Few bands in any genre, let alone heavy music, can match the level of output that shape-shifting sludge-metal duo The Body have kept up over the past two decades. Twenty studio albums, a dozen EPs, a handful of seven-inches and live albums—just last year they released two full-length LPs, each of them very different. I’ve Seen All I Need to See found Chip King and Lee Buford getting back to basics in a manner of speaking, stripping away the electronic elements and choral arrangements in their grander, gothic doom compositions in favor of a menacing noise-metal album. Meanwhile, their collaboration with Big|Brave, Leaving None But Small Birds, was a more subdued yet masterful take on traditional English and American folk songs, with an added dose of drone.
The Body just released Enemy of Love, a new collaboration with The OAA that signals yet another shift, the two artists leaning heavily into dark ambient and industrial material that seethes with oozing intensity. Yet even as all these albums are still fresh in his mind, drummer Lee Buford isn’t ready to file them into the hierarchy of the band’s best material.
“We’ve been a band for so long, but the trajectory seems very organic to me,” he says. “I think when it’s newer, it’s tough for me to…it’s too new almost. It’s tough to insert it into the timeline. I need a couple years before it makes sense in the trajectory of what we’re trying to do.”
Buford did, however, choose 10 of his candidates for the best The Body songs, while giving us the backstories on them—including paying homage to Crash Worship, entering a collaboration with no ideas whatsoever, and rare moments of political commentary.
“The Manic Fire”
from The Body/Sandworm (Thrill Jockey; 2014)
LB: I think that’s the best representation of us. It’s got everything in it. It’s got like noise stuff, it’s got samples, the weird cut-up vocals. And also, because it’s fourteen minutes long, I think it’s the best thing we’ve done musically. It’s definitely my favorite song because of the – how much went into it, I guess. It’s got enough changes that it doesn’t feel boring ever. It never stays on one thing too long. That’s definitely my favorite thing we’ve ever recorded, probably.
Treble: It does feel like it encapsulates a lot of what the Body does.
LB: Yeah, for sure. It has different people singing on it, the collaborative aspect. It’s a good representation.
“Lathspell I Name You”
from All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood (At a Loss; 2010)
Treble: All the Waters seemed like a breakthrough for you—would you say this is where most listeners probably discovered The Body?
LB: Yeah, it’s interesting. People will say, either that’s their favorite record, or I Shall Die Here is their favorite. They’re two very different records, so it’s kind of a litmus test for what they’re into. But yeah, that song, our friend Brad (Dumville) sings on it. He has a solo project called TRTRKMMR. And our friend Steven (Vallot) has a project called Dead Times, and he also sings on it. On All the Waters, we went really big with collaborators and stuff, and that has a lot on there. The choir, all that stuff. For me, seeing how it came together was really exciting, because I was used to being in punk bands, where you just practice the songs and go into the studio. It was nice to be like “OK here are the songs” and then all these people do these other things to it.
Treble: Did this kind of open the door to all the other collaborations that came afterward?
LB: Yeah, I think so. Before that record, I’d always, in previous projects, thought “Let’s add a drum machine to this,” nothing too far out of the box, just because we were used to playing punk. But with that record, we kind of figured, we can do whatever we want. There’s no reason why we can’t add strings and a choir, and that was a real turning point for us. We can just do whatever, it doesn’t matter. It’s easy to get hemmed in by “This is what we play.” But artists I like don’t make music that way, so why should we?
from All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood (At a Loss; 2010)
LB: I like this one from a percussion aspect, having the two drums, and just that beat that it starts with. We’re a sludgy kind of band and there’s just two of us, so it’s hard to come up with stuff that’s not just repetitive. So I like that one because it’s very fun to play that song with other drummers, just to get locked into that beat is very rewarding.
Treble: With the amount of material you have, I’d imagine there’s some stuff you don’t or even can’t play live?
LB: Yeah, most of it. When we made I’ve Seen All I Need to See we said, “let’s go back to things we can really play.” Let’s focus on a record we can actually play live. Because so much stuff is choir and samples, and so much stuff is based on drum machines, and we don’t have a budget or talent to pull it off live, so we have to reverse engineer a lot of stuff.
Treble: You can’t always bring a choir on tour, I suppose.
LB: Which we’ve done, and it’s really fun! But it’s tough to do.
from Master, We Perish (At a Loss; 2013)
LB: This is our homage to the band Crash Worship, which I love a lot. It’s so percussion based and they probably would not like this analogy, but it’s kind of got a (Grateful) Dead vibe to me. All these weird freaks follow them around. They’d play these shows where all these insane things would happen, tons of people on drugs and all these drums around. They were also really big but not big at the same time. There were people that love them, but they operated almost outside of punk even though they were punks. So this was us having a tribal-y drum-based songs, what we think they would do, I guess.
