When the members of New York art-doom collective Nastie Band gather, they resemble a leather-clad gang befitting a post-apocalyptic dystopia. And that’s exactly the kind of thing they want you to think, with their carefully cultivated image that incorporates slasher aesthetics, BDSM and the occult.
The brainchild of performance artist-sculptor Frank Haines, Nastie Band certainly makes a strong first impression, as keyboardist Roddy Bottum attested in a chat with Billboard shortly after the July 26 release of its self-titled album on Sleeping Giant Glossolalia/SGG Records. That said, although it’s clear that the band is aiming for a caustic amalgamation of doom metal, goth, cabaret, disco and avant-garde (think Celtic Frost meets Scott Walker), listeners primed by the band’s own extravagant descriptions might be surprised to find out just how patient and artful this music actually is.
The album opens with a suitably menacing noise-sludge reinterpretation of “Falling in Love Again,” a song Marlene Dietrich made famous in the 1930s. But rather than simply desecrate it, the band actually seems to honor the lovelorn sentiment at the song’s core, albeit in its own way. Though certainly volatile, Nastie’s version lands, at least partly, as a heartfelt tribute thanks to the highly nuanced vocal performance of Chris Kachulis, an early electronic-music veteran. Bottum offered insight into why Nastie Band isn’t as easy to pin down as it might initially appear.
A lot of the work you've been involved in walks a line between provocation and humor — people assume your fringe show Sasquatch: The Opera is a comedy, for example, but it isn’t. How did Nastie Band’s balance of humor and edge strike a chord with you?
It’s kind of tricky for me, because humor is so subjective. I remember seeing really intense movies when I went to film school, and I remember all the Todd Solondz films like Happiness and Welcome to the Dollhouse. I think those are regarded as comedies, but sitting through cinema that’s very dark and provocative, I feel like the audience in that space becomes provoked in such a way that they’re really uncomfortable, and I think the first thing that happens is laughter. So humor finds its way into the things I do, but it’s not something that I necessarily find funny. I do kind of understand the need to laugh through things, though. I mean, I guess an opera about Sasquatch could be considered funny, but I don’t think it is. [Laughs.]
But you’re laughing right now!
Well, when people see Nastie Band, it’s really over the top. It’s a spectacle, just visually speaking. There’s a pair of identical twins onstage. There’s a man in a wig and his face painted screaming into a microphone, and no sound is coming out. There’s an older man [Kachulis], like 85 years old, in a wig performing what looks like some crazy religious sacrifice. Everyone’s covered in mud, and it’s very dark. Even in that sort of realm, people tend to want to laugh through it to make it easier for themselves to digest.
It’s like the music is aiming to be threatening in the vein of early Swans, but then we see these pictures that have this Village People look. And the performances have this cabaret vibe, but the record itself doesn’t come across that way.
The presentation does have a sense of cabaret and lightness, but the pictures don’t really capture the intensity of what we’re trying to pull off. I’ve never seen anything like it in a live setting. When I first saw Nastie Band [before he joined], I was so drawn to it because it’s so different, so bizarre and captivating in a way that I had never been pushed before. It actually kind of scared me. I think the presentation is scarier than it is camp. It is kind of Village-y People-y because that’s like the only reference that we all have for these strange-looking characters onstage together. So, looking at that, you’re going to go to places you’ve been before, but we’re portraying a serious drama.
If someone listened to your body of work with Nastie Band, Crickets, Imperial Teen and Faith No More, what would you say is the common thread?
I’m not really sure. I mean, you would make the assumption for sure that there is one. I think what mostly drives me to do these different things is that I’m always drawn to the people and chemistry that we have. The chemistry I have with the people in Imperial Teen is really familial, so it’s hard to relate that to the other projects I’m involved in. But absolutely, I do like a sense of hypnotic provocation, something that sort of repeats and is cyclical. That’s what comes to mind.
Well, you and Faith No More bassist Billy Gould’s shared attraction to provocative art was in some sense the band’s spiritual center for its entire existence.
That’s super accurate. Billy and I growing up in a time that we did and the ages that we were, learning things for the first time and being influenced by arts, music, theater and movie stuff… that age is so profound. But what we really got into was high drama. It spoke to us in a big way. We saw [Brian De Palma’s 1974 film] Phantom of the Paradise. I honestly feel like that movie changed our lives. Looking back, it seems a bit silly, but it’s a pretty special movie, and it kind of encapsulates what we set out to achieve later on.
Watching live clips of Nastie Band, the group doesn’t look like that far of a cry from the descriptions of Faith No More’s chaotic early gigs at San Francisco’s Mabuhay Gardens. There’s even a similarity in the choice to open the album with Marlene Dietrich’s signature tune.
Yeah, for sure. That stuff comes up, and it doesn’t go away. Those are my go-to flavors as far as what inspires me: single-voice drama like Marlene Dietrich for sure. That wasn’t my decision to do that, but that’s something that, no matter what, I can’t get away from a sense of familiarity with that sort of realm. And then there’s hypnotic darkness, provocation and something bordering on the edge of spirituality or incantation and the losing of oneself.