Interviewing the three members of Uni was sort of like playing Mad Libs, charades, and 2 Truths and a Lie all at the same time. It was absurdly tricky to distinguish fact from fantasy, sarcasm from sincerity; oftentimes, they were rambling over each other with comical contradictions, deciding in real time what they didn’t want put into an article, and laughing all the while. We’d clearly caught them in good spirits, and the creative energy among the newly-concocted group – made up of frontman Nico Fuzz, GOASTT-famed bassist Charlotte Kemp Muhl, and David Strange (former tour guitarist for Courtney Love) – brought out hilarious variations on almost every story they wove. “Don’t take anything we say literally,” Charlotte warned with a mischievous smile. When they first started talking, they were all squished in together on the same small couch, and they had a barrage of answers for a question about their formation.
“Well, we’ve been buddies for awhile,” she said of David, “and we wanted French horn on a song, so we put an ad on Craigslist for a good French horn player. And then this motherfucker showed up to the gig,” said Charlotte, grinning at Nico. “At the same time, I was working on a science experiment to make bigger biceps,” David teased, “and he sent an email responding to the ad. Turned out he was also a French horn player.” “I was a horrrrn star,” Nico purred. “It was magical, it was magical. They hit me over the head with a club, and then I got in the van.” “We did kidnap him,” said Charlotte. “He was still like a teenager.” “No, I’m the oldest,” retorted Nico. “He’s still a little fuzzy,” said David. “We actually had to get his parents’ permission. His mom had to sign a permission slip before he could join.” The three of them giggled and left it there, satisfied with the origin story they’d just now created. Compared to the bio on their website, which begins with, “The cigarette butts, the used condoms, the melted vinyl and the headlines of a million millennial mornings were churned in a blender like primordial ooze,” it seemed the Craigslist-hornist-kidnapping story was remarkably close to reality.
Blowing into his hands, Nico busied himself making soft, bazooka-like horn noises as the other two continued speaking (“a little demonstration,” as Charlotte called it). “He’s the frontman, so he brings the emotion to the songs. And he’s an actor, so he has a lot of heart. A lot more than us,” she said, poking David in the arm. “We’re cynical bastards. He’s like Larry David, I’m like Woody Allen, and Nico is just like.. our Diane Keaton.” “Yeeah-eah!” said Nico, fist-pumping at the comparison. That emotion she characterized so well is evident when Nico’s leading their dazzling live performance – and also, in their recently-released music video for “What’s The Problem?,” which finds him somehow stealing the show amid a bevy of costumed characters and freaky, kinky scenes. Charlotte recalled the video’s DIY creation with fond amusement. “Well, Nic [sic] had all this duct tape, and David had this carton of eggs, and we were like, ‘Alright, let’s make a video!’ I know some girls, I’ve got an ironing board, let’s do this,” she said. “We live in New York, so we’re always hanging out with each other and thinking of crazy things to do,” explained David. “I think from an outsider’s perspective, it seems like it’s crazier. For us, it’s more of a reflection of the inside of our brains and our creativity. It’s not like we set out to make something that was totally crazy.” “We’ve just got a lot of wacky friends and wacky ideas,” said Charlotte, “and we like to get together and make stuff.”
On the subject of making stuff, we dug into their creative process, and they indicated how close each of them are to the songwriting. “Oh, I’m touching it,” Nico said in a dirty tone that caused Charlotte to burst into contagious laughter. “I’m touching alllll of it,” he said. “You bet your ass.” “He’s actually, like, a musical genius,” she said, cutting in to give context. “A lot of these songs were already written when he came into the picture, but he brought a lot to it. He played a lot of instruments; he’s a great singer, obviously. The thing about Nic is, we’re only a few years apart, but it feels like a big difference aesthetically. Because he’s like the young millennial who’s into synths and electronic drums and shit. And we,” she said, gesturing toward David, “love old rock and roll; like old 60s, 70s stuff. So when he came into the group, it infused it with some more modern shit. We started experimenting with layering bass synth and electronic drums.” Remembering Nico’s equally impressive stage presence, I was curious to know how much experience he’d had as a frontman prior to Uni. “I’ve played in a lot of bands. And I sang in a lot of bands. And I’ve…played in a lot of bands,” Nico said in a monotone, as if giving driving directions to a stranger. “And uh, yeah,” he concluded. “It’s just like acting.” Charlotte elaborated on his modest explanation. “He’s like, professionally trained,” she divulged. “He’s actually a music school kid. We’re like the rock and rollers, he’s like fucking mister Juilliard over here.”
