Quiet. Listen to the crunchy, electronic slatherings, bespattered, haphazard, like a Pollock, elegantly balanced, too, like a Mondrian. It’s where notes bleed into one another. You can’t understand it in a single listen, just be there. It’s like an ice sculpture; it’s ephemeral. It’s also useless. This ain’t linear progression. There’s never crescendo. It’s far out, the closest thing we have in this town to freeform acid filk, with its bulbous, unpolished commingling of sounds, distorted into one another, fogging out the between-spaces. It’s ugly. It’s lovely, if you let yourself listen to it. There may be something verisimilar of a logic happening, perhaps in the background, behind the stage, lost somewhere, beyond the spectacle of seeing Will Fist sporting a weatherworn punk-rock tuxedo, playing mad scientist with sound. Quiet, quiet, man, it’s only music. It’s a code.
Puffery? Sure. Does it matter? Probably not.
There have been too many projects to remember—from straight-up gritty country to thrash metal to hard-hitting techno—since Will Fist came to town in 2000, on Halloween night. Wisk-Hutzel, Fist’s record label that’s more carnivalesque commune than a business, has always been a successful mind trip. The sounds mess with your head whether you like it or not. It just happens. As new ideas ebb and flow, there’s a kind of philosophic yarn that ties it all together:
“The whole reason for all these projects—for me, personally—is that you have this shit all piled up in your body,” Will Fist says, calmly eating a burrito that his fellow musician and housemate, Lord Fyre, whipped up earlier. “You got to get it out. Everybody has their own way of getting it out. My way of getting it out is to play music and write songs…. You don’t wanna be in Phish. You don’t wanna just play a country song, or just a rock song and have lights and shit. It’d be weird. Just start a bunch of projects, and just wear it out all the time, see what happens.”
Fist is crude, coolly dropping more F-bombs than a sailor on shore leave. Today, living in a South Knoxville home with a handful of Whisk-Hutzel soundmongers, the 29-year old seems more grounded than the madman you’ll see onstage, the guy who’s likely to belt out a hell yeah from the back of the Pilot Light. He’s still as foulmouthed as ever, but he’s at peace with it, with this city and the musicians he works with. There’s Mark Parker, who has recorded a few contemporary jazz numbers that would fit nicely in a Shinichiro Watanabe anime. Parker comes down the stairs for a few minutes, peruses the music collection, and leaves. Everything’s in motion, never stops.
And there’s Lord Fyre, who’s still in the kitchen, drinking a Budweiser. His most recent release, Destruction at 2013 , begins with a simple acid intro beefed up with twanging resonance. It’s a haze, a labyrinth. It’s also a reminder of all those times we’ve stumbled aimlessly around the city. In a haze, conjured on the final track, the aptly titled “Destruction at 2013,” the music feels as though it has calmed down a little bit, going into Middle Eastern tunes.
It’s a decomposing album, Ohm on steroids, from life to death, beginning with coded sonic smegma and ending with oblivion. Fyre hails from Bloomington, Ind., where he honed his electric chops at the Church of Sun Ra, yet his songs are able to capture Knoxville, both the sordid and the sublime. There’s more overlap than you might think. It’s all pure Whisk-Hutzel, if nothing else.
“I love Knoxville. It’s a real motherfucker,” Fist goes on. “The people are absolutely amazing, at least the ones I associate with. However , there are some other people that I don’t know—I don’t know what those guys are thinking, the people who call you really crazy words for riding a bicycle to work and back. Or for wearing a tuxedo with shorts late at night. For having long hair on a Monday night.
“But it’s a real amazing place. It’s amazing to me that there’s a real fuck it attitude, even though the city as a whole usually gives a fuck. It’s usually a negative. There’s a real fuck it to Whisk-Hutzel, too. But we try to make it a real creative fuck it , a positive one. I guess there’s that. But I do enjoy living in Knoxville.”
Ever since the earliest days—before coming to Knoxville, back in Cookeville and Nashville, recording on junk machines—Whisk-Hutzel has been making it happen. One part D.I.Y., one part beery accident. Now, just before his 30th birthday, Fist’s label is anticipating a milestone, their 150th album. It’ll be a compilation, something along the lines of Whisk-Hutzel’s greatest hits. There are more than 30 artists collaborating with Whisk-Hutzel, so organization is always a problem. Sometimes it’s slow-going. Sometimes, it’s magic, a beautiful accident.
The greater the neurosis, the greater the wisdom . — Chögyam Trungpa
There’s a pink flamingo in the front yard. On the porch there’s a guitar with a broken neck, resting on top of a Harold Ford, Jr. campaign poster. At one point, there were bees.
“The bees died, man,” Fist says. “I don’t know exactly what happened. There’s talk of it being some kind of mite. There’s talk of—a skunk. Skunks are crazy. There’s talk of an aardvark. A neighbor of ours had an aardvark let loose in their backyard. Everybody knows that an aardvark loves bees. So—”
“Everybody knows that aardvarks love bees?” Lord Fyre asks, suppressing a chortle.
