall of sound. So, we’re all super into layering, just thickening stuff up, making sure there’s no wasted space or hollowness. [Mantooth] always knows what we want. I feel like he just knows what he’s doing already when it comes to stuff, and we just usually have a little bit of things we have him tweak in the end, but he’s usually on.
Perrin: Honestly, if anything, this record just sounds like it’s from Kansas City. I think that’s the big thing. And like what Mike said is, we’ve recorded with Justin I mean three, four times now, like he is just kind of our go-to guy here. So, this record I think was more or less like—we knew what we wanted going into it, because we, for the first time, demoed the whole record beforehand.
So, we kind of went in there, and it was like going in and working with Justin Mantooth, like Mike said—he knows we want a wall of sound. That’s already established. So, it was cool to do a lot more tweaking and just make it a little more of like—it just sounds like a leaner piece of beef, you know what I mean? It’s still meaty, but it’s a nice, lean beef.
“Kansas City noise rock” seems like kind of its own thing. Is something in the water out there?
Gustafson: When Matt and I started doing our thing, we didn’t even know what noise rock was. We just liked distorted bass [and] loud guitars.
Perrin: Mike and I, and Sam, we’ve all known each other for going on 10-plus years now. We treat each other like family. It’s just crazy because we all kind of grew up in this area. We all know what it’s like. We’ve all been here kind of watching our lives evolve. Mike and I started playing music like 10 years ago in like my mom’s basement, you know? Like back in 2011, 2012. And then this came about—and we didn’t know what noise rock was.
We didn’t listen to Unsane. We didn’t even know what Unsane was until we were a band for, like, two years. But we grew up listening to the shit that was cool when we grew up, like Norma Jean, and The Chariot, and Duck Duck Goose, and Young Widows, and shit like that. We liked The Jesus Lizard and Nirvana’s Bleach.
But it’s also like, the sound kind of comes from where you live. Like, you asked the question, is there something in the water, and it’s like— yeah. Go look at the Missouri River. It’s a muddy piece of shit. It smells bad. Like 500,000 people live in Kansas City, not including the metro, but it’s like—you drive 45 minutes outside of the city, you’re going to see cows, and horses, and weeds, and just nothing. So, it kind of is in the water.
Is there something in particular that you, Matt, hoped for your vocals to sound like with this release?
Perrin: I wanted my vocals to sound not like they have sounded on the other records. I wanted them to be a lot more dry, and focused; and I wanted to work on the break in my voice. I wanted the vocals to sound more like a metal record, but I wanted a good break in my voice.
It seemed at times like there was somewhat of a metal edge to things. Is that the right track?
Gustafson: We’ve all listened to heavy stuff. Growing up, I listened to a bunch of Queens of the Stone Age. That was like the biggest band that I got into when I was growing up. And they just had thick, thick guitars. I got into Deftones for a bit. And then from there, I was like: Alright, well these guys are tight, but they’re playing stadiums and shit. And it’s like, there’s gotta be other bands playing smaller spots, and that’s when stuff just started branching off.
You’ve got Kyuss, which started from Queens, and then you got that whole desert, California, dry, sludgy stuff, and it’s like, from there—I got into Black Flag, because Black Flag was from California, so it just kept kind of going and going.
And we just all have listened to so many different styles of music, but we definitely love thick, heavy guitars, and I guess that’s kind of what I think of when I think of metal. Those in-your-face, heavy elements.
Perrin: The vocals—I just wanted to have a good break. Long story short, I was aiming more for—if someone listened to that for the first time, they would view it more as a metal record than a noise rock record. That is just like my personal thing. I’ve really worked on the break in my voice, and it’s interesting to see that.
Gustafson: We’re spontaneous about our stuff. We usually don’t overthink it. And then usually it’s after we write something, we’re like—oh, that sounds more straightforward punkish. But it’s like, when we go and play, we don’t sit down and say: Hey, this is going to sound like a metal song. We’re just going to play, and the next song could sound completely different, and we’re fine with it, because it’s just—we’re just putting stuff out. We’re just going to go, get our stuff out, and just go do it.
Perrin: I’m into the way this record sounded more than anything else we’ve done.
Does the eventual live performance of the songs weigh on the way that you shape them?
Gustafson: When I see bands that can’t play the songs that they recorded live, I think it’s kind of gross. With us, it’s almost like one of us will start off with a riff, and we build off of it. So, it’s not like we’re ever sitting there trying to out-play what we did before, or like—oh, I need to shred on this. It’s kind of like a “less is more” thing.
