With their first single of 2018,
the Messenger Birds take aim at the ever-widening chasm in America’s sociopolitical landscape. Suitably for a topic of such gravitas, the two-man garage-blues outfit serves up their social commentary with an ominous tectonic rumble.
The tune, “Self Destruct”, is heavy on contrasts. Unnerving, high pitched guitar lines slice through a murky swamp of a low-end. Together, they coalesce into a darkly lurching stomp as vocalist-guitarist Parker Bengry sings of the cyclical nature of history’s horrors: “The TV’s like a time machine / Takes me back, 1943 / Tiki torch marching up the street / Flying flags of a dead dream.” With drummer Christopher Williams pounding portentously behind him, Bengry in the verses sings from the perspective of one watching such demoralizing developments as the Charlottesville march from a distance. When the refrain hits, it’s the sound of pent-up frustration lashing out against the tide, albeit with a sense that it may be too late and all for naught. It’s not hard to imagine the song playing over newscasts or in a film during some slow-motion montage of melees erupting in the streets.
Bengry took some time to speak with PopMatters on the song’s inspiration.
As a two-piece, what is your songwriting process like and, specifically, how did “Self Destruct” germinate?
The two of us spend a decent amount of time doing improv and impromptu jam sessions just to get ideas out. What happens a lot is we will sit on a bunch of ideas for a while and then pull or combine the ones we really like when we revisit them later. We have a rule that if something feels forced or out of place, we won’t use it. We try to keep things as organic as possible, but that doesn’t mean ideas get thrown out entirely. Sometimes you write something that you’re not ready for or don’t know how to use until much later. Other times you have a vision of a song, and it comes out naturally.
“Self Destruct” was a bit of both. I had been hearing the guitar melody that appears in the intro, and again in the bridge and outro, in my head for a few days when Chris and I finally sat down to work on the song. There was this gritty Rage Against the Machine kind of groove in 9/4, a bit polyrhythmic, that we had jammed out a few months earlier, and we ended up taking that and tweaking it a little bit, and it became the main riff in the song. All the parts came together pretty naturally once we did that.
The lyrics address some of the post-Trump divisiveness and emboldening of American white supremacy, specifically by alluding to the Charlottesville marches. How did such cultural developments inspire you to write this song?
I think a lot of it came out of pure frustration and anger with the state of our country and its leadership. The song is a bit of an attack on the more savage and barbarian qualities of the capitalistic ideals that drive American culture and a calling out of the Darwinistic need to feel superior to the person next to you. It’s that constant “me vs. you” mentality, which is part of what creates such oppressive social constructs and hierarchies. It’s what ruins lives and destroys communities. I want no part in that.
Between the verses and the chorus, there’s a shift in perspective or at least mood. The verses seem more to be objectively observed, while the refrain is more emotionally driven and cautionary. What was it like alternating from those points of view?
I’m not sure if I did that intentionally or not, but I think that I, like many others, was in absolute disbelief of what I was seeing. I mean, it’s like something straight out of a science fiction novel, so I just wrote it how I saw it. The chorus was my way of saying that living with a sense of entitlement, regardless of what it applies to, is toxic.
“Self Destruct” is the first of three singles the Messenger Birds plan to release in the next few months.