The Colorful Masks and Music of Lightning Bolt Drummer @chimpendale
To see more of Brian’s colorful creations, follow @chimpendale on Instagram. For more music stories, head to @music.
Brian Chippendale (@chimpendale) is into masks. There’s the blue balaclava-like one that stretches out over his face, and the magenta one attached to two giant severed teddy bear heads. These days, Brian prefers his “tiger mask,” a multicolored stitched shell he wears while drumming for his band, the noise-rock duo Lightning Bolt. Inside it is a contact microphone, which picks up all the guttural vibrations, rumblings and sweat that accumulate during a show.
“Wearing a sweat-soaked rag on your head an hour a day helps dispel inhibitions,” says Brian, over the phone, about his facial disguise. “It’s funny because people are just like, ‘It must be so disgusting.’ But I wash it every night that I play.”
Washing may disinfect it, but it doesn’t keep it intact. The more laundry cycles it goes through, the more it starts to shred and fall apart, the more it begins to turn into another one of Brian’s growing pile of tattered creations.
The Rhode Island native’s tradition of designing and wearing his own costumes began some time in the 1990s. Back then, he and a group of artists were shacked up in a warehouse in Providence known as Fort Thunder, a collective art space where they played shows, drew comics and held wrestling matches. Then some developers came in and tore the place down to make way for a parking lot. So Brian packed up his stuff and, after living in a new space for a couple years, eventually moved down the road into the third floor of an old mill, which serves as his current home base.
“I miss Fort Thunder days in the same way I miss my 20s,” says Brian. “But I am also really happy where I am in my life now. If I had the option to go back, I wouldn’t. We had like eight cats and one litter pan. It was pretty ridiculous in its filthiness, and [there were] tons of roommates, which is so awesome and horrible at the same time.”
Brian is an artist-musician, or possibly a musician-artist. It’s hard to say which comes first. Drawing a comic comes just as easy to him as providing a steady backbeat on his two-decade-old kick drum. His group Lightning Bolt began in 1995, around the time Fort Thunder was getting off the ground. Since then, the duo has released seven official records, including its latest, Fantasy Empire. The new album has the same piercing dissonance and guitar shredding from the group’s previous efforts. But this one sounds crisper, due to the band utilizing the full digital technology of a studio for the first time.
The music wasn’t the only thing they approached with a fresh perspective. Lightning Bolt album covers, which are handled by Brian, have always included bursts of color. But this one is more minimalist––a black-and-white collage redrawn with a small pen.
“A lot of our covers are these colorful, aggressive things,” he says. “For this one I wanted to go for more of an atmosphere and an air of mystery.”
Like all of his projects, Brian worked on the cover while parked in his current studio in Providence. The building spans almost a city block –– 8,000 square feet (743 square meters) of wood and brick and a broken elevator, which makes loading gear for tours a bit of a pain. But the space is very much his own. There’s a room full of shredded paper for collaging, a room for silk screening, a room to record Lightning Bolt material and several rooms to draw in. There are also spaces filled with junk and other knickknacks he’s dragged up there over the years.
“An old roommate came over here once and started rummaging around in some room that I don’t really go to,” he says. “He pulled out an entire windsurfing board and I had never even seen this thing.”
The building switched hands a few years ago to a new landlord, but unlike Fort Thunder, Brian doesn’t think he’ll be kicked to the curb any time soon. There’s too much stuff to get him to leave –– art materials and toys, a couple of printing presses and his drum set, and maybe even that two-headed bear suit from the Fort Thunder days, languishing in some hidden corner in a box. Worst-case: If he gets evicted, Brian will just set up shop somewhere else.
“I am an artist and a musician just because I can’t do anything else and I won’t do anything else.”