Catch up with lead singer Aaron Lazar of Brooklyn-based hard rock quartet The Giraffes and watch the video for "Washing Machine" from their sixth studio album, Usury, out now.
What brought you all together?
Aaron Lazar: I came to the city to go to grad school for Fine Arts - be an artist - and working in grad school with a bunch of arty-farty people who talked more about the work than they actually made work made me not so much into the arts so I found myself going out to shows a lot. I used to follow the local pop scene where I grew up and stuff like that so I went out for a couple of years in New York and The Giraffes were actually one of the first bands that I saw that I actually enjoyed - everybody else seemed like they were posing - so I sort of kept an eye on them and became semi-friendly with them in the scene and that sort of stuff. They did not know I was a musician, I was not playing music at all at that point. I introduced another friend's band with a little spiel and performance thing at CBGB's - the other band is called Indian Jewelry, they're from Texas and old art school buddies of mine - and then The Giraffes saw it and they went, 'oh man, people have been telling us to get a singer for years and this guy could do it,' so they asked me if I wanted to join and I said yeah.
Which musicians would you say you've been influenced by?
It depends on the usage. For me, performance and recording are two completely separate things. Performance is all about just making it memorable, making it either crazy or silly or fun: the performance is all about the room, it's not necessarily about the material. Recording is all about the material, obviously. As far as influences in performing, obviously Iggy Pop - the sort of asshole contingency - I'm definitely a fan of people who step it up a notch; The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, those guys are really hot shit and always have been; James Brown; the in your face, unapologetic, confrontational frontman Swans, even though he's not exactly in your face, but he always makes everyone very, very uncomfortable, so there's that. As far as recording and songwriting goes, Bowie is a huge, huge, huge touchstone for me; Scott Walker is a huge touchstone for me; and more arty-farty people, like I love - this is going to sound weird - but I love the way Lightning Bolt records even though, at their shows, I feel like I'm having an aneurysm.
What words would you use to describe your sound?
The typical tagline I give for people who aren't music people is that it's loud, snotty rock and roll. For people who are a little bit more musically inclined and know a thing or two, I usually try to say that it's a rotten hybrid of metal meets surf band backing a complete horse piss, jackass, carnival barker of a lead singer who, from time to time, will try to sing something croonily to just prove he can.
How does the music you're working on and releasing now compare to your previous releases from the late '90s and early 2000s?
The really, really early, early stuff, we were fucking kids - we did not know anything! There was even a period of time when the guys really didn't have tuners, so they just all decided on what the right A would be and it was tuning by consensus so, yeah, those first records were just sort of us figuring it out and being as crazy as we could. We didn't know anything so we thought, like, 'oh, well, if we're going to record something like our live shows, then we have to get drunk like our live shows and we have to go crazy,' [laughs] and now we know a little bit better. The early stuff is just fun, stupid, we were sick and tired of people taking everything so seriously, especially heavy music - which people still kind of do - so we just wanted to entertain ourselves and be goofy. Later on, it got a little more serious because, when you're in a band most of the year and that's your job, it becomes more serious and you actually try to say certain things and I, of course, when I had my heart problems, it became a little more serious because I finally had something to write about that wasn't stupid. There's that. Now, as we're getting older - at least in terms of meaningful writing because I'm responsible for almost all the lyrics - I'm trying to figure out a way to get this three album arc happening: the first one is Usury and that one's mostly about money, not having any money, wanting money, getting screwed out of money, fuck money; the second one I'm working on now, I'm trying to make it all love songs, but perverse love songs, like love songs to things I hate or love songs to ridicule things that I detest, that sort of stuff. I'm still working on it now though so that's the plan, don't hold me to it. For the third one, I have no fucking idea, but I want to bring everything together on that one.
If you had to sum up Usury in one sentence, how would you do that?
It's a loud record about money from the bottom up.
What were your inspirations behind the single and video for "Washing Machine"?
I had almost nothing to do with that one. They kept almost all the details from me, they just said show up at a laundromat, we need you to wash some sheets. That's it. That's all I knew about it until it came out. The song, what I'd say about "Washing Machine" is that it's the most oversexed video for a song about Donald Rumsfeld ever made [laughs]. The song was written towards Donald Rumsfeld and that documentary called The Unknown Known that was done about Rumsfeld just defending all his bullshit that got us into the Iraq war, like straight-faced and him like, 'yeah, no, I did nothing wrong,' and that was sort of the inspiration for that song. For the video, they turned it into some weird [laughs] New York, like, the craziest version of Stefon from Saturday Night Live ever [laughs].
Do you have a favorite track to perform live?
Yeah, I do. It's one we don't often do but it's off of an earlier record, our like Spaghetti Western record called "Help Me With My Blood Count". That's my favorite.
What do you hope your fans and listeners are able to take away from your music?
Let's limit it to this record and the next record because no musician is in control of what their fans take away from it ever, but as long as no one is out there sniping off innocent civilians or using our music to somehow justify being a complete sack of shit and they're using it to be good and have fun, at least - or get away from bad at the very bare minimum [laughs] - then hurray for you, applause and flowers.
Is there anything you want to add?
We are playing a showcase in the Northside Festival in a couple weeks, we're going to be doing a couple shows out in the mountains at the end of the Summer, and the new record should be ready in the Spring, so we're writing now and we're getting our arrangements together and we're getting ready to hit the studio soon, so stay tuned.