Jes Aurelius, conjurer of the towering and cataclysmic guitars on Destruction Unit’s evocatively titled new album Void, isn’t exactly sure how Arizona’s barren desert locale informs the band. Yet, the simultaneous terror and wonder at an environment that’s paradoxically serene and hostile lives in Destruction Unit’s arid psychedelia. Ryan Rousseau founded Destruction Unit in 2000 as a synth-punk solo project for what little time he had in between performing with The Reatards and a slew of other bands, but it’s developed into a focused entity making its most realized work yet. Aurelius describes the scene in Phoenix as a tiny group of hyper-active musicians who toil in several projects at once, re-record entire albums on command and whose sweat drips from the ceiling during house shows (because of physics.)
The moods and nature of the desert seem massively present to me on Void and I’m not the first to notice this about Destruction Unit. Do you willfully channel that environment?
Being from the desert, this kind of question gets brought up a lot. It makes me wonder, if people didn’t know where we were from, would they get that idea? I think everyone is a product of where they’re from. For a while, we would say there was nothing in play regarding that but there definitely is. To the point of how conscious, I’m not really sure. If you were to ask me what a desert sound is, I wouldn’t even know how to articulate it.
It’s also reflected in Destruction Unit’s album covers and music videos.
That’s true. Ryan [Rousseau, Destruction Unit’s founder and leader] has lived in Arizona longer than I have. I’ve lived there close to a decade but he’s grown up there. He embraced it sooner than some of us, but at some point we’ve all embraced it.
Void strikes me as an extremely apt album title. Is there a story behind it or can you shed light on the name’s inspiration?
That would be more of a question for Ryan. He writes the lyrics and does most of the naming.
Since you and other members of Destruction Unit play in many other Phoenix groups, how do you characterize the area’s creative milieu in general?
I’m sure there are a lot places like this, but Phoenix is a place where if you’re not really motivated then nothing happens. I’ve been to a lot of cities where you can get by just going through the motions and floating along. There’s a couple times every year when a few bands are on tour and we get back to nothing because no one has been around to keep things going. It stresses you to be creative and get involved. I don’t want to say we get bored with projects because that’s not the case but momentum is required to keep things moving fast. That spurns a lot of different projects. There’s not a large number of people involved but everyone who is involved is heavily so.
You and your peers are filling a void, perhaps?
Yeah, you could put it that way. That’s fair.
It’s interesting that there’s not that many people involved because Phoenix is the sixth most populous city in the country.
It’s almost like a fake city. I shouldn’t speak on behalf of all of Arizona or all of Phoenix because there are other people doing things but our specific group is quite incestuous in its family tree of music and art. It’s all very interlocked. There are maybe only 20 to 30 people that are really doings things but they create an endless amount of projects and events.
Ryan is obviously Destruction Unit’s founder and leader, but the newest album strikes me as more of a group effort. The band seems more congealed.
That’s interesting that you pick up on that because it’s true. I can’t speak too much for previous incarnations of the band but it’s certainly the case on newer stuff we’re writing. It’s more of a full effort from everyone and it comes across as more cohesive. Ryan’s a brilliant song-writer who definitely knows what he’s doing. I have no problem going along with him that but it’s opened up more. He has parts written and ready but lets everyone else figure out what to do with them. It lends the band more influences. That’s going to come across in the new stuff we’re working on, which is getting better — there’s no reason to continue if it’s not.
Where did you record Void?
Void was actually recorded in Ryan’s house. The main reason we record ourselves is that Ryan has the gear and we don’t have the money to do it elsewhere. I’m not necessarily against going into a studio but Ryan’s learned a lot about how he wants his music recorded. He has a great degree of control over it in his house and we’re able to spend more time on it. If we’re paying by the hour or by the day, time is restricted. We recorded it mostly live and did a couple overdubs, then Ryan mixed it by himself. But, it did come with some problems in that the masters got fried after we recorded everything and we had to do it all over again. But, it actually came out better the second time.
How do you mean “fried?” Was it on tape or digital?
I don’t even know exactly. Another group that Nick from Destruction Unit and I play in did a European tour over the summer and Ryan told us two days before we left that everything was lost and we needed to come back and do it over again before we left. So, I didn’t honestly have time to look into what exactly happened. We recorded on to tape and then dumped it onto a hard-drive and then the hard-drive got fried. We were trying to meet a deadline and we were about to be gone for a month in Europe so that added a sense of urgency.
Can you tell me about the inspiration or recording process for “Druglore,” the album’s nearly eight minute droning instrumental?
We had an idea and went with it. It wasn’t written in the same way as the others. It wasn’t totally improvised but much of it was. When we practice, before we start rehearsing or writing songs, we just jam for a bit to warm up and “Druglore” came from that.
What’s it like laying high-energy rock music in the scorching desert heat?
A lot of places you come to in the desert get obnoxiously hot. There are house shows where the ceilings drip with sweat but I think it makes a better atmosphere honestly. It’s tough to endure an entire band’s set when it’s 105° outside at two in the morning and inside its 115°. It weeds people out who aren’t really into it. There are people who go for the social atmosphere, which is fine, but it really weeds out people who aren’t interested in the music being performed.
You’re playing several festivals this year. Are you dreading or looking forward to the festival environment?
Up until recently, we weren’t part of any festival circuit. We obviously prefer playing houses and warehouses, but there’s something to be said for stepping outside of our comfort zone. There’s definitely a different vibe and attitude with playing big stages at big festivals. Whether or not it’s good or bad depends on the band.
You’re used to playing warehouses or DIY spaces. Now that Destruction Unit is stepping up to festivals and all they entail are you anticipating any clash between the group’s profile and its DIY ethos?
I’m not someone who necessarily believes there’s anything wrong with not doing something myself. There are a lot of things I don’t know how to do that I would benefit from having someone help with. It starts to become a problem when you start compromising your sound and arrive in a position you don’t want to be in for the sake of money. As of now, what we’re doing is exactly what we want. We mostly book our own shows, record our own records, do our own artwork and the people who help us are friends of ours who we knew before we were associates. We’re not making any compromises.