Four guys plus a table full of random stuff that makes noise equals Iron Giant Percussion. The Birmingham natives take drumming to new heights, pounding out rhythms on everything from bongos to porcelain floor tiles.
Their music can be an acquired taste. There are no lyrics, and their beats are difficult to dance to. Member Justin Wallace says the band receives some pretty harsh criticism from people who ask,“Is that music? What are you doing? Please stop,” he says. “Because some of the stuff can lend itself well to experimental music and some people don’t respond well to that. Especially with percussion, it’s all about exploring different sounds.”
The four met while studying music at UAB. They became Iron Giant Percussion in 2011 playing experimental music for audiences of all ages around Alabama. One of their biggest influences is 20th century composer John Cage, who shattered conventional music norms. You might know him for a piece titled “4’33,” where a musician sits at a piano for nearly five minutes and never plays a note. The band is particularly fond of one Cage innovation.
“We’re all big fans of the cactus,” Wallace says. “You put a little a contact mic inside of it and then when you pluck the tines on the cactus, it makes a very bizarre sound. [ Cage] really was crucial to this type of music.”
Band member Brett Huffman says Iron Giant Percussion tries to emulate that innovative musical spirit every chance they get. One of his favorite instruments is, “…an old saw blade that we set on top of a small cast iron skillet. We tape it to the skillet and it makes this great, gross, trashy metal sound and it’s beautiful.”
Saw blades, cooking pans, wood blocks and floor tiles, the “giant” in their name is defined by the potpourri of percussion devices the band travels with. Their instrumental cargo can draw some snarky commentary from audience members, they say.
“You should’ve played the piccolo, is a common one,” Wallace says.
“Why didn’t you play the ukulele,” says Huffman?
There is one non-musical element that accompanies them at every show, a painting of a black and white cat named Mr. Chuckles. Consider him the Iron Giant mascot. But, with tongue firmly in cheek, band member Sam Herman says the cat is so much more than that.
“Mr. Chuckles is our life coach and mentor and greatest influence,” Herman exclaims. “Every bit of success that I’ve had leading up to this moment in my life I can attribute to Mr. Chuckles.”
Iron Giant Percussion will be performing at the upcoming Secret Stages Music Festival. To find them, look for the guys lugging around a bunch of stuff you’d find at a hardware store and a painting of a stoic feline with sharp yellow eyes named Mr. Chuckles.
Hear an extended interview with Iron Giant Percussion: