Let me call it early: anybody who’s anybody who considers themselves a devotee of punk rock will consider Hunk, the recently announced third full-length from Reno quartet Elephant Rifle, to be one of the most anticipated records of 2018. That’s on the record, Skippy.
While Party Child, the group’s debut, was great, the band really came into its own on 2015’s Ivory, which was epic and scorched Earth. Since I heard the record’s opener, ”Bone Voyage,” a track that burns itself into punks’ memories like so many ants under hand-held magnifying glasses, I knew I had to talk to these guys.
Popdose recently got the opportunity to connect with the fine fellows of Elephant Rifle as they exited the recording studio, and we chatted about the new LP; the Reno, Nevada scene; the relationship between Wonder Woman and Scientology; and what they’re listening to and reading these days. Follow the transcript below.
POPDOSE: So, tell me about the new record you guys are cutting at Louder Studios with Tim Green. And please tell me it’s as blistering as Ivory.
BRAD BYNUM: Well, it’s a little easier to talk about the new record now that we’ve finished recording and mixing it. It’s different than Ivory, partly because this is a different version of the band. Ty Williams, who was our drummer for several years and pretty integral to a lot of the songwriting, moved across country to New York not long after Ivory was recorded in 2014. We love him, and he’s our brother for life, but we needed to keep making new music so we started working with Mike Young, who’d been a friend of the band for a few years. We really admired his playing, knew he was really versatile, and also really liked him personally. He’s also a top-notch live sound engineer. Most of the songs we just recorded were written with Young. (We have two Mikes in the band, so we have to use last names like a high school basketball team or something.) A couple of the songs on the new record were originally written with Ty but they’ve mutated a lot since we’ve been playing them for a couple of years.
Compared to Ivory, I’d say the new album—which is called Hunk, by the way—sounds more self-assured. If anything, the music is even heavier than Ivory. Both Ivory and our first full-length, Party Child, have a few songs that I’d describe as punk rippers. Quick little hardcore tunes. There’s a lot less of that on the new record. It’s more about heavy, mid-tempo jams with lots of swagger. Songs to make your jeans feel tight. But pretty stylistically eclectic within that—while sticking with a classic guitar-drums-bass-voice setup.
As the lyricist, I’m really happy with this album. Lyrically, it’s pretty diverse: a few political songs, a couple of things with a bit of humor, a nasty sex jam or two, a couple of horror movie-inspired cuts, and a nerdy history lesson about technology. Only one song really fits with the drug-fueled-meditation-on-death vibe I was going for on most of Ivory.
It was also great working with Tim Green at Louder. He’s worked on a bunch of great records that we all admire—not to mention playing in some great bands himself. The studio itself is fantastic and he’s so easy-going that it’s just a really conducive to productive, creative record-making. Plus every idea or suggestion he had was totally on point.
POPDOSE: Listening to a track like “Bone Voyage” or — Christ — “Rasputin,” I’m guessing you guys have listened to a lot of Scratch Acid and Jesus Lizard LPs. But the sound is more varied than that, too. Can we talk influences?
BB: I, for one, love Scratch Acid and Jesus Lizard, and, yes, those bands were among the early inspirations—especially when Clint and I first started this band way back in 2010. But we all love lots and lots of different kinds of music. But we’ve all been at this for a long time so it has a bit of a life of its own. The biggest influence is always just the most recent rehearsal.
CLINT NEUERBURG: The short answer we like to use is our DNA is equal parts 70s classic rock, 80s hardcore, and 90s noise rock, so I guess most of our obvious influences are in that vein. Personally, although I love hardcore and punk, given the type of band we are, I try to draw influence from non-hardcore bands. Granted, that’s not always easy as I still listen to a ton of punk and hardcore, and the usual suspects you would imagine for a band like us are all definitely represented, but I tend to think that if you lean too heavily on stylistic peers, then you end up sounding like those peers. We all four have vastly different record collections and draw from different wells.
POPDOSE: What were you listening to as you wrote and recorded the new material? Any signs in the list for what the new stuff sounds like?
BB: We’re not really the kind of band that’s like, ”We’ve been listening to a lot of Neurosis, so now we’re gonna write some songs that sound like Neurosis.” I think when we’re working on stuff, we’re mostly thinking about those songs themselves—what each song might need. And if anything, for me at least, I like to mix it up so I like to listen to stuff that’s nothing like whatever we’re working on.
CN: No bullshit, I’ve been slightly obsessed with The Grateful Dead for the better part of a year now. I also just picked up the first Del Fuegos record and Spanish Blue by Ron Carter, so I’ve been listening to that, but I wouldn’t say any of that comes across in our music. Mayhall and I were talking about it the other day, and there might be a little bit of a Helmet vibe to the new stuff? Usually what I think our songs sound like are way off base from what other people think and I end up sounding like a person who’s never heard music before.
POPDOSE: Talk to me about Reno. Aside from the Little Big City B-S, what can you tell me about the scene there and Elephant Rifle’s place in it?
BB: Reno is a small town. It’s big enough to sustain a music scene, but small enough that the scene is a little incestuous. However, that’s not entirely a bad thing. In larger cities—San Francisco or Seattle or wherever—the music scene can become very fragmented. You know, the punkers hang out at one venue, the hardcore kids at a different venue, the metalheads somewhere else entirely. Here in Reno, it’s not like that. People come out and support lots of different things. Musically, that can be very liberating, because you don’t feel tied down, genre-wise. It also makes for a lot of neat mixed bills—which I prefer. I’d rather see three bands that sound nothing alike than watch a bunch of the same shit over and over. Our next show is a perfect example of that—we’re playing with a band called Moondog Matinee, who are kind of a bluesy classic rock band. They’re great guys, good friends of ours, and an excellent band—but not the kind of band that you’d expect to see us play with anywhere else. But we’re all part of the same weird Reno tribe.
