WFMU deejay Paul Bruno could probably have held the record release party for Serious Rockers, the first compilation from his new Unblinking Ear records, anywhere he wanted in Northern New Jersey. He chose Lot 13, a bar and restaurant in southern Bayonne that has become a slightly-under-the-radar venue for offbeat rock shows. Proximity to Staten Island — that’s where he lives — probably had more than a bit to do with the decision. But the choice is another indication that Bayonne, long an afterthought for Hudson County musicians, is heating up.
One of the most intriguing bands on the Unblinking Ear compilation (the initial cassette run is sold out, but you can hear the collection at unblinkingearrecords.bandcamp.com) is Slang King, a smart, sharp, aggressive guitar-rock outfit that’s based in Brooklyn, but with roots deep in the Garden State. Both bassist/singer Michael Hollitscher, who is originally from Morristown, and guitarist Marisha Chinsky, who grew up in Union, distinguished themselves in various New York indiepop outfits; Corita, Chinsky’s last outfit, released a gorgeous EP of C86-inspired melodic post-punk in 2011. With Slang King, Hollitscher, Chinsky and their bandmates have exchanged jangle for noisy overdrive. The guitar sounds are terrific, the songs are weirdly catchy, and it’s all bound to be 10 times as impressive in concert.
Slang King joins Carolee, Sunshine & The Rain, No Other and Kerbivore at the Unblinking Ear release event this Saturday. Lot 13 is at 169 Avenue E in Bayonne, and doors are at 8; what else do you need to know? More? Okay, we caught up with Chinsky and Hollitscher to ask them a few questions about the show, the band, and rocking in Bayonne.
Q: How did you hook up with Unblinking Ear? Did Paul Bruno contact you?
A: Chinsky: Paul contacted us when he was looking for bands to put on his first release from his new label. He had been to Slang King shows before. The four of us in Slang King and Paul and other folks are part of a community of bands, artists, music fans and writers who gravitate around the music collectives Unblinking Ear, Pet Rescue, Square Zeros, Slackgaze and Hearts Bleed Radio. They’ve been putting on DIY shows, publishing blogs and zines, and supporting each other as friends and fellow musicians.
Q: The music on your Bandcamp page is compelling. Those six-strings really knock the unsuspecting listener upside the head. How did you achieve those great instrument sounds?
A: Hollitscher: When we were asked to do the comp by Paul, we decided to book some time at Serious Business Studios with Travis Harrison, who Marisha and I had recorded with before. We knocked out three songs, including “Tiger Chat,” the song on Serious Rockers, in a couple hours one afternoon. That’s down to us practicing a lot beforehand and working stuff out onstage, but also to Travis being able to get great sounds fast and constantly saying, “What’s next?” He also pushed some of the crazier stuff, like (guitarist) Robin’s insane divebombing e-bow sounds, further than we knew they could go. Many high-fives were happening at that point of recording.
Q: Have you played at Lot 13 before? Elsewhere in Bayonne?
A: Hollitscher: Nope, first gig in Bayonne ever, though I’ve heard good things about Lot 13. It’s great to play in Hudson County again because I spent several years in Jersey City (I miss you, Uncle Joe’s), so it’s great to play a gig that’s easy for the Jersey peeps to get to.
A: Chinsky: We’re really excited to spend time there and cross-pollinate with the Bayonne and Central/Eastern NJ music scene. Paul Bruno was born and raised in Staten Island, and has long been affiliated with WFMU, so he champions local bands and venues in WFMU’s backyard, as well as Staten Island bands, and supports local scenes across the the bridge and beyond. His show on WFMU and his Unblinking Ear podcast are well curated. He works hard to find great bands that would be difficult to discover elsewhere, new music as well as older stuff. In fact, he’s the second-best deejay in Staten Island according to the Advance, so it must be true!
Q: I associate you both with melodic NYC cupcake pop. But I also know you’re fans of the Fall — the band name is a reference to a Fall song, right? Did you form Slang King with the intention of going in a more brutal rock direction or did it just head that way?
A: Chinsky: I love that you used the word “brutal” to describe Slang King’s sound because I never thought of it that way. But you’re right and I wanted to sound brutal — I wanted the music we made to channel more emotion and honesty — and we wanted to rock hard. We’re all fans of metal and shoegaze and post-rock and experimental artists. It dawned on me that I wasn’t made of cupcake pop but something that ran much deeper. As for the name, yes, you got it — I became a diehard fan of The Fall pretty soon after a friend introduced me to their records. I thought it was a nice combination of punk, dadaism, poetry and this somewhat high-brow literary art with a weirdo sense of humor and irony. Mark E. Smith fits in well with my Anglophile taste in culture. The Fall’s song titles make fairly suitable band names (total band democracy: there was a list we all made separately and then we voted).
I wanted a break from the indiepop sound. I went back into instrumental, more experimental sonic landscape bands from the ’90s, like Slint, Kinski, Mogwai, A Minor Forest, Unwound and similar newer projects like Survival Knife and Föllakzoid. It seems like the right place for me to go. Our bandmate, guitarist Robin, who formerly played in Triple Creme and Luff, is into unusual time signatures. When we started writing songs, she and I agreed it was a direction we could make uniquely our own.
Hollitscher: The band really started with Robin and Marisha writing together. They had four or five songs already, even before Benji, our drummer, came into the picture. Marisha and I played together years ago, and I was pretty surprised how heavy it was as well, but it all felt really natural and fun to be doing stuff that’s more aggressive at times. This all started less than a year ago, and we played our first show a couple weeks after our first practice, with a bunch more after that, so everything’s been happening fast. What we’ve been working on that hasn’t made it to the stage yet is pretty heavy, too, but I think there’s a lot of room for us to move in other directions in terms of sonics and songs.
Q: What’s the future look like for the group? Is an album or collection forthcoming?
A: Hollitscher: Who knows what the future holds! We want to finish up some more songs that we have in the pipeline. It would be great to get out a record this year and see where that goes.