Much more than a gnarly name, Pupil Slicer are a genre-agnostic force putting the ‘power’ into ‘power trio’. The Londoners’ new album, Blossom, smashes mathcore, metal, post-rock and pop-punk together while lyrically weaving a sci-fi mythos. Singer, guitarist and songwriter Katie Davies schools Matt Mills on the band’s eclectic ways.
When Pupil Slicer released debut album Mirrors in 2021, the UK metal underground was instantly abuzz. Here was a band that not only indulged millennials’ nostalgia for the mathcore scramblings of The Dillinger Escape Plan and Botch, but also threw in new sounds from post-rock to dance breaks. It helped that the Londoners’ name was brutal as fuck too.
In the two years since Mirrors, the trio of singer-guitarist Katie Davies, bassist Luke Fabian and drummer Josh Andrews have demolished UK festivals and toured continent-wide. They’re clearly not satiated, though.
Follow-up Blossom is pushing Pupil Slicer into pastures as distant as pop-punk and death metal, while its lyrics tell a sci-fi fantasy story. With the album out now (plus with the band soon playing the 100,000-capacity Download Festival), whynow talks to Katie as part of our ongoing series spotlighting new, promising artists.
Mirrors was a beloved album in the British metal and hardcore scenes. The fallout must have blown you away…
Definitely. I think we tried to live up to that with the new album. There was stuff on Mirrors where we didn’t really know what we were doing, but with this album we were like: ‘We’re gonna go to the studio for four weeks and we’re gonna be well prepared beforehand.’
Wasn’t Mirrors the first time you ever wrote lyrics for Pupil Slicer?
I wrote one song on the split EP before that [2019’s Pupil Slicer / Sense Offender] but that was it. It was literally written on the bus on the way to practice.
So was writing Mirrors nerve-wracking?
I didn’t take the lyrics as seriously on Mirrors. They were just written so we could play the songs live, and I would have spent more time on them if I knew the album would have been as big as it was. I wrote a lot about not being happy with the state of the world and highlighting things.
Now we’re doing an album that’s a bit more chilled-out in terms of how hard the lyrics go. The next album will just be straight hardcore that’s entirely political. [Laughs] At least for now, I wanted to be a bit more creative.
How did Blossom become a sci-fi concept album?
It started with [eight-minute post-rock piece] ‘Song at Creation’s End’, which was one of the first songs I wrote lyrics for. It was based off of me playing Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker and Outer Wilds pretty close to each other; they’re both about cycles of despair and overcoming that. I was like, ‘There’s still way more to this,’ and it kept going and turned into its own thing. It ended up being a whole concept album. It was easier to write more poetically when making it a more abstract story but filtering these personal experiences into it.
That song, ‘Song at Creation’s End’, ends with the sound of you crying…
That song was the last thing we recorded in the studio and I was fucking dead. After four weeks straight in the studio with only two days off, it was emotionally taxing. Everything from the halfway point to the end of that song was one take to see how far I could go. My voice was pretty much gone, I could barely even talk, so I got really emotional at the end.
Can you talk about those personal experiences that you put into this album?
I don’t really want to go into the personal things that strongly informed the film… the film? [Laughs] I thought I was David Lynch for a second there. It’s like a film, in my head: I’ve got some pretty strong visual ideas that go along with the whole album and we tried our best to realise them as best we could in the music videos.
Why is it called Blossom?
There were a couple of titles in the running: I think it was Blossom, Sonder or Soon. Sonder was the first title but then someone told me that [British prog-metal band] Tesseract had an album called Sonder so I went, ‘Fuck that! Can’t do that because they’re way bigger than us!’ Blossom seemed to fit well because of the theme of rebirth; multiple songs use the analogy of a flower, which ties into Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker as well. It encapsulates the cycle, the arc of the album.
The first single you released from Blossom was the title track, which is a pop-punk, nu metal song, much smoother and more accessible than anything on Mirrors. Why put that out there first?
“I thought it’d be funny to release that as the first thing and then release [second single] ‘No Temple’, which is the hardest track on the album. I feel like people only listened to one single or the other; people [that heard ‘Blossom’] said we don’t have any riffs anymore, then ‘No Temple’ came out and there were comments saying, ‘This band have no dynamics! It’s just blast beats the whole time!’
Has anyone tried to come up with a genre name for the music that Pupil Slicer make yet?
No, but I wish there was a name. There probably will be at some point, because there’s this wave of bands combining really hard hardcore and mathcore with shoegaze and blackgaze. We fall into that – so do Heriot, Burner, Loathe and Code Orange. What is this hardcore, shoegaze, pop, blackgaze thing? ‘New gaze’? ‘Gazecore’? With my mates I call it ‘soycore’ – soyboy metal.
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How are you expecting your Download Festival set to go?
It’s our Download debut so I don’t know. It’s always tough playing in the early afternoon: it always dampens some of the energy, but hopefully we’ll be able to make up for it.
You’re also playing Radar Festival and Arctangent this year. Where else do you want to go on the Blossom cycle?
We’ve got to do some headline gigs at some point. We haven’t really done headliners, so it’d be interesting to see how it goes. I’d love to do Japan. And a headline run early next year would be cool.
Are there any genres Pupil Slicer haven’t dabbled in yet but that you’d like to in future?
I don’t know. We basically write whatever we like, so it could be anything. I don’t like ska, so we won’t do ska.”
Blossom is out now via Prosthetic Records. Pupil Slicer will play the Download, Radar and Arctangent festivals this summer then tour with Employed to Serve.