The Body, Portland's most enigmatic heavy band, are difficult to pin down. But if there's anything that defines the duo, it is probably drummer Lee Buford and guitarist-vocalist Chip King's unrelentingly negative view of human life.
"I see how a lot of other people live. They're happy, and it's a foreign concept to me," says Buford, the tall, heavily tattooed man responsible for the band's thundering percussion and hissing electronics, from a booth at My Father's Place in Southeast Portland. "When I see other people having kids, I can't understand why they would think that this world is good enough to bring them into it. I'm glad that people feel like that. I just don't understand it."
"I feel like it's gotten to the point where instead of trying to be happy all of the time, I'm content just trying not to feel awful," adds King. He speaks softly and has the authoritatively rounded physique of a good mall Santa. In an alternative universe, he would be many kids' favorite kindergarten teacher; in this one, his howls reflect piercing anguish in its purest, most abstracted form. "It seems better than trying harder to have those few minutes of, 'Yeah! Great!'"
The Body is releasing two albums this year, both showcasing different aspects of the band's weaponized weirdness. The first, for the venerable and adventurous Thrill Jockey label, is the cheerily titled No One Deserves Happiness. Taking the self-loathing industrial pop of Nine Inch Nails during the Broken era to its logical conclusion, it contrasts buoyant, 808-accented electronic beats with guitar murk, whining electronics and howling vocals. (Thrill Jockey's press release claims the band set out to make "the grossest pop album of all time," and cites Beyoncé as an influence.) The other is One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache, a collaborative release with Maryland extreme punk act Full of Hell. In contrast to No One, it is an explosion of pure fury, a sustained avalanche of pummeling blast-beats, violent and atonal riffing and King and Full of Hell's Dylan Walker trading shrieks before the whole thing breaks down into a crumbling wreckage of feedback.
King and Buford came up through the DIY punk scene in Fayetteville, Ark., where they have been creating some of the most unusually accessible heavy music together since the late '90s.
"In the '80s and '90s, being a punk in Arkansas was awesome, because it was such a tight-knit community," Buford says.
Says King: "A big DIY scene grew up around Fayetteville, which was good, as the young kids didn't have a lot to do, because Fayetteville is a college town. All of a sudden, there was this huge thing to rally around, with a lot of different shows and a lot of different kinds of bands playing together. When Lee and I first started to play, I thought this would be a good thing to do. We ended up jelling together really well playing as a two piece."
King moved to Providence, R.I., in 2003, with Buford joining him shortly after. In the early 2000s, Providence's economic misfortune made it a haven for punks, with ample empty warehouses perfect for use as art and music spaces. Throughout the middle the decade, the Body recorded a string of EPs, along with a self-titled full-length in 2004. All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood, the band's second album, features choral vocals and industrialized dubstep rhythms, but came doused in enough feedback and rage to trick music journalists the world over into thinking it was a metal album.
Buford and King moved to Portland in 2012, partially because living through several brutally cold New England winters in an unheated warehouse detracted from Providence's roguish charm. "The West Coast is kind of like the South, in that people are friendly, and there isn't really anything to do in Arkansas," Buford says. "So we just ended up here."
Despite their aggressive music and frequent collaborations with musicians working more directly in the metal vein, Buford and King have spoken extensively about being displeased with having the "metal" tag ascribed to them. "I think that being in Portland has soured me on metal," Buford says. "I liked punk and metal and hip-hop growing up because I didn't really fit in listening to other stuff. Metal here is cool. It defeats the purpose. I feel a lot of metal is posturing. 'We're doing this scary thing and we're spooky dudes,' and it's just like, 'C'mon. You're not like that in real life.'"
The Body's output since relocating to Portland has been one of incremental refinement toward a corrupted pop sound almost completely unique in contemporary heavy music. When viewed in the context of their listening habits, the Body's evolution makes sense. In recent interviews, Buford and King have shared a serious desire to collaborate with Taylor Swift, Lykke Li, the Weeknd and Robyn. (They even attended effervescent Canadian pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen's show at Wonder Ballroom earlier this month.) Those would be strong additions to their already formidable résumé of collaborations, which includes projects with New Jersey black metallers Krieg, British electronic musician the Haxan Cloak and Baton Rouge sludge act Thou.
"I am not a good musician," Buford says. "So it's fun to say, 'Here's my idea. You can do this and I can't'—especially with Full of Hell, as Dave [Bland] is an animal drummer."
"We would say, 'This part sounds cool,' and we'd just do whatever we want on there and layer it up," King adds. "We would say we need some explosion sounds from one guy and blast beats from another. It was a pretty good process."
That collaborative spirit would seem to oppose its members' bleak outlook on existence. But Buford and King aren't so cynical as to disavow the occasional kindness of strangers. For instance, as our conversation at My Father's Place was winding to a close, a man, who later identified himself as "Jimmy," bursts into the bar to inform them that their white Ford van was in the process of being towed. It's saved by a $61 fine paid in cash to the tow-truck driver, plus two packs of Camel Wides as a thank-you gift to Jimmy.
It'd seem to be another confirmation of the meaningless suffering of everyday existence. But despite the punishing negativity of their music, Buford and King have learned to take life's obstacles in stride.
"Me and Chip aren't just like, 'Life sucks!'" Buford says. "We're fun guys to be around. We just feel this way internally. We're not just complaining about the world all of the time. We just accept it and try to live our lives the best we can."
SEE IT: The Body plays High Water Mark, 6800 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., with Taurus and Muscle & Marrow, on Saturday, March 19. 9 pm. $8 advance, $10 day of show. 21+.