Speed and volume are the punch and pie at Gaytheist’s metaphorical audio fiesta. The Portland trio hits its listener in the mouth on its fourth full-length, Hold Me . . . But Not So Tight, released earlier this month on Seattle’s premier heavy-rock label Good to Die. An example? The band crams 25 measures of melodic punk into the 35 seconds of opener “Starring in ‘The Idiot.’ ” But ask any fan in the know—or the band’s lead singer—and they’ll tell you Gaytheist’s true charm is its willingness to play silly.
“We can take things serious enough to write the occasional serious song, and get shit done that needs to get done,” says guitarist/vocalist Jason Rivera. “But for the most part, it’s just fun party time.”
Pentagrams Are Super! shouts the title of the band’s 2011 self-released debut, an album anchored by the hard-rocking and well-titled track “Taking Back Sunday From [mainstream emo band] Taking Back Sunday.” Rainbows Have Nothing to Hide, muses the follow-up. The band’s third album (and Good to Die debut) Stealth Beats leads with “Stampede of Savings,” an obscenity-laden song complete with a reference to cult-horror schlock film The Human Centipede. The new album contains sing-along songs about defecating into a volcano’s magma chamber (“Poocano”) and getting duped into buying useless gadgets while paying too-high rent (“60 Easy Payments”). The band plays lighthearted, heavy-ass music that doesn’t so much push against the notion that hard rock should be serious as push for the notion that it can be a much more accurate reflection of the multidimensional human personality.
“You don’t just have to be a comedy band, or you don’t just have to be a serious, emotional band,” explains Rivera, the band’s primary songwriter. “You can do both because that’s what people really are, and there’s no reason bands can’t be a reflection of that.”
Rivera has witnessed firsthand the conflict that occurs when complexity clashes with conformity in music. He remembers attending shows at Portland’s now-defunct Satyricon and witnessing outright arguments between several bands and their audiences. A band member would announce his support of gay rights, and it would become “a really big issue.” Growing up gay in the testosterone-fueled, largely homophobic hard-rock scene, Rivera says he’s thankful that things have improved. “This was, again, in the ’80s where everything was like, ‘We’re not gay, bro!’ So it’s been nice seeing things change.” He continues: “Bands that I like to go see [now], it’s not such an issue.”
This kind of discord with the mainstream mind-set has very directly affected Rivera’s attitude toward songwriting. As he drifted away from well-known bands like Anthrax, who would sing about not “be[ing] a faggot,” he turned instead to groups like Tumwater jokesters Karp and occasionally humorous piano-rock band Ben Folds Five for lyrical inspiration—bands that could be inclusive, fun, and, in the case of Karp, even retain their punishing sonic elements.
“Karp is a super-heavy, badass band, and totally hilarious. All their lyrics are tongue-in-cheek, and theiy’re just having fun,” Rivera explains. “Then Ben Folds Five was the first thing I could think of that wasn’t heavy music. It’s serious piano music, but it’s not. Half the time he’s just singing about ridiculous bullshit.”
Gaytheist recently played the inaugural ’Mo-Wave festival, Seattle’s new queer music and arts festival that sets out “to showcase queers as tastemakers and rule-breakers in modern society.” The band’s wildly successful set shared a bill with a collection of acts more diverse than any it’s played with since gradually streamlining its sound. “Now that we’re more focused on being heavy and loud and fast at all times . . . we’re constantly getting put on shows with all these heavy bands, and I actually kind of miss the variety,” Rivera says. “So ’Mo-Wave was awesome . . . Not only did they put together all these bands and performers that had at least one member that was openly gay, but they were all super-stellar examples of their styles of music . . . Then when we played, there was this giant mosh pit, but it wasn’t violent, it was just everyone dancing.”
Whether the band will be able to sustain this overlap of the creative queer scene and the traditionally misogynistic and homophobic hardcore scene remains to be seen. Says Rivera: “I still think we’re pretty new.”
That doesn’t mean the band hasn’t evolved. Gaytheist’s uncommon combination of playfulness and grit has been amped up over time rather than watered down. By design, each of the Portland trio’s releases has turned out to be more of a foot race than its predecessor, thanks to the intense tightness of drummer Nick Parks (a “thunderfuckstorm on the drums,” says Good to Die founder Nik Christofferson) and the increasingly feverish riffage of Rivera and bassist Tim Hoff.
The band will hit the area a number of times in the coming months: the New Frontier in Tacoma on June 1; the Black Lodge for a release show with label mates Monogamy Party on June 7; and the Capitol Hill Block Party at the end of July. Seattle has treated the band well, Rivera says—in fact, we may have caught on before their home city did. “For whatever reasons . . . I noticed we’d sell a lot more of our CDs in Seattle,” says Rivera. “We’d sell more CDs at one show in Seattle than we would at, like, five shows in Portland.”
The past few months have seen notable growth at home, however; their Good to Die approval plus a series of notable bookings (including The Portland Mercury’s Malt Ball festival) have earned Gaytheist a solid Rose City following. “All of our shows have been doing really well,” says Rivera.
“Portland was napping before Stealth Beats came out,” adds Christofferson. “But some key shows [and] great local press . . . has made a huge difference, and now Portland loves Gaytheist too.” E
Gaytheist New Frontier, 301 E 25th St., Tacoma, 253-572-4020. All ages. 9 p.m. Sat., June 1. Black Lodge, location undisclosed. All ages. 9 p.m. Fri., June 7.