Arizona psych-punks Destruction Unit play the Mercury Lounge in Manhattan tonight with local noise music star and Sacred Bones label mate, Pharmakon. It's far from the first time they've played in town this year, one that's so far featured the release of two separate full-length records, Void in February and Deep Trip last month, and near constant touring, both for the band and its members' numerous side projects. Deep Trip is especially good, a loose but savage collection of menacing rock n' rock that's had critics deploying all sorts of rocky desert imagery when trying to explain its sinister appeal.
We caught up with singer and guitarist Ryan Rousseau by phone a couple weeks ago as the band vanned it through a Wyoming landscape that "looks like Mars." Speeding through a land of limited phone reception and even more limited rock n' roll clubs, Rousseau chatted briefly about the brutal Phoenix weather, the small, tangible products made by the Ascetic House label Destruction Unit helps run, his time spent in bands with the late, great Jay Reatard, and the thrill of making such distinctively bad-mood music.
Do you guys actively like living in such a hot place, or do you just deal with it?
Ryan Rousseau: Well, during the summer we’re indoors all the time, so it’s not too bad.
I assume your practice space is air-conditioned?
Would you die if it wasn’t?
Probably. Last year we went out and it was about 125 and a half degrees.
Yikes. Can you even open doors at that heat?
Yeah, you can, but it doesn’t do anything.
No, I mean the metal knobs must be so hot?
Oh, yeah, sometimes.
Do you write songs mainly as a live band? Does it all come out of jamming? Do you start with a single part? What’s the process?
Usually, nowadays, it's jamming. We’ll come up with shit together. Before that I’d just write a song or something, but now we all do.
How much time do you spend, when recording, slaving over the particular guitar sounds that you’re getting? Are you spending a lot of time trying to get really specific tones?
We’re not trying to do anything. (laughs) It just happens. I mean we mess with pedals and shit...play it back.
When you guys are on the road, does that prevent you from being really actively involved with the Ascetic House stuff, or are you involved while you’re touring around and playing as well?
It’s pretty involved while we’re playing. Jes [Aurelius, DU guitarist] is on his computer all day, looking after stuff, email, whatever. But we can’t put out a bunch of cassettes or something while we’re on the road. We usually get everything ready before tour, take it all out on tour, sell it. And before the next tour its a whole new batch of tapes or whatever. Zines. Shit like that.
Do you all see huge importance in the physicality of items you’re putting out, rather than just putting something out into the Internet?
Yeah, that’s pretty much the point of it.
Is that just because you’re making things that will last? What’s so important to you guys about having a physical record of it?
Do whatever you want with it. It’s just there. Once it’s yours, you do what you want. (laughs)
Why did you guys end up putting your stuff out through other labels this year, rather than do it yourself through Ascetic House?
We still do both. But bigger labels definitely help with distribution.
Are you guys looking to finish stuff quickly and put it out as soon as you have it? Two records this year. I don’t know if you have any more on the backburner...
The new album, we would have had that out a long time ago, but that’s what you do with big labels. You lay out a plan, and all that. But if we could get the release out there, just us, we would. We want to move on to the next thing.
So you have a bunch of new songs ready?
No, because we’ve been touring so much. The songs, we still modify them as we play, they aren’t really the same as on the album. When we get back from tour, we plan on working on a whole bunch of new stuff. We’ve all been busy with our other stuff, too. We all have other projects. Some of the guys have been out on tour with Marshstepper, I’ve been doing my own stuff at home while they’ve been gone. So, we’ve all been busy writing new shit. Just not the Unit stuff.
I saw that Marshstepper set at Northside this year. Were you there for that?
I don’t think so.
It was wild, sort of like an occult ritual.
Yeah man, they’re some weirdos.
Occult material actually gets mentioned a lot in relation to Ascetic House. Maybe not so much Destruction Unit, but certainly that collective. Is there anything in that realm you'd say has been influential?
Everybody has their own thing. Jes is into some weird-ass shit, that I don’t have a fucking clue about. And me too. But I can’t really comment on that stuff as far as the occult. As far as me with the occult, I don’t know shit about that stuff.
I’ve read in other interviews that you guys have sort of accepted the label of a “psychedelic” band. What do you think that even means at this point?
I don’t know. People are weirdos when they say, “what the fuck does that mean?” We’re not some goofballs in paisley shirts trying to be the 60s or something. We’re not trying to be a psyyyyych band, dude. But it's cool.
In your time playing in the original version of Destruction Unit and your time with the Reatards, is there anything that you really took away or learned about songwriting from being in a band with Jay Reatard?
Yeah. The intensity, the work process. But we were always similar when it came to all that shit.
Were you writing a lot of your own material as intensely when you were playing in those bands?
Yeah, the whole first album, the second one with Jay and Alicja, we all collaborated on that one.
Since you’ve been in so many little side bands and projects, was there always a specific thought to keeping Destruction Unit alive as your main project, even with all the turnover in members?
Yes. It goes all the way back to that first 7', just building four-track stuff. So, I always want to keep it around.
Did you start being in bands as a vehicle to play guitar, and the singing just sort of fell to you later?
I didn’t want to sing, especially, but if you’re writing songs it’s better you do it than some other asshole. But we all play every instrument, pretty much, we all sing in our own bands.
Do you give much thought to how you are singing? Are there specific things you are trying to do as a singer?
I just try to make it sound cool. I’m not trying to copy anything. I’m just trying to get it out there in the best way possible.
Would you say you’ve gotten better over time?
For sure. I’ve been working on that for a while now, I think I got it pretty good. (laughs) Or the best I can, anyway.
Listening to the record it seems like really, specifically, bad mood music. How do you feel when you are playing it? Do the songs actually come from a dark place?
You can’t be in a band called Destruction Unit and sound like a wuss. It’s some fucked up, evil shit dude.
You guys get a kick out of fucked-up, evil shit, though, right?