"The Guitars Is Code”
Tom: A few months back, Allan asked me to accompany him to a free outdoor show at Vassar to give him a hand with an interview he had secured with Alien8 pop sensations the Unicorns. Seeing that the Unicorns were preceded by a strong reputation of aversion towards the media, (a reputation reaffirmed by the somewhat strenuous process of securing the interview)
Of course, no amount of preparation would have done us any good, as the transcript below will boldly demonstrate. Despite our hard hitting questions , multi-instrumentalist Nicolas Diamonds and drummer Jaime Tambour discussed everything from Alien8’s roots in extra-terrestrial porn, to their ties with the Panthers. Try to figure out which of our questions they actually answered and write your own damn article. As Mr. Diamonds wisely said: “It’s more than just pop music…”
Allan: What’s presented here is, as Tom said, utterly preposterous. I’m sure there are some groupies a bit more knowledgeable about the true history of the band than we are,
as is always the case…but that being said, we’ve written this as if was pure truth, which of course it’s not. For all those parties mentioned, especially the staff of Pitchfork Media and Alien8 Recordings, this is something that belongs to
The Onion. With the exception of a couple of things, we’re certain this is the funniest improv comedy skit we’ve ever been a part of. Our original rough transcript is available here, and it contains a few more humorous things we decided to clip for the sake of coherency.
After several failed attempts with reaching the Unicorns, we finally caught up with them at Vassar College in upstate New York for Vassar’s ViceFest. A beautiful late spring day, and the academic year ending with finals for these kids approaching, any school charging over thirty grand a year should afford some sort of indie music fest as a symbol of loyalty to remind any wavering freshmen, ‘yes, we’re damn cool, so stay’
While acts went on the whole day, there were only two bands, The Unicorns and Sleater-Kinney that most students could mouth the words to.
The band themselves were running late, so we sat on the grass and watched some decent under-the-radar bands play. Just as the sun had gone down, they arrived standing near their merch table spending about five minutes staring at The Panthers playing before even speaking to us. They sure could use the zoning out time, because for them, tomorrow’s set to play out like “Groundhog Day” where Bill Murray’s character has to live the same day over and over again. Tomorrow, they play with Sleater-Kinney in Hamilton College near even farther upstate Utica.
We’re not too sure if they misheard our question about the “college circuit” they found themselves on, but somehow they felt the whole situation was like being in a circus, traveling with Sleater Kinney in a caravan of sorts to get from point A to B. How this all started was from some prior connections before The Unicorns were a band. They sold merch. and were roadies for Sleater-Kinney several years back. [Note: This is probably the only truthful thing any of them said, with this part actually being corroborated by Corrin Tucker of Sleater Kinney]
“They were like ‘Hey you guys,’ ‘cause the one time we had to tune their instruments we started jamming.” Nic recounts.
“Yeah, at sound check, ‘cause sometimes at a sound check you get up and play a little tune,” J’aime adds.
Sleater-Kinney were surprised by the fact they were musicians at all, suggested that they should record and handed them a small “start-up” grant. In exchange for that grant, they’ve offered to continue being roadies for the band while sharing the stage with Sleater-Kinney.
Ironically, they’ve found the roadie-ing bit more profitable than running around being indie-rock darlings.
Signed a year ago on Alien8 Recordings out of Montreal, the band has found their album “Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone” plastered on the front page of the label’s website. Breaking the mold of Alien8’s previous, more experimental signings, the label has tried to milk the album’s relative success and has been quietly slipping music from the Montreal avant-garde into the background. Nic and J’aime mention the little known fact that Alien8 used to be an Internet porn company before being the sister label to shoe-gazing central Constellation Records. Fittingly, it used to house sci-fi themed porn with videos of people wearing E.T. masks and masturbating.
According to Diamond, GY!BE’s fake side project Set Fire to Flames was also in on this French-Canadian kink as well. As to why it was fake, Diamond was hesitant to mention and suggested we speak to Alien8’s CEO. While amused at some of their label’s musical and porn offerings, they were a little perturbed about the homophobic, bigoted as well as some of the necrophilic aspects of some of Alien8’s releases.
If the cloak and dagger world of Alien8 was intriguing enough, we were surprised to find out there’s more than the two EPs and two albums (one independently released, the other released Alien8) out there of Unicorns material. On why we haven’t seen it, Nic explains it was to “throw people off.”
“What we actually did is we recorded an album since Who Will Cut Our Hair. It’s a full-length and it’s actually 82 minutes long. It’s a new CD technology [that] can go up to 82 minutes…all new songs, but we decided to release it ourselves and give it to nobody and just leave it in our room and whoever could come into our room and get one could do it.”
Their goal of having no one listen to it has so far worked. Even if the “lost Unicorns album” is found, there are no identifying marks on the CD case; just a simple CD that’s white on both sides. To further abscond it from any identification, the vocals have been pitch shifted and distorted to the point of that Nic’s voice can’t even be identified. Why they’ve even bothered with it is a result of veiled thinly threats from Alien8 forcing the band to release something every three months.
As for what we actually get to hear, the band promises the next one will be huge, with another “lost” album that will hopefully hit the Billboard charts at least at number 12. After that, two or three more “lost albums” will be in the works followed by another underground hit like Who Will Cut Our Hair. The band claims that their unreleased material their best work because there’s no pressure to make them good, as no one will ever get to listen to them. However, unlike their latest lost album, their previous hidden works might just fall onto the lap of some unsuspecting library book patron. 5000 copies have been pressed of one of the albums, and in an effort to empty out J’aime’s apartment of them, they records have been placed in random library books throughout North America without any markings or copyright. However, with this knowledge, this brings into question if someone is actually aware they’ve stumbled upon a “lost” Unicorns album and tries to claim it as their own, what would happen?
