by Joe Gutierrez
Imagine screaming alone at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Strands of barbed wire cutting across the desert sky. Speeding off miles away from the city, but taking all of the baggage of daily life and strife there with you. A phantom in the backseat dragging a finger from the base of your skull down the length of your spine. Some special varnish runs through this music, delivered with crackling force. Austin’s US Weekly attempt to lasso the tornado that is the wild concept of Ideas. A grasp at the thin air of what it is to even be a human being, to paint a picture, to play a song. This is the score to you smiling amusedly from the lowest pit of your self.
“Christian Ideas” is a woozy traipse across asphalt, skittering riffs anchored down by a gravel-crunching beat. Vocalist Christopher Nordahl snarls and barks, vacillating wildly between personal failures and harsh demands. The track reaches its end with the band begging for an answer- surely at the sky- shouting: “Why do I wake up in the night screaming?” The proficiency of the band’s instrumental interplay really shows on Ideas’ second track, “Walls”. Bass riffs veer off into unknown alleys, guitar and drums dance around each other maddeningly. Nordahl’s lyrics are phenomenally poetic, decrees of frustration and anxiety summoned up from the depths of a struggling soul.
US Weekly stands out scarily and strongly amongst the steady supply of hardcore punk bands navigating the 21st century. Their off-kilter and upsetting ravage ‘n’ roll is unique, packing emotional punch and a literary voice. Ideas is an exorcism of heart-aching self-consciousness and confusion, a temporary trap door escape route for the emptiness within yourself. With every listen, it cuts away at that distasteful distance between who you are and why you’re here.
US Weekly was generous enough to offer some insight on their formation, influences, and songwriting.
Joe Gutierrez: How did all of you meet and decide to form a band together? What specific or special contributions do each member have that couldn’t be replicated by another?
US Weekly: We all met while playing in different pop bands that were associated with Merdurhaus Records, the label that's put out our last two cassette tapes. Those bands often played shows together and we met while we were playing and running in the same scene.
During that time I had written some riffs that were more punky. I had heard from Phil who runs Merdurhaus Records that Kent was looking to start up something heavier and harder, so we met and talked casually about starting up a new project. Then Ryan F and Ryan C expressed interest in doing something in the same vein, so we had a jam session in Ryan C's rec room that was semi-sound proofed by burlap sacks. We kept jamming and practicing together in that room, at one point it had a rat problem, the power often would go out, and the burlap sacks caught on fire, so we made it through all of that and felt that we had a lot of chemistry and wanted to move forward with this project.
We all work within a similar headspace and think critically about each of our contributions to the music. I think everyone in the band has a very non-conventional way of playing their instrument that contributes to how we sound as well. Everyone is open to any direction that the music could go in, we're not tied to the conventions of a style or attitude and we want our music to change as we move forward.
JG: How’s the songwriting process work in US Weekly? Are demos brought forth? Do songs erupt from spontaneous improv sessions?
USW: At first I was writing a lot of the riffs and bringing them to the band, but the writing process only got better as we became more comfortable with each other and started to collaborate more. Now songs usually start out with someone playing a riff or a beat in practice out of nowhere and then the next person builds off of that until a jam starts. Once we have something to work off of we start refining it until it becomes a much more structured song.
JG- There’s a certain Western tint or frontier-like coating to your songs. Have the landscape, history, and people of Austin, Texas, had a significant influence on your music?
USW: Pretty sure this is the first time anyone has called our music Western, haha. That being said, we did use a few elements on our new EP that had more of a pastoral feel, like organ, acoustic guitar, and thumb piano, although we usually treated them with effects so they don't sound how you would typically expect.
Austin, TX has a large influence on us because the culture of the city very much aligns with a lot of the things we address in our music. There seems to be an ongoing process of both cultural and physical erasure to make way for the hundreds of people moving to Austin every day. People are being pushed out of their homes and businesses almost daily to make way for people with more money who can more easily afford to live here.
We as a band know we're coming from a place of privilege. We have jobs that allow us to support ourselves in this city and provide time to pursue outlets for creative expression. It's a theme that often comes up in our songs, the conflict between feeling anger and anxiety towards a problem, then the realization and admittance that you may be contributing to the problem yourself. That's when you need to start doing something about it.
JG: The tracks have a certain viciousness to them, but prominent throughout are these sorta playfully melodic guitar licks and bass riffs. I was wondering if these parts are drawn from any bands or musicians outside of the punk spectrum. I noticed you wished Townes Van Zandt a happy belated birthday on Facebook recently. Is his work or that of any other folk or country songwriters particularly influential on your own music?
USW: I would venture to say that we're mostly influenced by sources outside of the punk spectrum and bands we like on the fringes like Suburban Lawns, Devo, Lizzie Mercier Descloux, Can, but it's not really something we think about while writing. None of us can really call ourselves punks and if you take away the vocals, I don't think very many people would even call the music "punk" at face value. However, we feel that it's our energy and our willingness to experiment beyond the punk spectrum that makes it punk.
It's hard not to be a fan of Townes Van Zandt when you're from Austin. In terms of other folk songwriters Arthur Russell's more singer-songwriter based works are an influence along with his electronic stuff.
JG: How’d the decision to use Ryan’s artwork for the album cover come about? How does the artwork represent or enhance themes explored in the songwriting on Ideas?
USW: Ryan creates most of the art that you see coming from US Weekly with the exception of a t-shirt designed by Payton Lower and photos taken by Will Taylor. We want most of our artwork to come from within the band and Ryan is a really talented artist and designer who knows us better than anyone. We want to have a consistent kind of "brand identity" that unifies our releases and evolves as we do. I believe the album art represents how our songwriting has evolved from our demo tape "Void of Devices" to this batch of songs: more streamlined and cleaner, but when you look at it for awhile, you start to notice things in the design that are off-putting, or that fuck with your perception. I also think the design is very subtly playful and that represents the music as well.
JG: The record’s press release suggests “Whole Foods” is a song about “a vision of the pending apocalypse inside a chain organic grocery store”. Can you expand upon that? Why the inclusion of the phrase “mein kampf” in the song’s lyrics?
USW: It was written that way as an ironic reference to our generation's tendency and my own tendency to elevate banal problems like feeling claustrophobic in Whole Foods, researching fake symptoms on WebMD, and waiting too long for an Amazon package to arrive, to an absurd level of importance. My struggle (Mein Kampf) is navigating the world of someone in their early 20s with all the modern conveniences of today's world, and frankly that's a pretty easy struggle compared to other real problems like racism, sexism, transphobia, apartheid etc. The song ends in self-parody with "suck mein kampf/fuck mein kampf" to focus on my own idiocy in elevating these perceived problems to such a level of importance.
To be quite honest with you I regret using that language now, the song was written over a year ago and looking back on it now it probably just wasn't that great of an idea. Maybe an attempt to be edgy or "shock" the listener or something.
But I also think that the lyrics are humorous and apply to our time period. I think we feel simultaneously connected and alienated in the internet age and can feel like our problems and daily struggles are the only ones that exist in the world. The song is an absurdly hyperbolic rendering of that feeling.
JG: Does the band’s work draw influence from any non-musical influences, such as film, television, and literature? What works?
USW: "Period" by Dennis Cooper was an influence around the time these songs were written, along with "Trout Fishing in America" by Richard Brautigan, "T Zero" by Italo Calvino, and "Crash" by J.G. Ballard.