Back in late September, I had the pleasure of taking in a live performance by Greensboro-based rock trio Porcelain Lovecraft. They drew me in with their infectious energy and quality covers during the first set. But their second set, which consisted entirely of catchy yet complex originals, was what made me want to interview them.
Porcelain Lovecraft is made up of Brody Petree, Ethan Golden, and Marshall Wilfong, all of whom graciously agreed to sit down with me for a few questions last week. I asked them about their origins as a band, what it was like starting a new project during an unprecedented global pandemic, and where they see the band progressing in the future.
Ryan: How did you all find each other and where did your formation happen?
Ethan: Well, Brody and I met in a singer-songwriter class at UNCG. We kind of orbited each other in the class when we would break off into groups and share songs. It was a cool experience, especially because I met Brody through it. We figured out that we were kind of like kindred spirits in that we were both raised on The Beatles, and they were like our idols growing up.
Ryan: Yeah, I can tell from your sound that they are a big influence.
Ethan: Exactly, so that was kind of like a John [Lennon] and Paul [McCartney] connection sort of thing. Then Marshall came into the band [when] Brody put a Craigslist ad out looking for a drummer because we were having trouble finding one. And it was Marshall’s dad who responded.
Marshall: It’s funny how that happened. I was home during the pandemic, and I was always practicing. My dad is a professional musician who plays the trombone, and he was listening to me just working on the drums. He would browse Craigslist for ads for trombone lessons or some mixing and found this ad for a band and listened to it. They had that first album, [called A Mnemonic Awakening] recorded already. Ethan played drums on it. My dad sent that to me and said, ‘hit them up.’ So, I listened to the music and thought I would love to play drums to these songs. I had already started hearing where I could take the groundwork Ethan laid out and kind of put my spice into it. Then I contacted them and within that week we went to jam together. And then I was in the band. A few months later I was asked to move in.
Ryan: Oh, cool, so you are all living together now?
Ethan: Yes. It’s very convenient, as you can imagine.
Ryan: Yeah, that must make band practice quite easy.
Ethan: Exactly. Just got to knock on a few doors, you know?
Ryan: What genre would you say you guys are?
Brody: I would say more art rock. I think we have progressive elements but it’s more trying to use different genres in sort of catchy ways and blending it all in. Trying to do something that’s kind of far out but still precise in a way.
Ethan: And I think we’ve had some forays into the more out there, weirdo sort of stuff but I think we always try to maintain a balance of how accessible we can make something that’s strange, in a way.
Brody: Everybody has such an acquired taste for music, you know? It’s hard to have that special sound that is important to everybody.
Ryan: When I saw Porcelain Lovecraft perform a live show at Wahoo’s Tavern in Greensboro, I noticed you played a wide variety of covers ranging from Paul McCartney to Hot Chocolate to Queens of the Stone Age. Who are some of your influences? The Beatles become pretty apparent when listening to your music, but who else is in there in the background?
Marshall: We’re all so varied.
Ryan: Yeah, that’s really what I like so let’s go individually. Let’s start with Brody.
Brody: I would say fundamentally, yes, The Beatles. But we were really looking into 10cc’s music, specifically their first four albums. They have a lot of similar characteristics to our first album. They had one or two hits, but I think their early stuff is so dynamic. They can take you in all sorts of different directions but it’s still concise. It doesn’t sound too sporadic.
Ethan: I had a couple of sources of music growing up. My parents were really into The Cure and The Smiths and 80s new wave adjacent stuff. Then my uncle introduced me to all the British Invasion bands. My granddad was really into bluegrass and country, so there is a little bit of that singer-songwriter 70s stuff. But we are all really big fans of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. They’re a big inspiration. I like Yes, a lot. That’s one of my favorite bands. Then I’m, maybe more than [Brody and Marshall], into modern indie [from around] The Strokes onwards. So that is where my melodic sense tends to come from.
