To put it simply, Show Me The Body are a hardcore trio, but their ambition for creativity is genreless. Comprised of banjo-wielding frontman Julian Pratt, bassist Harlan Steed, and Noah Cohen-Corbett on the drums. The band released their debut album Body War in 2016— a barrage of hardcore, hip-hop, and noise that screeched and spat through topics like gentrification in New York. Shortly after, they dropped Corpus I, a collaborative mixtape that saw the internet flock to experimental hip-hop cuts like ‘Trash’ and collaborations with Denzel Curry and Princess Nokia. The Corpus title has since become a movement that Show Me The Body use to collaborate, explore different musical styles, and throw live shows under. Now, we have Dog Whistle, their follow up to their debut album, and their strongest, most vicious strike of creativity yet. With progressive, black-metal influenced cuts like ‘Camp Orchestra’ and Death Grips-esque cauldrons of noise like ‘Forks & Knives’ making this listen as dense as the New York streets they represent.
It’s a Saturday morning in Melbourne, and a Friday evening in New York at the time I skype Julian and Harlan from the band. They’re at Harlan’s house, and you can clearly see the skyscrapers of the city from out his back window— a fitting view for one of the heaviest, grimiest bands from Manhattan this last decade. We talk about the new album and the influence behind it, as well as their definition of the New York sound, touring with Denzel Curry and Code Orange, the new black-metal project they’re working on, and more.
Hey guys, what have you been up to today?
Julian: Saw a couple old homies, drank a little too much cognac right before this (laughs). But tonight we’re going to go work on this other project we have, it’s a different musical venture we’re recording at a homies studio after this. So that’ll be cool.
Dope! Could you tell me more about that project?
Julian: It’s called Cold Deck, it’s completely different.
Harlan: It’s an experimental black metal project that Julian is doing with a friend of ours.
Julian: It’s like black metal riffs with hardcore vocals.
It’s been a solid two years since Corpus I. Did you plan to wait this long to come back?
Julian: The thing with Corpus I is we don’t consider that our last album. We consider that as the first time we made collaborative music. And that opened up the doors to make other projects under the Corpus banner with other people. But I think it just took a minute because we’ve been writing OD. Doing our best work, and putting in hard work — real sweat. And I think that’s what this shit is about. Being as honest as we can and putting in hard work.
Corpus I is a completely different style than that of your previous project Body War. Was there any anxiety heading back into hardcore after gaining fans in that experimental hip-hop demographic?
Julian: I don’t think Corpus I reached that many people man (laughs).
Harlan: It was perceived as an album and the direct follow up to Body War, but it really wasn’t. It was more of an experimental project for us and what our goal was to reach out to other types of audiences and invite them into our sound and what we do. So hopefully this upcoming album takes the best parts of what we did on Corpus I and really delivers the follow up to Body War we intended. Because this is really the sequel.
Julian: Yeah, this is the next stage of Body War. And I think the most important thing about Corpus I, and fuck genres, is that it really represented the New York sound. Everyone in that room recording Corpus I was about that. The project was about that feeling.
You’re in a unique position where you’ve worked with acts like Princess Nokia and Denzel Curry but have also toured with metal bands like Code Orange. Do you see an overlap in those audiences on the road?
Harlan: Not really actually, and that was what made the last year of touring so cool. We got to play with a variety of artists and support them on their tours. We’d play in front of their crowd, and also bring our fans to those shows. There were kids at these shows repping our set, but they were always different from those who were there to see Denzel Curry or King Krule, and even Code Orange. But everyone had a great time and it worked really well.
Julian: I also think if those kids were to go to each other’s shows that they would enjoy it. Like I know for a fact that Code Orange are fans of Denzel Curry, and if put in the same room, Denzel would fuck with them. It’s about the energy and the feeling— they both share that. Also in America especially, where communities don’t have shit, people are looking to tee up and be energised. Whenever we go to Texas or somewhere like there, people go insane, they love loud shit. Ignorant breakdowns, really loud music, things kids can connect to. Knucklehead shit. It’s not that it’s mindless, it’s just pure energy.
“Where communities don’t have shit, people are looking to tee up and be energised. Whenever we go to Texas or somewhere like there, people go insane, they love loud shit. Ignorant breakdowns, really loud music, things kids can connect to. Knucklehead shit. It’s not that it’s mindless, it’s just pure energy.”
In the lead up to this album, I saw you guys say “A lot of people have said to us this is a perfect time to make a Punk record. We are disgusted by this prompt.” Could you elaborate on the distancing from the Punk banner?
Julian: Show Me The Body, Corpus, the New York sound, everything about us, isn’t about a mainstream movement. It’s not partaking in any part of mainstream society or even mainstream youth movements.
Harlan: We don’t write music from a political place. That’s not where the conversation starts. It starts with the music.
Julian: It starts with the music, and the goal is honesty. Like there’s no political nature involved.
