Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Interview with Jes Aurelius of Destruction Unit

At this year's Not Normal Showcase, my friend T-Mac from American Hate/Glow God described the members of Destruction Unit as "conduits of sound." To be a conduit is to be a channeler, one who channels something from a different realm, a shaman of noise and sound, if you will. The description fits and is worn well by the gentlemen of Destruction Unit. These are men with an interest in the known and the unknown: a quick look into the somewhat-adjoined Ascetic House collective verifies this, as it puts out mind-bending cassettes, zines, and other ephemera.

This stuff is all related. The highly spiritual. The unclean recesses of man's id. Psychedelic drugs. Rock n' roll. Destruction Unit pulls these themes together and binds them in a neatly-closed package.

Let's go gonzo for a sec. You've just bought Deep Trip on vinyl. You tear off the shrink wrap like a child at Christmas, you insatiable fucking monster, before bending the wave-pattern front cover back and forth across your eyes, everything coming up distorted, and then diving into the LP and insert from within the cardboard fold. The insert is a page of fake blotter paper that maybe you eat because you need-need-need it in your life, though it never seems to take effect, which is the truly insidious part. You place the LP on your turntable in a faux-ritual and drop the needle, which is when the world begins to melt and sputter on its axis.

This is a band that has released a lot of material, especially for basically reinventing itself a few years back. In my opinion, it's all incredible. It takes the best of punk and krautrock and synthesizes them. Deep Trip itself has become one of my all-time favorite albums, though recordings can't possibly do the band justice. The group needs to be Experienced with a capital "E" to be understood and appreciated, which may explain why they seem to be in a permanent touring mode. They're playing Not Dead Yet Fest this year, which has a ridiculous lineup. I will surely be there.

Jordan Reyes: Destruction Unit started as a project with Ryan, Jay Reatard, and Alicja Trout. I know the majority of the current-day Destruction Unit members didn't ever share the stage with those those two, but did you guys ever get to meet or play with Jay or Alicja? Do they influence your output retroactively at all?

Jes Aurelius: I met Jay very briefly a couple of times, but it was before I had even met Ryan so it was under different circumstances. Destruction Unit was sort of on hiatus, and didn’t start up again until after Jay left his body. I can’t really speak for everyone, only for myself, but Jay’s spirit does influences me to some degree. That being said, I’ve got my own trip so it isn’t really a direct thing. Destruction Unit as most people know it is pretty unrelated to it’s beginnings, save for the name. 

JR: A lot of interviews and pieces on Destruction Unit and your other projects mention the desert. It's an easily romanticized locale with a lot of American mythos tied up in it. Are you guys all originally from the desert or moved there later in life?

JA: We are all more or less from here originally. It’s definitely a part of who we all are, physically and mentally. It influences everything we do in some way or another. I purposefully leave my guitar and amp in the car every 120+ degree day of summer. That’s where the desert sound comes from. It’s a very conscious thing.

JR: Do you think there are any remnants of an "Old American West" that still influence your artistic output?

JA: The west is where all the outlaws, misfits and drifters fled because there was no real structure or law. Today, the spirit of the wild west is very much alive here and it’s something we identify with quite a bit. Living on our own terms and making sure we’re one step ahead of the law is very much an every day part of our lives. That being said, this is not the old west, it is the 20th century, and looking backwards, being nostalgic or romanticizing the past doesn’t accomplish anything. We’re interested in the future, and moving things forward. 

JR: Where and how did you record Deep Trip? It's a record that sounds really huge when I listen to it - how much did recording location impact your sound versus effects?

JA: It was recorded in New York and produced by our friend Ben Greenberg. Location didn’t have much of an impact on the record as far as I can tell. What did have an effect was our schedule over the four days we recorded and mixed the album. We’d get to the studio at about 9am, record until4pm, then go play a show. We didn’t get to sleep before4am any of the nights we were out there, so running on about 3-4 hours of sleep maximum each day really pushed us to the point of total collapse. 

JR: How was it putting a record out on Sacred Bones? Had you guys been in contact with Caleb and friends for a while?

JA: Everyone at Sacred Bones are great. We’ve been friends since before they released our record, and there aren’t enough good things to say about all of them. Not many labels are willing to ensure a loss on a record in order to accommodate an artists vision, but that’s basically what they did with our record. They knew there’d be no way to recoup costs, at least not for a long time, on our record with how we wanted it to be packaged and presented, but they did it anyway because they supported our ideas. 

JR: I was also really curious about your three-way release with Merchandise and Milk Music. For me, that album really came out of nowhere (in a totally good way). How did you guys make that record?

JA: It was an idea that had been in the works for quite some time. Then the idea was sort of abandoned as everyone was too busy. Then it just happened somehow. Timmy [Hefner] worked some black magic. 

JR: I don't mean to jump the gun since you released Deep Trip last year as well as the 3-way LP, but have you guys started writing or recording new material at all?

JA: We’re taking it slow after so much touring. We’re working on new material now but not trying to rush it in the same way we did with the last album. Trying to give ourselves some more time and space to flesh things out.

JR: Figured I'd get in a couple AH questions you can choose to answer if you'd like:
Your Ascetic House collective recently finished a program of 30 tapes in 30 days. Can you tell me a little bit about how that program came to fruition?

JA: It was just an idea we had that seemed ridiculous and impossible so we had to do it. That’s basically it. 

JR: Ascetic House's dispersal system is really interesting to me. You sell products out of a small place in Arizona, and then have a bunch of distributors, right? Why not keep an online store?

JA: We don’t have the time to be running mail order ourselves and it’s not something that interests me at all. The point is to put these ideas out there, whether it be music, writing, art, whatever. Once they exist in the world, I can move on. Some of it is harder to find than others, but it will all find its way to the right people eventually. It’s not an elitist thing or a business thing, it’s simply how we operate right now. I’m more than willing to give copies of releases to anyone who approaches me, so long as I have copies, but I’m not going to go out of my way to make sure every collector has a complete collection sitting on their shelf.

JR: What would be something that people may not know about Destruction Unit from listening to your music?

JA: That each of us has actually been playing our respective instrument for a minimum of 10 years. Sure, it sounds like a mess of noise but it’s all skillfully crafted with precision and intent. We’re quite impressive actually.

JR: Anything else you'd like to say?

JA: Sorry this has taken me so long to get to you. Really enjoy your blog. Wish you the best.

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