Author: Duncan H. Ros
EP Release Show-April 29, 2017
God Hates Unicorns: Interview
To quote Monty Python: “And now for something completely different.” A slapstick interlude like this would be the best prophylactic to the uninitiated when introducing pseudo-industrial noise punk trio God Hates Unicorns. For fans of all things chaotic in the sonic realm, you’ll find this a quaint walk in the Too Dark Park. For everyone else, there’s Mastercard.
I had the chance to talk with lead singer Joshua Hartz about GHU in all of their decadent glory. They will be performing at the annual Spacerock BBQ as well as releasing their self-titled LP on April 29th at the Thompson Run Athletic Association (I’ve posted the flier and line-up at the end of the article).
Tell me about the band and how you guys got started.
Me and the bass player Jeff grew up together. We were in a band back in high school. It was a hardcore-ish metal band. That didn’t really work out. Then years later I was in a couple of other bands that fizzled out. Then me and him were like, “hey, let’s start doing music again.” So we started jamming in my basement. We started out with myself on electronics and vocals with him on bass. He would run his bass channel two separate ways—into a guitar amp and a bass amp. It was really noise rockey and weird. We played our first show as God Hates Unicorns with two local bands. I asked my buddy Nick—who I had played a show with back when he was in the band called Pretty—I shot him a text and told him to come see my band. He showed up, and the sound was so terrible that I just ended up laying on the ground for half an hour [laughs]. No, let’s say ten minutes. I’m an exaggerator. After the ten minutes I got up and started saying shit into a blowhorn. It was at this sports bar and everyone was looking at me like I was deranged and crazy. [Nick] was there in attendance. The next day I was like, “hey man, want to play some guitar for us,” and he was like “yeah, of course I do!” I was like, “after seeing that, really?” And we started playing together after that. This was about two years ago.
So this ten year history playing music—is that all in Pittsburgh?
Yes it is.
How have you seen the Pittsburgh music scene change over the past ten years?
Back when I was doing music in my last band, an electronic goth duo called Debutante, there was a lot more industrial stuff going on. There were different goth nights and stuff like that. And now I think a lot of it is more DIY. There are more small little punk shows here and there. To be honest over the last few years and playing shows I don’t go out that much because I had a kid two years ago. So me going out isn’t always an option. But there’s still a lot of cool stuff going on. Back when I was in high school there was a lot cool stuff going on.
For God Hates Unicorns, what would your ideal show be in Pittsburgh?
It would probably be on a bigger stage like Mr. Smalls. I wouldn’t want stage AE quite yet because I don’t think we are quite there yet. I would like to play with some national acts I used to play with and get back into the industrial crowd. But I don’t know, ideal shows?
I mean like if you had a fantasy show, what that would look like?
Oh. I think unicorn go-go dancers would be kind of cool. I have a pulpit but I’ve never used it [laughs]. It’s so heavy. I don’t feel like carrying it to little dive bars.
Where did the band name come from?
I would go out to my buddy’s place in Cincinnati, and he had a place with acres of land. On the weekend we would go out to Kentucky and go to the Creation Museum. You know, with the people who believe that humans lived at the same time as dinosaurs . So one day we were drunk by the fire and I’m like “how come there are no goddamn unicorns [at the creation museum]?” Then I was like, “God fucking hates unicorns.” That always stuck with me. Then when I started the band with Jeff we decided to go with that name. It sticks out and people are like, “what the hell?” We took it from there. We don’t take ourselves too seriously.
What I like about the band is that you sort of have demonic vibe. The imagery and feel of a Satanic metal band or an industrial band from the 90s but you throw in a humorous tongue-in-cheek sort of twist.
Yeah. We are all very cynical and we try to amuse ourselves [laughs]. I think that kind of shows in what we do. Even if no one else thinks it’s funny we think it’s hilarious.
You guys have a really abrasive sound. When you’re making this music, who is your audience? Do you think about the audience in terms of who is going to hear it or is it purely for the people in the band?
It’s pretty much for us. There’s a couple songs where we try to pull back a little bit for the sake of the audience. There’s not very many bands we can play with in Pittsburgh where we sound exactly alike, so we try to think about their audience and not just make everybody hate us for making all of this racket on stage for half an hour. Usually when we write we write for ourselves, but we don’t try to make people not like it. We don’t consider the audience too much. We don’t concern ourselves with whether the industrial guys like it with our synthesizers or whether the punk guys like it with our faster and heavier stuff. We more do what we like and if we get criticism and someone suggests we go a certain direction we will think about it.
