When Austin Lake first formed Aweful Kanawful, not only did he have a liking for Evel Knievel, but he built his reputation as a bedroom-pop virtuoso and creative genius — splitting genres and crafting jagged punk riffage on earlier lo-fi gems like Pharaoh’s Lonely Ego and Brave As Hits. Then as Lake’s ambitions grew, he later assembled a raw ten-piece ensemble featuring flutes, horns and backup singers on releases like Clam’s Casino and his previous A Flash in the Pan. When Lake isn’t recording music for his other projects, including the Televisionaries and Kodachrome, he’s the leader of his ever-frenetic and effervescent Rubber Husband’s Band. The four-piece backing band, who’ve been described as the soul of the project, consist of guitarists Bob Marshall and Danny Cocuzza; bassist Graham Allan Balcomb; and drummer Roger Finkle. They just released their sixth record Much Much Nice, which shows the band still smoothly navigating and fusing genres, but with a higher fidelity and concept that’s more focused. As the band combines their classic Ween-style formula with a production that’s more upfront, Much Much Nice shows the band at their most conscientious and their most refined state — their most accessible album to date. “The plan was to achieve a sense of consistency,” says Lake, while also aiming to capture the band’s live sound.
Clocking in at just over 50 minutes, the group’s longest album to date, Much Much Nice opens with the freakish skit “Genesis” which sounds like a scene taken from a cheesy low-budget science fiction movie. The flashy ‘70s-funk swirling and disco-inspired “I Wanna Be Back” makes a seamless transition from the intro track and features Lake’s soulful Danny Elfman-esque vocals. The mellowy and charming “Four Day Weekend” and gooey “To Her” both incorporate an exaggerated romantic energy, but are also the band’s best attempt at evoking a touch of romanticism. And Lake’s vocals make the biggest impression on these tracks. In the chorus on “To Her,” Lake unleashes his hyperactive rush of shaky, unsteady emotion that’s reminiscent of Avey Tare’s charming freak-out vocals. The subtle and easygoing title track is evocative of ‘80s jangle pop and offers up one of the best guitar solos on the album. The darting guitars on the glammy and punchy “Lexeen” points to the band’s freewheeling aesthetic. “Do You Want My Love” and “Uno Mas” twist together ‘60s garage rock and R&B, while “Stranded,” “Firing My Friends” and “Calico Girl” points to the tightly-packed and oddball punk style Lake has been drawing from since his earlier tapes. All three tracks incorporate the wiry and angular guitar riffs built on a foundation of spiraling chord progressions and complementary drumming. And the buzzing and nervy outro synth on the Devo-esque “Calico Girl” shows the band sounding more polished than ever.
Sitting down with the band, they tell us about how their sound has changed from their previous releases, their time performing on Good Day Rochester, the idea of recording a more consistent album and more.
Austin, what was your vision when forming Aweful Kanawful early on?
Lake: It was a combination of a lot of ideas. Like at first, I really wanted to be a stuntman. But that wasn’t working out so I just called my musical project that instead. And people started digging my music so I just continued with that. I recorded my music on an 8-track recorder then Danny and I formed a ten-piece band, but getting ten people in a room was kind of like a stunt so that soon fell apart. And on the most recent record, we recorded it half-and-half due to time, but I’m hoping with the next record, we can record it entirely together.
Speaking about the ten-piece ensemble, what was it like performing on Good Day Rochester? It kind of reminded me of when Ty Segall went on a morning news show wearing a baby mask and totally freaked people out.
Marshall: I remember we had to get there super early, but we made it right on time.
Lake: A good friend of ours from college works there and he got us on the show. And then Jimmy Filingeri from the Fox Sisters couldn’t make it once, so he called us and we played instead.
Cocuzza: Me and Austin played on the show a couple years before in the Temptators. And when we went on there with the big band, it was a blast.
Lake: It was like something you’d see on Catatonicyouths. There was just no sound or monitors so it was hideous. It was like career-killing almost.
