Spencer Hazard can't ever remember a time when he wasn't anxious. "It runs right through my family. Everyone in my family has some kind of anxiety disorder," says the guitarist of forward-thinking noise-grind outfit Full of Hell. "Speaking personally, I can't keep still. I have to be moving forward. If I'm not, I feel like I'm wasting my life. Like I'm a failure …"
When we connect, Hazard is en route to Baltimore. His "other" band, the doomy Eye Flys (fittingly, they take their name from a 1987 Melvins song), have a handful of shows to play. Eye Flys have recently signed to Chicago's renowned indie Thrill Jockey. They have an EP primed for release later this year; a full-length album follows next. Spencer doesn't do downtime. Always busy. Always making. His anxiety always ticking like a clock.
Certainly, few extreme-music aficionados would accuse Spencer Hazard of wasting his life. Eye Flys may just be getting started, but Full of Hell are a growing force in underground metal, known for their prolific output — the group's critically acclaimed new LP, Weeping Choir, is their fourth in eight years — along with adventurous collaborations with everyone from noise stalwart Merzbow to doom-pop songstress Nicole Dollanganger. Still, Hazard is wracked with doubt.
"I know that people are into the band and more and more people get into us with every record we release," he says, shaking his head. "But sometimes I just feel like we're a local band. What would stop me feeling like that? I don't know. I honestly don't. Every achievement we have doesn't make me feel any differently. I think it's just how I'm wired ..."
Yet, as negative as it feel sometimes, that wiring has, in many ways, helped to drive Full of Hell along their current upward trajectory. To understand the band is to understand the relationship between Hazard and vocalist Dylan Walker, the group's anxious motor and calming anchor, respectively. "His personality is so different to mine," Hazard explains of Walker. "We're both pretty reserved people, but where I'm an anxious person, he's so level-headed. I honestly think that if I wasn't such an anxious person, Full of Hell wouldn't have got as far as it has. But I also think that something might have broken without Dylan's opposing personality. When I'm freaking out, he's always the guy who will step in and say, "Dude, it's fine, it'll work out …""
Things didn't always look so positive for the guitarist. Before forming Full of Hell 10 years ago and finding a creative outlet in music, Hazard was a Philadelphian teenager treating his anxiety in much less productive ways.
"When I was in high school I was like all the other kids," he recalls. "Sneaking out and raiding my friends' parents' liquor cabinet. Getting messed up. I got in trouble once. Not with the cops, but with my family. I quickly got over it. Many of my friends didn't and they quickly ended up doing the harder drugs. I just wanted more from my life than that …"
So in his late teens Hazard adopted the straight-edge lifestyle — which he still practices to this day. ("When I was a lot younger I could be a bit of an asshole about being straight edge, but I'm not that guy anymore!" he says.) But he still needed to find the vessel to contain his restlessness and drive — which is exactly what he found in music.
"I became absolutely completely obsessed with the Ramones," he says. "Their music was everything to me. I had every record and every item of clothing I owned was a Ramones T-shirt. But I wanted to do more than just listen. I wanted to do."
Luckily, the answer was literally in front of him in the form of the Sears guitar that had been collecting dust in a corner of his home for years. "It was a Christmas present when I was 12," he says. "We had to return it. The intonation was completely off." He got a replacement, "a simple Squire copy," which enabled him to start playing shows with local kids from the neighborhood. "Typical teenage stuff."
He'd thumb copies of Thrasher magazine. Binge on Tony Hawk video games. Investigate the bands that those games' soundtrack would offer forth. He decided punk was his thing. Then for a much shorter time — "a very short time" — metalcore. He bought a Hellfest DVD. It introduced to him the Locust. Daughters, too. Then, like a kid picking up a paving slab out back, gawking at all the squiggly life that existed below it, he signed up for Myspace and found powerviolence and grindcore. And then, there was no turning back.
"I was getting into all of this noise, all of this weird music and insane sounds," he recalls, "and none of my friends understood why I was listening to any of it. I didn't know why I was listening to any of it. The X Games came to a few cities across from me and they were giving out sampler CDs. Pig Destroyer had a song on it. I hated listening to it. But I wanted to understand it. And then I loved it. And then I knew that I wanted to make weird and insane sounds, too."
The discovery of Hydra Head Records — the self-proclaimed home of "Thinking Man's Metal" — sealed the deal, and largely inspired by that label's eclectic, uncompromising roster, Full of Hell formed in 2009. Spencer was 19. Again, Myspace played a defining role. "It helped me meet people who were more open-minded about music than the kids who were in my neighborhood…" Kids like Dylan Walker. "I don't feel like the band really started until I met Dylan," says Spencer. "He kind of completed us."
Spencer and Dylan first crossed paths on Full of Hell's second tour. Dylan played guitar in "a dark hardcore band … that he really wasn't into at all …" A chance conversation took place. Dylan adored Hydra Head Records. "Oh hey, me, too!" The band Insect Warfare was common ground, as well. "By the time he told me what a fan he was of Man Is the Bastard, I knew I wanted to know this guy better," Hazard enthuses. "And I probably wanted him to quit his band and join Full of Hell."
As luck would have it, not long after their chance conversation, Full of Hell's singer quit. "As soon as that news was out, Dylan immediately asked to join," says Spencer. "Despite living a six hour drive away. There really was no one other than Dylan. Instantly I knew that here was someone I could meld with creatively …"
Weeping Choir is the best product of that mind meld yet. A bruising, challenging slab of extreme music; organic sounds clashing with seething electronic noise. It sounds like the end of the world. Typically, Dylan's lyrics back that up. "It's mostly religion this time round," explains Spencer. "It feels like religion is creeping into every walk of life. People allowing their own experiences to dictate the experiences of other people. It's frightening …"
Like 2017's excellent Trumpeting Ecstasy, Weeping Choir is another collaboration with producer and Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou. Full of Hell are big on collaboration. "It's the best way I've found to challenge ourselves as musicians," says Spencer. "The best way to creatively grow."
He's excited about the world hearing Weeping Choir. He describes it as the band's "best record yet," though he admits he says that about every record the band has made — until the self-doubt and perfectionism that plagues his brain starts creeping in, of course. He's sure he'll start critiquing things he wants to improve next time, once he's lived with the record being out.
"Everyone wants their life to have meaning," he says. "For me, that's about Full of Hell. Maybe in 20 years' time nobody will care about what we did. Or maybe there'll be some kid who had their life changed by our music like I did by music."
He smiles, awkwardly. "Either way, you've got to try."