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Day Tripping with Destruction Unit

Chris Shaw of Ex-Cult talks to Destruction Unit about their killer new record.
September 16, 2015, 6:33pm

Photo by Kaleb Marshall

After releasing amazing albums like Void (Jolly Dream), Sonoran (Volar), Deep Trip (Sacred Bones) and touring almost non-stop for the past two years, its safe to say that Destruction Unit deserves their place at the top of the noise/psych/hardcore/punk food chain. Me and the folks at Noisey could write a book on how great this band is, or you could head over to the Adult Swim site and download their entire new album Negative Feedback Resistor for free and decide for yourself. I caught up with Jes Aurelius, the defacto mouthpiece of Destruction Unit, two days before their Negative Feedback Resistor release show to find out more about the process of recording their new album, their raucous set at the Berserktown festival in LA, and what its like to be asked to turn down on a regular basis.

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NOISEY: Where did you record Negative Feedback Resistor?
Jes Aurelius: It was recorded in Burbank, California at Valley Recording Company with our friend Joe Cardomone. He was the main producer on it and we had an engineer named Greg Gordon working on it too. We spent about a week tracking everything and then went on a short two-week tour to Chicago to play at the Levitation Psych Fest there. Then we toured back and spent a week finishing it. We had a few friends come in and jam on it at that point. Alex from Dirty Beaches and Last Lizard came in and played synth and Loke from Crotian Amor played on it, Don Bolles came in and played some guitar on it as well.

Was it a premeditated move to take a break halfway through the recording process, or did that show just come up when you already had studio time booked?
The idea was to get the main parts down and then tour. We hadn’t played some of these songs live so we wanted to tour on them and see what happened. After you play songs every night for a couple weeks you start to get new ideas and come up with new ways of approaching the original song you had. With Deep Trip, we wrote the album and then immediately recorded it without touring on it, and a lot of those songs have changed significantly and parts have been added that in hindsight would have been cool to do in the studio. The idea was to have a little bit of the Deep Trip immediacy, but also have time to see where the song would go after being played live. It wasn’t a super long tour so nothing was drastically altered, but it provided an objective viewpoint on the songs instead of just writing them and then immediately recording them.

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I’m sure the question everyone wants me to ask you is how many different types of drugs you guys were on when you recorded Negative Feedback Resistor.
It’s honestly hard to remember. Once the whole process starts it’s hard to remember what all goes on. A ton of weed was smoked, I can assure you that. We also had things to get sped up on hand. Everyone has their own certain cocktails they utilize.

Photo by Takayuki Okada

Where does Adult Swim come into play with the new album?
That’s still something that I don’t quite understand fully. Nick and myself have another project called Marshstepper and we were on tour in Europe last year about to play this huge show. I remember waking up the day before we were going to play the show and getting this email from Adult Swim saying they were really into Destruction Unit and everyone in the office really liked our stuff. The said they basically wanted to give us money to record a new album and the only stipulation was that we would give it to them when we were done so they could put it on their website for free download. It’s one of those things where, when you get approached by a company like that, you’re thinking “ok but where are the strings, what are the stipulations?” Honestly when it first happened I thought that it was something I didn’t want to be a part of. But after going back and forth with them and realizing that they were so hands-off, it seemed like a good idea. They were basically like “we are going to give you this money, and if you want to go off and not even use it to record, that’s fine. Use the money for whatever you want, all we need is an album at the end of it.”

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I was wondering if they were going to want to approve anything, like approve the album or approve the lyrics, or if they wanted to hear it first and sign off on it, but they basically just said to send the album when we were done with it and that’s all. There were no requirements for promoting it or using their logo or anything. They actually told us we couldn’t use their logo even if we wanted to. Its kind of one of those things that seems unprecedented in this day and age. In hindsight we may look back at it and wish that we wouldn’t have done it, but all you can do at the time is go with your gut. I don’t have any complaints about it, they never even heard the album until it was mixed and mastered and already turned in to Sacred Bones. The first song [Adult Swim] heard off of it was probably one of the songs that was already online streaming. Like I said, its something I don’t fully understand, but it’s cool. The album leaked on torrent sites a couple of weeks ago, so its one of those things where the album is already going to be online for free anyway, and that’s fine with me.

That doesn’t even sound like an advance, like the way a label would give you money. That just sounds like “here, take this money.”
More or less, yeah that’s exactly what it was.

You guys all have side projects that are extremely active. How important is it to step away from Destruction Unit and focus on these other bands to keep things fresh with the band you all share together?
I think breaking away is always important. All the different projects we do are equally important. Obviously for the past few years Destruction Unit has been the most important or the most visible or whatever, but the other endeavors are just as special to us. With how much we tour as Destruction Unit, if we didn’t have other outlets to go to, the band would probably crumble pretty quickly or implode and self-destruct. Every project has its own function, and they all serve different purposes. They are all means to similar ends I guess. What we can accomplish with Marshstepper is very different than what we can accomplish with Destruction Unit. It’s different than what we can accomplish by publishing writing or doing video stuff or performance stuff or whatever. They all have different objectives and different goals, and they all serve different personal function.

Photo by Takayuki Okada

How many side projects or personal projects are shooting off of Destruction Unit at this point?
Number wise? Oh man I don’t know if I can put a number on it. There are so many projects that are in a constant state of flux, there are projects that are recording projects only, live projects only, stuff like that. It’d be hard to put a number on, but its one of those things where if you see it and it’s out there than it exists, and if you don’t, then it doesn’t exist anymore I guess.