Finkle: I reposted the video to the band’s Instagram years after the fact because I thought more people had to see it. Their first live performance ever and it was on morning television!
What was the songwriting process like for your guys’ new album Much Much Nice?
Lake: The typical constant thoughts that turn into songs. A majority of the songs are fresh, but some are old bags. I wrote and recorded 20 songs by myself then I brought ten of them to these guys and we learned five to record. Then finally we diced down the album to what it is now.
Being in multiple projects, do you guys ever see yourselves bringing some ideas or sounds from those projects to Aweful Kanawful? Or is there a specific process for this band?
Lake: We just kind of have an idea and we see where it goes. It’s preconceived as far as the mechanics go, but we just go for it. I’d say it’s like writing for Seinfeld.
Who are some of your guys’ influences? I hear the Dils and a lot of early Devo.
Balcomb: That’s tough. I feel like we listen to everything.
Lake: Yeah, I don’t think we’re done exploring genres altogether. I love Devo and I totally see where you hear that, but I feel like we’re at an age where we listen to all different kinds of music. My favorite bands are the bands I found out about yesterday, you know? So I feel like those are going to get thrown into our songwriting and it’s just going to stay contemporary in that sense.
Cocuzza: I feel like if there is one thing that’s kind of close to our philosophy at just throwing everything at the f**king wall, it’s Ween. They totally just go for it like us and they have all these different kinds of characters in their songs like how we do.
What’s the inspiration behind the music videos? They’re very surreal. One of them reminded me of the film Forbidden Zone.
Lake: I actually just saw that movie recently. I’m mostly inspired I guess by comic books and cartoons. Pretty much now that I have my own camera, I’m making videos of all the stuff I wanted to do as a kid. I thought it was going to be so hard but it really isn’t. But all day sometimes, I’ll just be gluing garbage together to use as props for the videos. I guess as an adult now, you can approach things a lot easier. And for a video like “Lexeen,” we were just winging it at practice. We’re just using how we have no money to our advantage. I have these stupid ideas, but you have to have a good crew to support them.
How did the sound change transitioning from the earlier tapes and last couple releases to the new album?
Lake: There’s a tiny bit of more fidelity than the other ones. I think this one is also easier on the ears.
Cocuzza: I think it’s closer to what we sound like live too. And we were playing some of these songs at previous shows.
Lake: For sure. I think it rocks and has some really good playing on it. There’s a concept behind it as well for listeners who are into that. It at least sounds like one band all the way through unlike some of older releases. But I shouldn’t even be talking about those tapes because those were just compilations of recordings while this is more of the real thing.
You mentioned there’s a concept behind the new album. Do you mind discussing that?
Lake: It kind of just came out to be like a rip off of Superman in a way. There’s a kid who comes to Earth on the opening track and later on, he grows up surrounded by technology like how we are today.
Cocuzza: It’s basically Superman with a cell phone.
Lake: Yeah, I mean I guess his brain is a cell phone if that makes sense. It’s all very confusing.
What was it like recording Much Much Nice? Where did you record it?
Lake: We recorded a couple songs at our last couple practice spaces and then the songs where I just play by myself, I did in my apartment. But we’re using a Mac now, so it should be pretty professional.
Any future projects in the works for Aweful Kanawful?
Lake: This summer, I’m going to take off and probably ride the Jack Rabbit a ton. But we’re also working on a full-length movie that’s based around the band. We’re still working on stuff so nothing is really in place yet, but I’m hoping to finish it.
What type of musical legacy do you hope to leave behind?
Lake: I definitely want a plaque in the bar where I used to sit. But on a serious note, I’d like more kids to start bands.
Cocuzza: That’s really it for me too. After every show, the Big Boys were famous for yelling “Ok y’all, go start your own band.” I’d like to expose people to more rock ‘n’ roll instead of the same old shit covers you see at bars. I can’t blame people for not listening to it honestly today, like I don’t really on my own time either, but I think there’s still plenty to do within the genre.
Much Much Nice is available now via Chocolate Chin Records. You can stream the new album below.