Seven p.m. tomorrow. Pettirosso elevator.”
That’s the ominous text message I receive from the owner of local label Good to Die, Nik Christofferson, signifying my interview with Blood Drugs is a go. I didn’t know the small Capitol Hill cafe had an elevator.
When I arrive, I’m immediately greeted by guitarist Shawn Kock, who says the band has a surprise for me. So we chat for a second, wait for everyone else to show, then head upstairs to the freight elevator, where a spread fit for a king is laid out: Champagne on ice and hot dogs on a silver platter—eight meat, eight vegan—one of which will subsequently cause a seagull to get hit by a car, but more on the seagull later.
Formed in 2013, Blood Drugs was born from the ashes of another Good to Die band, Absolute Monarchs. Monarchs drummer Michael Stubz wanted to start another project, so he reached out to Kyle Bradford to be a part of the yet-unnamed group. “[Kock] was going to play guitar, and he wanted me to sing and play bass. But I didn’t have one, so he was like ‘You can play guitar,’ and I didn’t have a guitar either.”
Bradford did have a guitar, actually, but only an acoustic one. His fit within Blood Drugs’ noisy, abrasive universe might seem odd given his recent history performing as a folk singer/songwriter under the name The Ghost of Kyle Bradford. “I didn’t know if I could do the punk thing again,” he says, “but I grew up listening to it, and it was the best thing that could have happened.” Bradford quickly took to his (borrowed) electric guitar, and suddenly his punk roots came flooding back.
Shortly after, as fate would have it, Stubz quit the band, so Thomas Burke was called in to replace him on drums. The missing piece was bassist Gwen Stubbs, who joined the band later that year to participate in recording its debut LP, but, unfortunately, needed to step down earlier this year to focus on other projects. Her replacement, Kerry Zettel, already had some history with the group. “Shawn, Tom, and I played in a band called Das Llamas before Monarchs,” Zettel says. “It’s pretty familial. It’s like having the family back together,” adds Kock.
After perfecting a set list and performing gigs all over town, the band set its sights on recording its debut full-length. Recorded in three days last July by Matt Bayles (Mastodon, Isis, Helms Alee), Blood Drugs is a blast of noisy punk rock, but not in the traditional sense of the genre; it’s more influenced by bands like Jawbreaker and the vocal delivery of Hot Snakes. But make no mistake—aggression is still apparent, even when the record veers into unexpected territory. “I’d always wanted to do some kind of electronic or dub remix,” Kock says, so the band closes the album with exactly that—an electro take on opening track “Leaves.”
Lyrically, Bradford belts
out dark stories that sound like lurid transcriptions of his night terrors. “For me I grew up playing punk music—that’s how I learned to play the guitar,” he says. “I remember the first poetry I ever started to write was right after I started reading Henry Rollins’ poetry—it was so bad.” Bradford took Rollins’ terrible lyrics as a personal challenge, knowing deep down that he could write better words than the Black Flag singer.
“I got into bands like Jawbreaker that put a little more emphasis on the actual meanings of the songs and being a little more slick or witty with the lyrics,” Bradford says. “That kind of drew me away from punk into more folk stuff, because I could pay more attention to the storytelling aspect of it.” Even though Blood Drugs’ songs do tell stories, so to speak, Bradford’s approach with the band is less narrative and more an act of personal exorcism.
“It was an extremely difficult time for me; coming into the band, I was at the lowest I’ve ever been,” Bradford says. “I was disappointed in everything. Relationships never worked out. Family stuff never worked out. The government is ridiculous. It’s embarrassing to be an American. I think religion is a joke. All the things that make the world the way it is make no sense to me whatsoever—so that was pretty much what I was focusing on when I was writing the record. But writing about it this last year has been helpful.”
Thankfully, Bradford’s personal demons sound great on record. Out this Tuesday in LP form, Blood Drugs fits perfectly with Good to Die’s already outstanding roster of releases.
Oh, and the seagull? Just as it swooped down to snatch up a hot-dog morsel that had rolled into the street, a big car came tearing up. But just like Bradford, the gull pulled through the rough moment like a champ and managed to fly away—vegan dog in beak and all.