Portland, Oregon’s Gaytheist, whose catchy name is due to the fact that lead singer/guitarist/vocalist Jason Rivera is a gay atheist (and it rolls off the tongue so nicely), have only been together for a couple of years — but it that short time, the band has managed to self-release two albums (Pentagrams Are Super! and Rainbows Have Nothing To Hide), as well have two albums released on Seattle’s Good To Die Records (2012’s Stealth Beats and this year’s Hold Me…But Not So Tight), featuring their catchy, quirky loud rock sound.
The band, which also features bassist Tim Hoff and drummer Nick Parks, combine noise rock, hardcore, and some good old fashioned hard rock, topped off with the sometimes witty, sometimes weird, and often serious lyrical observations of Rivera. The music is short and to the point, and the band rocks out with a purpose. They are minimalists of the highest order.
We sent Rivera some questions via email, and here are his thoughts on a variety of subjects, including his unrequited love of loud rock, the influence of his hometown on his band’s music, and even the state of LGBT people in the hard music scene.
How did the band form? What were the reasons behind it?
The band started with Nick and I. We jammed in Tim’s basement, and one day we invited him to play bass, and he ruled at it. This was December 2010 — we played our first show in January 2011.
I read an interview [in which you said that] there was a period in your life where you left heavy music behind for a bit. Why did you do that? And what got you interested the loud and fast again?
More like I tried to leave heavy music behind. I can’t really help but play loud shit. I started a band about nine years ago called Roaring Lions (consisting of David Blunk of 30.06, Barry Anderson of Merrick Foundation and Nick Thorp of Wax Edison), and the whole purpose was to tell long stories drawn out over a dozen songs. I had intended it to be on the quieter side, but we still ended up being pretty loud rock. I was going to quit playing music a few years ago…but I can’t quit you!
What is the meaning behind the band’s eye-catching name? Where there any ideas for the name besides that one, or was that the only one from day one?
“Gaytheist,” for us, simply means “gay atheist.” It also rolls off the tongue — well, I think. We almost called it Hemperor, Fruit Stand, or Pew Pew Pew, but Gaytheist was way better than those.
How is the new album different from the last one, Stealth Beats? How do you think it is similar? You said this one was a little more serious. How so?
I think “Hold Me” is very similar — same kick-ass engineer (Stephan Hawkes), same band set up, same concept of short bursts of fast, loud rock. I even had a few of the songs for the new one written when we recorded Stealth Beats. I felt the new one was a bit more serious, due to songs like “Into The Trap” and “Starring in “The Idiot,” but the more I reflect, the more I realize it’s about as serious as all the other albums — some of the songs are very personal stories, some are serious but made-up tales, and some are just silly stupidity set to good riffs.
For me, the band’s combination of various loud genres and sounds, along with a very skewed take on the world, seems like it could only come out of the Pacific Northwest. Do you think your region and/or the city you live in have any effect on the music you play?
Yes! Because KARP and Crackerbash are from the Northwest, and they are probably the biggest influence on my songwriting. I love the shit out of so many Northwest bands — I grew up going to see Nirvana, Mudhoney, Yankee Wuss, Hazel, Tad, The Accused, Whermacht, Hitting Birth, Sissyface, The Need, Sicko…and a bunch of other amazing bands — I could devote an entire book to just name dropping awesome Northwest bands from the past 30 years.
How do you think the band has developed over the years?
I don’t know if we have developed! Our growth is retarded! Help us! Tim seems much more comfortable singing backups — we’ve been friends for over 20 years, and he has played music the entire time. And before Gaytheist, I think I saw him sing maybe one song ever. Nick has grown as a singer too, so it’s nice to see them growing around their near mastery of bass and drums. We still play whatever we want — the only rule I have for song writing is, “Make sure this riff goes along with Nick’s fabulously brutal drums.”
Are you pleasantly surprised at the attention the band has garnered in the lead up to this release? Sometimes the loud rock press doesn’t know what to do with bands that come a little bit out of left field.
Yes. I have very little expectations for press, as we are broke and have only toured once outside the Pacific Northwest, and Good To Die Records is a very young label — but the reviews for the new album are similar to the last one. Almost all positive, and almost all unsure what genre to file us under. Reviewers also seem hellbent on deciphering the lyrics this time through, and I’ve been surprised at how accurate some of them have been.
While there have always been gay, lesbian, and transgender folks involved in loud rock, do you think the climate is better today for being out and rocking out?
I feel, in the US at least, that the climate has never been more positive for us to turn up and rock the fuck out and not really think about it, and not fear some sort of consequence for being out (losing jobs, gigs, getting beat up, having no one else to relate to, etc.). It’s just not really an issue. I’m pretty sure if we weren’t called Gaytheist it wouldn’t even come up. “What else could I say/Everyone is gay.”
What are some of the band’s influences, either musical or non-musical?
Beside the fuck-ton of bands I mentioned before, I’d say the biggest influences are: our friends, our friends bands, living in Portland…we all grew up with family members (my brother, Tim’s sister, Nick’s dad) that introduced us to killer metal at an early age (like Slayer and Metallica and Iron Maiden and Sabbath), going to see shitty bands and realizing we could do it too, going to see amazing bands and realizing there was always room for a shitload of improvement. Also, all of the internet.
What are the future plans for the band? Is there going to be more touring in the future? Maybe another album?
We are playing some music festivals (Sled Island in Calgary, Musicfest NW in Portland, and Capitol Hill Block Party in Seattle), then hopefully we’ll do a proper tour for “Hold Me” in the fall. Last night we got together and started piecing together some new songs. Always! Looking! Forward! Would love the band to be my only job, and maybe it will one day, but right now if we lived off just the money from the band…well, this interview would be a lot more angry, desperate, and would have more of a “I live in a van down by the river” feel.