Interview: Destruction Unit

Out of the garage and into the light. If Destruction Unit were the kind band that adhered to mission statements, endgames, and preconceived philosophies, then this might be theirs. Destruction Unit is not that kind of band. A few minutes with the Arizona desert-punk outfit’s new LP, Void, is proof enough. A review of their documentary worthy history—a french-surnamed frontman with an Elvis-indebted alias and croon, a two album stint with the late Jay Reatard, synth punk anthems traded for 8-minute, three-guitar peyote trips—renders any argument to the contrary moot. With record deal rumors swirling and the panel van wheels rolling on a spring tour with Merchandise and Milk Music (including a stop at 285 Kent for this Saturday’s My Social List rager), we sat down with guitarist J. Aurelius to discuss everything from Death By Audio to the desert. Cleary, even though “give a fuck” isn’t in the band’s vocabulary, they still have plenty to say.

Destruction Unit is over a decade old now, in which time you have all played in a lot of bands and worked on a variety of projects. What is it about Destruction Unit that keeps everyone coming back?

First of all, when the band started the lineup was completely different. With that said, however, it has always essentially been Ryan’s [frontman Ryan “Elvis Wong” Rousseau] band. He’s been the constant all along. This particular lineup has been together for awhile now but we are always working with a lot of different bands, moving around based on what we are feeling at the time.

Your new record Void dropped earlier last week and is a raw, immediate piece of music. What was the writing and recording process like? Was there a preconceived philosophy or intent?

We recorded the record in Ryan’s kitchen but we didn’t put too much thought into the “philosophy” of it going in. We just started recording songs that we had already been playing live for awhile—songs that had appeared in a variety of different incarnations on previous recordings—and they evolved from there. I was flying out to Europe the following morning so we pretty much recorded the whole album in one day. I think Ryan tracked his vocals separately but everything else was tracked live as a band.

Destruction Unit is based in Tempe, Arizona and a lot of music media has focused on this fact of late, saying that the band’s natural surroundings directly influence the scorched songs that make up both Sonoran and Void. Has the desert actually influenced your sound on those records and, if so, in what ways?

I guess to some degree you can’t deny that your surroundings, no matter what they are, are going to effect what you put out there. It would probably be a lot different if I were from somewhere else but at the same time it’s hard for me to say for sure because I can’t get that outside perspective. I can’t say whether or not they’re right or wrong because as long as we’ve been in Arizona we’ve been making music so I really don’t have the perspective they have; the perspective needed to make that sort of determination.

In stark contrast to ethos of traditional punk music, a lot of recent Destruction Unit songs push the eight-minute envelope and feature three guitars. Is this decidedly anti-punk approach an intentional decision? 

I don’t know if any one song has that intent. We aren’t specifically concerned with what punk is supposed to be and what punk isn’t supposed to be. In fact, I feel that a lot of times what punk is “supposed to be” is almost embarrassing. Everyone in the band comes from hardcore and punk backgrounds that, while great, bring with them expectations that can sometimes hold you back. Honestly, we have always written whatever we want; whatever we feel the album needs at the time.

You guys are members of the Ascetic House. Tell us a little bit about what it is and what you are currently working on?

The Ascectic House—I don’t like calling it a collective because that is a loaded term—is essentially a group of artists who all come from the same place and all work on different things. Recently music has definitely been the house’s most visible element but we also publish literary ‘zines, make short films, create performance art, and more. We have a lot of committed people who are dedicated to their craft and work extremely hard so there is always something new being created, which means that everything is changing week-to-week.

As a band, does Destruction Unit have any inspirations from other artistic mediums?

Like the desert thing, our music might take on non-music influences but we never make a conscious effort to have them or integrate them. Most of our songs start as two hour jams from which we pick out pieces we like and work on them until they can stand on their own.

Working so closely with other art forms, do you ever feel like you spread yourself creatively thin?

It can be pretty overwhelming at times but no one is forcing us to do this. Sometimes you have to step back and prioritize; take a look at everything and decide what is the most important and, consequently, what needs to be worked on first. We are the kind of band that works better when we have more on our plate than we should, however. As was the case with Void, it always ends up being an “Oh, I have to fly to Europe tomorrow, guess we better get this done today” kind-of-thing.

Though punk music will always have a dedicated core following, it has become “cool” or “en vogue” again over the past year, garnering a lot of pretty mainstream press and love in the process. A lot of sound-alike bands have popped up and different kinds of people are going to shows now. Is this something the band pays attention to or does it not matter to you?

It’s definitely something you have to pay attention to. This isn’t to say people haven’t been listening to punk all along but there are certain times and certain circles where you can’t just walk into a venue or interview not knowing what’s going on. You have to be aware of what is happening and what people are listening to in your own industry.

Finally, a lot of our readers are total venue geeks, do you have any favorite places to play in NYC/the United States?

In New York City I like Death By Audio. I haven’t played too many places in New York City but I’ve played that one a few times and it’s definitely cool. With that said, there are so many places all over the country and, for that matter, the world, doing awesome things for live music. For me, it’s not so much about the spot but the people that run it and go to it. In Phoenix especially, a lot of spots pop up for six weeks or six months and then move or disappear. These types of places aren’t always sustainable so it usually means that we are usually trying to play for a specific set of people  as opposed to a specific spot.