Marshall: I grew up being quizzed by my father on 80s metal drummers. So, Iron Maiden, Queensrÿche, and a lot of Rush from both my dad and my mom. Then [my dad] put me on to Dream Theater. When I started finding my way, I got really into punk music. I started with pop-punk and that turned into hardcore metal slowly but surely. Blink–182’s Dude Ranch is still an album I love. Early My Chemical Romance, early Green Day, early Fall Out Boy. I would rip stuff from YouTube and put it on a CD. And then once I found my own path, I got really into 90s psychedelic funk [like] Tool and Red Hot Chili Peppers. I love Jane’s Addiction, too. Metal has always been present. It’s weird, but if you listen to our songs, you will hear Joey Jordison’s (Slipknot) influence. Brann Dailer from Mastodon and John Bonham are huge, too. I get excited about drumming [and] that’s what has to sink me into music. So, in terms of influences, it’s almost like specific people. Travis Barker, John Bonham, and Stewart Copeland. It’s all over the board, but it’s drummers as a whole [with] more involved driving rhythms and the metal/punk sound as well as the classic John Bonham and Ginger Baker fills, [which is] something I’ve tried to infuse into our music rhythmically. And it’s a whole lot of fun meeting Brody and Ethan in the middle.
Ethan: I discovered The Band this year and I really got into them. It’s not necessarily a style of music that I generally would be into, but the way they do it is very compelling to me. And also, before Stranger Things, I got into Kate Bush. I just like her vocal and melodic choices. It’s that same thing where it’s accessible but still very avant-garde at the same time.
Brody: I feel like I’ve gone in more of an avant-garde direction myself. I’ve been listening to a lot of Captain Beefheart and Black Midi.
Marshall: Mr. Bungle. [Brody and I] meet in the middle at Mr. Bungle.
Brody: He’s someone I’ve been on a lot recently just because he can take you [from] an Italian opera straight into a Middle Eastern section straight into a techno section straight into a heavy metal section.
Marshall: Like the most disgusting-sounding metal mixed with jazz. It’s awesome. [Brody and I] have done some serious bonding over [Mr. Bungle’s album] Disco Volante.
Ryan: You guys seem to like some obscure time signatures. Is that something that is conscious where you’re trying to write in these time signatures, or is it something that just kind of happens?
Brody: Especially during live performances, I want to do something that stumps people dancing. I want something that people want to dance to but then they’re trying to, and they realize they’re off-beat or something. At the shows we’ve been having recently, people will really get into it and want to dance, and they’ll find a part where they can dance, but then they’ll have parts where they don’t know what to do because they don’t know what’s coming next. Which is fun.
Ethan: I think it can be kind of tedious writing in standard time signatures. I think we also want our music to not only challenge the listeners but to challenge us to some degree. With a lot of those time signatures, I just kind of feel it out. Like, ‘what if we add two extra beats to this’, and stuff like that.
Marshall: I think Brody and Ethan do a lot of it instinctively because when I joined, I would be trying to count, and I would not get any help. I would say ‘I think this is in 11’ and they would say ‘well just play it and we’ll see.’ It’s a lot of fun as a drummer who is really into Tool and The Mars Volta to find this weird outfit that is catchy and fun but is also really interesting. If I just sat and played normal drumbeats, I would not be in this band. I have to dig into these songs and find unique paths and it’s tremendous to play such odd-timed stuff. It is so much fun.
Ethan: We put him through the wringer a lot.
Marshall: Every time we compose a new cover or when we are writing new music, I find myself constantly thinking that’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do.
Ryan: Until the next one?
Marshall: Yeah, until the next one and then I think that one sucks. It’s a lot of fun constantly trying to one-up myself.
Ryan: With Marshall being in the band now, what has changed from the studio versions of some of those songs to what you’ve made them now? Has there been much change?
Marshall: There’s been a lot.
Ethan: It’s better. The performance is better.
Marshall: Things just evolve. They’ll like something and that will become a larger section, or it will go off in different directions. I’m proud to say, as an instrumentalist who came into a band that already had a concrete sound, that every single song we have on the album is almost completely different now that we play it live. There are a lot of the same beats and vibes, but the compositions and the rhythms in it have evolved.
Ethan: The guitar is my primary instrument, so I’ve dedicated the most amount of time to that. Then we brought in Marshall, who dedicated his whole musicianship to drums, so he can introduce something more confidently interesting if that makes sense.
Brody: [Without a bass player] it’s important for that rhythm to still be very foundational. It’s a challenge to still have that rhythm and lead going on all the time with just a trio.
Ryan: So, Marshall, have you gotten the chance to do any recording with everyone?
Marshall: Yeah, we have two singles out with me on drums.
