[EFFORTLESSLY EDGY POP] As often happens when you sit down with a band to chat, the conversation really starts cooking when the tape isn't rolling. After I'd shut off my recorder, three-fourths of Nucular Aminals and I—fueled by tall boys of Hamm's, bourbon and pizza—traded stories about juvenile delinquency, bike accidents, first concerts and our mutual love for Mississippi Records' cassette releases. It was the kind of conversation that doesn't feel like work.
Don't get me wrong—our interview proper wasn't a huge failure by any means. Yet, when digging into the specifics of this quartet's blithe and laid-back, Farfisa-ingrained pop and the inspiration behind certain songs, the band—especially frontman Robert Comitz—seemed more than a little wary. When I asked about the inspiration behind the alternatively buoyant and trudging track "August 21st" (found on the Aminals' upcoming self-titled release on K Records), Comitz went silent in his North Portland home while his bandmate, bassist Jheremy Grigsby, told the tale. Hearing the details, though, one could hardly blame Comitz for deferring.
The band had just finished performing at a house show and was in the midst of cleaning up when Comitz ran into a gaggle of teen boys that belonged to a notorious tagging crew. Fueled by liquor-induced confidence, the gaunt musician shot a snide remark in their direction.
Grigsby: "They get up. They throw a table over. And they push him over, and they just start kicking him and beating him. It lasted maybe 30 seconds at most. We came running around to him and they took off. We go over to Robert, and his glasses are missing and he's all beat up. And he has this massive concussion. He doesn't remember playing, doesn't remember what we did. So he wrote the song about that night."
Not your typical pop-song subject matter (nor is "Bob Flanagan," the band's ode to the titular author and poet best known for his sadomasochistic performance art), but it is that disconnect between what you see and what lies under the surface that often makes life and art so fascinating. Such as the revelation that Comitz, a soft-spoken gent who looks like he should be studying for his master's in comparative literature, used to bomb around his Arizona hometown on a dirt bike, terrorizing the local police. Or that the three musicians sinking into the well-worn cushions of Comitz's sofa spent endless hours crafting their sound before accidentally falling into the free-flowing '60s garage by way of '90s underground pop that, in spite of its dark underpinnings, makes the band's self-titled, self-produced LP the perfect soundtrack for summer road trips, dance parties or make-out sessions.
"I don't know how intentional it is," said keyboardist Erin Schmith of the band's central melodic instrument, the Farfisa organ. "I just liked those instruments a lot. And I was really lucky that I found someone with a nice working Farfisa to buy. It just fell together in this nice way."
Comitz agreed. "We wrote around our instruments. We found things that sounded good and that we enjoyed playing, and it turned into what we do." With that settled, Comitz shrugged, poured himself another glass of Bulleit, and quietly waited for the subject to change.
SEE IT: Nucular Aminals play the Know on Tuesday, June 28, with the Shivas and Hooded Hags. 8 pm. Cover. 21+.