Interviews, Reviews

Unchartered Waters: An Interview with Manslaughter 777

What happens when you take two of the most prolific drummers in heavy music and merge their percussion skills with their outside tastes? Lee Buford (The Body, Sightless Pit, Lorna Doom) and Zac Jones (MSC, Braveyoung, Giant) set off to figure the answer out themselves with their recent release of World Vision Perfect Harmony as Manslaughter 777.
Released through Thrill Jockey, the album is a mind-bending array of breakbeats, hip-hop percussion, dub, and beyond. A rolling soundscape that morphs and folds into itself time after time, it is a truly courageous foray into new territory for both musicians. It is sonic architecture of the highest degree, and reveals another layer with each listen. World Vision Perfect Harmony has a cocktail of live, sampled, and electronic percussive elements that make it both immersive and disorienting in the best sense of the world.
We here at Tunnel of Trees set out to discuss the album with the two technicians behind it.

photo by Zachary Harrell Jones himself

To begin, we know that you both have a long history together, but where do you feel like this project came from? Who do you feel like you pulled your main influences from for recording a project in this style? Did you have any artists that acted as staples for inspiration in the studio?

Lee: Me and Zac wanted to make a project together that was drum based. I think we didn’t really know how it would end up, honestly I thought it would be more of a straight forward acoustic drum approach but once we got in there we had more programmed drum stuff and samples so we drew more from our electronic influences. I think we pulled from a lot of different electronic stuff from the 80’s and 90’s especially. We both love 90’s jungle and i really love 80’s dancehall and Zac loves 90’s techno.
For me it’s the same as in The Body where it’s not so much one singular idea but a ton of ideas condensed into one cohesive thing. The struggle with it is trying to not sound like a bunch of stuff just thrown together but to actually make it sound intentional.
Zac: What Lee said.

You’ve said that the project name, Manslaughter 777, is from an Xbox Live username, right? Where does the album title, World Vision Perfect Harmony, come from?

Lee: Zac named it, I think he got the inspiration from a new age-y book from the 70’s.
Zac: Yes I believe that the name comes from a melted hot head gunk talker in the online gaming universe. The record title came from an amalgamation of terminology from a weird book from the 70s that a friend lent me. The Book of Harmony Squares by Jain.

Seth Manchester has been a part of recording processes for the both of you for a solid amount of time, what was this recording experience like with him for World Vision Perfect Harmony? How do you feel his voice shines through on this release?

Lee: I’ve been recording with Seth for around 15 years now so we have a deep connection. I think Zac started recording with him on The Body/Braveyoung collab so we’ve all been friends for a really long time. This one I think was fun for all of us because it was something new and I think this is probably the musical project we’ve done that aligns the most with Seth’s personal interests so we were all excited to make it. Seth at this point is like the unspoken member of all of our projects. He has very similar musical interests to us, so he knows what we’re trying to do and has the technical skill to pull it off.
Zac: Yes Seth and I have worked together since early Braveyoung stuff. He did ‘We Are Lonely Animals’ and everything that I’ve been a part of that is studio related ever since. The most underrated engineer and producer in the business.

How was working on the release through quarantine? How do you feel like it affected your process?

Lee: We actually finished the recording part before quarantine so that was normal. All the art and stuff we worked on after and it wasn’t too bad. We’re starting on our next LP now and because it’s just me and Zac getting ideas down on the computer it’s actually the same as ever. I think it is nice to think of music without having to think of touring or the logistics of pulling stuff off live.
Zac: Recording it was very fun and new stuff is gon be craxy

photo also by Zachary Harrell Jones himself

Have you spent a lot of time listening to it after it’s completion? Do you have any favorite songs or moments on the album? Any favorite moments while recording?

Lee: We did listen to it a bit to get a tracklist for it. It’s tough because it’s very different than anything we’ve ever done before so there is a lot of second guessing to get it just right. There’s a couple of samples that I like how they ended up fitting in and what we built off of them. Because we do all the arranging in the studio it’s always fun to see how things play out once you get in the flow of the process.
Zac: It was really really fun to go into the studio with a very direct idea, this one being beats only, no melody, (obviously ended up layering some vocal samples in and using some errant room sounds and noises from live tracking drums to create the sense of melodic movement) and just hound on that.

Can you tell me more about the artwork? Mental Healing worked on it, right? Their work is incredible! What got you connected with him?

Lee: Yeah I’ve been a big fan of his art for awhile so he’s the first person we thought of for doing the art for it. We gave him free reign and he nailed it. There wasn’t any revision or anything. It was the perfect fit. I just wrote him to see if he was interested and he was down. It was a very easy process on our end.

How did you approach this record differently from others you’ve done before? Did you feel like you had a different mindset for drumming and percussion? What would you say the ratio is of live vs digital vs sampled drums?

Lee: The process is kind of similar but the parts involved are very different. I think we assembled the songs in the same way as a The Body record or a MSC record, we’d have a sample or drum idea and kind of build it up from there. This record is just way more upbeat than our normal projects so it is like going into unchartered waters. It’s also tough to build songs with 2 drummers lol. I don’t think melodic stuff comes too naturally to us so thats a struggle too.
I think the drums are probably 60/40 with the majority being programmed drums. It’s tough to say though because a lot of the programmed stuff is our drum sounds that we played but then sampled and effected.
Zac: I usually have a hard time arranging without melody, so it was a very good exercise in that and fed back into my other projects in a very big way.

What lies in the future of Manslaughter 777?

Lee: We’re starting the second LP. It would be fun to tour with it whenever that is a thing again. It’s a very fun project and me and Zac have been such good friends for decades so it’s a very easy thing to work on.
Zac: What Lee said.

cover for ‘World Vision Perfect Harmony’ done by Mental Healing

Thank you so much to Zac and Lee for joining us for this interview, to Thrill Jockey for putting the record out, to Mental Healing for doing the artwork, and to Seth Manchester for being the best honorary third member. You can listen to the incredible piece of work that is World Vision Perfect Harmony here:
Apple Music

You can keep up with Lee and Zac here:
Lee’s Instagram
Zac’s Instagram

You can also check out a mixtape of rhythm-centric music that World Vision Perfect Harmony nestles right into that Zac and Lee arranged for Self-Titled on Spotify here.

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