Kayla Philips has a lot on her mind. Last October, the Nashville transplant hit upon the perfect outlet when she and guitarist David Hobbs were driving along listening to monolithic doom titans Neurosis and spontaneously decided to start a "spooky, sludgy" band. They soon recruited bassist Christian Smith and drummer Taylor Carpenter, and, fittingly, named their loud, harsh, and unapologetically heavy new creation Bleed the Pigs, after a Neurosis song.
Philips and her partners wasted no time in launching their offensive. In a few weeks' time, the foursome had come up with a handful of songs for their raw, bruising debut EP, Mortis Fatum, and started playing live. Fast-forward a few months and they’re already on their second EP, the just-released Overcompensations for Misery, and are planning a West Coast tour in their spankin' new van.
They play even faster than they move. Bleed the Pigs' sound is a vitriolic amalgamation of grindcore, powerviolence, crust punk, noise, hardcore, and slabs of crushing doom, all tuned down low and ugly and augmented by Philips' searing vocal attack. Her biting sociopolitical lyrics are a focal point, even when buried beneath the layers of distortion. That message feels especially powerful coming from a tall, willowy black woman who wields her microphone like a hammer and radiates sheer intensity live and on record. Philips is used to being treated as an anomaly in the very white, very male world of extreme metal, but she sure as hell isn’t going to accept it.
"I think people are shocked, still, that women — and especially women of color — have that ability to bring strong, powerful, heavy music to the table," she offers. "So when they see someone like me who has a big pink Afro, red lipstick, nice eyeliner, and a cute outfit scream harder than the typical white dude they're used to seeing, it fucks with their mind, and I can always, always see it on their faces." The irony of being treated as an outcast among a community of outcasts is not lost on Philips. She's well aware that she falls outside the norm for a metal front-person, but doesn't want that "double shocker" effect to define her, or the band. Ever since she and three of her girlfriends started a metal band way back in middle school in her hometown of Austin, TX, Philips has been dealing with pressure from both sides of the fence. "In the black/brown community, it was a matter of being told from our family and other black kids that you're 'trying to be white.' And white people telling us that we're 'not that kind of black,' so now we're cool," she explains. "It's honestly a battle from both ends, and you're just stuck in the middle trying to find your identity. It took me until I left high school to realize that I'm not any less or a different type of black just because I like metal and punk."
Bleed the Pigs are the latest entry in a long line of individuals who have been steadily chipping away at the long-held view of heavy metal and hardcore as members-only clubs for straight white cis men, and for Philips, it's a beautiful thing to see. "So many women of color come up to me, or message me, that I helped them see that they aren't 'confused' or 'trying to be white,'" Philips says. "I know I grew up with everyone around me calling me an 'Oreo' or saying that I'm 'not really black,' but nothing is less black about me! I like to headbang and jump off stages to music. Yes, that's a silly thing to do when you think about it, but it's fun, and nothing about that is a whites-only thing. Representation matters. Most women grow up feeling like they're the only girl in the scene, so when we finally realize that there are some awesome women out there that like the same things, it's honestly a turning point for lots of us in becoming more comfortable with ourselves."
As well as addressing issues of race, identity, death, and police brutality on the band's recently self-released Overcompensations for Misery EP, their first effort, Mortis Fatum, features a particularly scathing song entitled "Scum Fucker" that addresses rape from a survivor's point of view. Philips felt both "powerful and unsettled" while writing lyrics. The message the song relays is vivid — "Please don't touch me / Hands like sandpaper, breath like vomit" — but it proved to be an ultimately cathartic experience. "That was so hard to say because it took me right back to that moment, but then getting to the end and saying, 'You'll get what you deserve, worthless piece of shit!' felt so, so good! I know way too many people that have been abused and feel like there's no end in sight, so if I can give them something that makes them feel like they're saying it right to [an] abuser's face, I'm gonna do it. I don't want my abuser to think I forgot about it and let it go, and I don't want anyone to feel like they absolutely have no voice about their body."
Clearly, Philips has no intention of keeping her mouth shut, no matter how uncomfortable it may be for the more backwards types she’s forced to deal with along the way. "Growing up with a strong mom who only ever pushed herself to do whatever she had to do, I've always been one to voice my opinion and tell it how it is, so getting to do that with music is all I could ask for," she says. Metal and hardcore have been crying out for voices like Kayla's and, luckily for the rest of us, she's a woman who knows how to roar.