“It depends what you want it to go for. If you want to make money, [make your own album.] If you want notoriety and to make the best album possible, then just use ours.” Responds J’Aime.
As for the material that’s relatively easy to find, including their first release (or rather sixth release) Unicorns are People Too, they weren’t aware they re-recorded several tracks on Who Will Cut Our Hair. While some were intentional they admit, the realization only hit them when their Alien 8 release has already hit the presses. The readily available catalog has been extended to include an EP of new material, entitled 2014 which the band exempts from the release schedule or as a “decimal point” as they refer to it as. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Unicorns album without some mystery behind it.
“[The singles put together] make a swastika, but that was totally a coincidence.” Nic quips.
“There’s a lot of math involved, you’d have to plot a lot of figures into some [computer],” adds J’aimie. “I mean, Nic did a full mathematics degree before we were doing this and I studied sociology and economics, and Alden did computer science and artificial intelligence and we’re trying to combine all of those.”
“And then the roadie thing [happened],” Diamond deadpans.
The math aspect extends far from the aspects of packaging and into their music. Alden’s knowledge of math has gone a long way, including a mastery of an obscure computer program called “Super Collider.” All the band’s keyboard sounds including guitar sounds are all based on this program, all masterminded by Alden who’s stringing a guitar a few feet off in the distance.
“He’s the computer expert, so it’s all code. The whole album. There’s no instruments except for the singing and shaker parts.” J’aime explains.
While the vocals come out of Nic’s mouth, the lyrics themselves are dredged as well from 1s and 0s.
“We put them into a computer and jumbled the words together and [with] BOOP.” Nic explains.
“[It’s] a program developed by some French poets in the 50s called the Patter Physicians. They developed this automatic poetry writing computer software, or rather people influenced by them developed the software,” J’aime adds.
While it’s a stretch, this could explain some of the pretty morbid song titles like “I Don’t Wanna Die” and “Ready to Die.”
The band quickly points out a girl they saw at their State University of New York (SUNY) Purchase show a few days earlier. The Panthers come on stage behind us and we huddle into an empty van. With the band sitting in the front, Nic gets to filing through the van’s owners CD collection. Nic’s a little displeased about the Jimmy Vaughn CD. We wonder in some random van in the middle of nowhere, someone is filing through someone’s CDs and sees the Unicorns. He should probably steal it because of the almost universal critical acclaim Who Will Cut Our Hair has received. Pitchfork, however, for the Unicorns is a name not to mention around the band.
“[Pitchfork] turned on us…one of the guys beat Nic up when we were on tour in Chicago,” J’aime explains.
“Ryan [Schrieber]?” we ask.
“Not Ryan, Eric [Carr],” J’aime corrects us.
“What happened was his girlfriend, who’s not really that attractive…, but I was really drunk, well, I got with her,” Nic confesses. “And it turned out it was Ryan Schreiber’s mother. So it was a weird triangle so this whole thing…they didn’t know, the two guys didn’t know. I’ll tell you this off the record. Pitchfork has two months then they’re done.”
Nic concedes and decides to let us mention this in the article. He explains that Pitchfork is shutting down and it’s going to become an investment business. Nic also explains the little situation he mentioned before could have led to the damning 3.6 score for their 2014 EP, down from the near holy 8.9 score for their LP.
With Nic resting his head on the closed window it’s hard to not notice the official stage getup of the band. With a pink cap resting on his hat and bright pink pants, it’s like being in a different universe compared to The Panthers who are on stage, complete with quasi-bar band/hipster regalia. Strangely enough, it was the Jayson Green, lead singer of the Panthers who was responsible for the band’s day-glo cover-art, which for all it’s colorfulness was born out of the same ones and zeroes as The Unicorn’s songs.
“He works in computers too, and we told him, ‘here what the songs are called, here’s what the lyrics are, our names, our ages, put them in the computer and it will come out,” Nic explains.
“Your ages are on the album?” we ask.
“Well, no. We just game him all of this information and told him, ‘Just put it into the computer, into this program that designs information and told him, just put it into this program that designs artwork, and it just came up. He actually had to draw it but it came up as like this light sketched [it] out.” Nic adds. “It came up with the cloud and the lightning bolts.”
The program they used was another invention of Alden. Considering the mad-scientist like knowledge of this man, J’aime explains that he could be making a lot more money. Alden prefers to keep away from the dark politics of software and doesn’t make any money off of his software. He’s also written a book about Microsoft and has uncovered dirt on the nearly 25 year old operating system, UNIX.
“He goes into American history. There’s some shit going on right now in America’s underbelly involving computer programming that connects all major conspiracies in the world, dating back to the 12th century. That’s all I’m going to say.”
We ask if this has to do with what’s essentially Europe’s Area 51: The Vatican basement, where allegedly papers about future events are hidden and why the Catholic Church has stayed mum about the so-called Bible Code and Nostradamus. At this point, we’re getting way off topic. It’s stupid question time.
“Who in the band gets the most ass?” one of us asks.
“Alden actually,” J’aime answers. “You know what it, it doesn’t really count, but Max there, the roadie, 10 times more than any of us.”
We’re a bit surprised as he points to a middle aged roadie in the corner handling sound for The Panthers. He looks like the type to have a decent skill at a guitar, but too entrenched in trying to be like the ‘Stones to create anything interesting in the late 70’s or 80’s. The guys explain his secret is that, to quote Spinal Tap, he’s got “tight trousers and armadillos in there.” Nic contends that they got more ass as roadies for Sleater Kinney.
“Its cause there’s no pressure, you know? You’re just a roadie.”
“Girls like a nice, old-fashioned, potty mouthed roadie,” J’aime adds.
“Just a guy who does his job.” Nic quips.
as is always the case…The Onion