The opinionated notion that rock and metal have long exhausted their potential seems to be highly popular as of late. Within not just the last few years, but the past decade or so, a seemingly endless of cascade of poorly argued opinion pieces have littered the ether stating how the genre is long dead and decomposed. Of course, such a notion is utterly absurd. Anyone who has peeked into the scene’s underbelly will know this, with thousands of artists across the land using their skill to rejuvenate and experiment with heavy music. Despite this, it could be stated that may be necessary to look beyond the genre to access and create alternative music that can’t be created via the standard means. One band that has done this are the experimental Bristol based outfit Poisonous Birds.
Composed of Tom Ridley (Vocals, electronics, production), Finn Mclean (Drums, synthesisers) and live guitarist Jack Barrett, Poisonous Bird’s origins trace back to Tom and Finn’s background in tech-metal, where the duo found themselves in a band going through the motions. Sharing a kindred for electronic soundscapes and tiring of the grinding politics and melodrama that arose from being a signed band, the duo left their band at the time to form their own two-piece devoted to experimentation, nuance and atmosphere.
Six years on and Poisonous Birds have already taken flight majestically. 2017 and 2018 saw the release of their Gentle Earth and Dirty Water EPs respectively, releases that showcased their truly esoteric and intellectually intriguing sound. Inhabiting the ethereal void that lies at the centre of a Venn diagram composed of art-tock, post-rock and DIY electronica, Poisonous Bird’s music feels synthetically natural but meticulously produced and detailed to a perfectionist degree. Cinematically gritty with Bristolian grime, but open to personal interpretation, what the group offers is the soundtrack to a visual experience of one’s musically inspired imagination. Whilst many have have drawn parallels between their work and Radiohead, Scalping, Battles and the more digitally orientated post-rock bands that push the boundaries of their genre, it’s nigh on impossible to label their sound with restrictive genre tags.
Despite their highly detailed music, the freedom of the stage is where Poisonous Birds spread their wings. Forgoing the standard pre-formulated light show and the array of computer equipment associated with electronic music for a more organic approach, the band’s live show takes on the form of a collage of light and sound. Sampling, modifying and amalgamating their own craft, each show see’s Poisonous Birds offering something unique, unparalleled - and for the most part – completely unscripted. Much like genres, setlists are arbitrary here.
With their sound established, shows with bands such as Sleep Token, The St. Pierre Snake Invasion and Gallops under their belts and – as long as the collapse of society can be kept at bay – a monolithic tour with Phoxjaw booked for next year, the next 12 months are set to be colossal for the band. To usher in this new period of attention and activity is their forthcoming EP We Can Never Not Be All Of Us, self-released August 14th. To understand more of whats to come, their approach to their craft and more, Tom got in touch to offer guidance to the birds nest they inhabit.
It’s been a weird one, but how has 2020 treated you guys thus far?
"We rolled in 2020 without much of a plan, but with about 10 days notice ended up on tour with Sleep Token and played the best shows of our careers. It was a strong start."
"That tour was a rebirth of sorts for the band - we played the kinds of rooms that our music always belonged on - big PAs, wide stages, great light shows, and it gave us the energy to dive into writing a new record, I suppose in response to that experience."
"Aside from the horror of the pandemic, the slight pause gave me the headspace to, I hope, write a really bold and original record. I have a lot to be thankful for."
You’re on the cusp of releasing your new EP We Can Never Not Be All Of Us. What does the title signify?
“We can never not be all of us” is a quote from Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) from his episode of the Song Exploder podcast - I found it really powerful and it ended up in my notebook. He was referring to racial tension on the Texan border with Mexico which I believe went through the grounds of the studio where they recorded i,i, marked by a wall. It felt extra-timely too during the renewed energy behind Black Live Matter, and gained some new meaning and poinency to me."
What was the overall creation process of the EP like? What were the lyrical inspirations for the record?
"Every song starts with a little germinating seed - a beat, a sound - which I nurse into a full song. Often those seeds come from someone else, for example all rhythmic parts in the opener ‘We Move, Plastic’ was composed by Finn and our friend Giacomo using Tidal Cycles - a programming environment for making musical patterns. They were just making silly, heavy Techno for fun, and I got the project off them and turned it into what I hope is a pretty bold opening statement."
We’ve seen people compare your music to bands such as Radiohead, Battles, and in once case we’ve seen, even Sigur Rós. What’s your opinion on such comparisons?
"All three of those bands are masters of their craft - true innovators, so I love those comparisons! Radiohead particularly have become a really important band for me over the last few years - they passed me by completely until A Moon Shaped Pool came out in 2016. But now there’s pretty much an album by them to compliment all of my moods. Right now King of Limbs is my favourite, but that might change next week."
There’s a very palpable cinematic and illustrious feel to the record. Are visual arts a major inspiration to your music?
"Totally, although that exact relationship changes. I guess our early recordings were overtly cinematic - I felt like I was soundtracking a film that didn’t exist. These days not so much, the songs stand alone as complete pieces, but my approach feels more painterly - there’s perhaps a general mood and impression, and large gestures add interest. And those sonic marks get sculpted to say just enough and then disappear again. It’s quite abstract, to me, compared to the detailed realism of technical music, which I don’t get much from these days. I also find galleries super inspiring. I think it’s because I can enjoy and digest new ideas and then respond to them with music. Whereas when listening to other musical works... it’s already been said."
Bristol and the South West feels like a hotbed for contemporary, genre blending music. Does the area and the scene influence your output in any way?
"Totally. I bang on about Bristol all the time, but there is just so much truly original music happening here, and Poisonous Birds is definitely a product of this city. Latest favourite is Jackson Veil Panther’s debut, out via Avon Terror Corps."
As many have already seen, each of your live shows are unique. How will you incorporate the new material into your live set?
"I’m working on the new show right now actually - it’s totally different than before. One of our rules, which we’ve stuck to since I think 2018, is no laptop. And that’s a tall order for such complex, electronic arrangements. There’s so much preparation and complexity behind the scenes that the audience will never see, but it’s been a labour of love. In the new show there will be more improvisation, more opportunities to string songs out depending on the mood, and it’s going to sound way better too. I can’t wait, but I have a LOT of work to do before we can even get in the rehearsal room."
Despite straying away from heavy conventions, you’ve previously shared stages with the likes of Sleep Token, The Saint Pierre Snake Invasion and others. What’s your approach to sharing stages with heavier acts?
"Depending on the audience we’ll play a slightly different show - the songs translate, I hope, regardless of whether the delivery is more rock, or more electronic & dancey. The rock and metal world has totally welcomed us in though, despite our recordings broadly lacking the sound of electric guitar (there are guitars in there but usually mangled beyond recognition). Perhaps it’s indicative of artists and audiences growing tired of the same sounds - booking us immediately shakes up a bill."
Next year you’re set to embark on your biggest tour yet with Phoxjaw. What can people expect from the tour and how are you feeling about the run?
"We’ll probably challenge Phoxjaw’s audience a bit on this tour and I hope present some new sounds and ideas. If we win over only a handful of people, it’ll be a success."
Finally, what do you want listeners to experience, feel and take from the EP?
"There’s a lot to discover - we’ve built a little world and I hope people will take the time to inhabit and explore it."
Check out the dates for their tour with Phoxjaw below.