Published on The Deli Philadelphia – Friday, June 3, 2011
By Annamarya Scaccia
Nicos Gun is a band of a chill dudes. Not only do they have their crazy loose hooks, dance-rock freak outs, and fuzzy electric struts, the four-piece – that is Barney Cortez, Andrew Black, Nick Bockrath, and Harry Zelnick, who snagged a Grammy at 17 for his work with Ludacris on “War With God” – also has one hell of an unrelenting sense of humor. It’s a part of their appeal as a local indie outfit that, while only together as a recording act for about a year, has amassed a sick amount of buzz and praise. They’re on their second tour of 2011 already, hitting new cities and playing the major festival circuit (Roots Picnic this weekend, XPoNential, MTK Festival and PEX Festival to name a few). They’re also working on some new EPs that will come out soon like gunfire, and if the names of their DIY EPs are any indications, the titles of the forthcoming EPs should be beyond interesting. We spoke with the guys via phone the Friday before their performance at the Disco Biscuits‘ BISCO INFERNO at Colorado’s hallowed Red Rocks Amphitheater on May 28. We’d tell you what they talked about, but it’s much better if you go in not knowing what to expect. ‘Coz Nicos Gun is nothing if not unpredictable.
The Deli: Nicos Gun is on their second tour this year. How’s it going so far?
Nick Bockrath: It’s been cool. A lot of new cities for us. We’re doing Midwest stuff and we just got into Denver right now. It’s really cool. We’re really excited for Red Rocks.
TD:What are some of the new cities you’re visiting and were they what you expected?
NB: I think everywhere we’re going is new to us because this only our second tour. The Midwest and stuff is definitely different than I expected but it’s pretty cool…When it comes down to it, a lot of the venues are kind of the same but the towns have different spirits. Nashville is definitely a really cool that we had fun in. New Orleans is cool.
TD:What is your favorite city so far that you’ve visited?
NB: I think we can all answer this one differently.
Barney Cortez: My favorite town was Lawrence, Kansas. It’s got some wild people in it. We really had an amazing time.
Harry Zelnick: I like Nashville, actually. Nashville was the most fun. It was just a real interesting city. We saw this band of all these studio musicians the first night we got in because we actually had the day off. It was this ridiculous concert. [They] were called the Time Jumpers. They were awesome. They play every Monday night in Nashville [at the Station Inn]. But Nashville is kind of a trip. It was like hipster cowboys.
NB: Columbia, Missouri was definitely my favorite town on this tour, but I also really dug Nashville.
Andrew Black: My favorite city was probably New Orleans. We got there the Monday after Mardi Gras and everyone was so drunk. It was really nice. There was a river, all sorts of stuff. I can’t verify if it was the Mississippi, but if we look at a map. But Memphis was also great. It felt like the ghost of Elvis was everywhere. Maybe it was just the statutes.
TD:I’ve visited New Orleans a few times and that vibe was amazing.
HZ: They had a really dope RV campground that we stayed at. New Orleans was definitely one of the best cities in the South, I think. We had a lot of fun. Me and Barney both kind of talked about going with this tranny that we were walking home with because we were that wasted, and she looked that good. We were gonna bring her back to the trailer park because we were real close, but we decided against it last minute after realizing it was not a she. It was pretty apropos, though…And the next day, the RV place had a jacuzzi in it and my phone got in the jacuzzi by accident. It was in my pocket so I didn’t have a phone the whole tour, which was kind of interesting, getting back to nature and books and what not. The phone was in the pocket so that just shows you the state of mind we were in given the next morning in New Orleans. Yea, it was pretty crazy.
TD:I think that has to be the best tour story I’ve heard.
