The fans assembled outside Brooklyn metal haven Saint Vitus in October were eager to get a glimpse of Chat Pile, the night’s headliner. But first, they wanted to meet the purple man.
As soon as the doors opened for the sold-out show, people swarmed the band’s merch table, hoping to score the night’s holy grail: a limited-edition DIY figurine, cast in sickly Dimetapp purple, of McDonaldland mainstay Grimace, red-eyed and holding a fully packed bong. The toy served as a lovably literal tribute to “grimace_smoking_weed.jpeg,” the nine-minute nervous breakdown set to music that caps Chat Pile’s recent full-length debut, God’s Country, on a breathtakingly bleak note. “Purple man, stop coming into my room,” vocalist Raygun Busch (say “Reagan Bush”; all members go by pseudonyms) half-sobs, half-screams on the track, portraying a delusional narrator on the brink of suicide.
“I felt bad,” says guitarist Luther Manhole, reflecting on the merch-table crush for the toys, which persisted even during an opening band’s set, on a full-band Zoom with SPIN a month later. “There were only, like, eight of them.”
“They’re rare, baby!” Busch chimes in. “That’s why you gotta get there early.”
The purple-man mob feels like a perfect summation of Chat Pile’s surreal year, during which the Oklahoma City quartet has unveiled an unapologetically disturbing record to improbably wide acclaim, played well-received shows nationwide, and earned an invitation to the 2023 edition of prestigious Netherlands heavy-music fest Roadburn.
God’s Country sharpens and amplifies the grimy pummel of mid-‘80s noise-rock pioneers like Scratch Acid and Big Black, stirring in bassist Stin’s abiding love of Korn and a true-crime doc’s worth of references to grisly local lore, including a 1978 robbery and multiple murder inside an Oklahoma City steakhouse, invoked on “The Mask,” as well as the infamous beheading that took place at a food-processing plant in nearby Moore in 2014, which lurks behind album opener “Slaughterhouse.” (The band’s name itself refers to the toxic mining waste that litters a ghost town in the northeast part of the state.) As abrasive as the record is — with Stin and his drummer brother Cap’n Ron, playing an ugly-sounding electronic kit, pounding out lumbering riffs that Manhole seasons with sickly melody and Busch muttering and raving over top — it often harnesses a strange sort of pathos, especially on the post-punk-ish grief monologue “Pamela” and “Why,” where Busch confronts the homelessness epidemic with uncomfortable directness. The Grimace nods on the final track sit nicely in the Chat Pile mythos next to “Rainbow Meat,” a song from the band’s 2019 EP This Dungeon Earth that finds Busch bellowing, “Send my body to Arby’s!”
So far, fans have blessed the band with a slew of Grimace memes, as well as a brilliant mash-up (“What’s the deal with Chat Pile?”) that layers Jerry Seinfeld stand-up bits over “Why.” The members of the three-year-old band seem bemused but delighted by the range of playful responses to their abrasive art, which recently expanded in surprising ways (placid ambient instrumentals; the rollicking, made-to-order country anthem “Lake Time”) on the soundtrack to Tenkiller, a dark new Oklahoma-set drama about a splintering family coping with the aftermath of tragedy. Chat Pile spoke with SPIN about ‘90s musical detritus, the dark allure of McDonald’s and the distinct brand of regional darkness that fueled one of the year’s best albums.
SPIN: Along with the unveiling of the Grimace toy, the Seinfeld mash-up was another landmark moment in the Year of Chat Pile. What did you think when you first heard it?
Stin: I’m always just honored that people feel in any way motivated or inspired to create something, even if it’s, like, a dorky meme. Or some people create cool paintings and that kind of stuff. It’s interesting that people think of us at all.
Manhole: We mainly just get fast-food-related jokes. So I’ll take a TV sitcom-related one.
Stin: Yeah, we had the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade on in the background while we were cooking, and I look over and see Grimace, and I’m like, “Oh, God, here we go…” And immediately, my phone starts buzzing with people tagging me.
Manhole: It’s just funny to be anchored to Arby’s and McDonald’s. Who knows, maybe it’ll be Carl’s Jr. next?
When was the last time you all actually ate at McDonald’s?
