Song premiere and interview: Unicycle Loves You, ‘The Dead Age’
I went into writing “The Dead Age” thinking, “If I were to die tomorrow, what would I want the last song anybody hears from me to be?” It’s an amalgamation of knowledge and rage while also serving as my imaginary “fuck you from the grave” to the human race. It’s really invigorating to sing live because I honestly mean every word I say.
That’s Jim Carroll, frontman of Unicycle Loves You, an inventive group of lo-fi-noise-pop-punk rockers currently based in Brooklyn. And while Carroll might sound angry, what comes through in the music is not so much a fury as a sincerity, a frustration borne out of the process of writing the best, most honest rock record he can. Today I have the pleasure of sharing with you the title track of ULY’s upcoming LP, “The Dead Age,” which is due June 10th.
I’ve spent a lot of time with the record now and I can say with confidence that it’s one you won’t want to miss, especially if you’re a fan of the shoegazing, noisy likes of No Age, My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth, et al. Stream the title track above and go pre-order the album as a digital download from iTunes or on CD and color vinyl from Bandcamp.
And as if the new track weren’t enough, I also had the chance to chat with Carroll about the band, the album, and the exertion and exhaustion that went into the tracks. Read on for more.
You’ve been putting out a record about every two years since 2008 with an ever-changing sonic aesthetic and “The Dead Age” is no exception. Did you approach the album with a desire to experiment with new sounds or has the band simply found itself stylistically adrift over the years, toying with whatever comes naturally?
With our second and third albums, we were distancing ourselves from the studio-polish of the first one and trying to get back to the natural sound of my pre-Unicycle Loves You demos. But while recording “The Dead Age”, there seemed to have been a subconscious attempt to take lo-fi to a much heavier place. I never want to feel like “we’ve finally found our sound.” That’s boring. I want every album to be better than the last. While we have found a songwriting method that suits us, I’d like to think that with each album we’re sort of traveling further down the rabbit hole.
Can you talk a little about the songwriting method that the band found?
We’ve all found it easiest for me to just present my ideas to the band as fully formed demo songs. So I’ll record all the instruments and vocals, let Nicole [Vitale, bass and vocals] and Dennis [Lehrer, drums] listen to it for a week or so, then give it a shot in rehearsal. I’m pretty open to their suggestions since I tend to record overly simple drum parts and overly complicated bass lines. We re-record the bass, drums and vocals on top of the demo, leaving my initial demo guitar and percussion tracks to make it to the final cut.
“I never want to feel like ‘we’ve finally found our sound.’ That’s boring. I want every album to be better than the last.”
Most of “The Dead Age” was written and recorded throughout the first half of 2013, but two of the tracks (“Falling Off” & “Any Daydreaming Morning”) are actually two of the first demos that I had recorded for our previous album “Failure” back in early 2011. So some of the guitars and other sounds you hear on those songs have been sitting around for 3 and a half years. Not to mention, the base groove of the interlude track “X-ray Glaze” is something that I’ve been toying around with since 2004. So you’re actually hearing some stuff on there that’s been in limbo for 10+ years. I guess you never know when your new ideas might catch up with your old ones.
“X-ray Glaze,” now that you mention it, and “Silent Minus” are both standouts: they’re brief (quasi-)instrumental interludes in an album mostly full of garage psych-jams. “Silent Minus” is meandering and shoe-gazey while “X-ray Glaze” almost reminds me of a rock take on “Disintegration Loops.” How did these tracks come about and find their way into the track-list?
I think this album sonically captures the emotion and physical exhaustion that we go through in our actual lives rather than just providing songs to escape it. I really pushed myself to be a better guitar player this time around and poured all of the agony and rage into my guitar that I could muster up. I’d often find myself completely dripping with sweat and out of breath after a few takes. Dennis and I basically recorded all the drums last summer in a hot box of a rehearsal space with no AC or ventilation. It was a real rough, hot couple of days. But sometimes there is a cool, calm breeze to get you through the hot mess. That’s why those tracks need to be on the album.
Do you think that emotion and exhaustion is reflected in the album’s lyrics?
Yeah, I think so. Sometimes the lyrics are more cryptic than others though. I can’t help but let my cynicism and sarcasm out through my lyrics.
The lyrics to this album actually fascinate me. Often dark, twisted, or just bummed out lines are delivered in a poppy, almost gleeful way: “Face Tattoo” (above) comes to mind, along with “Grownups.” What was your lyrical approach for the album? There are a few love songs in here (“Any Daydreaming Morning” being the most classic love song, lyrically), but a lot of songs about feeling lost or down (“Falling Off” and “JAWS”).
We’ve always had a bit of that approach (dark material delivered in a semi-happy way) on all our albums, but I think I get a little more comfortable expressing myself each time. There’s definitely less covering up the misery of life with nonsense this time around. I’ve always admired how Arthur Lee [of Love] or Stuart Murdoch [of Belle and Sebastian] have consistently pulled that off in their work, and I always strive to be a more honest songwriter like them. I’ll let the listener determine exactly what the album’s “about.”
“You can’t fake the real life shit show out here. You just have to live it.”
How does the Brooklyn music scene inform your creation process, if at all? Is the sheer quantity of new artists in the area ever stifling or does it help to be exposed to lots of sound? In other words: where and how does Unicycle Loves You fit into Brooklyn?
While we’re all originally from New York and New Jersey, the band formed and operated for 6 years in Chicago. We decided to move back east to Brooklyn in 2012 and, overall, it’s been a pretty exhilarating experience. All those years in Chicago, we kind of felt out of place because of our roots here. Chicago is amazing and treated us fairly well, but we ended up feeling stuck there personally and creatively. I love the Brooklyn music scene because it’s always changing and we got a fresh new start without necessarily starting over. That being said, there are so many more worthless, bullshit people here due to the sheer population, and a lot of my disdain for people in general has definitely effected my creative process. For example, I got my ass kicked by some bouncer at The Levee one night because he mistook my goofing around with some friends as me being racist in some way. I got the song “Bad News Club” out of that experience, so I guess I came out on top in the end. You can’t fake the real life shit show out here. You just have to live it.
After the album release, what are your plans? Time off, touring, back to the studio?
We are touring a little less than in the past because our cost of living has gone up so much, but we’re still doing all we can to make some tour happen in June and July through the East Coast and the Midwest. After that, I will definitely be working on writing new material and hopefully we can plan a brief stint out to Europe and/or the southern US early next year.
[Images: Gustavo Ponce, Amanda Hatfield]