The Central on grindcore, jazz, and that underdog feeling
The heavy Madison duo discuss their new album, "Discovery Of A Rat."
On this year's Discovery Of A Rat, Madison art-grind duo The Central melt the framework of traditional grindcore, weaving machine-gun drum blasts and blurry guitar shrapnel into a patchwork of unexpected zones. But whether you're getting math-blasting punishment and frantic screams on "Aku Law" or a slanted and sunny prog-punk tune complete with clean vocal hooks and harmonies on "Totem Bowl, one thing's for certain—guitarist-vocalist Frankie Furillo and drummer Alex Roberts know how to syncopate to devastating effect. In "DeathJazz Now," Furillo's nasty riffing smashes hard into Roberts' rapid-fire drum clatter, preferring a boldly loose swing to his blasts to militant pummeling. Meanwhile, "Feelings" drops into some bizarre merging of jangled post-hardcore and leisurely guitar-pop, with restrained falsetto vocal lines and deceptively sunny chords.
When Furillo and Roberts play live, the duo seem content to avoid being faithful to the recorded work. What they lack in a live bassist, they make up with connectivity and improvisation. Furillo's urgent screams channel the urgency of old hardcore, while his mangled and angular guitar work speeds over Roberts' meter-shattering rhythms in a motorcycle lean. We recently spoke with The Central about their new record, working with space, and pulling inspiration from Nicholas Cage. Inexplicably, you can catch The Central weirding out patrons at Madison sports bar The Red Zone on December 17.
Tone Madison: What kinds of music were you into before you discovered grindcore?
Frankie Furillo: I was into a lot of indie rock and folk-type stuff—Modest Mouse, The Pixies, or anything my step-dad showed me. I was heavily influenced by Frank Black. Also, my entire family was into Blink-182.
Tone Madison: I asked because I definitely hear the influence of grindcore—in terms of frantic guitar, blast-beats, and double-kick drum—but it feels very raw and human with both of you. I don't hear a ton of metal influence or any macho chest-pounding. There's a lot more finesse and dynamism in the drumming than you usually hear in the more metallic sort of grindcore. Did either of you have any background in jazz?
Alex Roberts: I love jazz. I've definitely studied it in some ways. Almost none my favorite players are metal guys—they're either jazz or fusion. I do like metal players a lot, but they're made to be more consistent, whereas I like that improvisational and odd feeling. I've definitely tried to study under both schools of thought—I played a little marching style and some hand percussion. I like anything with rhythm and at some point I've tried to attempt to learn it, with some hits and misses. I feel that grindcore, for me, has a closer drumming link to jazz than metal, which comes from a rock perspective. Frank and I are just fans of music, period. I listen to classical music more than anything right now and Frank is probably rocking some sick hip-hop or R&B. We like it all.
Frankie Furillo: Alex has a much better understanding of jazz. He studies music constantly. I just listen to what he shows me and try to keep up. [Laughs] One thing I really love about The Central is our freedom to fuse any musical idea with another. It's really aggressively structured, but with an indie-rock or jazzy sounding thing. Dynamics in aggressive music make the songs hit so much harder. I'm really attracted to music without rules that isn't trying to follow a form. I think that's where our best songs come from.
Tone Madison: I noticed that Discovery Of A Rat has bass guitar all over it, presumably played by Frankie, but I know you typically play live as a duo with no bassist. Have you always held The Central to two members? What stops you from picking up a bass player?
Frankie Furillo: We've always been a duo for the most part. We've talked about having a bass player for certain sets perhaps. I like to add bass to the recordings—I like the fuller sound. A recording to me is a snapshot of a polished song idea at a point in time. I don't care if it bums people out live. I love being a duo live for a couple reasons. I like the "underdog" feeling when it's just the two of us setting up on stage. Maybe it's in my head, but i feel doubt from the audience sometimes. I also love the freedom we have to improvise and fuck around, which we do at almost every show now. I'm always down to mess around with a real bass player in a collaboration or for a certain live set, but ultimately I love our two-piece.
Tone Madison: I can't imagine what a pain in the ass it would be to explain these insane song structures to a third guy who didn't write the songs with you.