So, when we play live, I mean obviously we do change it up a little bit, because you’re not going to play the same set every night and sound exactly the same, but I’d say our recordings are pretty true to how we sound live. It’s like muscle memory when we go and play. Even if we are having an off night, it’s kind of like, we’re all synced up. If someone slows down, we all slow down—we adjust. So, I don’t think it’s ever been a problem—at least from my end, and I kind of feel like Matt and Sam feel the same way too.
Perrin: It’s just, like, a natural progression. We play live when we record. We’re like a band you go see live. There are bands you go to see that are really cool because they’re well-recorded, and they’re the big special projects. And those are the bands you can see outside, and have a beer, and have a good time.
We’re probably not one of those bands. We’re a band that shows up with an 8×10, and a full stack, and a big drum set, and we’re like—sorry. And it just translates. We’ve known each other for so long, it’s a real natural progression for us. Nobody’s trying to outdo anything.
We evolve musically; we all listen to different shit all at the same time, and we all have a core root of the same stuff that we like—so yeah. We’re just a rock ’n’ roll band, just rockin’ out.
Gustafson: For like the past five to seven years, I’ve been so burnt out on rock music. Matt and Sam all listen to hip-hop. I’ll listen to hip-hop, I’ll listen to R&B stuff. I’ll listen to electronic music. There’s nothing wrong with rock music. It’s what we all grew up on, so we’re all trying to find things that excite us, different styles of music.
As much as I love Nirvana, the first record I put on is not going to be In Utero or Nevermind. I’m just trying to change it up and keep it fresh, so I don’t get bored. And I feel like that actually helps our music out a lot. Because of course people are going to say—oh, we’re influenced by this, we’re influenced by that. What we’re writing is just coming out.
Perrin: That’s my favorite thing is when people try to be like: They’re influenced by this, this, and this, and I’m like—I don’t know who any of those fuckin’ bands are. We’re just three dudes who understand what we want. We all bring different shit to the table.
Gustafson: We play music we want to hear, that we think has not been done. We want to make something to where it’s like—oh cool, it’s hard for people to pinpoint what the fuck that is.
So, as for the themes—why do you want to punch Bruce Springsteen? [Dead Horse contains a song called “I Want To Punch Bruce Springsteen In The Dick.”]
Gustafson: My whole deal is I love coming up with stupid song names. I’m into the goofy shit. I mean of course, I just hate it when bands take themselves too seriously. I’m into goofy-ass names. I hate Bruce Springsteen. I’ve hated his ass since I was like a kid.
I know “Born in the U.S.A.” is kind of like—he’s making fun. It’s kind of like, it’s a joke. Like, I get that Bruce Springsteen is in on it. It’s still like—seeing him up there with his denim everything. The way I was describing it to Matt is, it’s like if a chili cheese dog could walk. I feel gross any time any of that shit comes on. It’s just stadium rock, cheesy, over-the-top—I just can’t do it.
Perrin: I know there are a lot of people who love “The Boss,” but I can’t take it. I can’t take it. Shit hurts.
Gustafson: We’re all into listening to what you listen to. Like, you can listen to whatever the hell you want, but there’s like two bands I hate: Aerosmith and anything with fuckin’ Bruce Springsteen.
You guys have been at this for some time now. Going forward: Do you feel as though you’d still be doing this in ten more years down the road?
Gustafson: I’m hoping so, mostly because—I can’t speak for Matt and Sam—but we’ve all known each other so long, and we’ve put up with each other’s shit, and really, even if we have shit go down, we always come back. It’s an outlet for us. We all work stupid-ass jobs. We have since we were 14, 15, and music’s our escape. We all hang out with the same people when we’re going on tour.
It’s kind of like—obviously, our lives are going to change, but I’m hoping the band will still be around in 10 years and that we sound way different than we do now. Maybe we can stick around and be one of those bands that are around for a bit because we played what we wanted to play. We didn’t feel like we had to play a certain style of music.
Perrin: If it’s been the way it’s been, we have a good model of the way that we do it, got a decent business model, and it’s just kind of like: We make smart decisions. We’ve learned. We’re not 18, 19, 20 years old anymore. We have a work ethic. We’ve done some tough shit. We’ve had some fucked up shit happen to us, like an axle fall off while we were driving on the highway. If we haven’t stopped after that shit…
This interview has been edited, mostly for length.
Listen to “JFK Speedwagon” here:
For more from Bummer, find them on Bandcamp.
Photo courtesy of Bummer and Skylar Cowdry