From Reno, Nevada, Elephant Rifle‘s freak flag-waving brand of Western noise rock falls in a crack between the most jagged crags of ’90s noise-rock, ’80s hardcore, and ’70s classic rock.
New album Broken Water is the prolific band’s ninth release since 2010. First single ‘The New Wimpkiller’ has frontman Brad Bynum howling with a quavering twang that calls to mind Jello Biafra, or maybe Al Johnson of U.S. Maple, while the band drives forward with burliness of a Melvins/Jesus Lizard jam session and the quirks of guys raised on Trout Mask Replica and Grateful Dead bootlegs.
Vocalist Brad Bynum talks to Echoes and Dust about three releases that have influenced him and Elephant Rifle a lot musically…
The Ex – Mudbird Shivers
I had a few musical experiences as a teenager that fucked me up for life. One was listening to Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral while on LSD when I was 14. Another was seeing The Ex. Growing up in Reno in the ’90s, there weren’t a lot of amazing bands coming through town. We’d often have to drive over to Sacramento or San Francisco to see the good stuff. But whenever something great would actually come through town, there was always a little bit of extra excitement. One show like that was the only time Fugazi played in Reno: Feb. 23, 1999.
But the set that night that blew my mind was The Ex. I’d never heard of them before, but became a fan for life that night. One thing that really impressed me was that so much of their set was clearly improvised. They were playing this loud, intense, punk-as-fuck music but were also jamming like a jazz combo. I’d never seen that before. I bought a CD of Mudbird Shivers from the band that night. It’s a great record. I love how it connects anarcho-punk to European folk and jazz without sounding forced or pretentious.
About half the songs feature a guest vocalist, Han Buhrs, who’s basically like the Netherlands’ answer to Captain Beefheart. Really amazing stuff.
Fun fact: Every current member of Elephant Rifle, as well as our old drummer Ty and old bass player Mike, was at that show, even though we didn’t know each other yet. That one concert was basically the seed of our band.
U.S. Maple – Talker
Later that same year, 1999, a group of friends and I drove down to SF to see Pavement at the Fillmore. But in a similar case, the set that really blew me away was by one of the openers, in this case, U.S. Maple. The difference was that at this show, the crowd hated it. Fucking hated it. The vast majority of the crowd started booing and heckling before the end of the first song. People were standing there with both middle fingers raised high. But the band played on, defiant and fearless. I loved it.
Listen, I love the Jesus Lizard. Clint, our guitar player, and I decided to start a band together—which eventually became Elephant Rifle—on the drive home from seeing a Jesus Lizard reunion concert in 2009, also, coincidentally enough, at the Fillmore. So they’re a primary influence on Elephant Rifle. But as much as I love the Jesus Lizard, I love U.S. Maple even more. It’s deconstructed Jesus Lizard. I bought Talker not long after seeing them, and was amazed by how meticulous it is. Live, I was impressed by U.S. Maple’s dissonance and antagonism. But on their records, especially Talker, I love how carefully constructed the songs are. I love how they can sound ugly and beautiful at the same time. To my ears, Talker is the perfect noise rock album.
Wire – Pink Flag
Pink Flag is the Rosetta Stone of punk. Hardcore, post-punk and a bunch of other things all on one crazy slab. It’s wild to me that it’s a direct antecedent to both the early Cure records and the entire Minor Threat discography. Wire is part of the class of ’77 of British punk, but Pink Flag also sits comfortably alongside the post-punk classics by Gang of Four, the Fall or whoever else. I love that Wire don’t have a whiff of the anti-intellectualism of a lot of punk. The songs are so minimal, but so smart. Every time I listen to it, a different song jumps out as my favorite. It’s amazing to me that Pink Flag is more than 40 years old, and I’ve been listening to it at least once a month for half that time, and it still has so much mystery and power. Colin Newman doesn’t have as memorable of a persona as, say, John Lydon or Mark E. Smith, but he’s such a great singer. Any band that claims to be punk but doesn’t listen to Wire is doing it wrong.