It’s only February 2 but Chicago-based meth. have already put out one of the heaviest records of the year with their second album SHAME. An ominous feeling permeates the record as the band takes you to new depths of bleakness with stellar rhythm-driven instrumentation, hard-hitting lyrics that tackle religious trauma, guilt, addiction, and lost innocence, and visceral vocals that you can feel on a molecular level. SHAME is out now via Prosthetic Records. meth. are currently touring North America and will be touring the Western US in the spring.
Punknews editor Em Moore caught up with bassist Nathan Spainhower to talk about the album, becoming part of the band, ghosts, the purple curse, and so much more. Read the interview below!
SHAME is the first meth. release you play on. How did you become involved with the band?
Andrew and I have been in hardcore bands off and on for the last ten years. I was originally in a band with him years ago and I know most of these guys. I’ve known Seb and Andrew for a long time. When the pandemic hit, meth. sort of slowed down and when things were starting to pick up, the old bass player, Kyle, parted ways with the band. Seb posted on Facebook, “Hey, meth. is looking for a new bass player. You need your own vehicle, your own gear, and touring experience”. I was sitting on the couch with my partner at the time and I leaned over to her and said, “I think I’m going to get a phone call here in about 30 minutes”. Sure enough, Andrew was like, “Hey man, are you back in the city?” I was like, “Am I gonna be in meth.?” and he was like, “If you want to”. That’s how it happened. I was a fan of the band previously. I enjoyed Mother of Red Light. I thought they were great and I’d seen them a couple times, so I was familiar with the music. It kinda made sense.
How would you describe the dynamic of the band?
The music can be really unrelenting and really punishing and I think we try to be as scary and as harsh as possible. We’re the opposite as a band. [laughs] We’re all just the dumbest, silliest people so we have a lot of fun together. It’s not a drag to be in this band at all. When we play it is a total drag because we’re trying to channel as much fucking negativity as possible but after that, we have a blast together. We all enjoy going out and doing this together. We’re really blessed to have a group of people that we all get along with so well. We’re all psyching each other up like, “You’re my pookie bear! No, no you’re my pookie bear!” [laughs]
Like the vibes of the promo photos where you’re surrounded by flowers and nature.
That was great. That day we went to our friend Vanessa’s place, she plays guitar in this screamo band called Crowning and she’s also a really rad photographer, and we were like, “Ok, let’s go to the basement of her studio, and take ‘cool metal guy’ photos where we’re all looking at the camera real angry”. It was like, “These fucking suck because it feels like we’re trying to put something on.” Then Seb came up with the idea of doing the Throbbing Gristle sort of thing like, “Let’s go out in nature and be really happy and smiley”. That one was so much fun. We had the best time.
This album was recorded by guitarist Zack Farrar at Rose Raft in New Douglas, Illinois. How did you decide where to record?
I don’t want to misspeak, but I think our drummer Andrew knew somebody who had recorded there. It’s a farmhouse that used to be a funeral home. It’s been converted into this two-story house that people record at. One half of it is a kitchen and a living area and the other half is this really gorgeous live room. Zack’s a really great engineer in his own right. We took his control desk and what little outboard gear he had and we set up in there and just plugged away at it for a week.
Did you have any spooky occurrences there because it used to be a funeral home or was it pretty chill?
It was pretty chill. Not to say we were trying to stoke the ghosts or whatever [laughs] but this kind of band would sort of get off on having some spooky shit happen during the recordings. But no, it was all pretty kosher. They didn’t mind us so much which I guess is good.
Probably for the best, you don’t want to anger the ghosts.
Probably for the best. No, and have them fuck up the recording or whatever.
All the parts are messed up. You have mysterious group vocals.
Someone’s leaning over just untuning my bass all day.
Strings are snapping.
Don’t want that. That’s not good for business so at least they were respectful.
How would you describe the overall atmosphere in the studio?
