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Music

Arizona’s Destruction Unit

Photo: Jaime Monzon, License: N/A

Jaime Monzon

Destruction Unit’s Ryan Rousseau, taking the headset mic to new aural and oral frontiers


The public thrills and private strains of the touring circuit pretty much guarantee that bands are committed to their projects. But it’s rare to see a group of musicians as philosophically intact as Destruction Unit, six dudes throwing their bodies and minds at their pure and heavy psych-outs. They’re van rats, on the road any time they’re not working on their material. Their two releases as a full-time operation, 2013’s Void and Deep Trip, are scarred works of wandering noise and gutsick energy.

Though their own stuff is out on the excellent Sacred Bones label, Destruction Unit runs a tiny independent called Ascetic House from their homes in Tempe, Ariz., cutting tape and packaging each cassette by hand. On a typewriter-pecked press release on their site, the Ascetic boys promise to “ship any of our titles, free of charge, to any incarcerated person in the United States.” It’s their statement against incarceration inequality that “burden[s] the poor, disenfranchised and the marginalized among us.”

I was pretty psyched to speak with Destruction Unit’s Jes Aurelius on their prison program, their music and their upcoming show in SA. Though email wasn’t the ideal means, that’s what the band agreed to and I hashed out some relevant questions. But for what I hoped they’d explore, I received a stanza or two of poetry from the English Romantic William Blake:

When you’re playing it seems to be almost a mantric experience. What’s your headspace like during a show?

No, no, let us play, for it is yet day
And we cannot go to sleep
Besides, in the sky the little birds fly
And the hills are all cover’d with sheep

“Honestly were just in Kansas City, have this book and some chocolate mushrooms and no other answers work or could be written right now,” wrote Aurelius. “It all makes sense.” Kind of.

We could English major through these things, teasing out the meaning of each poem in rock ‘n’ roll context, but it’s almost summer and I’ll save you the snooze. Though I got hosed this round, previous experience leads me to believe Destruction Unit will nevertheless come correct to the Silkwörm Gallery.

Their show at this month’s Austin Psych Fest was a raw and atavistic jaunt through punk and psych music, pummeling the crowd with sheets of feedback and distortion. With three guitarists onstage, Destruction Unit was able to simultaneously shred the guitar Holy Trinity: pounding rhythm, jolting solos and a thick layer of feedback. Guitarist and singer Ryan Rousseau stated his baritone lines as the guitarist on feedback duty, holding his instrument in the air like a sacred thing, then he took a Britney Spears-style headset mic, put it in his mouth and growled ‘til the set’s end.

Concepting the band as his personal freakout-mobile, Rousseau started Destruction Unit in 2000 as a synth-punk project. With Alicja Trout of the Lost Sounds and the late Jay Reatard at his side, the early D-Unit cut two records in the mid-‘00s before Rousseau moved the band towards its current psychedelic tendencies.

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