In a way, we can thank an ‘80s hair metal biopic for partially inspiring Spirit Of The Beehive’s Entertainment, Death, the Philly experimental collage-rock band’s fourth and best album. Over Zoom, Spirit’s Zack Schwartz recalls a scene in The Dirt where Motley Crue’s manager gets a tattoo of the phrase “Entertainment or Death.” “I just thought it was a cool title,” Schwartz says, shrugging across a laggy Zoom call from his apartment in Philly — Corey Wichlin, a multi-hyphenate and recent addition to Spirit, sits next to Schwartz, with founding member and bassist Rivka Ravede joining the conversation remotely from her job at a vinyl plant.
If you’re at all familiar with Spirit Of The Beehive’s work, you know how the uncanny works in tandem with broader, bigger themes to create the unmistakable force of its whole. The album’s title also contains a loose narrative inspired by a tire blowout the band’s touring van suffered on a highway between shows; Spirit were unharmed, but the nearly disastrous accident sealed the album’s throughline. “I imagined in my head that we died when the tire blew out,” Schwartz said, “and then the record is just recalling memories.”
Physical and psychic death collide on Entertainment, Death, where the tenuous existence of the modern underground creator, faced with stifling external definitions of productivity and worth, is explored in its chaotic, desperate fullness. The album is sonically distinct from anything in the band’s catalog, far from the shoegaze of their self-titled 2014 debut and a more ambitious endeavour than the paisley, sample-laden sounds of 2018’s hypnic jerks. Entertainment, Death is a storm of sound with a deep humanity coming through clearly even in its more wry moments; despite its bombastic title, “I Suck The Devil's Cock” is the transmission soul crushed by the rigors of capitalism, lost love, and a bad psychedelic trip where Mark E. Smith, psychedelic pop, and noise music comprise the simultaneous soundtrack. Like every hurricane, there’s an eye of the storm that Spirit Of The Beehive are unafraid to enter again and again — “Wrong Circle,” the album’s third song, is an example of how Spirit bring their more chaotic moments into relief with moments of unvarnished serenity where ambient-era Eno collides with Nick Drake.
Before our conversation ends, Ravede speaks about getting “black-pilled” by the latest documentary series from Adam Curtis, Can’t Get You Out Of My Head. Like Curtis, Spirit Of The Beehive pulls seemingly disparate elements from the past and combines them to tell a new story, one that helps the listener imagine a path for the future. Over the course of an hour, Spirit Of The Beehive broke down their new album track-by-track, and dove deep into each of its new frontiers.
The FADER: The first song on the album starts off with nearly a minute of straight noise.
Zack: That noise is the palate cleanser for everything. It marks the themes and the loose narrative of the record.
Rivka: Was the noise supposed to be your tire blowing out?
Zack: I wouldn’t go that deep with it. I just thought it was a statement, like you have to make it through this if you're going to make it through the rest of the record. I wrote that song about one of the last days we were on tour with Ride. We were on the way to Kansas City and I was asleep, and we had a crazy tire blowout. I woke up and we were all okay, but I imagined in my head that we died when the tire blew out, and then the rest of the record is just recalling memories.
2. "There's Nothing You Can't Do"
This song reintroduces the technique of sampling in your songs that you used prominently on your last record. Only here, they feel more like supporting characters than the main cast.
Zack: We love sampling. I was just doing a deep dive on YouTube and I stumbled upon this commercial, maybe it was for soap, I don't know. But I chopped it up and there was this line that stuck out, "There's nothing you can't do.” The sample was there before most of the song was written, I think it dictates this dark, somehow positive mood.
Rivka, in the context of those dark energies, how did you see your lyrics fitting into that?
Rivka: When I saw this song was the dance track on [the album]. I was trying to create this mood that is in essence, driving to a rave while slowly becoming more paranoid from carbon monoxide leak. The image that I had in my head was kind of like that movie, Jacob's Ladder, a desperate spiral.
