“Should we pray first?”
Outside it’s rapturously sunny, but I’m sitting in the windowless meat fog of Matt’s Bar with four unrepentant scumbags. The waitress who lays down our Jucy Lucys is unaware that, with every drop of cheese sauce, she’s further fueling the apostate indulgence of Forest Lake psych-punks the Pour Organs.
DJ, the guitarist, asked the question. Of course he doesn’t really think we should pray.
DJ refuses to give his last name because he’s afraid going on the record as a pot-billowing psych-rock heretic could jeopardize his father’s business. But the Pour Organs aren’t usually so careful about who they piss off. Their debut EP, Church and Destroy (out June 2 and being celebrated with a show at the 331 Club on June 16), is a burned bridge set to wax. In wild, destructive bursts, they fray relationships with friends and family as they indulge in booze, church burning, and psilocybin.
“I was raised in a super religious household,” says lead singer Matt Spraungel. “I’m close to a lot of people and I have a lot of family members who are religious, and we get along fine, but it’s just silly that they’re Christian. It just fucks with my head that full-grown adults are walking around believing this bullshit.”
Spraungel has an obvious madness about him. Rows of cryptic biker tattoos lead up the sleeves of his L’Assassins T-shirt, and his sunglasses have left a deep impression on his nose that looks at a glance like a street boxing scar. He speaks only in dissent.
“I was never shy about saying, ‘Fuck this, this is ridiculous,’” he says, mopping up a puddle of cheese with the heel of his burger. “I’ve always written really anti-religious songs, since a very young age.”
As Spraungel was growing up in Forest Lake, his guitar was frequently held hostage. If he skipped church on Sunday, his father would lock his axe away until he sat for service the following week. This set up a lifetime of opposition between music and religion for Spraungel, placing the guitar on the opposite end of the spectrum from the crucifix.
The Pour Organs grew up on KQRS, and bands like Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd helped them combat the oppression of rural Christian life. But they don’t approach their sacrilege earnestly — for them, conjuring the Dark Lord is an exercise in absurdity. “Lucifer Rising,” Church and Destroy’s lead single, treats blasphemy with the same level of futility as belief.
“We think it’s really silly that people believe in this shit and that they’re so in people’s faces about it all the time,” says DJ. “So we were like, ‘Let’s just do exactly what they’re doing, and it’ll be as silly as believing in a zombie from 2,000 years ago.’”
As I probe through the basket of fries between us, Spraungel goes deeper into the darkness surrounding his relationship to his father. Spraungel’s dad wasn’t just devout — he was militant. He believed in a coming war on Christians and talked about selling the house to buy a bunker and an armory of guns. More recently, he got drunk and tried to fight Spraungel, then vanished, leaving his son to resolve his anger in song.
The singer’s moment of vengeance comes in “Autoerotic Crucifixion,” which follows the night of the bender as Spraungel imagines his father, mad on holy indignation, coming home to bareknuckle with his son. “I hold the answer like a gun, it’s in a bottle, it’s in a Bible,” Spraungel sings. “Like a cancer to my son, I’m the villain, he’s my rival.”
At this point in the conversation, the waitress returns, diffusing the tension. Spraungel, DJ, and drummer Chris Wilson each eagerly order another beer. Bassist Cody Hillyard holds off, returning to his pint of water. He has to go to work later, and he doesn’t subscribe to the idea of a casual beer.
“When I drink, I like to drink to die,” he muses.
The Pour Organs’ name itself celebrates the band’s self-destructive indulgence — the moniker is derived from Spraungel’s offhanded concern about the toll drinking has taken on his body. While drinking shanties were a trademark of Spraungel’s previous band, Dead Bundy and the Neat Neat Neats, the Pour Organs tackle the band’s relationship with booze on much more dire terms. On “Pit of Bottles,” an uncharacteristically reflective Spraungel describes his drinking as “lycanthropic,” though he doesn’t go on to make the hereditary connection.
Then there’s “Drug Wizard.” A stony, bluesy riff-fest, the song is a Tolkien-inspired fantasy of a wizard who guards a mythical stash of hallucinogens. Both fantasy and drug use are escapes for the band, who openly cop to being “pretty obnoxious stoners.”
Wilson butts in to exempt himself, but the stoner element runs deep through Church and Destroy. Spraungel wanted to emulate Paranoid when the band went into the studio, but parts of the record reek of Master of Reality (namely “Sweet Leaf” and “Into the Void”).
Church and Destroy is replete with stoner ingenuity. To create the EP’s sound, the Pour Organs tracked live in the studio with no headphones and no metronome. They did minimal takes, and Spraungel often finished lyrics moments before laying down vocals. During one solo on “Lucifer Rising,” DJ bends a note too far, but they decided to leave the imperfection in because, when they wrapped the recording, it was exactly 4:20 p.m.
“We were like, ‘Let’s just not have any rules,’” Hillyard says. “When we started the band, the joke was, ‘Let’s be like School of Rock where they write down their influences and dump ’em in a bucket.’”
After we’ve divvied up the bill, as we push out into the unkind light of day, there’s a moment of defeat for Spraungel and Wilson. The meal has been a reprieve, but now they’ll head back to Forest Lake.
More than God, fathers, or sobriety, the Pour Organs’ hometown is the true antagonist of Church and Destroy. Every rebellion on the EP was born of their determination to never end up like their classmates who drove tractors to school senior year. Church and Destroy is a point-by-point rejection of everything that Forest Lake stands for.
“That’s why our band is so dorky and horrible,” DJ says, adjusting to the sunlight. “We’re from a shitty town. We had nothing better to do than think of bad ideas.”
The Pour Organs
With: Speedweed, Dude Corea
Where: 331 Club
When: 10 p.m. Fri. June 16
Tickets: Free; more info here