I think Dog Whistle definitely makes that clear. The album feels gritty and grassroots but much more cleanly produced at the same time. What did you take inspiration from going into this project?
Harlan: We really just wanted to step up our game and make a better record that we liked more than our last. That was the main thing we were searching for. We have this collective process of elimination to find out what the album is meant to be. And after learning how to record through Body War, Dog Whistle was really our way of decisively making an effort, finding a way to do it, and executing it. We were fortunate enough to do that and have our producers Chris Cody and Gabriel Millman rocking with us the whole time and get this thing to where it is today.
Julian: Gabriel, who’s my cousin and was the original drummer for the band, helped produced this record and produced Body War on his lonesome. And Body War was the first album any of us had ever made. So that was our first take at that, to keep it a buck. We’re really glad people enjoyed it but again, it was honest, hard work and we put out what we put out. With this album, we just wanted to make something better.
Your use of the banjo to make hardcore music really separates you from the rest in terms of sound and aesthetic. Could you talk me through where the idea to do that came from?
Julian: My cousin, not Gabriel, but another cousin, brought over a banjo to my house one time. And I thought it was sick because there are fewer strings and it’s super simple. And then we started plugging it into stuff and we were getting some crazy feedback and really piercing sounds. I then realised that this was another way for us to add noise to what we were doing.
These days, New York has everything from you guys, to trap artists like Jay Critch, boom-bap artists like Benny Butcher, and metal/rap hybrids like Zillakami. In your opinion, what are the core values of the New York sound that are still solidified throughout this diversity?
Julian: New York is about feeling. It’s about being in the streets together, there’s a certain intensity to it where it almost feels unsafe, but there are a brotherhood and sisterhood to it. It’s intense, and it needs to come out. It’s not an activity, it’s something that needs to happen.
A lyric that strikes me on the album opener ‘Camp Orchestra’ is “I’m a doll upon a strong, they pull me, I have to sing”. Could you explain that line to me?
Julian: It means a couple things. Going back to how this album can’t be political— it can’t because we’re just musicians. To say that we’re community organisers is a disservice to all the people in the streets. We’re not saying that we’re anything that we’re not. On the other half, ‘Camp Orchestra’ is about the feeling of being powerless, and being a part of systems that are bigger than you. The nature of being a witness is all you have, you really have nothing else. You see what’s around you and you have to do what you gotta’ do.
I read that ‘Camp Orchestra’ was inspired by a stop in Poland to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum. How has travelling changed your perspective as not only as musicians but people?
Harlan: Immensely man. Being able to tour after Body War really opened our ears to a lot of new ideas, not only music related but visual ones. It has been very inspiring to meet people in other communities around the world trying to do what we do in New York. And that really played a part in this record. ‘Camp Orchestra’ was the first song we wrote.
“New York is about feeling. It’s about being in the streets together, there’s a certain intensity to it where it almost feels unsafe, but there are a brotherhood and sisterhood to it.”
One thing that strikes me about you guys is that you’re very community driven and are super grassroots, which is hard to find in this digital era. Do you ever feel dehumanised by the rise of streaming and the fact that your art can be boiled down to numbers and algorithms?
Julian: I mean, looking at it from a historical perspective, you can definitely get sad about it. But that’s kind of fucking useless because it’ll never go back to that. So if anything, it’s an opportunity to establish a new way of life, and finding new ways to put out music and get yourself and your friends paid. This whole new wave of music being moved by media and technology just means that we live in a completely different world. There’s a huge gaping hole of creativity in which we can adapt to right now. It’s definitely fucking different and it’s definitely fucking scary. But it’s all up to you.
I know where I’m from, the hardcore scene that was booming when I was a teen completely died out because the money bands made just wasn’t enough to split between each other. As someone who’s done it successfully, what would your advice be?
Julian: I mean, we’re still going through it to (laughs).
Harlan: It’s definitely not easy. I would say just invest in yourself. There are things we’ve been told on the road but really we’re still figuring it out and just trying to have a good time.
I love the Corpus Manifesto at the start of the video for ‘Madonna Rocket’. In it, reads “Corpus is a Community”. As musicians of the streets, what does Show Me The Body mean to the people?
Harlan: Man, people consume shit in such a fucking weird way these days that it’s hard to know.
Julian: I don’t even know what people do with music these days, I’m not even on Spotify. All I know is that I have to do this, there’s no other job or anything that I can do. I’m just really interested in making people feel good.
Harlan: Especially in real life as well. We want people to come to the show because that’s where shit happens. It represents us in ways that not even the records do. If you pull up to a Show Me The Body show, that’s what we’re all about.
Julian: It’s something that’s real. People can feel free. Everything is a fucking escape. You can drink, go to a horse track, whatever. But with this escape, you might actually feel something.
Show Me The Body’s new album Dog Whistle is out tomorrow. Watch the video for ‘Madonna Rocket’ here.
Photography: Mei Mei Mccomb