“Definitely the thumbtacks,” Gauntlet Hair’s lanky, wisecracking drummer Craig Nice answers without hesitation. His confident answer is met with decided skepticism from band mate Andy.
“I don’t know, they might not ever come out.”
“Andy, you could cut off your lower lip,” Craig offers, “you could get some great vocals like that. You’d just need a thick moustache to comb down over it.”
I’m sitting with Denver based noise rock duo, now trio, Gauntlet Hair outside of a Silverlake coffee house where dark blend is referred to as Onyx. We’re across the street from the Satellite, where in a couple hours Gauntlet Hair is set to perform one of the last dates on their current tour. This is the ideal scenario to weigh the merits of the age-old question, “would you rather swallow a handful of thumb tacks or cut off your lower lip with a pair of rusty scissors?” They grasp the essential crisis evident in this particularly gruesome scenario: you’re fucked either way. It’s a complete catch-22. Either you swallow the thumbtacks and rip up your intestines or ruin the aesthetically pleasing construction of your face and acquire tetanus in the process. No, the only reasonable response is to accept the inevitability of unpleasantries to come and get a good laugh in.
This dilemma bears striking resemblance to the conundrum faced by a legion of bands in our dear digital world. You can either stay true to your unique sound and face a long haul through a wasteland of shitty gigs and relative obscurity, or retool into a commercially accessible band and become a Grammy-packaged darling and embrace a lifetime of undesired compromise and artistic blue balls. It’s gonna suck either way, so you might as well enjoy the process.
All things considered, Gauntlet Hair seem to be enjoying themselves. Their blend of reverb-strung guitars, chortling vocal wail and chunky electric drum kit rhythms sounds like a disaffected Dick Dale. It’s slick, driving surf rock for a generation that’s taken their alienation from the glassy wave faces of Oahu to the white water pipeline of Internet surfing. It is an amazing soundtrack for riding the wild wedge of digital culture.
Their noisy outsider stance champions the goofy possibilities of the Internet age. There’s a subtle leisure in the ease with which they fuck with people. They are musical trolls. If you expected another indie band that takes themselves too seriously and tries to tell the world exactly what they are and why you should like them, you’re in for a rude surprise. Gauntlet Hair throws it out there with little or no explanation and lets the listener make sense of it.
Want lyrics? Too fucking bad, you can’t have them. Want a promo shot of the band? Here, enjoy this glamour shot of Craig posed like Burt Reynolds, with Andy wrapping him in a tender embrace.
The coup de grace of Gauntlet Hair’s nonchalant mentality is their video for “Top Bunk.” Cut together by Neighborhood Watch, the nearly five minutes of unabating, absurd pleasure is an assortment of clips from Arnold Schwarzenegger films.
The disturbing narrative is homage to the band’s penchant for collecting VHS copies of Arnold films, with Commando playing a particularly important role in the band’s obsession. The 1985 action film is a highly sought after commodity for them. They’ve made a habit of spending their tour downtime combing thrift stores and flea markets for copies of it. Because Arnold fandom is a labor of love.
The video is worth a thousand memes. Lighthearted and joyous, the action-packed montage takes a decided turn towards the brutal. It’s a fitting emblem for a band whose sound treads a fine line between melody and pounding noise.
“It gets dark,” says Andy.
Craig is quick with, “yeah, but you love it don’t you?”
Yes we do. The video’s transformation from bucolic clips of Arnold playing with his daughter to a Kuato-ridden litany of explosions and cracking skulls strikes an eerie chord with the odd dynamic of the band’s music. The slinky feel-good guitars and teased out vocal moan of the album hit an occasional dark minor chord or heavy feedback lick that belies a live sound that is more metal than indie. With the edition of bass player Matt Daniels, the band’s live show is an unusual blend of ironic banter, pleasant guitar riffs and a punishing low-end grind. It’s hipster-approved heavy metal.
Colorful shapes and space emerge ironically from a wall of background wash. Striking the fine line between melodic nuance and pounding presence requires skill that is not without cost- when you put heavy and unusual into the world you get heavy and unusual back.
Case in point—Missouri.
“I think Missouri scarred me for life,” Andy says as he stares wide eyed into the black abyss of his coffee.
“Completely fucked up,” Craig chimes in.
After a show last year in Columbia, Missouri, a nice looking woman offered Gauntlet Hair a place to crash for the night. Shit got weird, quick. The house was a drug crash pad twenty minutes outside of town, which in Missouri is a long-ass ways. The band awoke early in the morning to the woman’s roommates beating the shit out of each other.
“One guy threw the other down the stairs,” says Craig, “and there was this four year old kid who couldn’t speak yet just running around screaming.”
Sinister and yet, delightfully colorful.
Gauntlet Hair embraces these macabre dimensions of life in music. It comes with the territory. Maybe this is why they can laugh about cutting their singer’s lip off with a pair of rusty scissors or a gruesome night in a Missouri speed den or their worst gig ever.
“St. Malo was probably the worst show we’ve ever played,” Craig says with an ambivalent half-smile, half-grimace.
“We left some of our stuff there we were so eager to get out,” Andy chimes in, “some guy handed me a USB stick with the entire show on it and I just threw it out. I didn’t even want it. Fuck.”
Despite the plethora of weird and traumatizing moments that have haunted the band, their live set has evolved into a precision machine of electro rock curled with an irreverent delight. During their opening band’s set at the Satellite, Craig Nice is in the back of the room swinging his arms in a gangly dance that envelops anyone within reach. In a few minutes, they’ll go on stage as Berlin’s (playing May 26 at the House of Blues btw) classic 80s love ballad “Take My Breath Away” pumps through the house speakers.
This is the sort of band that’s fun as hell to watch. Nothing is sacred, everything is funny. This is the sort of band that records an album in their guitar player’s grandmother’s basement. This is exactly what they did. While Andy’s grandma was on vacation, the band took over her Chicago basement in an unpredictable collision of post-punk noise rock experimentation and Andy’s childhood.
“It was eerie. This is the place I used to turn off the lights and play ghost with my cousins,” says Andy.
Nostalgia aside, the space facilitated a studio caliber sonic album. One wonders if Grandma could have suspected when her beloved Andy wanted to play guitar in the basement that this would be the product.
“I consciously tried to keep it from her,” he says.
Craig laughs, “I keep thinking about her listening to the first few seconds of the album.”
Whether or not the first notes of “Keep Time” took a year off Granny’s life, or if the new LP will be recorded in her studio is uncertain. Gauntlet Hair is gigging through the last dates on their current American tour—likely their last sojourn out of current home base Denver until a new album is ready.
The world is rife with possibilities for them. Compelling and a bit enigmatic, the band’s formula is simple yet shockingly dynamic: slog through the shit, have a good time or at least try to forget the weird stuff, kick in skulls with a bruising punk influenced rock sound and caress with a brilliant palette of melodic colors.
Kill it guys. Or, in terms you might prefer: Arnold Schwarzenegger as the T-800 from Terminator 2 lowers his robotic form into a vat of white hot liquid metal. As his body disappears beneath the magma like liquid, one hand remains unsubmerged. The fingers fold into a hearty thumbs up as the arm slips into oblivion.