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Tell me about the bands that are playing your release show this Sunday in LA.
All the bands are friends of ours. Two of the bands Arizmenda and Volahn are from the Black Twilight Circle from LA, which is a Black Metal Collective, and they are both incredible bands. And then Blazing Eye and Lock are also playing and they are both hardcore bands from LA. Everyone in those bands are people who we’ve played with or toured with in other projects, so it’s nice to have those kind of people playing with us, and they are some of the best bands in the country, not just LA.

From what I can tell, you seem to be responsible for the bands artwork in terms of flyers and promotional material. Did you do the album artwork?
The album artwork was kind of a collaboration. It started out as an original painting by our friend Barry who plays in Institute and Back to Back. He is an incredible artist and painter and mixed media artist, and the album art was originally a white, sort of peach color painting of his and we just took the painting and altered the color spectrum of it and used it for the front and back of the record. Most of the other stuff relating to the album, like the promo posters and stuff like that, were made by me.

Is that something that you’ve always done, or did you just kind of take over the promotional/visual stuff once Destruction Unit started? Personally, one of my favorite things about your band is the visual aesthetic that you guys have.
It’s not something I’ve always been doing for Destruction Unit, but I have been doing it since I joined the band. It started just as a necessity after growing up in Phoenix and playing in bands and booking bands and not having anyone else around to do that type of thing. Over the years you kind of develop what your good at. As far as Destruction Unit goes, it’s either me creating stuff or someone we are very close with. We try not to stray too far away from our group of friends and our collective and circle. We are fortunate enough that everyone we collaborate with is extremely talented, so there’s not really very much of a need to stray. There’s also the sense of knowing that everything is coming from the same place and you’re not just hiring some guy you don’t know to do your artwork or whatever.

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How was Berserktown? I was pretty bummed that I couldn’t make it out there.
Man it was too much. One of my favorite sets was from this black metal band from Mexico called Xibalba. Not the hardcore band from California. Royal Trux was amazing to see, Vexx from Olympia ripped. Milk Music was great, Damien Dbruvnik was great. Helm, Varg, it’s hard to even pick because no one really played a bad set.

Were you guys there for the whole weekend?
Yeah we were and it was insane. At the end of each night there would be this group of 40-50 people out on the street because the hotels people got were really close to the venue, and there would be all these stragglers just wondering around pretty inebriated. I remember walking back one night and we walked to this hotel and I remember thinking “there’s no way this hotel is going to let us all inside here, this is a recipe for disaster.” Someone from the hotel intercepted us and escorted us all into this conference room and locked us in there until it was ok to let everyone out. The conference room definitely got destroyed but the rest of the hotel was safe I guess. It was pretty surreal, but honestly the whole weekend was pretty surreal.

You guys were listed as Destruction Unit and Friends on that Beserktown bill, who else joined you on that show?
We played with Alex from Dirty Beaches, our buddy Sam from Blazing Eye played guitar, Logan from Hankwood and the Hammerheads played guitar, our buddy Anton from Lower played some percussion and so did Speedboat. Our buddy Jonas from Varg was doing some synth stuff; it was a handful of people.

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That must have been a pretty packed stage.
Fortunately the stage was huge, but it was still a pretty tight fit. The photos from that show look pretty retarded because there are so many people and amps and everyone had to have as many amps as possible. I was surprised at how accommodating the sound guy and stage manager were to us. Nothing seemed to phase them and I was even confused at what was going on and who was doing what. Some of the people that were playing with us didn’t even show up until right before we were about to play.

Photo by Takayuki Okada

I imagine you guys probably get asked us to turn down a lot.
[Laughs] Yeah, especially in Europe. I love playing Europe but that’s something I’’m always dreading in the back in my mind. We get it a lot here too but not as much as we do over there. We try to make it pretty clear what the situation is, but I know there are a lot of people that book shows that don’t necessarily dig too deeply into what they are getting into, they just see a name and hear people talking about it and go ahead and book it. We try to make it pretty clear what we do, but still there are certain nights where a sound guy will say “hey I know it says you guys play pretty loud, but tonight you’re going to have to not play as loud,” and it just doesn’t work like that. You don’t show up to a venue and have someone say “Hey I know you guys have a new album out, but tonight you’re going to play cover songs instead.” People don’t necessarily understand that and it’s hard to not come across like an asshole when you’re trying to be persistent and stay true to what you do and not sacrifice anything. A lot of sound guys will be like “well this is my job and I know what I am doing” but its like, well, we’ve also been touring all over the world for two years straight and we know what we are doing too. Maybe you don’t like it but the people who are coming to see us know what to expect. It’s not your job to dictate how we sound, its your job to make sure everyone enjoys the show.

Was there any leftover material from Negative Feedback Resistor or did everything make it on the album?
There were some songs that we wrote that we just kind of scrapped, stuff we recorded demos for but that didn’t make the cut. There were also some jam sessions, some that were like two hours long that featured various friends that didn’t make it on to the album, but some of it did. We will probably do a tape of that stuff or something, but for the most part it was pretty coordinated as far as everything we needed for the album. We tried not to fuck around too much.

Chris Shaw is a contributer at Noisey and member of Ex-Cult. Follow him on Twitter - @ShawMemphis