Interview: Destruction Unit

Destruction Unit is a psych-rock group from Tempe, Arizona whose name serves as a succint description of what their music aims to achieve. The band was formed by Ryan Rousseau twelve years ago with Alicja Trout and Jay Reatard and has since expanded to five members, now containing JS Aurelias, Nick Nappa, Rusty Rousseau, and Justin Keefer. From samplings of repetitious slow-jams to rambunctious-yet-stark punk songs, they’re always looking to turn up the volume. I had the opportunity to trade words with guitarist JS Aurelias about their soon-to-be-released album Void, nature, and the white-noise difficulties of making music.

Beats Per Minute (Andrew Halverson): I heard your Loud Sound Tour back in October/November was pretty eventful. You guys played in the middle of Hurricane Sandy with The Men, right?

JS Aurelias: Yes, the tour went very well. We found out about Hurricane Sandy on our drive to Rochester. We had been hearing about some storm that was supposed to hit New York, but didn’t think too much about it until one of us finally looked it up. Seeing the headlines “Worst storm in 100 years” and “Storm of biblical proportions” had us worried, but we never considered skipping New York. The night of the show with The Men was weird because all of the public transit had been shut down and the streets were all empty. The whole city was devoid of people, very eerie. No one knew if the venue was going to cancel the show, as pretty much every other event in New York had been, but the venue let it happen and it was great. Being the only bar open probably helped. We left New York at 4am straight from the venue, were the only car on the road down the coast, save for a two mile line of emergency vehicles passing us driving north. The storm hit that morning while we were driving and we essentially had to outrun the thing all the way to Charlotte. Couldn’t stop to sleep or even sober up from the night before. Every time we’d stop for gas, it would catch up and start to blizzard, insane wind, pouring rain… Then we’d get back on the road and drive out of it. Very surreal.

“Seeing the headlines had us worried, but we never considered skipping New York”

BPM: Your music as of late actually seems apt for a storm, raising hell, or whatever giant thing you want to call it — it’s a noticeable turn from the more calculated krautrock from your last LP Sonoran. What spawned the heavier, punk aesthetic?

JSA: We all come from punk backgrounds and we’ve always been a punk band. Even the last record is a punk record, although it’s less aggressive. We’re not interested in making the same album twice and we’re always exploring different ways to express the emotions and ideas we want to express. Sometimes that means making aggressive music and sometimes that means calming it down a little, but it’s always confrontational. What may seem like a pretty big change is actually the result of us constantly being at work playing, writing, recording… There is never a break so things develop and change and move pretty quickly, especially if you’re watching from afar.

BPM: On the subject of recording, how has the process been making Void? Has anything influenced the way it’s recorded or produced?

JSA: To date, we’ve recorded everything ourselves. All of our bands and projects are recorded by ourselves. We don’t have the funds to go into a studio and it’s more condusive to what we do to be able to take our time when necessary. With Void, we recorded pretty much the whole thing, then the masters got fried somehow. Myself and Nick have another group called Marshstepper that toured Europe last summer. The masters got fried the week before we left. The day before our flight to Berlin we had to go back into our studio and re-record everything. At the time it was quite obnoxious but I think it came out very good. Better than the first time around. Everything happens for a reason.

BPM: In the space around your live set up the music is obviously loud, which seems to be the overarching goal, but it seems more than that at times — it’s pretty captivating. Do you think your music is attempting to fuel personal change or catharsis?

JSA: The music is a personal thing for sure, but its also an extremely efficient form of communication. We’re interested in taking things well beyond where they’ve ever been. You have to go beyond. Breaking everything down. We’re interested in loud sound and extermination and damage and transgression. We’re not trying to figure anything out, because once you start that process you’re a corpse. The music makes us feel good. The more energy it has the more real it is. The more power it has the more free you are to overcome your inhibitions. Our music is attempting to make noise.

“We’re interested in taking things well beyond where they’ve ever been”

BPM: It’s definitely clear you guys embrace your area as a major influence. What about Arizona fosters the band’s material?

JSA: What I find interesting is that I can walk out to the desert. There is a very specific spot I walk to. I couldn’t even describe how to get there because it has become so habitual. Maybe a couple years ago I could tell you, but now the location is a mystery even to me. I just simply arrive there after walking for some amount of time. But when I arrive there is always this abundance of rocks and gemstones and dirt. Sometimes there are animals, but not always. It was really a revelation. Nowhere within the city is there a place so willing to give away its own creations, its own beauty and its own excrement. If I take the trash from some random house, I could be arrested! Yet, I walk out into the desert, to a place I’ve never been, I’ve never introduced myself to, I’ve never had a conversation with. And there it is, without fail. Miles of dirt, stones, cacti, shrubbery, for me to take and do with as I please. It blows my mind every time. It is one thing to create something on your own, or to even put in effort to create something that is partially your doing. But what is really special is taking something, something you know nothing about the history of, something who’s owner and creator you’ve never met nor conversed with, just because you can. You can do anything with that! There is no feeling of obligation to make something of it, or to sell it to someone, or to even pick it back up after you’ve set it down. Its death means nothing to you because its birth you did not witness. That’s how the desert influences us. We have no obligations beyond what we take for ourselves. Stealing things to give them power.

BPM: With Void (assumably) around the corner, what’s the goal for Destruction Unit’s 2013?

JSA: Void is coming out very soon. Depending on how long it takes for this to be published, it might already be out already. We don’t have any tours planned but we will definitely be on the road next Summer. In March we are playing [35 Denton] a festival in Denton, TX with some friends, you should check it out if you haven’t (Nu Sensae, OBN IIIs, Merchandise, Gary War). Then we’ve got some shows in Austin for SXSW right after that. In May we’re playing Chaos In Tejas and will do a longer tour after that. We’re also currently writing and recording a new LP that will hopefully be out by that time.

BPM: I’m curious how a band as busy as Destruction Unit — amongst the touring — finds the time to put out two records before the second half of the year. Is it just based purely on inspiration?

JSA: I don’t know. We’re pretty dysfunctional and lazy honestly. There isn’t much else to occupy your time with here so when we do feel like being productive, it often turns into music.

BPM: Converting that energy into music is absolutely valid, although it’s sometimes physically and mentally draining. How often do you battle with that in recording or on the road?

JSA: That’s not the battle… The battle is everything else that comes with making music and touring. Dealing with hostile sound guys and venue employees, shady show promoters, giving interviews, dealing with journalists and “industry people” in general. It’s usually pretty awful. As soon as you step out of the warehouse spaces and DIY communities it becomes a free-for-all. But we’ve got an advantage that industry people and industry bands don’t have… we know how to do everything from promotion, to artwork, to booking, to distributing, to playing. However, sometimes you have to step outside of your comfort zone and see what else is out there.