Manhole: Oh, like last week.
Busch: We all ate it this year, for sure.
Manhole: Maybe not Ron…
Ron: Yeah, it’s probably been close to 10 years.
Busch: See, in my house, my mom just didn’t cook that much, so we ate McDonald’s a lot. To me, it’s like comfort food. Plus, I live literally, like, 1/8 of a mile from a McDonald’s. It’s open 24 hours. I mean, if I’m a criminal, lock me up…
Manhole: Every good restaurant in Oklahoma City is closed at, like, 9 p.m., and we don’t have diner culture here, really, so it’s just fast food; that is the option late at night. I like Whataburger more, but sometimes it’s just the pull of McDonald’s, especially breakfast.
Busch: The french fries are sprinkled with some kind of magical dust. I mean, part of my body is McDonald’s french fries.
It is apt that we’re sitting around talking about Mickey D’s and Seinfeld when in the backdrop is a record that really couldn’t be any darker. That juxtaposition of silliness and terror seems central to what you guys do.
Ron: We use humor to try to lighten the situation up a little since everything tends to be pretty heavy in terms of the topics that we cover.
Stin: Sometimes all you can do is laugh at how bleak things are. I almost feel like that’s at the core of Chat Pile in a way, kind of throwing your hands up and laughing at how fucked up everything is.
Manhole: I think Raygun does a good job of having a sense of humor, but it’s not like we’re making fun of the people that are characters in the songs, or the topics. I think you can be funny and say stuff like “Whose line is it, anyway?” and “Send my body to Arby’s” but not have it be, like, punching down. And I think that is a fine line, especially with trying to be funny in music — comedy music can be some of the worst stuff imaginable. It might be the worst type of music.
Busch: Nahhh, it’s not the worst. It’s in a ring of hell but not the center.
What’s the center? Now I want to know what that is.
Busch: Probably, like, the acoustic version of a Nickelback song, or something.
Manhole: There’s a restaurant on the northwest side of Oklahoma City, a Thai restaurant, that every single time I’d go in there and get takeout, they would be playing the same cover version — ukulele, no vocals — of ”I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz. I swear I heard it in there 20 times.
Busch: Oh, man, you know what? You just triggered me, and I realized what the real worst song is: It’s “Pinch Me” by Barenaked Ladies. That is, like… Whoo, man.
Stin: I was in an antique store over the weekend and dude was playing deep Red Hot Chili Pepper cuts from a more modern album, but he was playing it on the Spotify that you don’t pay for, so in between the songs, there were ads. So that counts too, maybe.
Speaking of rock deep cuts, I was enjoying the playlist you guys made for Roadburn of, as you put it, “artists updating their sound to compete with the all-consuming grunge revolution of the ‘90s.” There are some real forgotten gems on there by everyone from Extreme to Entombed.
Stin: Oh, yeah, we lived through that stuff, so you can’t deny the reality of that situation. Nothing annoys me more than when people are like, “Oh, yeah, I love the ‘90s,” but then you don’t acknowledge that there were, like, four Bryan Adams albums with huge hits on them. That was a major part of the ecosystem back then.
We appreciate music from a more historical context, too, like maybe you know a whole lot about a band that you don’t particularly love but their career arc is really interesting, or their place in the culture and time. There’s a little bit of that subtext in the music that we’re making with Chat Pile, too, like the fact that we have like an extreme-metal logo but we’re not that extreme-sounding — playing with these tropes and kind of funneling them into this weird funhouse-mirror approach to taking the bits and pieces that we like.
Busch: Cultural trash-compacting, you know? Just mashing it all together into something new.
That aspect of Chat Pile, the range of your interests, really comes through on the Tenkiller soundtrack. Was it freeing to be able to stretch out like that?
Stin: Yeah, absolutely. Painting a little bit of the backdrop, we recorded that in the height of the pandemic. We were kind of our only physical social group for an entire year. We’d see each other twice a week, practicing but then eventually starting to work on this album, and for me, freeing is the right word — it was really fun to get together, just the four of us, and be like, “OK, how about the two of you sit in this room and we’ll set up a microphone and you bang on some stuff, and then the two of us will hang out in here and we’ll scream and play with a power drill?”
