Deadbird's Phillip Schaaf saddles concepts he finds unsavory with the suffix "and shit," providing curt punctuation to sentences spoken in his unhurried Arkansas drawl. Schaaf's brother Chuck (the band's lead vocalist) is trying to get him to "sing harmonies and shit." He watched Chuck's earlier band Rwake share bills with "Gothic synth-pop bands and shit." Traditional curse words hold little power in a profanity-packed society, but Schaaf's demonstrative disdain restores a jolt to this pedestrian epithet.
Deadbird is currently touring with Facedowninshit, another Down South (Greensboro, N.C.) group that's confrontational with its scatological sentiments. Musically, the bands have even more in common, including intentionally muted vocals, thick-toned riffs and lyrics that transcend "depressing" and approach profound nihilism. Combined, these elements conjure the image of a man submerged headfirst in a tar pit, his anguished shouts floating to the surface encased in black bubbles of viscous liquid.
Creative fatalities not unlike this scenario surrounded Chuck Schaaf's first cinematic cameo. More than a decade ago, his rap/thrash act Mutha's Day Out appeared in Mortal Kombat. While Chuck, then a teenager, embarked on international tours, Phillip stayed behind and taught himself the drums. Initial collaborations between the siblings failed to spark, but after playing in Rwake and spending two years in Little Rock, Ark., Chuck reunited with Phillip in 2002.
The Head and the Heart, Deadbird's 2003 debut, sounds like a fog-obscured version of Slayer's South of Heaven, as if smoke machines had invaded its compositions, slowing their pace with dense condensation. The eight tracks alternate between plodding grooves and gentle acoustic strums, and the transitions never feel telegraphed.
After modestly distributing its self-released record, Deadbird caught a break when Earache reissued The Head and the Heart in 2005, but the label has no plans to release its future albums, including an almost-completed 40-minute, five-song EP.
"We're looking for a label, and now is the right time to go for it," says Schaaf, who dropped out of the University of Arkansas one semester shy of a degree so he could return to the road. "I can finish school any time, but this is the way to prove that we're willing to work hard."
Facedowninshit independently booked five cross-country tours before attracting the attention of Relapse, who will release the trio's turbulent NPON: Nothing Positive Only Negative on April 4. A strikingly raw replication of Facedowninshit's distortion-fuzz-smothered live show, NPON makes its previous releases seem polished. Encyclopedic intoxicant consumption singer/guitarist Jason Crumer marvels at how "taking uppers helps you play slow better" helped ensure a relaxed environment.
"We were trying to be all pro about it on the other two albums, because we felt like we had something to prove," Crumer says of their previous output. "We basically shat on the songs. I wouldn't listen to that stuff, because it sounds dry and uninspired."
When it comes to translating the concert-inspired NPON back to live settings, Facedowninshit requests that house sound engineers crank down the vocals in order to preserve Crumer's strangled-scream delivery. This also keeps the group's repetitive lyrics (the phrase "nothing positive only negative" appears 18 times in one track) from becoming obvious. Shrouded deep in the songs' sonics, the words register only occasionally, setting oppressively ominous moods in a nearly subliminal fashion.
Like the graduation-postponing Schaaf, Crumer recently jettisoned a non-band obligation: He got fired from his job for "getting wasted and having a two-day night with some weird rocker dudes and a bunch of coke."
Fittingly, the frontman of a band christened Facedowninshit disregards propriety. Says Crumer: "We're never going to be rich and famous, so we might as well be stupid."
with Municipal Waste, I Love U, Trune
8 pm Saturday, March 25