Punitive Damage dish on the searing sustain and spite-filled solos of This Is the Blackout
Punitive Damage. Photo by Clayton Hebenik.
BY GREGORY ADAMS
If you’ve been following Gut Feeling for a while, you might’ve noticed that I can’t get enough of Vancouver hardcore force Punitive Damage. They were the newsletter’s first published interview, while other posts have seen me gushing over hammer-down tracks from 2021’s Strike Back EP and this fall’s positively crushing debut full-length, This Is the Blackout. The latter is bonafide album-of-the-year material (Revolver would back that up), and is at the very least a must-listen if you like getting your ears mangled by an impressive cross-section of hardcore styles.
One thing I hadn’t hit on before, though, was exactly how the band has gnarled things out in the studio — most recently with Taylor Young (Drain, Regional Justice Center) at his The Pit facility in Van Nuys, CA.
So, just as Punitive Damage were gearing up for a late-year run of North American dates, guitarists Czecho and Teejer1 clued Gut Feeling into the spite-filled solos and tube-screamin’ drive of their most gargantuan effort yet.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Something noticeable throughout the album is how you’re able to harness amp bleed with purpose — “Pure Bloods,” for instance, sets the mood with a fiercely piercing, three-part feedback harmony before the band rockets off. But while feedback seems like a simple trick, it can also be hard to tame. How much time went into the layering for parts like this? Like, were you rolling tones around, or switching heads in the studio to get the right sustain?
CZECHO: There was definitely effort put into getting the right kind of feedback in “Pure Bloods” — we did a lot of passes; what ended up on the record was a conservative mix.
I can’t get enough feedback. I’ve tried to have feedback go through the entire song before. I believe there was an entire feedback track going through “Baited” [off 2020's We Don't Forget EP] but it got mixed out. A perfect example of feedback going through the whole song is “Cherry Beach” by Career Suicide.
TEEJER1: We did tons of feedback layering, and we both screamed into the pickups of a Les Paul for another track. Whatever it takes!
The album's “Legacy,” ironically enough, was carried over from Punitive Damage’s Strike Back 7-inch. Why had you re-recorded the song, and what do you think you've added to the piece this second time around?
C: “Legacy” was re-recorded because it was always meant to be on our full-length. In fact, all of Strike Back was supposed to be part of the LP. We had intended to go from We Don’t Forget straight to an LP, but the world had other plans. Puni is split between Seattle and Vancouver, so the border closure and travel restrictions made us realize we wouldn’t be able to practice, let alone record [a full-length for a long time]. After a lot of arguing, we decided on [recording the] three songs that would become Strike Back.
Czecho at The Pit, c/o Punitive Damage.
Considering you went down to California to record, how much gear did you bring with you, and what equipment of Taylor’s did you put to use? Any configurations you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise?
C: When we went down, we brought my Les Paul Custom and TS808, and [bassist] Kermit’s Fender Jazz bass and Big Muff. [For amps,] we used a Silver Jubilee and a 2203 JMP, through massive Omega 6x12 cabs. For the Tube Screamer, drive on 0 and level on 10.
At one point we did use Taylor’s Les Paul Custom, which has a Kahler trem bridge. The only thing out of the norm was a noise suppressor, which I’m usually very against — we’re a pro feedback band! But I might not know how to use [noise suppressors] correctly.
TJ: I flew down with my Les Paul. I’d never heard the songs before, and learned a couple of them at The Pit. As for tone going forward, it’s pretty standard shit on my end: Les Paul into an 800/Butcher, by way of a Tube Screamer.
Let’s get into the breadth of songwriting on This Is the Blackout. While the earlier EPs had been pretty blistering across the board, this record runs through elements of first wave hardcore, powerviolence, Stooges-style sleaze, and darkened piano ambiance. How conscious were you about expanding the parameters of Punitive Damage for this first full-length?
C: We were conscious of not hitting one vibe for the entirety of the record. That being said, [songwriting] was pretty natural. The band writes pretty collaboratively. If someone brings a riff, the rest season it.
We didn’t self-edit going into the recording. We recorded songs that we weren’t sure were going to make the cut — “Big Man” comes to mind; we were tweaking that up until we tracked it.
While the title track brings in a quick bit of shred soloing, there’s more of a classic rock ‘n’ roll drive to the bends you’re bringing to “Bottom Feeder." What’s your personal philosophy on putting leads in hardcore songs?
C: Teejer ripped a secret solo, and I did the rest of them. We cannot shred at all, but we are pro solos on hardcore records. We’ve joked about being a rock band sonically, but culturally a hardcore punk band
The reason the solos have a “rock ‘n’ roll” feel is because I got clowned by some guitar store nerd for playing Go It Alone riffs when I was buying my first Les Paul. I immediately went home and learned how to play all of Appetite for Destruction and every AC/DC solo I could. No skill or technique, just spite.
Punitive Damage's This Is the Blackout is out now via Atomic Action!