BOTTOMLESS PIT shouldn't exist.
That's not meant as a slight to the band, who have filled three albums with wondrous guitar devotionals meditating on the loss of their friend and fellow musician, Michael Dahlquist. One can't help but see the shock of pain lingering in the title of their latest album, Shade Perennial. They survive, and flourish, in a great void.
In 2005, Dahlquist was killed in a car accident, the tragic outcome of an attempted suicide by another driver, former model Jeanette Sliwinski. (Two other musicians, the Dials' Douglas Meis and the Returnables' John Glick, also died in the crash.) Dahlquist's death effectively ended the 18-year lifespan of Silkworm, the band he joined with three Montana natives, Tim Midyett, Andy Cohen, and Joel RL Phelps. In the months following his death, Midyett and Cohen began playing music again, and after a few show offers, the two formed the lineup of what is now known as Bottomless Pit.
The band ties an improbable rope between the twin poles of Neil Young and New Order—touchstones that baritone guitarist Midyett discusses throughout our conversation. "[Neil Young's] music is really shot through with mortality," he says of his love for the Canadian rock legend, even though he could be describing his own music. Midyett additionally recognizes the tragic coincidence of being a lifelong fan of New Order, a band that also formed in the wake of a tragic death (in New Order's case, the suicide of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis). "It's weird when you have that strong of a connection to someone's music and you don't know them," Midyett says. "When you go through something like what we've gone through, things really stand out as being literally representative of what you're going through."
Hammer of the Gods, Bottomless Pit's first record, doesn't bounce around fitfully like the gawky Silkworm did. Instead, Hammer of the Gods swirls, the guitar, baritone guitar, and bass wrapping the listener in a full range of tone, like a string quartet. "We kind of cleaned things up," Midyett says, adding that the new polish and directness stemmed from their respect for Dahlquist. "I wanted to be real exacting about how I expressed myself." Following the album's release in 2007, Midyett and Cohen stopped talking to press until this past year, in order to direct their attention to their elegies.
Bottomless Pit may exist in memory of a departed friend, but Midyett's musical life springs from one urge. "We've only ever had one goal and that was to 'rock.' A lot of people [play rock] when they're kids and then they grow out of it—and we haven't, for better or worse. You're married and you have a normal job, and you still do this stuff... but you have a regular life that you have to schedule it around."
Midyett's self-described "lifer" status may spring from his aversion to making a career out of his music. "We never felt the desire to make it a job," he says. Silkworm skimmed across the surface of the music industry, landing a few records on big-time indie Matador, and then settling down as one of the early-'00s stalwarts of Chicago's Touch and Go Records. "I know a fair number of people who make a good living as musicians, but I don't necessarily envy them," Midyett says.
With Shade Perennial, Bottomless Pit have reached an age where they can look back upon their youth. "[We made the] record the way we used to," Midyett says of Shade. "You just go in and cut it—that record was made, start to finish, in three-and-a-half days."
The speed shows. Shade Perennial rattles where their previous LPs hummed; it's all substance and temptation. Midyett doesn't hide his satisfaction with the record, but adds that, as always, it's still "pretty dark." With Shade, however, Midyett and crew have thrown together an album that, without a doubt, achieves their singular goal of rocking.