Any person involved in a creative field is automatically subject to a host of critical choices concerning self-image and intent. Living in this technology-saturated era only further complicates this predicament, forcing artists to situate themselves in a world where boundaries between the public and private self have become increasingly blurred. Destruction Unit is a band that is conscious of these challenges, but above all else, they're just invested in making music. Their upcoming release on Sacred Bones, Deep Trip, offers a potent sonic experience, something to blast at full volume by yourself and become lost in. We jumped on the phone with guitarist Jes Aurelius to talk about social media, the band's involvement in the Ascetic House collective, and their hometown of Tempe, AZ.
Ad Hoc: Deep Trip is your first proper studio album. How did the process of recording it differ from your previous releases?
JA: For the most part, the process is the same. We recorded pretty much in the same way, where most of it was done live. I guess the main difference was that we had people helping us who knew how to use the gear better and had access to better equipment and an actual nice studio, as opposed to how pretty much every other Destruction Unit record was recorded,with an 8-track tape player or a reel-to-reel, and [singer] Ryan [Rousseau] figuring it out as he goes along.
Ad Hoc: How did you come to work with Sacred Bones?
JA: They have a lot of mutual friends of ours. We’d toured with The Men a couple of times, before I’d met anyone specifically from Sacred Bones. We’re friends with a couple of the bands they released and we met them in New York when we played there around the time of Hurricane Sandy. They came to our show. I’d actually set up a Phoenix show for Lust for Youth and Pharmakon. They came out here, they flew out to Phoenix, and I got to hang out with them more. We just started talking and they’re great people and it seemed like it made a lot of sense.
Ad Hoc: One thing I noticed about Deep Trip and Destruction Unit’s music in general is that you’re good at creating a solid atmosphere throughout; it conjures up the feeling of being in the desert and maybe going insane and having some sort of spiritual experience. Were you thinking about anything in particular when you wrote the songs?
JA: There was definitely an atmosphere of heavy experimentation and a lot of improvisational writing. There are cases when someone has a song completely written and brings it to practice, and everyone will add their input and make suggestions, but for the most part, it’s everyone coming together and experimenting at the same time. We’re cherry-picking what works in different ways. I wouldn’t say we go into it with a specific goal or intention other than just trying to experiment.
Ad Hoc: People often evoke the desert when writing about your music—mostly for its more trippy connotations, but also for the sense of isolation that it carries. Is that sense of isolation important for your music?
JA: I think that’s definitely a huge part of it. Everyone in the band has toyed with the idea of moving, but I think living here is very much conducive to what we do. There’s a quote by the composer Morton Feldman, where he talks about how the best environment to make music in is one where nobody cares, where nobody is paying attention. He created music when he was younger and did it without influences around him. And I think for us that is.... We’re not really being watched. Now, a little bit, but it’s from a distance, so we’re able to do what we want to do without feeling like someone’s watching us or judging our mistakes or judging our successes even.
Ad Hoc: Is there a strong local scene where you guys live in Arizona?
JA: There definitely is. It’s a very small but close community. From experimental music to more straightforward music, there’s definitely a good number of people here who are doing things that are just as interesting as what we're doing. It’s just that some of them aren’t able to tour as much and some of them don’t have the means to get their art out beyond Arizona. It’s not necessarily tied together like a packaged scene, but it’s a network of friends who are definitely collaborating together on different occasions.
Ad Hoc: That seems like the nicer thing about a smaller city or a town. There’s more of that sense of community and less competition.
JA: For our community, there’s not really a feeling of competition at all. There’s definitely a lot of inspiration that goes back and forth, but I don’t feel like anyone feels like they’re competing or struggling to be a part of something or whatever. There’s not enough here to be competing with each other.
Ad Hoc: Destruction Unit belongs to the Ascetic House collective. Could you tell me a little about it?
JA: Ascetic House is an ever-evolving group of people collaborating with each other. It started off as a handful of us, but it’s grown to include people in different cities and countries. I’d say the main tenet of Ascetic House is experimentation, whether it’s with music or literature or video or technology or even lifestyle. It’s kind of hard to put a description to, but for the most part it’s a collective of people experimenting with different things.
Ad Hoc: I read about the program where you send music to prisoners and I thought that was really interesting. Are you directly involved with that?
JA: Yeah. Right now, it’s been hard because we’ve been on tour so much, but it’s mostly just something more personal that I thought would be a way to highlight an issue. There are people that know that the prison industrial system is an issue, but it’s my own way to bring attention to that, and on a personal level, to cater to friends and family or people who are in jail and to try and help them. Ascetic House is not a political organization, and we’re not trying to make any overtly political statements, but on a personal level, you’re talking about dealing with real people.
Ad Hoc: You guys have a pretty minimal social media presence. How much are you invested in what other people have to say?
JA: I’m definitely not overtly against different forms of social media. I think there’s nothing inherently wrong with it, or with using whatever means necessary to help you. But for the most part, we’re just so busy on the road or recording or bringing together events that it’s kind of hard to keep up. So Destruction Unit has a Facebook page, but I don’t think any of our other groups or projects do. They’re kind of background thoughts. And I think in a lot of ways it can take the personality out of music or art by getting all of your information or by experiencing music just through social media, like watching videos on Youtube, and pictures or whatever. We kind of steer clear of that to hopefully get more people to actually come out and see it in person. You can’t capture [the experience of live music] on a phone.