Kowloon Walled City discuss 10 songs that influenced their new album ‘Piecework’
Having started out as a caustic sludge metal band in the late 2000s, Kowloon Walled City have spent their career moving towards something more refined, and that continues on their fourth album -- and first in six years -- Piecework. At this point, they sound like a cross between Slint and Neurosis, blurring the lines between post-rock, post-hardcore, and post-metal in a way that sounds entirely bleak. There's a beauty to the production and the crisp musicianship, but the songs never sound bright or uplifting. The music feels as apocalyptic as recent works by Swans and Daughters, and like those bands, Kowloon Walled City are proving to have serious longevity. There's not a whole lot of variety in this album -- every song kind of sounds the same -- but the repetitiveness adds to the overall feeling of dread. Listening to Piecework feels like being trapped inside a hell you can't get out of. [Notable Releases]
Kowloon Walled City recently released their first album in six years, Piecework (that's my review above), and now guitarist Jon Howell and bassist Ian Miller have each made us a list of songs that influenced the album, with commentary on each pick. The diverse list includes everything from PJ Harvey to Low to Unwound to The Wailers, and you can read on for what each member had to say...
Jon Howell's Picks
PJ Harvey - “Is this Desire?” (from Is This Desire?)
When we started writing Piecework, the goal was to strip songs down to bare essentials. In doing so we had a few major reference points, and of those PJ Harvey loomed largest. “Is This Desire” doesn’t contain much–just drums/guitar/voice plus a little backing synth. The song structure is nursery rhyme simple. And it’s a flawless song. All those simple components combine to make something powerful and beautiful.
Gillian Welch - “The Way It Will Be” (from The Harrow and The Harvest)
Gillian Welch is a master at writing melancholy music that contains flashes of hope. This song was had such an impact on me that we covered it for a Sisters In Christ split with our friends Josh and Sara from The New Trust handling vocals.
Low - “Murderer” (from the Murderer EP)
Like PJ Harvey, Low uses relatively few rhythmic and melodic elements to create massive, beautiful music. Alan is a particularly great lyricist, fleshing out entire characters with a couple of sentences. “Murderer” is a powerful song, and listening through feels like watching a giant wave smash against a cliff and then recede.
Unwound - “Disappoint” (from The Future of What)
The drums and bass on “Disappoint” (respectively, Sara Lund & Vern Rumsey) completely drive the song and give Justin Trosper space to create a noisy, melodic guitar wash that hangs over everything. As a songwriter, it’s a lesson in letting a killer rhythm section do all the heavy lifting.
Richard Dawson - “The Vile Stuff” (from Nothing Important)
Richard Dawson is my favorite living musician. His songs and lyrics are incredible, but his guitar playing is a particular influence. I used his warm, finger-picked guitar work from “The Vile Stuff” as a reference point on Piecework while I was writing parts for the songs “You Had a Plan” and “Oxygen Tent.”
Ian Miller's Picks
Pitchshifter - “A Higher Form of Killing” (from Desensitized)
Were these guys a blatant Godflesh ripoff act? Absolutely. Did they refine and improve the Godflesh formula? The 25-year-old me certainly thought so. A perfect marriage of metal guitar and industrial rage. And the gnarliest bass tone 1993 had to offer.
Killing Joke - “Requiem” (from Killing Joke)
Before Killing Joke, no band had ever married heavy guitars with electronic and dub elements. Without them, there's certainly no Godflesh (and by extension, no Pitchshifter, and probably no KWC). “Requiem's” insistent drum pulse and seasick synth stabs and KJ's use of space and dynamics is embedded in our band’s DNA.
The Wailers - “Small Axe” (from Burnin')
I could have picked virtually any Family Man Barrett (or Sly Dunbar) song really, but “Small Axe” is one of my favorite Family Man bass parts. So much of reggae bass is about the negative space and note duration, and both of these elements are critical in the lines I write for KWC. It wasn't until I started learning roots reggae songs that I really started paying attention to this stuff; as a punk and metal bassist I never thought about it. I just wanted to play as many notes as fast as possible. But reggae teaches you to lock in with the kick and strip away anything that isn't essential. That's how I view my job in Kowloon.
Harvey Milk - “Death Goes to the Winner” (from Life...The Best Game in Town)
Whatever “post metal” touchstone band you think you're hearing on the last 3 records, it's not them. It's Harvey Milk. They're the single biggest influence on this era of Kowloon Walled City, and you'd know that if you listened to more Harvey Milk.
Wetnurse - “Not Your Choice” (from Invisible City)
I'm'a be honest with you, chief: this didn't influence Piecework in any way, but goddammit, Wetnurse is a criminally underrated band and more people need to know about them. Throw on Invisible City and run through the nearest wall.