Though their differing perspectives are a unique catalyst for musical collaboration, they come with a new set of challenges. “I would say that we’re really trying to distill what we do for Uni, you know?” explained David. “‘Cause left in our natural states… I mean, I’ll write songs that are like 8 minutes long and have no choruses and are just verses. And Charlotte, left to her own devices, will create like the craziest, most complex, classical, metal melodies that change keys every two bars. And if we were going to have a band that people were going to listen to, we definitely needed to distill it down to the essence of those things.” “Bring all our strengths to the table, and balance each other out,” added Charlotte. “That’s what I like about Uni as opposed to The GOASTT. Because in The GOASTT, Sean [Lennon] and I were too similar…like we both have very, very similar tastes. And I loved that; it was awesome to have someone who agreed with everything and vice versa.” “And now you have someone who disagrees with you all the time!” interjected David. “I know!” she laughed. “It’s way more of a challenge, and it’s interesting to be in a project with people who all have such different tastes, because it brings a lot more to the table.”
“I’m doing Uni full time now,” noted Charlotte. “I will do The GOASTT again one day, but right now, it’s just Uni. And it’s been really fun. I think because of our differing tastes, it’s a lot more pop than I could have done with The GOASTT.” Even so, Uni detailed some of Lennon’s quiet involvement, particularly in the studio. “A lot of our tracks were recorded on Sean’s farm, and Sean plays some drums as well, so he has worked on this project a little bit,” she said. “Yeah,” said David, “he’s played drums on some of the songs we’ve recorded, he’s played bass, a little guitar here and there. On a lot of songs that haven’t come out yet.” “He’s been great, when he’s been there,” said Nico. “I relate to him a lot. He has taught me the moves…allll my dance moves,” he joked. “Mostly he’s kind of stayed out of the project. But he’s like Uncle Sean!” said Charlotte. “We call him Uncle Sean.” The still-unreleased songs they were referring to make up the debut album Uni is currently working on, expected to hit shelves in February. “We have like two albums’ worth of material, so it’s going to be interesting to narrow it down,” she revealed. “Because I started working on this while I was still doing The GOASTT, as kind of a backburner thing, and now it’s like the main thing. So we have so much material now, it’s like… fuck. There’s a lot of work for us to do, basically.”
Even buried in the creation of their new LP, ambitions for their live performance remain top of mind for the group. “What we really want to ultimately do is bring more theatrics in; like sets, choreography, actors, weird shit,” said Charlotte. “We kind of did it [for Uni’s first show at Rough Trade], but that was all last-minute – like I just put a ball-gag on my friend and said ‘Go onstage and dance!’” “We rehearsed that for weeks!” David teased. “For weeks!” Charlotte giggled. “Yeah, that was like ten minutes before the show. But we do want more theatrics. I would like to have a really engaging live show, so we’re going to build up to that.” “Theatrics are certainly a part of what we want to do,” added David. “Because even though the music is what we’re doing as a band, it’s a performance either way. And if you can take advantage of people’s visuals, and what they’re hearing at the same time – what they’re seeing and they’re feeling – then it’s going to have the most impact.”
“When it comes to making videos, or music, or anything that we do, generic is the worst thing that I think it could be,” said Charlotte. “Basically, there’s been a dumbing down of the masses when it comes to music, politics, everything. And we have a lot of anger about that. One of the great things about rock and roll is that it’s catharsis for teenage angst, whatever it’s about; the government, your parents…and our particular angst is about a lot of those things, but mostly, the dumbing down of culture in general.” “Rock music isn’t really in right now, as far as the masses go,” said David. “It’s very easy to get down on the quality of music these days, and part of our mission has been to go and make the kind of music that we would want to listen to. And it turns out, there’s a lot of people out there that want to listen to the same kind of music, it seems. From the reaction that we’ve gotten. I’m actually blown away and humbled. And we all are.”
Follow Uni on Twitter and Instagram for more updates, and don’t miss their upcoming Brooklyn show. They’re playing the Knitting Factory on Wednesday, September 20th with Blame Candy and The Midnight Hollow, and you can grab tickets here.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Cover Image: Anthony Mulcahy