Ex-Cult are a band that embody an aesthetic equally indebted to the scariest kind of proto-punk and post-punk… They sound a bit like if Bauhaus put out a hardcore record… They’ve also remained relatively elusive, with very little information to be found on them on the internet… As is often quite a sexy stance taken by (what seem to be) morbid intellectuals like themselves… So I must admit that I was surprised that when I recently got a chance to chat with vocalist Chris Shaw, he was extremely gracious and anxious to tell me about his Memphis punk outfit, who are about to embark on a tour, beginning at SXSW next week, before the release of their sophomore LP, Midnight Passenger, which is out April 29th on Goner Record.
Izzy Cihak: So, I have to admit, there’s not a ton of information about you available, even to us “critics.” So I’m inclined to ask: What do you feel like is most important to know about Ex-Cult… Or is it just all in the music?
Chris Shaw: We are a punk band from Memphis that is about to release our second LP, Midnight Passenger. Most of what you need to know about us you can gather from the music, but I would like to take this time to say that we used to be called Sex-Cult until a group of idiots decided to start a “Bro-Step” label called Sex Cult Records. They tried to sue us, but what they didn’t know is that no one gives a shit about Bro-Step (whatever the fuck that is) and that we are secretly planning our revenge behind closed-doors, in a classified facility deep in the heart of Memphis, Tennessee. I cannot give you the exact location of our stronghold, but civilians refer to it as “The Lamplighter.” We are glad we are not called Sex Cult anymore, but we will still have our revenge for the unfair treatment inflicted by the faceless menace known as Bro-Step.
Izzy: You’re about to release Midnight Passenger, which you’ve said was inspired by your travels across America. I’m curious, what were the experiences that proved to be most fruitful for inspiration?
Chris: We have all traveled, some of us extensively, and the mental state achieved during extensive traveling is second to none. We approach Ex-Cult from a locked-in perspective, and that type of attitude is only fully achieved after playing your music night after night in new venues and under new circumstances. There isn’t just one experience that shaped the album; it’s more about the collective experience, the whole trip. I have no illusions that we tour as hard as some bands do, but we are on the road as often as we possibly can be.
Izzy: Since most of your influences would sound to be of previous generations, I’m curious as to your thoughts on the current state of music, both the artists emerging and the methods of consuming it.
Chris: There are plenty of current bands that we all like. You can probably guess who they are. There seems to be a resurgence of more aggressive bands getting national attention, and I am really excited for that. There was a time four or five years ago when a hardcore band or aggressive punk band wouldn’t have gotten signed to a big indie label, but it seems like lately the playing field has been leveled. That’s good in my opinion; even if people get bummed out that a punk band released a single and pressed more than 500 copies. Get over it. More young music fans need to realize that just because you don’t wear an ironic shirt, play the acoustic guitar, and sing about going on dates or some shit doesn’t mean that your music isn’t relevant. It’s good to expose people to aggressive music at whatever means necessary. I don’t really listen to music on the internet, even when I’m at work. I’d say 95% of the time if I’m listening to music, I’m listening to a record. I guess I listen to cassettes and CDs in my car. Everyone else in the band is like that too. We like listening to music on vinyl, not on a shitty laptop.
Izzy: And what are your most significant non-musical influences?
Chris: Oh man, how much time do you have? There are five us in Ex-Cult, and we are all very different people. Half the books our drummer reads I don’t even know how to pronounce. He’s on some next level shit. Like the GZA. We all find common ground on numerous topics, but at the same time, we are all influenced by stuff that another member might not care about at all. I personally am influenced by our guitar player JB’s amazing prank phone call skills.
Izzy: I’m jealous that a number of other cities are going to get to experience you live in the near future, unlike Philly, but what can they expect of your live show? It seems like it would embody the same energy of recent history’s greatest artists at their peaks.
Chris: We want to play Philly! We are trying to get a show there in May. Plenty of people have hit us up about it, we’re trying to make it happen. It seems like there isn’t really a halfway point when it comes to audiences at our shows. People either stand there trying to take it all in, giving us a “what in the fuck is going on” type of look, or they start smashing into each other, stealing the mic from me, stage diving, etc. I really didn’t expect people to react like that when we first started our band, in fact we used to joke about it, but now it’s just how the shows go down. Our songs have gotten more intense, and so have the crowds. I just try to tell people not to step on our shit when they come on stage. Photographers are not safe anymore.
Izzy: And how do you hope and plan to spend the rest of 2014? What are you most excited about? Any chance of a full-scale US tour?
Chris: We are going to hit the whole US this summer, just not all at once. We aren’t at the point where we are making a living doing this, so we have to plan tours around working and our other obligations. Hopefully when Midnight Passenger comes out we can make it to Europe.