Interview: Cloud Rat Ready to Infest Oblivion Fest, Aches and Pains Be Damned

A massive cloud with rodents trapped inside of it is currently looming over Austin, Texas, mere days ahead of this year’s Oblivion Access festival. Meteorologists expect the cloud to burst on Saturday at 10:15 p.m., when filthy punk pirates Cloud Rat repel to the ground and seize control of a festival stage.

Police are urging residents in Austin and surrounding areas on Saturday to cull together as many mousetraps as they can, set them up in the streets, hurry back to their homes, and keep the doors locked until 11 p.m., when the relentlessly intense Cloud Rat leave the tattered, smoldering stage.

Consisting of vocalist Madison Marshall, guitarist Rorik Brooks, and drummer Brandon Hill, Cloud Rat—now in their 12th year—are finally at the right place at the right time. New Noise readers are well aware that hardcore punk is experiencing a renaissance thanks to Chat Pile, Knocked Loose, and Turnstile. But Cloud Rat could be credited with helping cut the ribbon.

With a sound that favors chaos over melody and incorporates moshpit-halting time changes, Cloud Rat could be fairly deemed contrarian. And yet they consistently demonstrate that the boundaries separating punk, hardcore, and screamo are far more pliable than most of us ever imagined. All the while, their crowds, which skew young and hyper—try to out-slam-dance each other. Call it “Rat-ting out friends.”

New Noise recently checked in with Cloud Rat for the first time in eight months, ahead of their first Austin show since playing Austin Terror Fest in 2018. That festival was co-created by Dorian Domi and Dusty Brooks, who currently run the four-day celebration of experimental music now known as Oblivion Access—at which Cloud Rat will perform on Saturday.

We would’ve spoken to them for another hour but, unfortunately, had to get back to the grind… core.

With your fanbase growing perhaps faster than ever right now, are you more selective about which music festivals you play? What appealed to you about OA?
Rorik Brooks: Dusty (was) booking us in Austin since… I think the first time was 2012. So we knew him. And then Terror Fest was great. When they unveiled the first lineup for Oblivion Access, I thought what they were doing was really neat.

We certainly are selective. And then sometimes we get asked to do a lot of things, and often we want to do a lot of them, but (we) just physically can’t anymore.

Are any of you comfortable discussing your health issues?
Marshall: My ankles and my neck (always hurt). I went to go see GBH the other night, and I was right up front. They started playing, like, “Diplomatic Immunity,” and I was like, “Oh my God, I’m just gonna fucking go crazy.” Like, I didn’t stretch. I just went right into it. And then I woke up the next morning, and I was like, “I feel like I was hit by a truck.”

Brooks: A lot of mine stem from doing construction for a couple decades. I’ve got some back problems with bone spurs and herniated discs and shit. I struggle with inflammation and (other) stuff from that. Brandon has some tendonitis going on pretty bad. Madison, it must be terrifying to do vocals. I have vocal polyps from doing it wrong.

Marshall: I never learned how to sing from my diaphragm, but I definitely know a way to do it where it’s not ripping up the back of my throat. If I can’t hear myself, I will absolutely blow my vocals out, because I just can’t hear what’s happening. And so I try to be really careful about that. But yeah, I wish I knew what I was doing. 

You mentioned that you started to work with Dusty in 2012. Wasn’t that a watershed year overall for Cloud Rat?
Brooks: When I listen to the older stuff, I remember that for so long, I felt like we as a band—or definitely myself personally—(were) trying to prove something. Over the years, as we kept getting a little bit more notoriety… (I) eventually learned that everybody’s insecure. And all those people that you feel hate you for some strange reason, it doesn’t matter whether they do or don’t—They’re just dealing with their own shit.

Twenty-twelve was when we (made) Moksha. (We had) a giant batch of stuff that we’d recorded all in 2012—30 songs. (We) split some of it out, and then Madison would go back and fill vocals in for certain tracks.

(I’ve been experimenting with some stems to our older songs.) I had always wanted to have a certain guitar sound and accidentally stumbled upon it on tour with Thou, when I accidentally plugged in my pedal in a way I’d never done before. I (was) like, “This is how the fucking band is supposed to sound.”

Can you describe that sound in layman’s terms?
Brooks: Well, we never had a proper bass player, right… Now it’s two guitar rigs with a bass rig. And then I learned how to write chord progressions, and riffs that basically play a base line under it with the melody on top. So that’s it. 

I can be kind of a sloppy punk, (but) as I’ve gotten older, I’m more confident in doing (interviews) like this and being able to be more present.”
-Cloud Rat vocalist Madison Marshall

Madison, what jumped out at you when going through the archives?
Marshall: It’s really wild to me. The early stuff that we recorded with our best friend Kevin (Kitchel, engineer), I was really sick for some of those. It also makes me think about where I was in my life at the time. 

I was actually living at the place where we recorded, in this weird bunk bed above these kegs. I remember I was so sick when we recorded some of that stuff. But those are some of the gnarliest-sounding vocals and some of my favorite vocals. Some of ’em I like more than even ones I’ve done in the last few years, because I was finding my voice or how I wanted to sound.

It was really grueling. For some of that stuff I was on my knees, (wearing) headphones, screaming into the kitchen.

Moving forward in the Cloud Rat timeline, you put out two albums in 2019: Pollinator and Do Not Let Me Off the Cliff. How agonizing was it not to be able to tour behind material you had just released for four years?
Marshall: Obviously there’s ups and downs there. Nobody has to explain how shitty it was to not be able to do the stuff that you had all planned and everything like that. But as for Do Not Let Me Off the Cliff, we weren’t really going to play that (live). We did eventually, but… 

I think at that point, for me anyways, Cloud Rat had been going so hard for so many years nonstop. When we had to take a break and stop for a while, it let everything sink into my brain, and I ruminated a little bit more. (In the end) it just made (writing and performing) that much more intense and fun to do.

In taking this long period of time to reflect on the band, what did you find that you were most proud of with Cloud Rat, and what did you want to improve on when you returned?
Marshall: Making sure, like, that we, logistically, can keep doing it. Getting better about scheduling and taking care of loose ends. I can be kind of a sloppy punk, (but) as I’ve gotten older, I’m more confident in doing (interviews) like this and being able to be more present.

One of the things that I’m most proud of is the longevity of being able to be in a band with my two best friends. Not many people get to say that, and not many people get to consistently put out music that they like with people that they love.

Cloud Rat will perform at Oblivion Access at Elysium nightclub in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, 10:15 to 11 p.m.

For more advance coverage of Oblivion Access, read our new interviews with OA co-founders Dusty Brooks and Dorian Domi; and participants Cloak, Bosse-de-Nage and Pallbearer.

Photo courtesy of Cloud Rat 

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