Profile: Urns (2019)

Pittsburgh’s Urns descends from the dirgy, often glacially paced punk-metal of Melvins, Earth, Sunn O))) and other icons whose guitar riffs are sludgy and molasses-thick. But the quartet is releasing its self-titled debut this week, and frontman and Urns founder Mike Myzak is hesitant to break down the minutia of his band’s sound into careful categories. 

“I don’t want to try to put a genre on it,” the Bloomfield-based musician says. “I want it to be versatile. I want to be able to throw out a bunch of different looks. I like how Ween has a million different styles – they can sound like whatever they want.”

For the record, the music on the new five-song LP – which Myzak, bassist Justin Gizzi, drummer Rick Fontanese, and synth-man Mitchell Cochran will mark with a record release show at Howler’s Friday, Aug. 9 – sounds nothing like Ween. Tracks like the 11-minute-long “Curse,” the album-opener, are epics of restraint, with Myzak’s crunching guitar chords only occasionally giving way to the trebly caterwaul of a solo. Vocals, sometimes clean, sometimes wickedly guttural, cut in and out of the landscape. This is a group less concerned with verses and choruses than pure volume.

“The principles of the music, as far as what I was thinking when I started the band? I wanted it to be slow and heavy, and I wanted to have a combination of harsh vocals and calm vocals, with harmonies and layered guitars,” Myzak says.

Not every song draws down the needle slowly, though. “Pyre On High,” another choice cut off the record, is a thrashing dose of adrenaline, complete with pummeling refrains and wonderfully freeze-dried roars.

Friday night’s show at Howler’s, which also will feature performances by Swampwalk and Derider, is Urns’ first live set in more than six months. Longtime fans, patient with the band while it laid down the new album at South Side studio Plus/Minus Recording, will be thrown a few curveballs. For one, the band will feature synths – a new addition, planned, in part, to segue between songs instead of random stage banter. And Myzak, a wrestling aficionado, plans to work with stage props and lighting to make more of a wrestling-style entrance.

“I want it to be more of a spectacle,” he says. “I want a theatrical element and that’ll be one of the first times we do that.”

At least one person is psyched to be along for the ride. Anna Hale,  the singer-songwriter performing under the nom-de-guerre Swampwalk, has never seen Urns perform live. But that’s not exactly the full story.

Hale and Myzak met in Lawrenceville two or three years ago, where they took part in The Rock Lottery competition to write and perform three original songs and one cover with randomly assembled collaborators in 24 hours. Their band name was Love dronesssssssZsssssss (that’s seven S’s, one Z, followed by seven more S’s) but, for the sake of clarity and brevity, we will abbreviate it as Love Dronez.

“Love Dronez didn’t sound like Urns but, just knowing Mike, it makes sense, what Urns sounds like,” says Hale, a writer and office-worker who lives in Baldwin. “It’s heavy but it’s still laid-back in a way.”

Don’t count on a Love Dronez reunion at Howler’s; Hale – whose third EP was released by Unread Records this spring – will perform solo.

“I always fit weirdly on bills – this is more of an avant-garde placement of Swampwalk,” she laughs. “I’ll bring my Big Muff pedal, play some dirtier tracks – play to the crowd a bit.”

That crowd could include local scene-setter Shy Kennedy, an avowed Urns fan who is the frontwoman of local doom band Horehound and the organizer of the Descendants of Crom festival, due to return to this fall.

“Urns have been in the background writing heavy and dark music with a knack of dank doom that has been missing in this city,” says Kennedy, who also manages to make time for Blackseed Records, Design and Production. “It’s intense and delicate at once and, while simple in delivery, their brilliance shines through this balance.”

There’s also at least one more familiar name tied to the growing Urns legend. Seattle producer Jack Endino, who recorded landmark outings by Washington state natives Soundgarden and Nirvana, mastered the Urns LP.

“I’ve known who Jack Endino was since I was 12,” Myzak says. “If my 12-year-old self knew about this … I would be too excited to think.”

URNS with SWAMPWALK, DERIDER. 9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 9. Howler’s, 4509 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield. $5. – Justin Vellucci, Pittsburgh Current, Aug. 6, 2019


About the author

Justin Vellucci is a staff writer for PopMatters, Spectrum Culture, and MusicTAP, a contributor to Pittsburgh Current, and a former staffer for Popdose, Punk Planet and Delusions of Adequacy. His music writing has appeared in national magazines such as American Songwriter, alt-pubs like The Brooklyn Rail, Pittsburgh CityPaper and San Diego CityBeat, blogs Swordfish, Punksburgh and Linoleum, and the Gannett magazine Jetty. He lives in Pittsburgh.

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