The Unicorns Can't Just Get Along
Published Jan 01, 2006"It's the toughest life imaginable no, that's not true but this is really just the craziest, most unnatural way to live." So declares Jamie Thompson, the newest and presently most sanguine member of the volatile triad that is the Unicorns. He's huddled in the band's frigid RV, their only home since giving up their Montreal apartments several months ago and embracing a life of persistent rootlessness. Since August, the band has criss-crossed the country twice, and are currently on their third trek, this time opening for Hot Hot Heat. They are fully aware that this level of intensity, while producing great art, exacts a certain toll on an already fragile band.
"It's fucked up," concedes Nicholas "Niel" Diamonds, noisily bursting inside and observing the vehicle's mouldy funk. "This band is a firecracker waiting to go off." Many would contend that the fuse is already lit: even amid intense intra-band bickering they have managed to record their second full-length album in a year, and snagged their current high-profile gig. Their off-kilter pop sensibility, crackling stage presence and unpredictable (some would say unhinged) theatrics have drawn a lot of attention to the band in a very brief period of time. It's little wonder that the songs fixate on their own uncertain existence.
Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone, just released on Montreal's Alien8 label, simmers with a kind of gleeful neurosis vocals jitter anxiously and then explode into the foreground, and the music lurches violently from one exuberant idea to the next. The songs show off an impeccable pop sensibility, but don't limit themselves to those conventions. Startlingly beautiful moments also arise when least expected. "Tension does make things happen," says multi-instrumentalist and singer Alden Ginger. "I have a habit of being passive-aggressive, which takes the sport out of argument, but if there is agreement on both sides of whatever interaction, there is no progress made, no exchange."
The tension that pervades both the band and the work is always bubbling under the surface in a compelling way. Live shows are unruly, sometimes transcendent, sometimes akin to tantrums. It's difficult to identify what inspires the sometimes extreme behaviour. Mark Lawson, who recorded the band, quit his day job so that he could come in daily to work on the album. "Mark is an angel. He endured the intense emotional wreckage that was occurring during recording." says Ginger. "We were having technical difficulties with relationships," adds Diamonds crisply.
He is referring to the band's internal turbulence, before Jamie's position was finally solidified as the third permanent member. A technically brilliant drummer who'd put in his time with other bands (including Gentleman Reg), Thompson enabled the Unicorns to fully realise the potential alluded to on the first disc.
"He was the backbone." says Diamonds. "We were finally able to do this kind of thing live, this thing that we'd always dreamed about doing." The inner fractiousness provides part of their forward momentum, the sparring and the heartache, part of the cost of their pursuit. "I think that Nick and I have not had a chance to evolve out of our high school days," says Ginger, "so the stilted raw relationship that we have had is now extended to three people. Which makes things a lot more complicated."
It is in keeping with the Unicorns' internal logic that the band is based nowhere but everywhere, aside from intermittent respites with Thompson's mom in Guelph, Ontario. While Diamonds and Ginger both hail from Campbell River, BC, they left immediately after high school, where the seeds of their musical project were initially sewn. "We were forced to make do," explains Diamonds. "We had to make an effort, it made us that much more in control of what we wanted. We tried to make what we were doing over the top and bigger than life, and try and bring some excitement to our dull lives."
As welcoming an environment as the Montreal scene might be, they never felt particularly rooted there. "It's all about fun experiences. We're having crazy experiences, and we're gonna keep having them." But don't they look forward to a saner, or at least less mobile, daily routine at some point? "It will be a little warmer," Diamonds grins. "And smell a little better."