3. "Wrong Circle"
This song introduces a specific, intentional stillness to the record.
Corey: My lyrics for this one are slightly more stream of consciousness, but looking back they can be applied to the general narrative of the album. It's about general paranoia, [and] I think that meaning can be applied to the album as the feeling that the entertainer feels in the entertainment industry, about what's around the next turn for them in their career, in their life.
Did your band start to really consider your relationship with the entertainment industry during the creation of this album, or has it always in been in the front of your minds?
Zack: There's definitely this sinking feeling of being 31, I am at least, and feeling like the only way to really succeed is to constantly create content in any regard. And that's just impossible. I think if we tried we could probably put out a record every four months, but that's not natural and it doesn't seem like the right way to approach this as a career.
A lot of this record at its core feels like it's about that pressure. Not that anyone in this band wants to be a star, but we all definitely want to make it a career and not have to work day jobs five days a week to support this. But it feels like a constant looming theme: what else do you have to do to truly succeed in this world?
Corey: Yeah, and there's this constant awareness that you can hit the highest point and then the rug gets pulled out from under you. There's just this understanding that it could fall apart at any day if we don't put the right record out at the right time or if we make people wait too long. Then all that work is almost for nothing.
4. "Bad Son"
Zack: That's probably the most personal one I've written on the record, and maybe in the history of this band. I wrote about missing my grandmother's funeral — a lot of it was about how some members of the family have no idea who I am or what I do, and they think I hound my mother for money and stuff, but I send her money, it goes both ways. So it was written as a letter to myself. There's a lot of lines in there saying the less people you reach out to, you can keep this insular, materialistic inside [world]. “If you keep your world small, you monopolize it.”
As far as the production goes, I know we doubled all the live drums with sample drums, and we put this really serious 60s spring echo on the snare that only hits on the left speaker, which I thought was reminiscent of Zombies' records or The Birds.
5. "Give Your Life Up To Me"
This song’s title and the way it’s sung made me think of cults and mind control.
Zack: It's not a bad thing. It's more like, try and open your mind enough to carry small talk. [It’s] a song about the parts of life that don't seem important, [and] giving them enough attention to be able to have a conversation. I just wanted to write something that might express the weight of how difficult it is just talk in general when you're so in your own head all the time.
When we were mastering it, we decided to pitch the song down two semitones throughout the course of the song, so that if you were learning it on guitar, by the time you got to the end of the song, you'd be playing the right notes, but you'd be a whole step off.
Corey: Yeah, we wanted to confuse people who might try to learn the song at any point. Although it's in a weird tuning, so it's already difficult. We've already made it hard but we wanted to make it harder.
6. "Rapid & Complete Recovery"
Zack: I wanted to write a song that was about starting to realize you're in the end of a relationship while you're still in it, and trying to figure out how to delicately maneuver with the person you're involved with. There's a turn of phrase in there that says, "is the (w)hole we make devouring us?", with a "w" in parenthesis before “hole.” I was just trying to say, you spend so much time with this person that you feel complete with them, but you also know the exact opposite of completeness, because you're just kind of drifting. When you spend so much time getting to know a person, there are parts of that where you know every next move, and then it gets to a point where you're like, “I wish I didn't know the next move because I really hate the next move.”
Corey: The one interesting production note is that it was one that was definitely a good example of stuff where we added all of these elements and then had to strip it back. And when we were in the process of stripping it back, we lost the project file for it, so it was cemented the way it was.
Zack: Luckily, it was a mix we were all happy with.
7. "The Server Is Immersed"
Zack: As far as the actual mention of Ativan, it just worked better in the phrase than saying Trazodone, because I've been at work serving people when I've accidentally have taken a Trazodone, which I'm supposed to take at night, and it makes me very just out of balance like you're in a dream world.
That song as a whole is literally about being a server in the service industry, and then you have the other half, that turn of phrase being, there's so much fucking content all the time that the server is immersed, the internet server, the data server, whatever. And then the idea of you don't have a clue, but this server at this shitty job knows at least in their head that they have this little secret which is that they do something aside from this monotonous, degrading job.