Ethan: Solar Inclusion/Polar Eviction [are] two songs that are on the same project. They lead into each other, so the end of the last song is the beginning of the first song, and you can kind of put it on repeat. We are trying to do stuff like that. I composed the first song and Brody composed the second song. Everything from here on out is probably going to be completely collaborative, so we wanted to do one last thing that showed [each of our] sensibilities. So, we played the guitar and keyboard parts for our respective songs and the other person would record bass, and Marshall would play drums. Then I did the solo on his song, and he did the solo on my song.
Ryan: Oh, cool. So, Brody and Ethan do most of the writing and then Marshall adds the drums in a way that brings it all together?
Marshall: The way I’ve described it before is that Brody and Ethan both represent this wild and feral animal to me, and my job is to put it in a cage. To find a structure around it. Hopefully, it’s a pretty cage. Something that looks nice and is ornamental and complementary and not wrought iron BS.
Ryan: What was it like trying to form a new band and build momentum during the pandemic?
Brody: Yeah, it was the fall of 2019, and we were working on music all through Christmas break. Then [we thought] we would finally go out and get gigs, but then the pandemic hit. So, we just focused on really building our catalog and finishing the album. I just didn’t want to take a Facebook Live approach trying to do live shows in my bedroom. We used that time to focus on new music, and I think a lot of bigger artists did too. That’s why I think 2022 has been one of my favorite years in music.
Ryan: Yeah, there’s a lot of pent-up creativity that’s being released. What was it like for Marshall to join a band that couldn’t consistently play live anywhere at the time?
Marshall: When [I joined in 2021] we were at it for five or six months before our first gig. Then we played one gig and then had another four or five months where we [weren’t able to get gigs]. I love playing for an audience [but] my favorite thing to do is compose drum parts. So, I’ve been happy as a ham! The gigs weren’t superfluous, but more of just another dope thing that was also happening.
Brody: Doing gigs again kind of made me realize they were a lot more fun than I remember. Not just because we are getting to play music in front of people, but because we are also getting a chance to reapproach our own music. Just trying to rearrange things so that they’re more applicable in the trio context that we are in.
Ethan: Yeah, the limitations are kind of inspiring.
Ryan: You have to figure out a way to play that music with three people, so you have to learn new things to be able to do that.
Ethan: Yeah, exactly.
Brody: I find that we always hold the intention in the highest regard in our music. We can jam, as long as we haven’t lost the intention of what we are trying to convey.
Ethan: We seem to function best when we have a North Star, so to speak. While working on our live sets, we are also trying to develop our jamming ability and the etiquette that requires. I think we are finally learning how to do it in a way that doesn’t step on each other’s toes.
Ryan: What you have released so far seems like two complete pieces, rather than just collections of songs. What about new music? What are you currently working on and what can we expect from it?
Ethan: Yeah, that kind of connected listening experience is something we are moving toward in more of the things we are writing. We are actually two albums ahead, in a way. What I’m currently mixing is two projects back or so from what we have written so far. So, we kind of have the next two or three things at least started. A Mnemonic Awakening is like [a collection] of vignettes where we’re trying to explore a topic or something that concerns us, and we create a narrative that thematically revolves around that. In the future, I think that will be more of a whole album thing, whereas the first album was a little more insular and confined to [being] song by song.
Ryan: Yeah, I’ve heard that Frank Zappa considered all of his music to be just one long note. And I’ve always liked that sort of approach to music.
Ethan: I think that’s a very interesting quote from Zappa. I do think we are presciently trying to look at our discography as a narrative in the sense that we are developing lore [and] a universe. The next project we are going to release is very narratively based on characters.
Ryan: I can’t wait to hear that. When do you think you’ll be putting this new music out?
Ethan: I’m projecting maybe March of next year.
Ryan: That is awesome. Thanks to all of you for sitting down with me.
You can find A Mnemonic Awakening and Solar Inclusion/Polar Eviction streaming on Bandcamp and Spotify. You can catch Porcelain Lovecraft playing live at Red Buffalo Brewing Company in Statesville, NC on October 29th. It’s free and they’ll be playing for 3 hours so go support the band for Brody’s hometown show! You can also catch them in Boone, NC at Lily’s Snack Bar on November 4th if you miss your chance in Statesville.