Manhole: I had a lot of fun doing it. My favorite part of it was everyone being able to play instruments that they don’t play in the normal band. I played drums on it and bass, Ron played a lot of guitar, Ray played guitar, there’s synth on there. So I just thought it was cool to try to have it still sound like something that the four of us made but completely reconfigured. I’d definitely like to do it more. If anyone is making a movie that people will see and want us to make music for…
Busch: Please, please have us!
Stin: They specifically asked for a country song for a scene, so we knew that was coming and there’s a lot of directions we could have gone with that, but we definitely wanted to do more of an arena-rock, Alan Jackson–style… Because, I mean, Garth Brooks is from Oklahoma.
Manhole: Toby Keith. He’s from my town.
Stin: We even dissected a couple songs, and we’re like, “OK, this is basically the formula, so we can just do our own version.”
Manhole: Yeah, Ron and I, we just played a chord progression and that essentially was the song. And I played drums and Raygun sang, obviously, and played acoustic guitar, and then Ron did all the electric and slide work, which is really cool.
Stin: And then the lyrics we wrote together. We sat in a room, got high as shit and just banged out these lyrics. And that whole redneck lake culture is definitely a thing out here; that shit’s in our blood. But there’s also tons of Godzilla references, too.
Manhole: That’s the hardest I’ve laughed in a long time, for sure.
Stin: The peak of it is, there’s a line at the end where Ray lists off all the Kid Rock albums…
Busch: [Sings in redneck voice] “Devil Without a Cause, Cocky and Born Free / Rock n Roll Jesus, all my favorite CDs.
Local culture in all its forms is something that’s pretty central to Chat Pile. God’s Country is almost an Oklahoma true-crime digest in album form: I have to say I’d never heard about the Sirloin Stockade shootings, for example, before delving into the record.
Busch: Every state has fucked-up stories — we’re nothing special. There’s darkness all over America.
Stin: We have our own brand of darkness, though. And I won’t speak for everybody, but for me, that is a stated goal thematically for the band, whenever I have input, is that I do like exposing our very Southern Plains–, Bible Belt–specific brand of darkness. That’s the thing that’s funny: Oklahoma doesn’t have much of an identity, but there’s a lot of identity to be found in the wretched history of this state. If we do have an identity, that’s what it is, all this trauma.
The Trail of Tears, the Tulsa Race Massacre and the Oklahoma City bombing. I mean, the term “going postal” was invented because of one of the first notorious mass shootings that ever took place, in Edmond, Oklahoma, and that just scratches the surface of all the nightmarish bullshit that goes on here.
Judging by the reception to the record and your shows, clearly that nightmarish bullshit is resonating pretty widely. Looking back on this breakthrough year for Chat Pile, what has been the highlight, for each of you?
Ron: I think just generally seeing people’s response — the more shows we play, hearing people singing along and getting into it, and then seeing people make art and be inspired definitely means quite a bit.
Manhole: The response that we’ve gotten at shows has just been super cool. We only started the band in 2019, so I just did not think that just a few years later, we’d be playing to groups of people that actually know our stuff and are going crazy.
Stin: Playing Kansas City in May, that was the last show on a five-show run — we don’t play out very much at all, so five days for us feels like we’ve been on the road for two months. But we could tell that with each show, people were getting more and more hyped, and Kansas City is the hometown of Bummer and Nerver, who are both friends of ours and who both played that show, and Meth from Chicago also played.
First off, the venue was big and people were really piling in, and we did not expect it. But by the time we got onstage, the place was packed and the energy was just through the roof — people were going insane, including the other bands. They were jumping onstage and stage-diving, and maybe for the first time in my entire life, I really felt like I was a part of a community and a movement and something really special.
Manhole: Yeah, that show was really something. Matt from Bummer did the worm onstage while we were playing. And I had a really good time at the Philly show this year, too.
Busch: Me too. My favorite moment was, after the Chicago show, we all got in the van and threw on “Flex” by Mad Cobra. That’s maybe the best I’ve felt in a long time. Just laughing maniacally: “I can’t believe we’re here. I can’t believe that just happened.”