Photos by Cheryl Georgette.
This October Gnarcissists (Matthew Orr, Matt Tillwick, Nazar Khamis, Jerome Peel, Eric Carney) released their debut EP. It’s loud and fast—4 tracks all of which do not even hit the 2 minute and a half mark. “Fentanyl,” “We All Just Wanna,” “Models,” and “Buzzin”—it’s the sound of combined indifference, depression, and nihilistic euphoria.
This all makes them a band of their time (does anyone want to survive long enough to see the planet finally implode?) but also one that will probably transcend time. Punk music ages better when the focus is on surviving life in the gutter. I’m not saying that this is groundbreaking or the definitive music of a generation but it resonates the same way early Ramones resonates, the way Richard Hell resonates—in the simplicity and un-glorified honesty of expressing the small emotional span of human sentiment (joy and suffering).
This year, and really the last few years, have been a horrible nightmare. The (relative) stability I’ve been able to hold onto comes from not keeping both feet grounded firmly in the reality of the world. Instead parts of my brain and my body are numb and retreat into obsession with the minutia of existence rather than big-picture existentialism—and Gnarcissists debut EP is snapshots of these moments.
In between concussions, pneumonia, and an ACL surgery, I sat down with Matthew Orr to pick his brain. The band will be making the most of their hobbled state on December 15th when they play Elsewhere alongside the Black Lips.
Has music become too sterile?
I really enjoy some of the music being made today, just depends on how shitty your taste is I suppose.
Is authenticity a pre requisite for good art or can one exist without the other?
That depends on what the goal of your art is. I think art, or music, packaged to sell tends to all sound the same and doesn’t attract me much. At the same time we certainly are not reinventing the wheel so what the fuck do I know.
What’s more offensive—music that is boring and regurgitative or music that is soulless?
I mean I don’t think I have any credential to say what is right or wrong. I got sick of going to venues and seeing some person from Los Angeles play a 45 minute set that sounds like I’m in an elevator on LSD. But if that’s the type of music that elevates your soul who am I to judge? Different strokes for different folks.
How do you view the overbearing earnestness that punk has recently fallen into?
I think I’d prefer to stay at home and suck on the end of a shotgun than listen to music about fraternal companionship and the adoration of a mother veiled by shirtless men with an accent and a mission statement.
What’s the most haphazard or bizarre record you’ve ever come across either by accident or serendipitously?
Well, picking up Butthole Surfer’s Locust Abortion Technician as a kid and convincing my mom it was circus music because of the Gacy-esque clown art was a bit serendipitous. I recently got this seven inch from a band in Japan called Onna that has been a treat. The album art caught my eye, but I suppose it is bizarre and I have played it often.
What are the most punk bands right now?
Hank Wood & the Hammerheads keep me looking forward to waking up in the morning. They pretty much hit every nail on the head and Henry is someone I will never get tired of watching perform. Chorizo and Surfbort are also bands that I think people will talk about seeing years from now. They keep me wanting to play shows and forget whatever bullshit rules whatever current scene is trying to establish.
I think almost any genre is “pure regurgitation” at this point. It is hard to not be or to create something new. Even bands that are “crossing genres” etc—it’s nothing new, no? I think what H09909 is doing is pretty cool—and it is cool to see these punk kids kind of hit every type of fan in music. I think room for innovation would be to just blur social lines or reopen some doors that have been closed over the years. Everything feels too safe now.
Give me the cliff notes on the band’s history and formation
I was pretty strung out and somehow Nazar crept into my life. I think I just kept seeing him at shows because we both took lots of photos. Anyways his bender black hole sucked me in and next thing I know we’re like at some practice space he had access to until like 10am every night. I suppose absurd thoughts came with the territory, but starting a band was the only one that really stuck. Soko was our only friend who knew how to play an instrument so he was immediately tricked into “jamming” with us until he was also sucked into Nazar’s orbit. Jerry was eating at Pasta Wiz next door to our space one day playing drums on the table with his bare hands and Nazar heard it through the walls and realized we found our rock.
I like to think that we are a hard working band. I had my appendix rupture and like four weeks later—as the only person with my license—drove across the country to Texas and back to play SXSW. We’ve got a wild bass player—Nazar tends to hurt me a lot, but he like plays every show as if it’s his last. Jerry’s been playing with a bullet in his wrist. Soko works 90 hours a week and still manages to have more energy than me. Eric’s the youngest to play with us and he brings like a certain charisma or energy that definitely like reminds me why we’re doing this in the first place. Everyone kind of plays their part without even knowing it. I guess the main thing I really like value about everyone is that literally all of us are even struggling just surviving in this city—and the fact that we all have the same outlet is pretty crazy to see, regardless of each of our own’s struggles or personal narratives. I guess sometimes I feel like it’s fucking Spinal Tap, but we’re having fun. We are not musicians. Well Matt is. So I guess it’s a lot of trial and error with like social etiquette and being told how to “act” like a musician—we’ve been getting some shit for that. We’re just trying to make some noise and have fun.
What was the first Gnarcissists song ever written? Has it gotten easier or harder to create music since that first moment of inception?
It was called “I hate my girlfriend” I think? ha. I feel like I want to say it is easier because of having more life experiences since the initial start, but I think that is too situational to answer really. If one of us is off or out of it usually it all goes to shit.
Do you think you’ll ever write a song that hits the 3 minute mark?
Yeah, all of our new songs hit the 10 minute mark.
With the EP out how has working on new music been? What’s it been like to finally have music out there in the world?
