Published Jul 12, 2018Leaning over a cluttered desk in the office loft above Royal Mountain Records' studio space, Brandon Williams reflexively rolls his eyes when I ask him about the music scene in his hometown.
"There's like ten hockey arenas in Whitby. And that's it," he says. "Iroquois Park has an arena complex that has six arenas in it. There's all this money spent on that municipally, and there's no all-ages community centre to listen to music. It's insane."
Royal Mountain's Toronto headquarters are an awkward public transit haul from the small-town milieu that birthed Chastity, but as Williams and his band prepare to embark on a tour in support of Death Lust, the project's sprawling full-length debut, Royal Mountain's street-level studio space is a welcome place to turn everything up without the interruption of a residential noise complaint.
A dynamically varying synthesis of brutal melodicism, emotionally wrought hardcore and shoegaze, Chastity's music is the kind that thrives equally in unfinished basements, bedrooms and at bush parties, and is at once entirely of them. Williams has had his share of run-ins with the law; the band's first show took place in his bedroom, but the police cut it short.
That alienating sense of hyper-regulated domestic isolation is all over "Children," a chugging lead single that gallops across the scene in defiant slow motion, filled with volcanic fuzz guitars and vocal deliveries impatiently snarled through gritted teeth. "On my bed / With everyone else / Watching my screen / Watching my eyes melt," Williams narrates, at once offering a familiar snapshot of adolescents crammed onto each others' beds to watch TV and a surrealist critique of a culture that doesn't leave youth many other options.
"My bed has been the setting for me for years. And I think [that's true] for a lot of people," Williams explains. "I think that's been the way for me. But I feel collectivism in it, in a decent way. I feel this sort of company. And I literally have company on my bed, like, to chill. And I did growing up."
Barring any formal infrastructure for local music, he says "there isn't an active scene" in Whitby, so he and some like-minded friends have improvised to stimulate some semblance of one where they can. Williams used to host shows out of his parents' basement, and recently, he and some friends renting a property in the town's rural Ashburn hamlet have started using their barn as a venue for some well-attended shows with heavy-hitting peers like METZ and PUP.
"I think we need sanctuary, don't we?" Williams offers. After growing up in the church, he says he found "alternative sanctuary" a short drive out of town in neighbouring Oshawa, namely in the scene surrounding the since shuttered all-ages concert venue the Dungeon. "I think I actually felt that kind of love and felt that community like-mindedness and mutual respect there much more than I'd felt in a church setting."
Today he openly rejects the church, but he still struggles with his personal relationship with his faith and organized religion, and if the name of the project fails to convey that, there's a great deal of Death Lust that's been reserved for processing and confronting those complicated feelings. He still values lessons "like loving your neighbour," but he recoils at the very mention of the institution.
"I'm afraid of it. I'm afraid of what it does to people, I'm afraid that people end up voting Conservative without their brains," he blurts out, taking aim at its influence on the Christian right and the social implications of the majority government ridings like Whitby's recently helped vote into control of the province.
But Williams doesn't plan on relocating. If helplessly ephemeral, his experiences in the informal all-ages scene have made Williams an unlikely suburbanist, measuring the small-town potential for grassroots growth against the stratospheric cost of renting in the city.
On "Anoxia," the only song on Death Lust to name Whitby explicitly, Williams lays out his stance in broad strokes, crying "Bury me between the guilty and the filthy / Then hang me from the tallest tree in Whitby," and then, "[...] it's not the city, it's the pageantry / Keep your shitty conspiracy theory on being free."
When I ask him to elaborate, he exhales, as if to spite the song's title condition.
"Shit is so expensive here for live music to take place outside of a bar, so this 19-plus thing gets created," Williams says. "There's this pageantry that has to happen in order to move the capitalism along and to hold it up."
Regionally attuned, but full of universal resonance, Death Lust traces an obsession with mortality that reaches back to Williams's upbringing in the church and then pivots to residual atrophy he sees left in its suburban wake.
"Suffer," opens with an image of kids looking for Bloody Mary in the mirror and flashes forward to a place where superstition's only in the rearview and Williams' "fear of God is gone." "Heaven Hell Anywhere Else" defies the overreaching hand of the nanny state to make meaningful strides in crisis intervention. As if tracing an arc between medicated bliss and a brutal crash, "Negative With Reason to Be" is mostly concerned with a fuzzier take on the kind of razor-like guitar atmospherics that defined Deftones' "Feiticeira" before it crashes in an anxious wave of pit-triggering hardcore.
A cleansing if all-consuming work of spiritual alchemy converting negative energy into positive change, Death Lust is steeped in hope and conviction, sending listeners to a recovery group on the penultimate "Innocence," while the lines that close out the record on "Chains" offer a defiant mantra against the toxic tribalism that's come to pervade the mainstream: "Don't waste your pain on hate / Start your life outside of the chains."
"The tide is gonna change, I hope," he reflects. "It's a mental health conversation."
On a micro level, he's reporting from the trenches of biological chemical dependency, pointing out biological deficiencies in serotonin, dopamine, and oxygen, but on a larger scale, Williams is addressing nagging social injustices and spiritual shortcomings. It's a heavy record, but with Death Lust, Chastity, and the ad hoc scene he's responsible for, Williams hopes he can inspire communities to acknowledge their own inner turmoil for what it is and learn from it, accordingly.
"It's about creating that infrastructure without a budget — just doing our best," he says. "If we've got these crises, we need to have these places to tackle them at the root."
Death Lust comes out July 13 via Royal Mountain/Captured Tracks.