“Yeah, oh hell yeah. Absolutely.”
They’ve never shied away from experiments; everything is open to mad science. A few years back, it wouldn’t be too far out of the ordinary for The Damn Creeps, Fist’s dirty country trio, to bust into Waffle Houses late at night for an impromptu concert. And, just a few years ago, the whacked-out techno of Terry Denton drove its members to put beer boxes on their heads, covered in shiny duct tape.
Just another project that slowly lost momentum as new sounds were being born in Whisk-Hutzel laboratories.
But the projects that end up on the backburner aren’t dead. It’s all recorded, and labeled, floating around the house. Some of the good stuff pops up on occasion.
For instance, Fist just found the first ever Whisk-Hutzel album, which begins rather calmly. A voice comes on top of a grainy, static emptiness. Thank you for buying the Will Fist album , the voice says.
The sound has come a long way since that first recording. Even Fist can only stomach his younger self in small doses. However he may feel about those seminal recordings, the attitude—the feeling, the spirit, whatever you want to call it—hasn’t changed at all since the early days. “I’ve been trying to get back to our roots of playing on the street,” Fist says, “playing outside in the free and the open. I’d like to organize some battery-powered bands for the streets, give a big fuck you to the KUB or whoever else wants to charge you for plugging your amp in. Run ’em on batteries.” He pauses mid-thought, then goes on: “It’s not really a fuck you to Duracell, but…. Can’t really fuck everybody.
“Not everybody’s gonna be cool with it. Even people who may like the music may not be cool with you being out there doing what you want to do. So having your back covered is cool. It’s the way to fly, then at least if somebody’s gonna run up and do some shit to you, they’re gonna have to come from the front or the sides.”
Appropriately, Fist used to play a song entitled “I’m Up Against a Wall” in his one-man band.
“It’s just like a high, man,” Fist continues. “It’s like when you eat a lot of spicy food, it releases a lot of endorphins. The right shit—the right tone, the right time—my brain will release a hell yeah on occasion. It’s like, I don’t know what to do with myself this is so kick ass. ”
"I really hope this album gets done soon,” Fist says of the 150th release. “The music on it is just—badass, it’s out of hand.”
Black Sara (Carey Balch, Cain Blanchard and Bill Warden) and Fistful of Crows (Will Fist, Josh “The Crow” Wright and Elizabeth “Hussler” Wright) have already finished their recordings, offering their own styles of dirty rock. Fistful of Crows, sometimes hailed as the Whisk-Hutzel flagship band, screams I know that there’s a floor/ And there’s another way , gurglingly distorted as they search for that vast region of unexplored Floor. And there’s a lot of ground to cover. The 150th album is cause for celebration, sure, but it’s not a time to rest either.
“I’ve got some bass therapy that I’ve been giving,” Fist says. “You sonically immerse yourself in sound. I generally like to administer a fair amount of things.
“It’s pretty heavy,” Lord Fyre chimes in.
“Then you administer the sounds. Once you’re fully immersed, the idea is that it cleanses your body of all the stuff that’s unneeded and negative. Stuff that’s not doing you any good. It just feels nice. It’s a light massage, from a bass guitar. The only stuff that I’m doing by myself live is the bass therapy sessions…. I had one myself. I don’t remember it. It’s that intense.”
And, there are more plans. More experiments. Digital alchemy, countrified twang. Strings of the apocalypse.
“Once I get a fiddle, the entire region has had it. It’s over. It’s not gonna be the best fiddle playing you’ve ever heard, but it’s gonna be the most disturbing fiddle playing of all time. A real lunatic’s gonna be singing…. I’m gonna try to do a tour on my bike…. Ride across the country.
“I had a viola. I set it on fire, shot sparks on it with a grinder. I gave it a custom job. I bought it and took the sander to it, raped and pillaged the hell out of that thing and made it a really, really mean motherfucker. Then I caught it on fire, took a drill to it. That’s what you gotta do with those classical instruments, they’re so uptight. Let ’em loose….
“Hey, do you think I could make one more? A real skinny burrito?”
Who: Fistful of Crows (Will Fist, Josh “The Crow” Wright and Elizabeth “Hussler” Wright) and The Coke Dares When: Thursday, Dec. 7, 10 p.m. Where: Pilot Light How Much: $5
Who: It Is a Code (an eight-piece Whisk-Hutzel mystery) and Woman When: Friday, Dec. 8, 10 p.m. Where: Pilot Light How Much: $5
Who: Fecal Japan (Charlie Coco Bolan, sometimes joined by Fist and others), Geoff Mullen, Black Hand and Double Muslim When: Saturday, Dec. 9, 10 p.m. Where: Pilot Light How Much: $5