That’s another thing about Reno: It’s a city that gets made fun of a lot. That can also be very creatively liberating because it means you don’t have to give a fuck what people think—you’re gonna get clowned on no matter what, so just do what you want. It also means that we look after our own.
We also benefit from being well connected here—both as individuals and as a band. I’m the editor of the alt-weekly newspaper in town; Young is the manager and chief sound engineer of one of the premier concert venues; Clint owns a popular beer bar and was heavily involved in a local all-ages arts nonprofit for a lot of years; Mayhall is really in demand as a musician—just this year, he toured Europe filling in with the punk band Roadside Bombs, had a weekly residency with a blues combo at a great local club, played a bunch of gigs with his group The Umpires, which is this rad all-instrumental jazz-reggae group—great shit, and it sounds nothing like ER. And to top it all off, he had a long-running gig at one of the local casinos playing in the band for a Rat Pack revival show, backing up Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Dean Martin impersonators. And probably a bunch of other stuff as well. Dude gets around.
We’ve all played in other bands with varying degrees of success, and ER itself has been around for long enough that we’ve got an established rep locally, which means we can get away with a lot. Home games around town here are always a hoot.
POPDOSE: And, while we’re talking places, tell me a little bit about Humaniterrorist.
CN: Humaniterrorist is a record label I started 12 years ago. I initially started it to release a record by the band I was in at the time because we were about to stop playing and I didn’t think anyone else would want to put it out and I also thought a band had to be on a record label. A few friends of mine were in bands around that time that wanted to make and release records, and by the sheer luck of having done it before them I became the de facto record guy. That’s how I ended up putting out early stuff by Cobra Skulls and Beercan! and Back Harlow Road — basically it was because I knew how to fill out order forms and had a little cash kicking around. All of the bands on Humaniterrorist, past and present, consist of mainly the same 15 or so people just shuffled around in different configurations. I’ve worked closely with all of them, but ultimately everything is up to them, that’s where the idea of the ”Record Collective” came from. I wanted it to be a sort of band-driven thing. I don’t know if ultimately that was successful, but we’re still here, so that’s a positive thing. I grew up loving (and still do) Dischord, and really wanted something like that for Reno, so every Humaniterrorist record has been and always will be from Reno bands. We’re just about to put out our 29th release. It’s from the excellent Hate Recorder, whose singer, Tim Blake, is the one that hooked us up with Tim Green, and was also with us when we recorded Hunk.
POPDOSE: Do you have a tentative street date for the new record yet? Do you guys plan to tour outside of Nevada to support it?
CN: No street date yet, we’re still pulling together art and need to get records pressed. It’s remarkable that we live in a time where driverless cars can deliver me food and I can watch every episode of The Simpsons on my phone but it still takes six months to get an LP pressed. Long story short, it will be some time in 2018. I’m sure at some point around the time the album comes out we will do a little touring, but we’re in sort of a tight spot where 3 of the 4 of us are fathers and can’t really commit to a ton of time to grind it out on the road. That being said, we do love eating at great new restaurants and going on tour is a good excuse for that, so, you know.
POPDOSE: Okay — band’s best show ever was … Go!
CN: There isn’t one specific crazy time or anything that sticks out to me. We’ve been really fortunate to have a bunch of friends in great bands all over the country, so we tend to play great shows whenever we travel. I’ll tell you, one show that really surprised me (and I think everyone in the band) in a great way was opening for D.I. last year in Nevada City. We thought it was going to be a kind of a bust and a weird show, but we were really taken aback by great it was. There were a ton of people there, all super stoked, and they loved every minute of it. Plus D.I. ruled. I really love when those kinds of things happen and force me to reassess my own boneheaded preconceived notions. We typically attract a pretty rowdy crowd, so as long as no one is getting hurt, I think are shows are all pretty fun.
POPDOSE: Now, it’s time for shout-outs. What are you all listening to, watching and reading these days?
BB: I’ll tackle the ”reading” part. In the last few months, I’ve read some excellent books: Going Clear by Lawrence Wright, which was partially the basis of the HBO documentary of the same name. It’s a great behind-the-scenes examination of Scientology. I love reading about Scientology because it’s everything fucked-up about organized religion distilled down to a ridiculous essence. I also recently read The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore, which was also terrific. Those two books were fascinating to read back to back because William Moulton Marston, who created Wonder Woman, and L. Ron Hubbard, who created Scientology, are oddly similar. They were both total charlatans, for one. In addition to creating Wonder Woman, Marston also invented the lie detector machine (an inspiration for Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth). Hubbard, of course, developed a religion that uses an ”E-meter” as part of its spiritual development pyramid scheme. The E-meter is a simplified lie detector. So these guys, both of whom were total liars, were obsessed with machines that could reveal truths. The difference between the two is that Marston ultimately created a force for good in the world—I’ll happily endorse the values of Wonder Woman—whereas Scientology is nasty business.
I also recently read The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. It’s a neat, multifaceted novel—but part of it explores what would happen if the devil were to come to a totally atheistic society, like Soviet Russia. It’s really wild and entertaining. And there’s an awesome witch character, who partially inspired the lyrics to ”Broomrider,” one of the songs on Hunk.
CN: From a musical standpoint, the aforementioned Hate Recorder is fantastic. Gaytheist put out another flawless record this year, as did Drunk Dad. Sashay up in Seattle is pretty righteous and that new Dreamdecay album is a work of fucking art. Some local friends of ours, Weight of the Tide just put out a crushing new record. Our homies in Tera Melos put out another great, forward-thinking rock record this year. We have a ton of friends in great bands both here and around the country that never cease to amaze me.