It was great. I think all of us instrumentalists wanted to get together at the beginning. Seb wasn’t there for that part, he did his parts later. We all wanted to get into this little space and not have any distractions. We all would work from 12-8 or 12-9 and just had a good time. It went very quick too. I think we ended up packing up and leaving a day early because we had everything done.
How would you describe your songwriting process?
I came into the band around when the record was maybe half-finished or at least the skeletons of the songs were there. Some of them had existed for a while. I think “Give In” has existed in some form since 2019. Normally it starts off with Zack just messing around on the guitar. He made an effort on this record to focus less on riffs and focus more on a textural approach like, “How dirty and greasy can I get my guitar to sound? How wretched can I make this without having to rely on riffs or technicality or anything?” So it’s Zack finding something that sounds awful and then Andrew putting a backbeat to it, like whatever meets what Zack produces, and then we all layer on top of that. It usually comes out pretty well-formed before Seb will throw vocals on it. It usually ends up being in that process.
Do you have the theme of the record in mind when you’re writing the instrumentals or do the instrumentals drive the theme of the record?
I think it was serendipitous how it all worked because when Seb introduced the idea of the record to us it made total sense with how totally bleak the record sounded. I think usually the instrumentals influence the way the vocals are going to be written. With the subject matter, I think Seb needed to get a lot of that off his chest, and the total bleakness of the instrumentals fed into that even more.
What helped you achieve that bleak tone?
Chugging real hard. [laughs] I would say the focus on musical restraint. For me especially this is a record where I wanted to play less notes and be much more intentional with everything that we did. Because of that, it’s a lot more crushing and slow in places than I think it used to be. I can’t totally speak for the rest of the guys because on a lot of the earlier releases people would call them mathcore or mathgrind where there’s lots of notes and lots of intricacies. There was more of an effort on this record to be like, “Let’s just be slower and more crushing and more bleak and painful. Let’s dial it back and just push whatever that is harder”.
What were you listening to when you were recording?
When I joined the band I was told, “You need to listen to Vile Luxury by Imperial Triumphant" which is a New York-based avant-jazz black metal group. I believe it was mixed by Colin Marston, who mixed our record. That was a big influence. Swans is a huge influence on this band, it will probably always be. Bands like Gilla Band too. Personally, I love Converge. Whenever I think of really dark hardcore, metalcore, or metal, Converge is a band that I always go to. We get a lot of Godflesh comparisons which I think is awesome because I love Streetcleaner, I listen to that record all the time. It’s possible that that has kinda seeped in too. Some of the more metal, avant stuff isn’t stuff that I specifically listen to as much but Andrew and Zack were very influenced by it at the time.
How were you able to put your influences in?
I come more from punk and hardcore so I think those genres lend more to an attitude or an intensity rather than a technical prowess. For me, it was just playing my parts or making sure my performance was as aggressive as possible and had as much attitude as I could muster. It’s not about making sure everything is in tune and everything is played perfectly, it's about making sure everything is played with intentionality and played really hard and really desperately. I think that’s how I find my voice in the mess of what meth. is. [laughs] I think it’s absolutely about the attitude more so than what notes you’re playing.
The video for “Shame” was filmed at Metro in Chicago. What does this venue mean to you?
I have worked at the Metro for about 6 or 7 years now. I started in 2017 and I’ve worked on their production team for most of that time. I just sent an email to the owner and asked, “Hey, do you mind if we use the fourth-floor theatre?” It’s called the Top Note Theatre and every now and again there will be shows up there but it is a very spooky kind of haunted theatre. Almost everybody who’s worked at Metro for some time has some sort of weird, creepy ghost story. [laughs] We had a spot fall through for where we were going to shoot the video and I said, “Hey, I’m sure Metro would not mind us coming up to do it”. Dave Cullen from Crowning did the video. We have a lot of Crowning on the release of this album. [laughs] Those guys are homies. Lowell from Crowning also plays in Frail Body who are super big homies of ours. We love those guys.
They’re so good! What’s your ghost story from Metro?
