There is a cult developing in San Jose. It's called "GnarBoots." and features former members of several well known bands, including Link 80, DESA, and Flat Planet. Although GnarBoots, insists that it is not a cult, requests as to what it actually is are quickly sidestepped, similar to other suspicious organizations.
Indeed, although GnarBoots. also functions as a band, the bounds of their control is murky at best. Although they seem to maintain a purposeful anonymity, they've somehow convinced Mike Park, owner of Asian Man Records, to put out their new album despite that they've never toured, never self-released a proper LP, and never even set up a website.
GnarBoots. recently contacted Punknews asking for a chance to clear up some misconceptions. We sent staff writer John Gentile on location so he could try to unravel some mysteries, and also because, if he happened to disappear, it would minimize Punknews' collateral damage.
I agree to meet Ganrboots on the condition that the meeting take place in a public, open air location, so that if need be, I can make a quick escape. The band reluctantly accepts the terms and we decide upon a local Taco stand that is somewhat notorious for having employees that are current and ex-meth users.
Immediately sitting down with GnarBoots, I realize how terrifying they are. Each member of the trip has "dead eyes" that seem to process information differently than that of a normal human. Fascinatingly, the "dead eyes" of each member manifest themselves in a different fashion.
The eyes of GnarBoots drummer Aaron Carnes seem to penetrate oneâs skull. His gaze is piercing and intense, but they eyes donât seem move to assess their surroundings. Rather, for our whole conversation, Carnesâ eyes seem to be intently focused on a spot just several inches behind the base of my skull. Carnesâ glare is magnified by his frizzy hair that shoots out in all directions and his broad roman nose, which almost acts as a arrow to his invasive glare.
However, in contrast to Carnesâ focused glare, the eyes of GnarBoots guitarist, Adam Davis, who previously played in Link 80, seem to be looking at everything at once. Like Carnes, his eyes never shift or rotate, but where Carnes focused on a single spot, Davis seems to process all his surroundings at once. When compounded with his six and half foot tall stature, and the fact that his head is perpetually tilted back by the slightest degree, he gives off an eerie Egyptian statute vibe.
Then, there is GnarBoots bassist Bob Vielma. His eyes are unmoving like that of his compatriots, but whereas they stare outward, his pupils seem to be in a constant state of dilation, as if he is perpetually staring inward. This corpse-like state of non-focus is only compounded by the slight grin permanently creeping up the sides of his mouth, giving only the faintest clue of what is going on in his head.
Somewhat uncomfortable, I attempt to break the ice by nodding towards the Taco stand in order to indicate its dubious drug distinction, "So, what is GanrBoots.âs position on meth?"
Instead of the expected grin Carnes replies coldly, "Whatever. Weâre liberal about it. Liberal in that liberal doses of meth are consumed."
I am not sure of Carnes is suggesting that members of GnarBoots consume meth, but their notorious live shows suggest either chemical modification or a severely damaged perspective. For example, the first time I saw GnarBoots they started out playing mid-tempo melodic punk, but then quickly morphed into an electronic band where they rapped about Mike Park and ska, only to reform into a Melvinsâ drone style breakdown. When I saw them for a second time, opening for Classics of Love, they played an entire set of ska-punk, but halfway through the show, got furious at their supporting woodwinds, fired all but the core members of the band from the stage, kicked out their session drummer, but then invited him to say on stage while the continued the set.
And, thatâs just the tip of the iceberg. Rumors persist that at one show, a "false GnarBoots" composed of people that neither Carnes, Davis, nor Vielma knew, started playing the GnarBoots set, only to have the real GnarBoots show up late, and chase the "false GnarBoots" out of the building. At another rumored show, Digital Underground emcee Shock G showed up with two escorts, with the band recognizing one of the escorts as a common friendâs little sister.
Still unsure of what GnarBoots actually is, I ask "What is GnarBoots?" "We are ALL GnarBoots" Davis replies in a steady monotone. Unsure of what that entails, I press for more details.
"It has gotten beyond our control," Carnes states. "I think GnarBoots is more of a phenomena than a band. GnarBoots isnât us. GnarBoots is just GnarBoots We are all GnarBoots"
Davis continues, "We are all GnarBoots If there is one thing we want to make clear, itâs that we are all GnarBoots Everybody."
Vielma nods, "We are all GnarBoots"
Perhaps I can pierce what GnarBoots is through their recorded output. Over the previous year, the band has released two mixtapes: One a rambling collection of various songs and skits and the second devoted exclusively to the concept of Birthdays. The later of which features a clue from the band on "The Big M": "The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for GnarBoots Your body is for GnarBoots! Spend your time, devote yourself to GnarBoots! Make all thoughts captive to the obedience of GnarBoots!"
But, although the band takes a direct approach on this track, their excursions into other genres is as telling as they are perplexing. The music itself of GnarBoots seems to suggest multiple, self contradictory, perspectives. "Uhh, Yeah Dude" is a low-fi, hardcore ranter than seems to skewer American culture. "I ainât gonna pee pee my bed tonight" is a camp singalong detailing the determination to keep oneâs sheets dry. "Doggie Door" is a strange electronic mash that borrows from Judas Priest and graphically depicts cutting off the heads of canines. "Fantasy" seems to be little more than an homage to 80âs synth rock. Through the mess, the bandsâ agenda is entirely unclear.