Well it’s nice to finally have made something physical together to document that period. I think we’re making stuff now that isn’t fueled by mayhem at five am. Different people and situations have come into all of our lives that definitely affect our “creative process.” We’re playing shows now and aren’t just a bunch of friends getting high and trying to make fun of the world around us. I feel like we take more time off and come in on a more tense note and kind of all have the baseline of dynamic down, so we can just express all of our emotions and frustrations together finally. We’re playing with love now I guess [laughs]
In writing “Fentanyl” did you know it was going to be somewhat controversial?
I mean I think it came out of a very snide, very broken, and very pissed off—but still high—mindset; and I think that is supposed to be the irony in it.
Do you think a song called “Fentanyl” can exist without controversy? Have you encountered negative or confused reactions to it?
I hope not. Yeah I’ve had friends be like “what the fuck are you doing?” It’s hard not to push buttons in the world we live in right now. I’ve had my own demons, and found a bit of irony and humor in writing a sing along song about something that is killing some of the closest people in my life. Perhaps my sense of humor is backwards, and I don’t advocate heroin or any drugs to be totally blunt. Shit just isn’t safe.
If you see advocacy in a song about being high on fentanyl though, chances are you are missing the message. If anything most of the lyrics are just a reflection of times or things in my own life—controversial or not. I remember a year or so ago being in a bathroom stall and hearing someone sing ‘heroin’ while washing their hands, and coming out to see that it was a kid that was maybe 13? Ha. I don’t know why but there was something both comforting and horrifying about the juxtaposition and naivety. I think it is hard to glorify something that literally will kill you, and I think the song came out of a place of literal anxiety and fear—but yeah, go take a naloxone course at Mudd Gutts. Stop putting shit in your nose and veins.
Do you think addiction is a lifelong condition or is it something that can be curbed, treated or cured? If it’s not where do you think that addictive energy moves? Do you think art creates or facilitates addiction?
I think addiction is a disease. It’s funny but I guess when you have that mentality and are more self aware you just find out how your mind can trick you into doing or experiencing new things but in reality you’re just like replacing one vice with another. For me personally I think that art definitely helps facilitate any negative type of addiction I may be struggling with—but it can certainly enable things for some? It’s also hard because when people hear the word addiction you immediately think of drugs or something toxic. But if you’re an addict, how do you keep yourself from just getting addicted to other shit? Does it come down to just replacing a bad vice with a good one? Sure exercise, or getting covered in tattoos, or falling in love every month is better than shooting heroin I cannot argue that [laughs]
But to be totally honest, I don’t think I’m qualified enough to be talking so much on this—but I do believe that addiction is a disease, and it can manifest in tons of ways. For me, I find a lot of relief—in terms of my own story—in performing music. It’s a physical release that I usually try to separate from “bad” addictions. I am not sure about coping mechanisms? Things got pretty dark a while back, and did the whole meeting every day, outpatient research program, etc. None of it really worked for me at that time. I have a problem with any type of structure, and in terms of my wellbeing, can tend to be my own worst enemy. Definitely something that I am still trying to work on and understand. I think anything that creates self reflection and gives you support can be the ultimate ‘coping’ mechanism – and that can be found in meetings definitely. For me another coping mechanism is creating things and is just like self recognition and trying not to bullshit myself ya know? I think that in retrospect a lot of things I make—whether it is a song or a drawing or whatever, I try to not stop myself from what I really want to sing about or what I really want to draw at that moment. I think that just being honest when you are trying to self express can maybe benefit your own self reflection in the future? I think the accessibility and community that comes in recovery for addiction is something that can’t really be talked about or appreciated enough. I have seen so many people who have changed their lives for the better via that route. Luckily I just had a person come into my life that kind of set me straight and was there when others were not. I’m lucky to like be here and even try to speak on the matter. Music and friendship.
Do you understand the controversy around “fentanyl”? Does the fact that something can be abused make it impossible to sing or create about? Do you think its possible to even broach these types of sensitive subjects without getting people riled up and defensive?
Haha yes. No—I mean you should be able to sing about whatever you want. I think sometimes you can get the most emotion out of something that can strike a nerve, for sure. I think people should be defensive, and fucking aware. I mean we are literally in an opioid epidemic. It is absolutely FUCKED that you know you could potentially be getting something that is not what you think it is. I guess it all comes down to you know, money and cutting corners. What’s even scarier is like you see shit online about dealers on the internet or dark web , whatever it’s called, that are like taking proactive steps to stop people from cutting their shit by banning them or whatever—steps to keep this drug utopia safe—and as pathetic as that is, like it’s more than I’ve seen the city I live in do you know?
I recently had to get knee surgery and planned it so I could somehow get a decent doctor and wanted to go about it the right way. I told him about struggling with some things in the past, and sure enough I was like on my couch with about 40 percocets within a hour of leaving the emergency room. I mean it maybe took 24 hours before I had a script for dilaudid and shit kind of hit the fan pretty quick ha. It was my own doing for sure, but I guess that’s my point. I’m lucky to like have snapped and had someone there that basically flushed shit and brought me back to reality but this country is so afraid of dealing with this “epidemic” and only strikes fear and punishment into drugs. Letting it be in the hands of pieces of shit that will cut it with fentanyl—but how are we supposed to move forward when you’re giving an addict 60 pills of dilaudid, or a 12 year old a life long script for xanax, or charge $6000 per day for a treatment center that is advertised as paradise versus a state run place that takes months and requires loopholes to get into.
Where will the artists go when new york finally plunges into the ocean?
I’m not sure, I will probably be attached to Pyramid Club with my lungs full of water.