HZ: Oh awesome. Fuck yeah. Orlando was sick, but I want to talk about Austin. I don’t know if we could talk about this, but we’re allowed to talk about this because Barney just gave me the OK. So two nights before we had to head back to the east coast, we had a couple of shows left in the South. It was in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. We all got really, really wasted and – so we could sleep, we decide to sleep in the RV sometimes – we were back in the RV and all three of them pass out except for me. I should have passed out because I don’t usually drink, but I was really wasted and something told me, “Get up and go smoke some weed with our driver, Howard, who’s the shit.” So I get up and I’m smoking weed with Howard, and all of a sudden Barney just gets up. He just turns when he gets up and starts pissing all over all of the beds, all over our fucking clothes, pillows, all over the sheets [Laughs]. He just starts pissing. He’s dead asleep. He’s completely out of it. I was like, “What the fuck?!” And if I was still asleep in there, he would have [peed] directly on my face. So it was a Godsend that I got up and smoked that weed. Basically, we’re screaming at him “Stop it!” and he wakes up kind of and [mumbles] and then he sits back down and he gets up and walks outside the RV. He’s sleepwalking. And we’re in a Walmart parking lot. He’s sleepwalking out of the RV and I have to chase him in my bare feet because he’s walking really quickly. I have to wake him up in the Walmart parking lot like, “Dude!” and he’s like, “Whaaaat.” He’s just dead asleep, sleepwalking. So that’s basically how I saved the band and saved Barney’s life. We didn’t sleep back there again until everything was dry cleaned and bleached. That was a fun experience. It was just really funny at that point. If it happened earlier in the tour, it would have been a real, real bummer, but at that point, it was just pretty funny.
TD:As for the tour, you guys are playing a bunch of major festivals coming up – the Roots Picnic and XPoNential Festival here in Philly and Camden, MTK Festival in New York, and PEX Summer Festival in Maryland. How did you guys land those gigs?
BC:I guess we kind of put money in the right pockets, you know what I mean? Payola. You gotta kiss the right butt and it’s all good…And you gotta have nice hair. We all got really good hair. We all got great fucking haircuts.
TD:Hair is very important. Seriously, it’s very important.
BC:I know that sounds kind of like a joke but, in a way, it’s kind of serious. It really is. We know how to schmooze and people dig our music too, which is sometimes second to the schmoozing. We just have good people around us, and we’ve all done a lot of shit where everything we’re doing now is towards one goal, you know what I mean? It’s kind of like people are putting us on this pedestal and want us to blow up, so they’re like, “Do this. Do this. Do this.” You know, our management’s like, “Do this. Do this. We’re gonna hook this up, hook this up,” you know what I mean? Next thing we know, we got all these festivals. But they’ve been booked for months, so it’s not like it all happened at once. But they’re all coming at the same time. We’re having a really busy summer. It’s gonna be good. We’re playing with some pretty big bands. We’re growing. We’re getting tighter, just having more shit to write about and more things to wanna kill each other over while on tour. You know, could we create more amongst the band and that’s create better songwriting or fighting. Every band has to go through that.
I have a question for you, actually. We’ve a lot of interviews where people quote us and it’s not quoting, you know what I mean? They’re like, “We recorded this,” and then I’ll read back and be like, “I didn’t word it like that.” I was just wondering too. That’s cool, though, that you’re recording it…Because my dad’s was a journalist and I just find it funny that people will do an interview and then they’ll requote people from memory, you know what I mean? And I know what I said, you know what I mean? So it’s like wow, I can’t believe people that have blogs and they’re taking notes. They’re like, “Barney said this,” and it’s like, “I didn’t say that.” You know what I mean?
TD:Yea, I record everything. It’s important to. People take notes anyway, but it’s important to take notes and record at the same. You can’t do one or the other.
BC:You did say that at the beginning of the interview. I was just coming into it late.
TD: Actually, I was reading your Twitter feed and you had a Tweet were you wrote that the band is gonna lie the entire time in your next interview because they fuck up serious interviews anyway and it doesn’t matter. I found that tidbit really interesting.
BC:Since you’re recording it, we’re giving you the 100 percent truth about peeing. Usually, we give very normal interviews where we’re like, “Yes, and then we…blah blah blah blah blah.” You know what I mean? But you sound like you’re cool. You, like, understand our sense of humor so we’re pretty much not bullshitting with you. And I really did almost fuck a tranny [Laughs]…I can tell by the course of an interview and sometimes they’ll be like, “Yea, I’m recording this,” and I can tell that they’re not really, you know? It’s annoying because you don’t want the shit you say to be out of context, especially what you say.