The ones that I’ve been the closest to are like a mop bucket flying out of the janitorial closet and the door slamming back. In Chicago, there’s International Mr. Leather weekend which is a big gay event and we had a bunch of dance parties. We were closing the place down after the night, our lighting director had shut the lights off and the whole rig was powered down. Then the lights came back on and flashed the colours of the rainbow. [laughs] And we were like, “Huh??” We looked over to Haley who was like, “Dude, the rig’s off. I don’t know what that was!” So was it something just programmed in? That makes more sense but I don’t know. There’s a ghost and her name is Rose. She leaves behind a floral, perfumey sort of smell. Every now and again you can walk around on the balcony and you can smell it. That’s kinda freaky.
This one’s kinda interesting. My mom passed away about two years ago and about a week later I was back at work because you know, gotta pay my bills. I was really bumming, of course, having just lost someone that close, and I climbed up into the lighting loft. I had all this negativity in me, just really upset and all this darkness. I walk in there and things start falling off the walls. We have guitar stands up there and we have extension cables. I think two things fell off the walls and I said, “Ok, I’m getting out of here!” To me, that was me coming into a space with so much negative energy that whatever spirits might have been there were just like, “No” and started throwing shit at me like, “Nope, get out! I’m not dealing with this shit right now”. So that was something else. There’s also just weird little shit that goes on there.
Why is it so haunted? What caused all of it?
The building used to be a Swedish community center years and years ago, it’s an extremely old building. It’s also over top of Smartbar which is one of the oldest bars in Chicago. There’s multiple exits. They call them the “Capone Entrance” or the “Foo Fighters Entrance” or whatever because you can get people in or out through these secret doorways. There’s been a few people who have died on site over the years. We’ve had incidents with the passenger elevator to the offices. People have died in accidents. Apparently, somebody was murdered. I think that may have been Rose’s story, that she might have been murdered there. It’s just one of those buildings with a lot of people coming in and out of it, there’s a lot of life in it. I’m a bit of a skeptic, I’m not necessarily a true believer, but there’s weird stuff that goes on in there. I think the fact that there’s so many people who have come and gone through there has got to affect it.
Is the red light that’s used in the video a callback to the Choir of Red Light?
meth. is just kind of a red band. [laughs] At one point we tried to say, “Ok, let’s do a show that’s purple”. The show went fucking awful. It was so bad. Zack found out he had COVID three hours before. We were opening up for, I believe, the band Omerta. They’re really nice dudes and they’ve supported our band for a while so we were like, “No, we can’t cancel the show!” We stuck some purple lights in our lamp and did our best. I think after that we were like, “No, I think we’re a red band. I think we just have to be red from now on”. [laughs]
Curse of the purple.
It was a good shot to try to get out of our comfort zones by putting a different colour bulb in but some things are just meant to be. meth. is just a red band. I think maybe Seb wanted to get away from everything being red, red, red a little bit but then the record’s called SHAME and what is “shame” but that blush-red colour. We have a song called “Blush” and at the release show we’re going to have a specialty cocktail called “Blush”. Red is just the meth. colour. Unfortunately for us, we just have to stick with being the red band forever.
Maybe we’ll soft launch being blue next record. I also really fuck with blue, I think that shit rules. We said on a podcast the other day that we’re kind of a piss band. I think we were going to do a piss record variant or the cover was going to be a dingy piss colour so we’re also toying with that. We’re going to see what the vibe is for the next record.
I like "piss band".
Yeah, pisscore. We were talking to this podcast and I went into some tangent like, “I think Seb and I would both piss our pants on stage. I think Mike would do it too. We’re going to have a hard time getting Andrew to piss his pants”. The young man who was interviewing us was extremely nice and kinda went a little bit quiet after that. I don’t think he was ready for that. But that’s rock ‘n’ roll.
What’s in your specialty cocktail?
I think there is some Sprite and some grenadine which makes it that blushy colour. I think we’re doing rum and maybe some other fruit sort of thing. Here we go, it’s kind of a riff on a cocktail called “Unicorn Piss” with our own modifications. I’m not really a vodka guy, I’m more of a rum guy. I like to taste the liquor a little bit.