Their new meta-titled A.L.B.U.M., is perhaps a bit less frantic, but explains little and seems to act as a misleadingly friendly gateway into whatever GnarBoots is. Vielma refers to living in Japan on a two part song that seems to pull from Weezer, but confines the lyrics to the simple acts of bike riding and getting drunk. On "Tinnitus", Davis rampages through an OFF! style thrasher praising permanent ear damage. On "Brother" Carnes morphs the song into a ska-punk break down using off key background vocals in lieu of brass or woodwinds.
I wonder why Mike Park, owner of Asian Man Records, would agree to put out such an uncommercial, and possibly dangerous album (although it is quite an interesting, and textured listen.) But, then, the tools at the bandsâ disposal become clear, if not their objective: Mind Control.
Carnes inadvertently gives away the bandsâ devices, "We had a conversation with Mike Park. He had some ideas. He said that âYou donât need your album to represent your live show.â So what if the album and the live performance are completely different entities."
Davis, apparently unaware that the band is showing their hand, surrenders that GnarBoots might be a sort of illuminati of underground punk. He specifically mentions recently Asian Man Records signing Joyce Manor, "One day Mike and I were… talking. Mike said âDo you think it would be a good idea to put out Joyce Manor?â I said it was, and the next day Joyce Manor was signed to Asian Man. Joyce Manor, you can thank GnarBoots for being signed to Asian Man." It is unclear if Davis is pointing out a âfun factâ or if he is reciting a record of accounts due.
It seems that this form of mind control has even permeated punknews, itself. Carnes boldly, and somewhat audaciously, announces, "If there is one thing that we would like to make clear to the people on the forum of this interview, is that we got the interview specifically because we are friends with [punknews review editor] Rich Verducci."
Davis adds, "If there is one thing that we would like to male clear, is that it is good to make… friends… in high places."
The bandâs strange influence seems to be projected upon their audience as well. Vielma details how one particular fan tried to solicit each member of GnarBoots separately, "At the stork club in Oakland, a fan joined us on stage and provided backing vocals. We gave him a ride to the show and he hit on me the whole time. He was rubbing my hand the whole time."
"He was particularly interested in Adam," Carnes points out. "He let us know that he was available for anyone at any time, but Adam got particular attention."
Most fascinatingly, the groupâs ability to influence the subconscious thoughts of others doesnât limit itself to their immediate audience. Davis details a show where were a group of homeless individuals wandered in and invaded the stage. "A homeless guy came on stage and picked up Bobâs bass and started playing, but he was terrible. So, I picked up my guitar and started ripping. He was like âWhat key are we in?â and I was like âI donât know, man, Iâm just feelinâ it!" We then asked him what his name was and kicked him out of the band. Then he started playing drums. after a song, we asked him what his name was, he gave a different answer, and kicked him out again."
However, it would seem that the bands ability to influence those in and outside of the scene has caused the band some pain themselves. "In Oakland, at a show, we were giving a Eulogy to our iPod that had been jacked at 924 Gilman," Carnes explains. "But this woman came in and started giving a Eulogy to âIpod.â She didnât know it wasnât a person. She didnât understand and somewhere along the way, it changed to eulogy about her dead son and then we all felt bad for laughing."
I bring the group back to their music, as they seemed somewhat relaxed from their former monolithic positioning. I ask, "If you play all of these different genes, and some songs are funny, are you a âjoke band?â"
Carnes shakes his head, "Even though we are not always terribly serious, we are not a âJoke band.â We are allowing ourselves to go with all the stupid ideas. Itâs not a joke to be like âletâs do all these weird songsâ. Itâs the stupid ideas you would normally say that we canât do, but we do them. Some people misconstrue that."
I look over at Vielma, who is eating a Nacho Supreme in a most unusual fashion. Somewhat similarly to a certain Seinfeld episode, he is eating the cheese covered chips with a fork and knife. Even more strangely, he breaks each individual chip in half with the knife like it was a piece of pie, before raising it to his mouth. He nods on agreement with Carnesâ assessment, and describes the audience reaction to GnarBotts.âs singularity, "We are the creepy older dudes at shows. There are 17 or 18 year olds at shows and us. But, when I see 17 year olds covered in Chocolate Cake that was dug out of a trashcan, and they start smearing it over you, itâs because they felt free enough at a GnarBoots show to do that. You canât imagine that happening at any other show. Hopefully, they will have no inhibitions about what they want to do in life."
Still unable to pierce the GnarBoots veil, I take one last leap and wonder if instead of asking what GnarBoots is now, perhaps I can glean the groupâs purpose from what they are.
Despite the obliqueness of GnarBootsâs activities, Davis is surprisingly open about the groupâs genesis and for the only time in the interview, gives a straight forward answer. "I had a lot of resentment towards music. Just from my previous experiences of being in bands. I felt like the whole music scene in the area was not evolving and nothing exciting was happening. Everything was a copy of a copy of a copy. I didnât feel like there was any excitement, so when we started this, I wanted to completely destroy something that I loved completely."