TD:It’s cool that you guys are loose enough, and by the way, I’m freaking awesome, so it’s good that you already caught that.
BC:Quote that. Quote that we said that.
TD:Out of all these major fests Nicos Gun is playing, which one are you most excited about?
NB: They’re all really awesome. They’re all really huge in different ways. We have a couple that we’re gonna announce soon that we can’t announce yet but those are probably the ones we’re most excited for. But, hopefully playing XPoNential and the Roots Picnic in Philly is a huge deal for a hometown band. It’s like the best thing we can do all summer. And playing Red Rocks out here, that’s a huge, huge deal. That’s one of the best venues in the country. And the other one, the MTK fest, that’s gonna be awesome. The lineup is just crazy. It will be cool to meet all these bands and hang with them have them check us out. But they’re all great. Any place where there’s a lot of great bands and a lot of people is awesome.
TD:Are you planning anything special for the Roots Picnic?
BC:Yea, we’re gonna bring it. I’m about to shave my head all crazy and bring my swag 100 percent because there’s a bunch of girls that are gonna be out there that I haven’t seen in a while because I’m out in an RV. So it’d be cool to get home…It’s just like we’re back on our home turf after playing in the wheat field or whatever [Laughs].
TD:I know Nicos Gun is writing and recording new material. When do you plan on dropping a new album?
NB:It’s not true. We’re not recording.
NB:I was just kidding.
HZ: Nevermind what Nick just said. Yea, we’re recording a bunch. We got a bunch of new songs. We’re about to put out a bunch of EPs that we’ve been working on, so we’re all set for that actually. The one we’ve been working on the longest is the first one we’re putting out, and then we’re putting out another one real quickly after that, and then this real special thing that we’ve been planning for a while that we’re gonna put out soon. It’s gonna be a real interesting mix of stuff. So it’s gonna be something special. Oh yea.
TD:So when the first EP coming out? What’s the title?
BC:We actually don’t have a name for the EPs. We’re still in the process of getting them [done] because we didn’t have enough right before we left for tour. So it’s taking us a little longer but when we finally finish everything up, all the mixing, we’re gonna have a lot of material. We’re probably gonna put the first EP out of songs that – well, maybe a few songs on there that people haven’t really heard. We’ve only been doing them live so it’d be cool for the public to hear the recordings of them. Right now we have EPs, we give them away. We sell them for $5, but we make the covers ourselves. We just burn CDs, and what I do is I cut shit out of magazines and draw stuff on them, you know? And we just make different types. Every EP has different titles. It’s kind of cool because it’s one of a kind and I number it. We’re up to 415 or something right now. All over the country, people have bought them and stuff. Each one of them, I just name different stuff. “Plush Valley” is one of the EPs. We got “Ultraviolet Swag”. “Fear of the Shower”, “Don’t be Afraid”, “Just the Plush Mixtape”, “Kids on Drugs”, “Makin’ Love Cool Again” is a big one. We got “Primal Glamour”, There are a whole lot of names, you know, that I feel like make an EP…“No More Models EP” was another one. “Nicos Gun and Turkey” was another one…“Plush City Mixtape”. Oh! We got “Big Swag Mixtape”. So you know, stuff like that. You can print all those if you wish.
TD:Just by that list, I’m gonna make the assumption that when you come out with your first official EP, it’s gonna be a really interesting title.
BC:Yea, definitely. It might be one of those titles actually because that’s what we’ve been doing anyways, but I’m not sure. Maybe it’ll be called “Nicos Gun EP”, but I don’t know really. It’ll probably be one of those. It’ll be something weird, for sure…It’ll be something interesting. It’ll be a cool. I would say it’ll probably be packaged and ready to go, at least on the Internet, in about a month. The remixing is almost. We actually just realized we could do it ourselves. Well certain things that we gotta finish up we’re just gonna do it on our own because we kind of do anything. We just need to finish it up ourselves independently. We realized you can’t wait around for other people [to say], “Yea, we’ll do this for this amount of money.” You just have to mix yourself. You have to record it yourself. Our friend’s helping us record it and we have this great studio to work in and it’s just about making the right connections.