Alex Roberts: It would be like rewriting it with another person and they'd have to sit and grind it for hours like we had to.
Tone Madison: For all the dizzying riffs and drum fills on songs like "Statues," I love the way you still make use of rests and space. Is this a conscious effort on your part?
Alex Roberts: Oh yeah. The exact placement of the note depends on the part, but the shape of the song is very much orchestrated.
Frankie Furillo: The way Alex and I write is something very special that I've never had with anyone else. We're extremely productive and are 99 percent onboard with each other's ideas. I don't think we've ever disagreed creatively. At this point, we know exactly what to expect from one another and writing has been an insanely fun experience. There's never an "I don't want you to do that" and I always like what Alex brings to the songs.
Alex Roberts: I think of my parts as a series of shapes and you end up building and tearing things up. and were are very conscious of each other's parts.
Frankie Furillo: Space is something we love to use. Extreme chaotic riffs and silence. The loud-quiet-loud makes for aggressive hits.
Alex Roberts: The subtleties are everything and that, I feel, is what makes our music different. We have breaks and drifts in sound or tempo, but we kind of improvise it every time. It's a matter of feeling our intentions at that moment and how to propel the part or utterly destroy it. The rhythmic shape is the foundation and the melody is the style. To have a complex building, it needs to have a individual or singular characteristic if it's a band or a song.
Tone Madison: I heard that Czarbles used to write out all of their parts on napkins and tack them to the wall of their space until the song was done.
Frankie Furillo: What? That's awesome. I love those guys. We played with Czarbles and my grindcore heroes Suppression last July and Czarbles blew me away. Every band has their special ways of writing. I'm in three bands and so is Alex and it's always a different way.
Alex Roberts: We've had to write some stuff down, but a lot of it is creative improv and jamming out. We've played follower more than leader in our side projects, and here in The Central we both get to be leaders, so we feel musically empowered when we play it. We have a completely open palette to work with for whatever strikes our fancy
Tone Madison: I really dig the strange and sunnier melodic detours the album takes, like with "Totem Bowl," or again, on "Statues," where that angelic vocal harmony pops up out of nowhere. How do you fall upon these pieces?
Alex Roberts: Those are our other musical influences. We love pop-punk stuff. We have a whole other band for Frankie's punk project. The drum beat comes from my drum and bass influence and I love playing that song.
Frankie Furillo: I've always been heavily influenced by singy-songy stuff. When we wrote a lot of Discovery, I was listening to a lot of Tenement. The songwriter, Amos Pitsch, does a lot of that "ooh" and "ahh" stuff with creepy reverb that I love. I always want to combine that vibe with aggressive angry parts. "Totem Bowl" was like the sixth song we ever wrote together. It's actually on our first album, but horribly recorded. I thought it would be cool to bring back and shine it up.
Alex Roberts: We wanna make an entire album of like every genre we like and it would take forever, but we'll probably try.
Frankie Furillo: We'll get there eventually. We recorded with our good friend Brandon Salaway— an insane jazz guitarist living in Nashville. There's talk about possibly releasing some of that material. It's far different from usual Central.
Tone Madison: Where are you coming from lyrically, Frankie? You have a lot of joke song titles. Do you keep it pretty light? Or, is it really personal or political?
Alex Roberts: Nicholas Cage.
Tone Madison: Which Nicholas Cage are speaking of here? Vampire's Kiss or Bad Lieutenant?
Frankie Furillo: A lot of personal bullshit that makes me angry and things I want to yell about—work, my boss. Definitely a Vampire's Kiss vibe. The part when he's talking to his therapist about alphabetizing files—that's what I'm drawing from mostly. [Laughs] "Statues" is about how people never mosh at our shows. Alex and I almost die up there, while they get to be all comfortable with a beer.
Alex Roberts: Frank and I are always the only sweaty people at the end of our shows.
Tone Madison: What do you have in the works for the near future?
Alex Roberts: We basically have a whole new album written and we're gonna refine those songs.
Frankie Furillo: We're just tuning them up—nice and tight. We have plans for a few split releases with some great bands I can't announce yet. I'm booking a tour for March and I plan to hit shows heavy in the spring. We have a few winter shows here, but for the most part we'll be in hibernation, writing.