Tonight [February 1] you’re kicking off your North American tour and then you’ll be touring the Western US in April with Dreamwell and State Faults. What are you looking forward to the most about these shows?
There’s some cities that we’re going to that I’ve never been to and I imagine that there’s some that the whole band has not been to yet. For me personally, it’s checking more of those cities off my bucket list. I’ve never made it out to Portland or Seattle so those are going to be really fun. We’ve played some shows with Dreamwell and they’re awesome. I don’t know the State Faults guys but I’m sure that they’ll be great. But yeah, just getting out and working. We’ve been sitting on this record for so long, we just want to get out there and see what people’s reactions are - what songs they like, what they respond to. We just want to get out and work now that we’ve got to this point where it sort of makes sense for us to go out and hit the road a lot.
What song off the album is your favourite to play live?
I think the title track “Shame” exemplifies all the best parts of meth. It’s got the sort of noise rocky guitars, it’s got a drum groove that’s really hypnotic and really heavy hitting, and it’s got a punchy, stabbing bassline. The lyrics and vocal performance are really great and dynamic. I think that might be my favourite to play live just because of how the song is crafted. It might not be the most fun to play on my instrument but being part of that cacophony of sound is a really beautiful experience. I think “Shame” is definitely the one I’m going to enjoy playing the most every night.
Will you be playing the album in full on the tour or mixing it up?
Yeah, we’re going to be playing our album in full at our release show on February 2 at Thalia Hall. I think we’re going to chop it up a little bit. Tonight [February 1] we’re going to be playing a few new songs, a couple old songs. We’ll probably play the song we released on Secret Voice tonight, it’s called “Blind Animal”. We put it out on Jeremy Bolm’s screamo compilation record, Balladeers, Redefined. That ended up being really awesome and really cool and I’m super stoked that we got to do that. For the rest of the tour we’ll play mostly new stuff but we’ll have a little bit of the old stuff in there just for the kids. The kids like the old stuff too.
What was the future hold for meth.?
Hopefully a lot of touring. Just playing the cities we’ve never been to and playing the cities we’ve played a bunch of times. Hopefully some cool support tours. We have a few headliners coming up. Some cool unreleased stuff that I can’t talk about or give a full description of but we’re gearing up to possibly go to Europe at the end of the year. We haven’t ironed out the details fully there but it’ll be the first time that any of us have done that. We’re really excited to get going and work and see where the record is going to take us.
All around the world!
Hopefully. Mike made a good point one time - I think we had just gotten back in the van after playing a really good show and he said, “Man, I loved doing this when no one cared so this is gravy. This is extra”. Having people listen and support us means the world to us. No matter what happens we’re still going to do it because we love it. If we feel like we’re putting out the best work that we can then that’s what matters, that’s what keeps it going.
At the end of the day you have to be proud of it.
Yeah, absolutely. If there’s one thing that we can hold our heads high to, it's that this is an authentic experience and there’s no frills to it. This is absolutely just meth. in its purest form.
|LP release show w/See You Next Tuesday, Deaf Club, Usurp Synapse, and art exhibitions by Seb Alvarez, Chris Fox, Eric Olsen
|Grand Rapids, MI
|w/Deaf Club, See You Next Tuesday
|w/Deaf Club, See You Next Tuesday, Basque, Pretty Mouth
|The Baby G
|w/Terry Green, Deaf Club, Pretty Mouth
|New Orleans, LA
|Mom Says It’s Fine
|w/The Holy Ghost Tabernacle Choir
|w/The Holy Ghost Tabernacle Choir
|w/The Holy Ghost Tabernacle Choir
|The Ox Store
|w/The Holy Ghost Tabernacle Choir
|w/Anomaly, Second Spirit, Sunstreak, Decay
|Bowling Green, KY
|w/Dreamwell, State Faults
|w/Dreamwell, State Faults
|San Francisco, CA
|w/Dreamwell, State Faults
|Los Angeles, CA
|w/Dreamwell, State Faults