TD:That seems to be the nature of the music business now, to take matters into your hands. And it seems that this DIY ethos you carry has really helped bring Nicos Gun into the spotlight. There’s so much buzz around the band, and you’ve only been together for not even two years.
BC:That’s definitely our kind of aesthetic. At the same time, we’re really down for anything. We’re not strictly independent artists. If something came along and I had creative control, and it sounded like it could help us in a certain way, just really the goal is to get your music heard by as many people as possible, tour across the world, and have the support to be creative and be in the studio. We just want freedom, really. That’s all we need. If a label gives you that, then that’s awesome. I’m not afraid of major labels or whatever. It’s just depending on whatever happens to be. Any act starting out, yea, you gotta do it yourself, you know. You could write these songs that sound like hit songs, but if no one knows who the fuck you are, no major label is gonna come up to you. Back in the day, in the ’90s, shit like that used to happen, but now, there’s no money in major labels, so they’re not just gonna put all this money into you if you can’t build up this shit yourself, if you can’t build up the fan base and all that, they’re not gonna care. So you have to do it yourself. You have to do all the bitch work. You just have to go around and play for people and make as many contacts as possible and give people something that’s interesting to them that makes people want to check you out, you know?
TD:How does your collective musical history prior to Nicos Gun help you work as a band?
HZ:It feels like freedom because before I was making money, but I wasn’t really enjoying life the way I’m enjoying life now. So it’s just more about doing what you want or really want to do and living life to the fullest. I know all that shit sounds kind of corny, but it’s pretty much true for me. I mean, financially, it’s not as [well-off] as it was before, but I’m much more happy in my soul, way more fulfilled. [Laughs] Just going around and playing shows for people and having them come up to you after the show and being like, “Wow, you really blew my mind.” They hear your music online or they like your videos or whatever it is or getting booked for festivals and getting to play bands that we look up to, it means more to me than producing a fucking track for whoever and getting paid a certain amount. It’s more cool with them and we are who we are. So that’s really fun and cool.
TD:You probably get this a lot but you need to explain your goal to be the punk rock Michael Jackson because, musically, he was pretty punk rock in his own way.
HZ:We’re all really big dancers, so we just like to get down, really. But, yea, it’s kind of punk rock. I don’t know [Laughs]. I definitely grew up on punk rock but at the same time I like listening to Michael Jackson. He was punk rock the way he moved his body and the songs that he sung about shit that he did. Even his suits. His suits were real extravagant and shit. The clothes he wore were real crazy. It’s just about – I know I sounds totally insane – it totally comes back to sexual energy and your cock and wanting to fuck women. It seriously all goes back to that. I know it sounds kind of crazy, but usually dancing or writing songs is like a sexual energy or deep energy that’s inside of you. Or, Barney says, depressed energy, but it’s not for us, definitely [Laughs]. For Elliot Smith and stuff like that, it works. I guess our thing is more we like to play our instruments really loud, and we want to get loaded, however that might be.
TD: That doesn’t sound crazy at all.
HZ:Oh, OK cool. I was hoping not.
TD: What’s your favorite thing to get at the deli?
HZ:I like BLTs.
BC:For the deli?
HZ:Yea. [Laughs] Barney didn’t know this was The Deli until just now. I like BLTs a lot and pickles…I’m a beef jerkey connoisseur, so I’d definitely get beef jerkey too. That’s my move. I don’t know what the rest guys eat. They’re a little bit more healthy than I am.
BC:Mainly, when I go there at the deli or the diner I go to, I ask for grilled cheese on rye. I don’t like it fried on the pan, though, or grilled. I like it baked on 325 [degrees]. Half a pickle sliced on there and make sure it’s provolone cheese. Thanks very much. [Laughs]
AB:I like the Reuben, man. The Reuben is what’s up.
NB:I usually eat several loads of wonder bread in a sitting. That’s all I eat.
TD:And that’s OK because bread on its own is a meal.
NB:Yea, I use to be fat so it helps me.