Talking with Jason Rivera—the bowtie-donning vocalist and guitarist for Portland scuzzy punk rawkers Gaytheist—should have centered around the impending release of the band’s fifth full-length record, How Long Have I Been On Fire? Out on Portland’s Hex Records this Friday, April 10, the album’s raw humor, buzzsaw guitar onslaughts, and pulverizing rhythmic blitzkrieg make it arguably the band’s best offering to date. And we did get around to discussing the album, eventually.
Like most everything else, though, our conversation was unavoidably guided by the then-nascent Covid-19 social distancing protocols. Gaytheist’s U.S. tour was still on at the time, and just the evening prior, Gaytheist played what turned out to be their last show—a gig at the World Famous Kenton Club on March 13 with burgeoning local supergroup Via Vale—before all public gatherings were indefinitely paused across the country a few days later.
Rivera—who during 2009 contracted swine flu and was forced to quarantine in a similar way—sensed, but had no way of knowing then, that another virus outbreak would effectively derail not only his band’s plans, but everybody’s plans for the foreseeable future. At the risk of committing the faux pas of reminding you that “The music lives on!” or “We’ll get through this to a soundtrack of love!” or some such other cliché, in a strange way, Gaytheist’s new record has emerged as just the perfectly aggressive, nuanced, dynamic salve for the pent-up energy a quarantined metal-, Northwest punk-, hardcore-loving populace needs right now.
So for the moment, fuck all this Covid-19 babble, and let’s talk about why Gaytheist is one of the best bands in Stumptown.
Gaytheist isn’t so much a new band to watch out for, but an emerging staple of the ferocity of Portland’s independent heavy music underground, having logged almost 10 years together, with multiple full-length records and EPs, appearances at PDX Pop Now! and a lot more. The trio—rounded out by bassist Tim Hoff and drummer Nick Parks—reconciles the sonic crossroads between metal, hardcore and punk, with Rivera’s alternately screamy and melodic high-pitched vox steering the way on How Long Have I Been On Fire?
In the years after the band released their previous LP, Let’s Jam Again Soon, Parks moved to Florida. Rivera forged a solo project in the interim—dubbed Fill Colons (yep, Rivera’s a pretty big fan of puns, and is the impetus for the band name Gaytheist, as a self-professed gay atheist)—that consisted of multiple looped riffs and vocals.
“Tim came to those shows and was like, ‘Yeah, those are Gaytheist riffs. We have to turn those into Gaytheist songs,’” Rivera recalls. When Rivera decided to recreate those looped compositions as Gaytheist songs, he broke the loops apart and turned them into separate pieces of songs.
“Since they flowed together on top of each other, it was interesting,” Rivera explains. “In a way, I almost started pushing at first, when we got back together, that I was gonna start doing a lot of loops, but that shit drives me crazy [to try and do] live. It’s already nerve-racking performing and singing and playing guitar at the same time, but then to also track loops, it’s just no fun. It turns it from art to a chore to me.”
So the loops went by the wayside. What’s left, however, is a monstrosity of intricate guitar freakouts on songs like “Hornswoggled” that receive bruising foundations from the Hoff-Parks rhythmic tandem. Parks alone (now back living in Portland) is a tour de force behind the kit, equaling the sound of at least two drummers, giving huge weight to Gaytheist’s impressively dynamic tracklist on HLHIBOF?
The intro for “Let The Wrong One Out” is perhaps the very first inkling of a tamed Gaytheist, with Rivera singing a sincere refrain with muted guitar and no other accompaniment. It only lasts 30 seconds, but it’s a sign of the band’s willingness to stray from what’s worked so well for them up to this point.
“Quietness is not something we’ve done before,” Rivera quips. “I think this album has three songs where they have quiet moments. We’re still trying to take it seriously. ‘Let The Wrong One Out’ to me is simultaneously very serious and genuine... but also tongue in cheek. We’re still getting there.”
Beyond the punny song titles (among them “Hashbrownsblessed,” “It’s Reigning Men” and “Dropping Butt Loads of Truth Bombs Into a Swirling Pool of Knowledge”), Rivera is aware of the stigma of the “joke band” that some people might apply to Gaytheist. A song like “Dental Records,” however, is a good example of the sincerity and nuance of arrangement the band is capable of delivering.
“Lyrically, a lot of times my subject matter is veering into the apocalypse, nihilism, existential angst,” Rivera says. “But while I’m doing all that, I sometimes will find humor in it and then suddenly, that happens. There’s a song we always play live called ‘Condemn The Condemners’ [from their 2012 album Stealth Beats] and there’s nothing humorous about it at all. So we do still have ones like that, where it’s about a very serious subject matter and I never really veer toward comedy.
“I have a hard time staying that serious about anything,” Rivera continues. “I wouldn’t be able to do a band where I only had to be very sincerely serious, I just couldn't do it. It’s the same thing with the humor, too; I also couldn’t just do a joke band.”
UPCOMING RELEASE: How Long Have I Been On Fire? out April 10 via Hex Records