Interview with guitarist Arthur Shepherd and vocalist David Castillo | By Mike Gaworecki | Photo by Nikki Sneakers
“The history of this band is very sordid, in a lot of ways,” Primitive Weapons guitarist Arthur Shepherd says.
He’s referring to the fact that the Brooklyn-based four-piece have had a few members come and go in the past—most notably, drummer Chris Enriquez, who was absent for much of the production and touring behind the band’s 2016 scorcher of an album, The Future of Death. Thursday drummer Tucker Rule filled in for Enriquez on tour, but “Chris is a huge influence on the way things go musically,” Shepherd says, explaining why Enriquez’ absence was felt so keenly.
Or, as vocalist David Castillo puts it, “The band is dead when one of the four of us can’t do it.”
Primitive Weapons are very much alive and thriving on their new album Surrender Yourself, due out Sept. 17 on Party Smasher Inc., the label founded by Dillinger Escape Plan guitarist Ben Weinman. Weinman is such a fan of Primitive Weapons that he also released The Future of Death on Party Smasher and brought the band out on tour with Dillinger to support the album.
On Surrender Yourself, Primitive Weapons might have managed to somehow surpass The Future of Death in terms of songwriting. Though all of Shepherd’s riffs are certainly filtered through a post-hardcore lens—there’s a good goddamn reason why Primitive Weapons embarked on a tour with New York City post-hardcore luminaries Quicksand and Glassjaw in July and August, after all—the band in no way constrained themselves to any particular genre.
Shepherd wrote the album opener, “Hideous Heart,” as a sort of riff on Killing Joke’s “Requiem” from their 1980 self-titled debut. Though the song starts the album off on a distinctly industrial vibe, it’s overlaid with a guitar line more reminiscent of Slayer than it is of Killing Joke. “In context, I tried to make it more of an industrial feel, so it didn’t sound like a Slayer riff or it didn’t sound like Killing Joke, it was just kind of a mix of a lot of things,” Shepherd says. “And it’s got this big rock chorus that’s something we allude to on our other records, but on this one, it’s fucking massive.”
“Transactional,” the second song on the record, kicks in with what could almost pass for a Nirvana riff before turning into a Middle-Eastern-sounding romp. “It’s fucking weird,” Shepherd says. The third song, “Keep the Lights On,” has a heavy-shoegaze vibe to it but with flourishes of piano, mellotron, and strings, and the fourth track, “Episode,” is the band’s first-ever ballad, complete with an even more monumentally grand chorus than is featured on “Hideous Heart.” Meanwhile, Shepherd describes “Compartmentalize,” a latter cut from Surrender Yourself, as being “like my version of a Jawbox song, in my head.”
“Hideous Heart” sets the tone lyrically as well. Castillo wrote the song’s lyrics—“I don’t want you to see / My hideous heart”—as a means of owning up to his role in an intra-band fight that almost got them kicked out of their Boston hotel while on tour in support of The Future of Death. “I feel like I broke through some psychic barriers there,” Castillo says. “I feel like, [on] every record, we’ve done that to a certain degree, but this one, for me, is really something else.”
After Primitive Weapons’ self-titled 2011 EP and debut full-length, 2012’s Shadow Gallery, Castillo felt like he’d already covered what he wanted to say about his past. “I hit this sort of impasse,” he says. “I started thinking about the future, honestly: so, [The] Future of Death. But I was just in this weird place. I was scared. One of my good friends had passed away, and it was a really bad situation. I wrote a lot of stuff about it, but I was living life in a much more PTSD kinda way. It was kinda fucked up.”
For Surrender Yourself, Castillo says he focused on opening himself back up, which he was inspired to do after seeing how open Shepherd was to a variety of influences in writing the music. Specifically, Castillo says he wanted to get back to a place of “raw honesty” with himself. “If anything, the lyrical theme is just being really present and momentary,” he explains. “My anxieties and imperfections are fucking things up—just embracing that as being part of myself.”
Of course, the political context we find ourselves in these days finds its way into the album’s lyrics as well. Castillo wrote the lyrics to “Keep the Lights On” after reading an op-ed by Stephen Hawking in response to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. “It seems like, no matter what, we’re always just sort of losing. These political battles just rage on, but on the ground, nothing effectively happens,” he says. “I was just so sad about, you know—this is the state. Stephen Hawking in that article was just like, ‘So, we have some of the biggest problems ever. We have all these huge issues, but we’re still squabbling about these petty sorts of things.’ And in fact, that’s getting even worse and deeper. It was just an overwhelming moment, you know? Just morose. Just sad that this is what we find ourselves in. This is the best we could do. This is where we’re at.”
But even when he gets political on the album, Castillo says he “married it back a little bit more to my raw self,” just to keep it honest.
Surrender Yourself is out on September 17th via Party Smashers Inc.