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lack metal, "grey metal," whatever you want to call them—Ludicra are real. They don't have corpsepaint affectations or Norwegian pseudonyms. Instead, they reflect their gritty home, the San Francisco Bay Area. Ludicra started out paying tribute to Norwegian black metal masters, but set their own course over three full-lengths, weaving punk, thrash, and folk into its dirty sonic tapestries. Last year's Fex Urbis Lex Orbis was urban blues at its finest, a fist in the face of inhumanity. Singer—nay, howler—Laurie Sue Shanaman gave Stylus the straight story about the album.
The album's title is a quote from Victor Hugo, who in turn quotes Saint Jerome. Why did the band choose this title?
Life in general: that's [where] the lyrics Aesop (drummer) and I wrote stem from. But we couldn't come up with a title. We had little phrases from the songs, some thing[s] relating to feeling like a dreg living in a city. Then it just popped into John's (Cobbett, guitarist) head. They called me: "We just remembered this quote, 'The dregs of the city, the law of the earth'!" I remembered that from Les Misérables; it seemed to make sense.
What's the concept behind the album artwork?
We wanted things relating to a city—what's there, and the things that survive. You can [depict] human beings living in a city, but a huge part of it is vermin. It's keeping it simple, kind of cold, kind of urban. We liked the idea; it made it less human.
Why would you want to make it less human?
Everything about Ludicra—the music they write and what I contribute—it's definitely very human. The lyrics are a more personal and honest approach. [But] the idea has to do with humans feeling less human. The majority of suffering in the city—people aren't even treated like human beings.
On its MySpace, the band called San Francisco a "heartless and sick" city. Why have you stayed?
I didn't write that. I'll have to ask Aesop. I don't think San Francisco is heartless. It's a pretty sick city. It's a lot to see on a daily basis as far as difference of status and stigma. It's a great place to live, [but] it's expensive, it's tough, and if you don't have your shit together, you're going to have some problems. That's something I struggle with, which is why I often feel like a dreg.
But I'm working on it, and I would never think of it as a heartless place. We're lucky to live here. If music is a huge part of your life and what means the most to you—to see bands and shows and have that sense of community—it has that. I need that. I'm not done. I'll be a city girl until I can't take it any longer and want to live in the middle of nowhere.
The Bay Area has had a flourishing black metal scene with acts like Crebain, Leviathan, Weakling, and Ludicra.
But there isn't a black metal "scene," really. It's not some weird phenomenon. I love Leviathan and those kinds of bands, but I don't feel connected [to them] that much, because they don't play live. For Ludicra, we have more in common with bands that we play shows with. There's such a diverse amount of really good bands here that aren't necessarily black metal. Everything kind of merges together. There's a lot of crust and doom; there's Laudanum, Asunder, Saros, John's other band Hammers of Misfortune. Their music might sound completely different, but it's still part of the whole common interest of metal and punk.
Is there something about the Bay Area that lends itself to black metal?
I don't know. It's a good question. I think a few bands just started doing it, and people were so blown away that other musicians were like, "I would like to try to do this, too." Weakling influenced my band members to start a band. It started with: "Yeah, black metal, we're going to sound just like Darkthrone and Mayhem and Ulver!" We're growing, [but] there will always be elements of those melodies.
There aren't a lot of women in metal.
Why do you think this is so?
Yet there are so many women [who are] into metal, it's strange… For so many years, the metal world has always been a man's world. There's been a lot more men behind the magazines, the work, the booking, the promotion, and being in the bands. I just don't know. I wish I was like my guy friends who were playing guitar when they were eight or nine or 10. I was never raised to feel confident enough to have that ability or the idea that I could be in a band.
But one thing that's positive that I see in the Bay Area—more and more, there are a lot of women playing in bands. There are a lot of women in Oakland in bands, there are a lot of drummers, a lot of guitar players, a lot of girls screaming their lungs out. People are a lot more open-minded to it now.
