The members of Gelatinus Cube started working on the songs that make up new album Nightmare World five years ago – a pre-pandemic time when at least some things seem pretty okay, at least in retrospect.
Of course, our politics were still poisoned. And mass shootings were and remain so common that even a long-running band of surrealist art-rockers couldn’t help but address the trend, with singer Pat Chase penning the track “Sweaty Gun” in response to gun nuts and a culture that coddles and fuels their fears. “The flag in your front lawn ain’t got no red just white and black one line of blue,” Chase drawls like a sweaty, psychedelic lounge singer. “Cause all lives matter unless of course they look and act different than you.”
“I wanted to write not so much about the people who are doing gun violence, but the people who are enabling it,” said Chase, who joined bandmates Tim Swanson and Brett Bajeck for a late September Zoom interview. “It’s also about the culture of people who carry around weapons and worship control, and who are actually very cowardly people. Dare I say the police are actually very cowardly. Dare I say those guys in full body armor holding up rifles outside of a drag brunch are actually very cowardly. It’s not brave to have a giant weapon. You’re just a fucking clown. You’re a joke. But you’re a scary joke, because you could do real damage. And that happens all of the time. But instead of validating these people and talking about how big and scary they are, I just wanted to call them fucking clowns. Sweaty guns. Losers.”
Elsewhere on Nightmare World, the band confronts the tenuous early days of the pandemic on the title track, reconciles with the idea that time is running short (“Flanso-Nite”) and blanches at the ways people can lose themselves in a quest for social media likes (“Goldbrick”). But despite the sometimes-heavy concepts, Nightmare World remains musically spirited throughout, the band sharpening and refining its maximalist approach.
This tone is matched by a handful of the comparatively playful songs that the band penned following the early months of the pandemic, and which saw the musicians awakening from these lingering nightmares and eager to seek out sun. “Sometimes something hurts, and then you grow,” Chase sings on the album-closing “Lil’ Bit,” a song reflective of this more hopeful turn.
“The idea here is we need to be learning things, because it doesn’t seem like the powers that be do much learning,” said Chase, who will join his bandmates in celebrating the release of Nightmare World on Saturday, Sept. 30. (The show also doubles as a birthday celebration, of sorts, marking Gelatinus Cube’s 20th year of making music together.) “Through the process of the pandemic, I learned a lot about how to deal with my own feelings and things like that. Although, let’s be real, there wasn’t a net positive about any of that. It wasn’t a good thing. … But a lot of the things that cause me pain are things that might happen, or things that haven’t happened. And usually they never do. And then even if they do, it’s usually never as bad as I thought it would be. So, I’ve learned to process and say maybe that will happen, but it didn’t happen yet. Why am I living there when I’m here right now?”
To that end, the band members have been so engaged with the creation of the new album that they’ve given little thought to reaching the 20-year mark and the music recorded in the early days of the group. “I’ve been listening to the same 10 songs over and over again the last seven or eight months, so I haven’t listened to much of the band except for the recent thing,” Chase said.
But the musicians have given some consideration to the idea that they’ve been guided almost solely by the act of creation since they first gathered in a room to make noise together as teenagers – a drive that remains unaltered all of these years later.
“I never had dreams of becoming a rock star or anything like that,” Swanson said. “Even as a 15-year-old, there was no conception of, ‘Oh, the chicks are going to love us, man.’”
“I don’t know if I told you guys this, but at this guy came up to me and gave me the business line, like, ‘Where are you playing next? What’s your promotion strategy? … You need to diversify your [social media] posts and make sure you’re getting engagement!’” Chase said. “I don’t know how many times there’s been somebody who was like, ‘I could be your manager, man! We could go places!’ I go places. There’s a burrito truck behind the house. I like to go there. The 14-0 market, that’s a good place to go. I don’t know. It just never really was appealing. And it’s never been the point.”