FOR A BAND that's been called schizophrenic, skuzzy, even unpleasant, Rabbits are a surprisingly relaxed, jovial band. That their collective lineage spans not just genres but also the peaks and valleys of Portland's heavy music scene over the past two decades is reason enough for their repose. But during a two-hour long palaver at Southeast dive My Father's Place, the easygoing disposition of guitarists Josh Hughes and Seth Montfort is unexpected.
This is probably because Rabbits' music is the exact opposite of easygoing, to put it delicately (read on for the indelicate descriptors). The band's second full-length—Bites Rites, just released on Seattle's Good to Die Records—is nothing if not a study of the patently uncompromising subduction zone of noise rock.
Rabbits' 2011 full-length debut, Lower Forms, showcased a seasoned hardcore thrash from Hughes (formerly of the VSS and Pleasure Forever), Montfort, and drummer Kevin Garrison. Before that, Rabbits' run of 7-inch releases on local labels Eolian and Powerblaster, among other self-releases, told the tale of a much deeper commitment to DIY practices and experimental, even humorous whims.
Despite their ferocious reputation, this is a band that released a limited run of their live cassette Fur sewn into the fluffy tummies of stuffed toy rabbits. They're also the same three who revel not only in the positive reviews of their band, but also the negative, linking to just about everything that's ever been written about them on their website, in homage to the Velvet Underground's desire not to sidestep the harsher realities of being in the spotlight.
"We try not to curate what people say about us too much," says Hughes. "It's like a No-Spin Zone. We're aware that it's ridiculous for near-40-year-old men to be up on stage doing what we do. I think we're all pretty content with our lives; we're happy people."
This all sounds cheery enough, but make no mistake: Bites Rites cuts like a rusty bone saw through nine songs of noisy bedlam, gut-clutching shrieks, and pulverizing drums. It's an abrasive, eye-wincing kind of album, replete with cavalier pissiness and brazen slabs of feedback. Things get especially cumbersome on the 55-second-long "Move Her Body," a track that writhes in its own cacophonic juices. With patience (and hopefully with earplugs) you're rewarded with Bites doomiest tune, "Meth Valley 99" one song later.
Rabbits' inclusion of two cover songs—Spacemen 3's "2:35" and Hüsker Dü's "What's Going On"—emerged from the band's devotion to the rituals of the old punk guard of releasing whatever you wanted. But it was also due to a last-minute cancellation of a European tour, which was to have commenced in October with a new EP. With the tour gone, the band and the label knew they needed a more substantial record. Rabbits revved up their practice regimen, which led to a more varied, if short, final product.
"When Europe was canceled, we had to have this record in the bag in like two months," says Montfort. "So it was woodshed time."
"We're really into just doing a couple songs at a time—Lower Forms was the first time we had a whole album," says Hughes. "For our kind of music, too, it's kind of tedious to listen to 40 minutes of what we do. I get it."