How did you get into it?
I was in a few bands when I moved here in the early '90s. People seemed to enjoy what I was doing then—singing or screaming or whatever I was doing. I was in a few lo-fi punk bands. I was in a crusty all-girl band playing bass really crappily, guttural "UGGGGH" doomy shit.
Aesop always knew me; I was a huge fan of his old band, Hickey. I was very close with them and that world. We all lived in the Mission here in San Francisco. I'd see Hickey every weekend. When a member from their band left, he was like, "I think I know someone." He called me and said, "I'd really like you to try out and join our band."
I was like, "Oh my God!" I was very isolated, not in the best situation in life at that time, [but] I gave it my best shot. When I first heard Ulver and Darkthrone, I told myself, "I would LOVE to be in a band like this, and LOVE to sing like this. I really think I could." Ludicra was the first band I joined where they all knew what they were doing as musicians. It was a good experience. It changed me; it got me back to living and getting out there and functioning better.
What was the draw of Ulver and Darkthrone?
I've always been drawn to anything dark, anything creepy, anything depressing or sad. I've never been up on happy music. I love all kinds of music. But I've always been the most moved by [black metal's] incredible feeling of pain and the scathing quality of the vocals. It is really therapeutic.
A sense of day-to-day dread runs through your lyrics. Where does this come from?
I really wouldn't know what else to write about. I'm definitely not a complete negatron. I try to have a sense of humor in my life. I'm open-minded. I love to laugh. I don't like people who assume [that I'm like] "Woe is me, everything's so miserable." It's not like that. I'm affected by the music they [Ludicra] write. There are depressing elements, angry elements, sadness, hope.
I don't live life to complain. But as far as lyrics for Ludicra, that's how I work. There always seems to be some sort of negative outcome for a lot of people in different situations, and I've had my share, too.
"In Fever" seesaws back and forth between hope and pessimism. Can you talk more about that?
That one is not so much my personal story, but my involvement in other people's personal stories. It is [talking about] trying to stay on the right path, slipping a bit, and wanting to slip and be in that place—the sheltered place, your safe place, although that place might be pretty destructive. It's about waiting for things to get better, but fucking them up by escaping.
"Veils" talks about a "glowing haunted face" on the way to "a place called home." Are you referring to a homeless person or a junkie?
That's [about] avoiding people that you were really close with or even perhaps you were in love with, and having to see them on your way home and on your way to work every day. That was definitely my life situation on and off for the past three years. That's a touchy one.
Who inspires you for vocals?
My biggest influence of all time is John Brannon from Negative Approach and Laughing Hyenas. He always had this insane scream.
You do both clean and dirty vocals for Ludicra. Where does this come from?
They just noticed, "Oh, you can also sing!" I used to sing in choir in high school, and I always sang around the house. There are a lot of things in black metal that influenced me—in particular, the first three or four Ulver albums. They definitely broke into the clean singing, and I really liked that. I'm less confident in it, and it's hard for me to do live, but it's something [my bandmates] want.
I've seen a picture of you recording vocals in the studio with a stuffed crow and a candle nearby. Do you usually use these props?
That was just a funny little joke. We were just trying to "make the moment." There was a crow already there, and we bought candles for the hell of it, [because] God knows, I'm going to be drinking lots of whisky. But it's good to have a darker room; it's good to have a candle; it's good to escape if that's what helps you "go there."
Is whisky good for the voice?
Oh, that was just a few times. It's to loosen you up. If you're going to stand there and scream and do each song in five hours, it's a nice little relaxer. I'm not a huge drinker—anymore—but when we play shows, I definitely prefer a shot of whisky [beforehand].
Your onstage persona is vastly different from your personal demeanor.
Oh, of course. I'm a goofball. But I like to give a good performance. It's completely different, but it's still Laurie. It's still me. I'm just a spazz. It's very therapeutic. It can be a surreal experience for me.
Ludicra @ MySpace
Alternative Tentacles Records