Treble: It’s interesting hearing about the influence, because it reminds me a lot of early industrial music from the ’80s.
LB: That aspect of being very percussion heavy and groovy, in a very weird way, is what I like about industrial, too. If you take away some effects, like, they’re just dance songs. Which is why I love drums. It’s so universal.
from “Cop Killer” 7-inch (Corleone; 2005)
LB: We’ll donate money and stuff to organizations, but we don’t get too political. But in the early days…our punk rock side showed a lot more. We did a seven-inch, and I think it was when a lot of stuff was happening. We lived in Providence at the time and there was this guy getting interrogated by the cops, and the police brought a gun in, just to like intimidate him, and he grabbed the gun and shot a cop. And so they went after him and beat the shit out of him. They had to bring him into court with a Hannibal Lecter mask. And it was just like “This is insane that this is happening.” And the cops were like “ Yeah, we don’t know what happened.” But he was just there bleeding in court. So we got kind of fed up with everything that was happening, and that was our small contribution. At this time also our recording style changed. We figured out some different things, so it sounds a lot different than everything before it, even though it’s the same people and the same studio, we just honed in on it a lot better.
from The Body (Corleone; 2004)
LB: That was from our first record. It’s interesting to look back on it now. I guess it makes sense in the timeline, but when we were making it, when we put that record out, no one really liked it. We’d get these reviews like, I think Maximum RockNRoll said “I think these guys just smoke weed and jam for a long time.” It’s weird now, because, there was a whole genre of this music and it just wasn’t understood. It hadn’t caught on yet. I don’t think people really got it at the time.
I listen to a lot of Fela (Kuti), and he has a quote that’s something like, “A song doesn’t really start until 10 minutes in.” And everything else is just getting you ready. Which…I don’t always agree with. But I get it. There are those songs, but it does take a lot of mental capacity to just fucking focus on this for 15 minutes. But I like the idea of it.
“Celebrate Your Shame”
from The Body & Krieg (At a Loss; 2015)
LB: I love that record, I think it’s one of our better collabs. It definitely didn’t do as well as a lot of the other ones. I never really understood that. I feel like it’s more listenable than some of the others. But it was a really fun record to make. It was also really bizarre. We made it in two days. Neill (Jameson) drove up from New Jersey, and it was at the end of us recording Christs, Redeemers and I Shall Die Here. And we were like “we are out of ideas, we got nothing.” And then Neill showed up with an acoustic guitar and like five pedals. And we said, “what do you got?” and he said “Oh I don’t have anything.” We were just like, “god damn it!”
So it was a true collaborative effort with no ideas whatsoever going into it.
“Bearer of Bad Tidings”
from Christs, Redeemers (Thrill Jockey; 2013)
LB: That one, I love. I guess I pick a lot of long songs which is weird, but I love that one because it has that weird sample at the end that Chip brought in. I think it’s a ship’s horn? I have no idea where he got it, but he was like “I want this horn to keep playing” and I didn’t really get it, but then we just kept playing and I was like “oh yeah, this is really cool.” I just like the dynamics of it. I get bored doing a lot of shows where we’re just turning it up to 10 and play the songs, then that’s it and the show’s over. It’s nice to have ups and downs and things coming in and out. I think that song is very good at that.
from No One Deserves Happiness (Thrill Jockey; 2016)
LB: We played it on the Thou tour. I think that’s the only time we could pull it off because there’s too much stuff for just the two of us to play it. It’s a lot of fun to play live, but also our friend Ben (Eberle) in Sandworm does a lot of vocal stuff with us. He has a side that plays in all these black metal bands, but he also loves country & western music. So it’s fun to have him sing the “oohs” and “aahs,” and to see him in his fucking black metal shirt singing these “oohs” and “aahs.” I like that part about it, both sides of it.
from I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer (Thrill Jockey; 2018)
LB: It’s from I Have Fought Against It, and that’s my favorite full record we’ve done. I think it honestly might be too depressing for people. There were a lot of reviews, even like the Pitchfork review said, “This is a good record but sheesh, it’s really intense.” I love that record, but I think maybe we went a little too far with that aspect. But I do really like “Blessed, Alone” because it has Chrissy (Wolpert) on it, with Chip singing, and I just love that when it comes back in heavy. Yeah, I don’t know. I love that record, but we went too far I guess. (Laughs)
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.