This latest record you have is a weird blend of catchy elements, but it’s mixed in with your signature abrasive grinding sound. Do you intentionally try to balance those two things?
I think sometimes it comes naturally in the balance. I’m pretty abrasive with my vocals. Nick, the guitarist, is pretty abrasive but he has an ear for melody and cool rhythms too. You can hear that on the “God Hates Unicorns” song. I’ve always had an eye for melody because in my last band I was doing all of the electronic work and had to blend the beats and the melodies–all of that fun stuff. Some of it’s natural and some of it we’re are forced to think about. We can’t just [sound abrasive] the whole damn time. We have to have something [laughs].
Are you guys fans of Big Black and Butthole Surfers where the drummer doesn’t define the quality of the band?
Me and Jeff have always been Butthole Surfers fans. I’m a big Foetus fan and a lot of the old school noise rock kind of stuff. I’m also a fan of The Birthday Party. If I could sing like Nick Cave I’d be doing that over what we’re doing [laughs]. The Butthole Surfers is the one big reference people would give us when we first started to play.
I hear a little bit of Pigface and maybe even Skinny Puppy in there. Personally, I think there’s a lot of people out there that will like your music, but it’s not going to be in one local area.
Oh yeah. That’s why we wanted to get this album out as soon as we could, so we could get on Spotify and iTunes. We are trying to branch out a lot more. Locally it’s tough for a band like us. A lot of people don’t go out of their way to come see music here. So I’m hoping we can go play shows in Cleveland and stuff like that. Pittsburgh is a working town, and for a band like us it’s good to get on the Internet.
What are your plans in terms of getting on a record label or doing a tour?
As soon as we get this album done we are going to send it out to places. Ipecac is one of them, Mike Patton’s label. They’ll probably just ignore us but, you know, we’d still be a good fit. We were thinking even some punk rock labels because we do have a little bit of an edge to us. We were thinking about bringing in a drummer and live keyboardist to make it even more abrasive [laughs]. As soon as the record is out we’ll get a list of labels and people who should hear the album. Hopefully they enjoy us enough to give us a shot. That, and I think we’re going to put some money into doing a cool video.
That way we can go full multimedia attack. We can have different things for different avenues. We can pop up on a YouTube search and stuff like that. It might be scarring for an eight year old kid but it might get our name out there [laughs]. She’ll tell her parents and who knows [laughs].
Do you have any definite storyboards for potential videos yet?
I have a few ideas, but I’m not sure we actually want to be in them [laughs]. I was actually thinking about doing something for the song “Poppycock.”
I love that song. It’s my favorite.
Thank you. It’s kind of poking fun at the grunge era. I was thinking about doing a video making fun of every 90s trope. Flannels, playing music by a tree in a graveyard but you can’t see the person’s face, barnyard animals moving up to the camera. Shit like that. Singing in a barn [laughs]. All of those old things you saw in 90s music videos.
Do you guys have any press or label connections? I think I saw you guys were on the MTV website.
No, I think we have a profile on there but that’s it [laughs]. We’re just doing what we’re doing. It’s hard for us. Not to make friends—people like us, but they don’t always want us back. We had you and a few other press people.
I wanted to ask you because you’re a little bit older, but what do you think about all of the kids being into tape cassettes? Do you have an opinion on that?
Not really. It’s funny because people my age will come up to me and be like “cassettes are back!” I get the vinyl thing even though I disagree—I think it sounds cool but not better than digital. It might have a unique or cool sound but It’s not what the artist intended for you to hear. The cassette thing, I don’t know. Maybe it’s cheaper? [laughs] I don’t know. It probably seems cool to kids because it’s from the eighties. I remember you’d get those packages of tapes with the big plastic strip you’d have to pull out. Shit, I have a bunch of cassettes. I should try and sell ‘em [laughs].
. . .
This is a list of bands performing at the Spacerock BBQ, courtesy of Facebook:
3:50 Prime 8
4:40 Doors in the Labrynth
5:30 Love Dumpster
6:20 Skye Light
8:50 God Hates Unicorns
10:30 Scattered Planets
12:10 Radio for the Daydreamers