See experimental punks Pleasure Venom bring the fury in outdoor session
Pleasure Venom hail from Austin, Texas, with social and sonic attitude to burn. Fronted by vocalist Audrey Campbell, the quartet have created a fascinating amalgam of hard-rock riffing and jagged treble attacks. Those sharp edges are capable of puncturing anybody’s jaded sensibilities or preconceived notions of what constitutes “heavy.”
In their five-year existence, Pleasure Venom have persevered with Campbell and drummer Thomas Valles at the center. But where there’s a will, there’s a crusade. So Campbell and Valles alongside guitarist Chase Dungan and bassist Joel Coronado got together for Session 1, a performance “quarantine session,” filmed at their manager’s home. Here the band power through four songs that display their alloy of no-frills rock, spiky riffing and Campbell’s dynamism. Sure, the band might be socially distanced here. But Campbell’s up in your face when she opens her mouth. Wherever you’re standing.
“The whole idea of doing this set was out of reaction to missing playing shows,” Campbell says about the video. “But [we were] feeling like the temperamental livestream format would not be the best way to introduce or play new music. So this is our compromise while still maintaining the quality that folks have come to expect from us.” Band manager Lars Wolfshield set up the video shoot in her yard and worked out the logistics. Elliott Frazier (Ringo Deathstarr) ran sound. Don Ray Hermes and Austin Lancaster filmed it, and Coronado did the editing. “It all came together really fluidly,” Campbell says. “We have a great DIY team.”
The pandemic surrounds us, but Pleasure Venom are keeping busy. Campbell answered some questions regarding the band’s modus operandi and current endeavors. With fans as diverse as Garbage’s Shirley Manson and Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace, Pleasure Venom are onto something. Throw back multiple shots of what they’re serving.
When all of you first met, was there discussion about what you didn’t want to do?
AUDREY CAMPBELL: We all came from a background of using "the rule book" of what a rock or punk band should be. And we agreed to throw it out the window, to create a space where strange ideas for punk and rock are welcome. We focused less on trying to write a hit and more on what made us or a song feel good. A band really enjoying what they play always translates. Something just happens to you in the audience when you're watching a band and you can tell they're in that pocket of playing off each other, playing their favorite music. We want to leave you wanting more.
We've had a new lineup per record. Thomas Valles and myself are the only band members who have played on every release. He's become such an important part of this band, helping me teach new members the PV aesthetic of just being open to explore what this punk-rock shit even means. Pleasure Venom run at a breakneck pace, with or without us, so we've had to make sacrifices for the sake of keeping up, but I'm really feeling the current lineup with Chase on guitar and Joel on bass. They're both seasoned musicians who just "get it" and always show up 100%. And they're talented as fuck.
The songs on the session are really concise. They're energy blasts that are laser-focused. Was being mindful of the energy part of the plan?
It's just what we do. It would ring false to approach this project any other way. I like singers and bands where I believe them. I believe what they are saying is what they feel, and I think that resonates. I’m not trying to stand there like I'm OK when I'm not. When we were recording our second EP, Seize, I definitely was not. My grandmother, who was and always will be my hero, had passed, and the events leading up to that record almost fucking broke me. I was angry and frustrated so much, I couldn't help but maniacally laugh sometimes at the absurdity of it all, because how else was I supposed to get through this shit? We got together to write and record, and it's a forever snapshot of where we were.
We are just all out here trying to do our best to figure it out through the madness. So we just play off that energy. It can be quasi-nihilistic at times. But we like to laugh a lot, too. I think a lot of my lyrics are pretty damn funny sometimes. But because we also tackle taboo and intense topics—such as the killing of Tamir Rice—that humor gets lost. Police killed a 12-year-old for playing with a toy gun and being Black. It's something I'll never shut up about until his murderer is in jail. That's the energy I'm fucking talking about and holding onto. Because it pisses us off. And it should piss you off, too. Keep that energy.
The band’s mindset is very hardcore, but it doesn't sound like what’s usually identified as hardcore. Would Pleasure Venom describe themselves as a hardcore band or something else entirely?
We just try to sound as tight as we can. We like when we listen to a band and they are better than the record. Or if we see them live first and their album is mind-blowing. We just try to walk that line best we can. I wouldn't consider us a hardcore band. But if it's dark and heavy, I'm usually into it. I've been a fan of big, loud, fast, guitar-driven work forever.
Ten years from now, I'm not sure what we'll be exploring. I really just want to go with the flow [on] every record. I’d call us a punk or a rock band or experimental punk right now. I like not being too easy to put in a box, too. We just want to make music that feels good, and if there's a message we can get across to wake people up from their sleep and complacency, even better.
What are the crowds like? Pleasure Venom would appeal to a lot of people predisposed to liking one thing. But the truth seems like the band are both gateway drug and an inspiration point.
Our shows are a release. We do get all kinds of people at shows. I love talking to younger people [about] Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Karen O, Bikini Kill and Kathleen Hanna or Blood Brothers. Older people talk about X-Ray Spex and the Birthday Party and how we remind them of punk shows they went to in the late ’70s. That’s dope: That’s the raw shit.
We just wanted to tour more and perfect our live performances, so we wanted to make a record that could play well live. Trump had been elected, and America felt more divisive than ever. We opened for Garbage, who were so kind on the road and have been mentors ever since. Then we toured the U.K., which was sometimes dreamy and sometimes really damn intense. I was told to believe that the "tour gods" would take care of us, and they did. Meeting people from these different crowds and spaces was unforgettable a nd helped open us up to a whole new perspective toward music and fans.
PV are truly a band to be seen live. Too bad Mother Nature is still hating us. What are you doing currently while we're all trying to avoid an invisible enemy? More writing? Major conceptualizing?
We miss shows like all musicians do right now. Writing a new record is our main focus for the time being. For a hot moment after the U.K. tour—when things slowed down and several members had to move on—I was overwhelmed and almost took a hiatus. But I got dope advice from Shirley Manson: The musicians who succeed at this never quit, ever. That resonated with me and kept me moving forward. A little break is fine, but we won't give up. At the end of the day, I love this project so much, even when it's really fucking hard. We were asked to open for Against Me! here in Austin, so I used that show as a vehicle to drive the new lineup and press onward. We are writing our first LP after three EPs, and so far, it's making my face melt.
We hope you all can thrash around to these tracks at home with us or wherever you are. Keep up the energy, stay safe and [be] informed.
Breonna Taylor’s murderers are still free.
Check out the Session 1 clip below.