Some people think it’s evil sounding,” explains Brainiac guitarist John Schmersal of his band’s inspired lunacy. “But I feel it has a comic edge as well. I picture cartoons when I hear our music.
Beginning with two 7-inches and their debut LP Smack Bunny Baby, Brainiac contoured a fully-realized manifesto with songs that were as propulsively snappy as they were weird. Evolving into an even stranger beast with their latest, Bonsai Superstar, they often smear the vocals to indecipherable levels, and interweave transistor-radio mindwarps and crackling abrasions within the album’s pop-punk sabotage. “The drugs we’re doing are different now,” laughs Schmersal, who joined the band after Smack. “They pretty much recorded the first record live and applied the same basic mix to every song,” he continues. “We wrote and recorded Bonsai in a three to four month time span, and it was our intention to fuck around on it a little more.”
Brainiac was spawned in Dayton, Ohio, when guitarist/vocalist/Moog abuser Timmy Taylor and bassist Juan Monasterio began searching for a fresh aesthetic. “They started going to pawnshops and buying all these weird gadgets and noisemakers — odd guitars, Moogs and stuff — and it kinda just went from there.” Schmersal finds the Ohio connection dubious, especially when Devo (with whom the band is often aligned) is mentioned. “We’re a lot more furious of a band than they were, a lot jerkier,” he notes.
He is even more ambivalent about the recent lauding of Dayton as the next Seattle because he would hate to think that any town would turn into that. “There are great bands in Dayton, which comes from boredom. But there’s great bands in every city we play.”
When asked about the band’s giddy affection for the Moog, Schmersal replies, “The old Moogs are basically just knobs and switches, and they have more sci-fi type parameters. In fact, Timmy often sings through a Stoma that was invented by Robert Moog for people with speech impediments.” Brainiac’s bite is further sharpened by their manic guitar interplay, which maintains a legible trajectory despite its dissonance. “When I got into college I would detune my guitar to confuse my fingers, plus it was easier to create sounds I wasn’t familiar with that way,” Schmersal elaborates. “We don’t really play in standard tunings at all anymore.”
Various major labels have begun to sniff at the band’s heels, but Schmersal remains satisfied with their current home at Grass Records. “We’re not anti-major label, but we’re not in the position to get the type of deal that would make it worth it to sign with one. We’re having a great time, and the music supports itself.” At the same time, he’s unimpressed by the alternative rubric and its accompanying conceit, noting that the band has recently been criticized by some for being too fashion-conscious.
“A lot of bands are so conservative now, and dressing down is part of their statement. We decided if we were going to be pimping, Bonsai would be the record to pimp for. We perform in every sense of the word.”