Chat Pile are a rare left-wing political metal band. Photo: Bayley Hanes
“Why?!” howls a voice over sludgy, heavy-as hell riffs. “Why do people have to live outside?” This – a frank plea for America to ask itself why people are homeless in the richest country on Earth, “when there are buildings all around us with heat on and no one inside” – is the song that has propelled Oklahoma’s Chat Pile to become the buzziest band in metal right now. It’s the standout song on their debut studio album God’s Country, a record that currently holds an enviable score of 84% on review aggregator Metacritic.
Named for the enormous piles of toxic waste that tower over the ghost town of Picher in northeastern Oklahoma – poisonous remnants of lead and zinc mining that, among other things, provided metal for the bullets the US shot in WWI – Chat Pile are a rare example of a heavy band tackling heavy issues. The cover of God’s Country features a photo of the Oklahoma County Detention Center, where 16 people died in 2022. The band say it’s a reminder of the authoritarian hand of the state. The lyrical content is similarly unsparing. As well as homelessness, they tackle “ecological disaster, loss, body image, gun control”.
Currently in the middle of their first visit to UK shores – including a headline slot at Core., Glasgow’s new festival of heavy music – Chat Pile’s singer Raygun Busch and guitarist Luther Manhole (all the band play under pseudonyms) took some time out to tell us about their focus on ecological and social issues… and how they’ve taken practical action to help their local street paper.
The Big Issue: What is it about that name Chat Pile that fits you?
Raygun Busch Well, I definitely wanted ecological concerns to be part of the lyrical content of our band. That was the plan from the beginning.
Luther Manhole We live in an oil and gas zone. I mean, we didn’t have earthquakes at all, ever, here. And then we started fracking and had more earthquakes per year than California. This is definitely oil country, so people do not want to hear about it.
RB There’s definitely a lot of people that believe that God will, like sort it out for us.
I really want to talk about Why because that song is just so direct in its challenge to the homelessness crisis. What inspired it?
RB I’ve been playing music for like 20 years. And it’s kind of a big deal to have an album come out on The Flenser [dark music label from San Francisco]. I thought, if this is the only album that comes out ever that I’m a part of, I just kind of want to do everything I wanted to do. I wanted to have like a song that was just very direct about homelessness because it was clearly becoming a very out-of-control issue, like rapidly, you know? It felt bad to see. It’s scary how close even I’ve gotten to it. I mean, it’s just like, a lot of people are like a bad day away [from homelessness]. Everybody deserves shelter. It would be very easy to provide shelter.
LM Not everything has to be metaphors. I remember when you were recording it, I loved how direct it is. There’s of course been some people that were annoyed by the politics of it. But I love that song.
RB It brought other people in, that weren’t into our band, too.
LM I didn’t realise that would be the song on the album that people would latch on to. But I’m glad it is.
With the penitentiary on the cover and even the band’s name, this record feels very rooted in your local area. Do you think this is a record that could only come from Oklahoma?
LM I’d say so. I do think regionalism is very appealing to all of us in the band.
RB Yeah, I like to add a little regional flavour. Not Oklahoma necessarily, but the Plains. But I hope that it’s universal, some of the stuff that I’m talking about.
LM Maybe someone in Gainesville, Texas, or, you know, Joplin, Missouri could maybe come up with some Chat Pile stuff as well. This whole area – it’s not quite the Midwest, it’s not quite the American South. It’s all just these weird open fields and strip malls and mega churches. Fast food and all that stuff. There’s just a certain aesthetic to this part of the country. That is very much fully just ingrained in our music. The broader things can be more relatable – homelessness, loss, body image, gun control…
RB Fear of fire arms.
LM But the details, that’s where you get to talk to people that know. I think they get a kick out of recognising that stuff.
Metal bands, or heavy bands, don’t tend to be known for their politics – what makes you different?
LM That’s the type of stuff that we think about and talk about. There’s lots of right wing metal. So it’s kind of weird to me that there’s not as much stuff from other sides. It is kind of interesting that normally when you hear about political music and metal, it’s usually right wing.
What music shaped you?
LM Growing up, my dad’s favourite band were The Beatles. I learned to play guitar by learning Beatles stuff. And I was born in ‘90, so I very much hit the nu metal and pop punk wave very hard as a tween. I was into Slipknot and then stuff like Blink 182. I heard cooler punk music eventually, going to shows and stuff. But a lot of my initial stuff was the Beatles and stuff that my parents liked – Earth Wind and Fire, The Beatles, Prince, XTC.
RB XTC are a very important band to me. Pumpkins are a big band that I still love. I have loved anything they’ve made in like 23 years but the first five albums, I’m into it. And Nirvana.
Is there Nirvana in your music, do you think? Because when I first listened, it made me think of early, Bleach-era Nirvana.
LM It’s definitely part of it. We’ve been circling around covering a song specifically from that album as well. There’s just a way that Kurt wrote – especially with the instrumentals – that is appealing to coming up riffs and stuff.
RB They’re an important band. We all love them.
You recently did a collaboration with a beer company, to benefit the Homeless Alliance. They’re the charity that produces our sister paper, The Curbside Chronicle, in Oklahoma. How did that come about?
LM They [Stonecloud Brewing Company] reached out to us. They wanted to do more stuff with local artists and they asked us what we wanted to do. Right up top, we said if we were to do something, we’d want to donate the money to Homeless Alliance.
For a few months here locally, you could go to some bars and get it on tap, which was very surreal to me to go to like a bar in my hometown and get my band’s beer on tap. It was kind of awesome, knowing for anyone who bought the beer, money went to Homeless Alliance.
A few weeks ago, Ray and I went to their facility. They have the only day shelter in Oklahoma City. They had like barber there.
RB It’s awesome – they also have a place where you can put your pet.
LM A lot of people have dogs, and a lot of shelters can’t take pets – you can’t bring them inside. So it’s cool that at this shelter in OKC, they have a full kennel area where people can check their dogs in.
It’s been a year since God’s Country, when can we expect the next record?
LM We’re making good progress. We’re not the most prolific band or the quickest writing band, but I’m feeling pretty good about what we have. I think people that like Chat Pile are gonna like the new songs.