8. "It Might Take Some Time"
The way the voices play with each other in this track, it reminded me of My Bloody Valentine. not necessarily in the sonic quality or the sound of it, but in the emotional feel of it.
Zack: That song kind of started off sounding a little Elliot Smith-y before we made it sound a little more deranged. But, I really wanted Rivka to do those super reverbed out, 60s sounding "oohs" in the back that hit the side of your ears, and kind of keep my vocals dead in the center. So I thought it had kind of an old-school vibe with that, so I get what you're saying with the My Bloody Valentine stuff, too.
I wanted to make this song about raising kids —would you find it more beneficial to coddle them and lie to them until they finally get to the age that they realize they're completely fucked just like you are? It's a pretty bleak song, but I think it sounds positive.
9. "Wake Up In Rotation"
Zack: I drew on an experience I had when I was younger and I took acid. I put my hand in my pocket and I felt it go all the way down to my toes — it's that moment you're like, "oh fuck, I'm fucked, I'm in it now". I just wanted to make a song that sounded outwardly jangly and vibey but was really about losing a sense of time in a warped reality and wanting to wake up from a bad dream. But in your head the whole time, you're trying to reassure yourself that it's all good.
Corey: This was a good example of taking a lot away. We replaced a lot of guitars with different things, like bells and stuff.
Rivka: I feel like my part in the band is that I tell Zack and Corey when they've taken something too far. I remember Zack showing me this song, and I was like, “I don't like it,” and he was like, “why,” and I was like, “I don't know.”
Zack: No, you said it needed acoustics.
Rivka: Oh that's right. I knew what we needed on that one. We needed the acoustic because it sounded wrong.
Corey: But it's really helpful because Zack and I will be there in the weeds talking about this one fucking EQ of this one stem, and then we'll finish that and then send it to Rivka and Rivka will be like, “It's bad.” and if Rivka says it's bad, then it's bad.
Zack: Yeah, this goes down the pipeline from me, to Corey, and then Riv is the final say.
Rivka: I'm the final part in the Human Centipede of this band.
10. "I Suck The Devil's Cock"
I have to ask about the title.
Zack: We were literally using that title as a placeholder to send emails back and forth.
Rivka: Then I said we should keep it.
Corey: I really like that title because I think that in the grand narrative of the record, there's this idea in the entertainment industry of making a deal with the devil. Saying that you've sucked the devil's cock is the 2021 way of saying you made a deal with the devil. And I feel like you have to make decisions as an entertainer as someone who does do this for a living where you are constantly deciding what your bar is of what you're willing to do to make this work, whether it's working another job while doing it, you have to be constantly checking in and having that bar and toeing the line of selling your soul.
Where does the bar exist for your band?
Zack: It was like an offer from a car company, and it was potentially 10 grand to do something and we decided it wasn't worth it. But I think it's very case by case for me personally.
Rivka: I mean I just don't like to do things that are in my perspective, undignified, like doing a fucking Hyundai commercial. For certain people it works, like Aphex Twin made a song for Bank of America. I would do something like a McDonald's commercial if McDonald's took "I Sucked the Devil's Cock" as a song.
Corey: Yeah, context is everything.
With the song title in relation to the album’s, there’s a strong sense of a loop being closed.
Zack: Yeah, for sure. Thematically, it's about finality, and accepting that it's over, but that everything's cool now because there's no money, there's no debt, there's no uncomfortable conversations.
Rivka: Yeah I like to think of it as a character facing death with dignity. Like in Toy Story or something.
Did making the record make you think about death differently?
Corey: I don’t think so
Rivka: Oh, no. I still think about it constantly.
Zack: Yeah, I don’t think it changed us.
Corey: But when this Hyundai money kicks in, then it's going to change.
Zack: Yeah we'll all buy coffins for our next signing bonus.