Web Exclusive: A conversation with United Nations' Geoff Rickly

Posted by Scott Heisel on 25-Aug-08 @ 09:11 AM

UNITED NATIONS is fucking dead. Well, maybe. The collective may have already finished recording everything their rapidly beating hearts could desire, anyway. Whether or not their studio lives have come to an end, they've already provided more than enough to wrap your head around. As you'll read, UN are as bizarre a secret supergroup of mid-'90s screamo revivalists as you're bound to come across in 2008. Okay, so they're probably the only secret supergroup of mid-'90s screamo revivalists you're bound to come across in this year or the next. Brian Shultz recently spoke with co-vocalist/guitarist (and Thursday frontman) Geoff Rickly (the only member bypassing anonymity) about the long-gestating project, its legal pitfalls, and how the fate of the band will ultimately be controlled by Homestar Runner--seriously. The band's self-titled debut will be released on Eyeball September 9.

So who are the members involved with this project, and what do they do in the band? Besides you and vocals, obviously.
Well, I actually mostly played guitar and did some of the singing. The rest of the band are in contracts, so they're anonymous.

So they're not allowed to reveal [themselves]?
Yeah, it sucks because it's not like [United Nations] are trying to be a mystery or anything. We spent so much time recording and producing and organizing it, because getting all these people from different bands, it's hard to keep track of schedules. We wrote all the songs live in the studio; we wrote them and recorded them the second they were done because that's what the schedule was like.

Let me think of how I can say this, [then]... At least as far as the screaming vocals on the album go, is that done by the vocalist we all assume isn't you?
Right.

How did this idea first come up?
I was... This is really weird... I've known a kid named Daryl who plays in Glassjaw for a long time, and we used to go to shows, all the same hardcore shows, and we would get excited about a lot of the same bands. We both really loved what was going on on the West Coast in the early '90s, like Gravity Records stuff, really spazzy stuff. We also really loved the Ebullition style, mid-'90s, what they call the emo power-violence stuff.

So maybe seven or eight years ago we had the idea to start something, and it never really happened. And then [recently] I was just like, "I'm gonna get everybody together and start this thing because I actually think it'll be really fun." And also, I need an outlet from being Geoff from Thursday--like, you know, generally being a nice guy but some days I just want to tell people to fuck off. United Nations are my chance to tell everybody to fuck off. [Laughs.]

With the album, even though it does retain that raw intensity that I think the band was going for with those influences, I still sense a lot of those weird melodic traits from A City By The Light Divided on the album.
Oh, really? That's cool. That's the funny thing, is that a lot of the songs other people will say sound like Thursday are written by people who aren't in Thursday. That was really weird. I think for me it was a chance to go in a different direction and try some different shit. But a lot of people that I was with, I guess their different direction had some of the same elements as Thursday's stuff. So that was really strange.

When some of the guys in my band were like, "Oh, that one song you totally should have saved for us," I was like, "I would have, if I wrote it. I didn't even write that. So it wasn't really my decision." They're like, "Bullshit you didn't write that song." It was [the song] "No Sympathy For A Sinking Ship." I was like, "No, really, I didn't write that song." Like, fuck. [Laughs.]

I feel like there's a huge influence from the Nation Of Ulysses regarding the aesthetic, the song titles and even the band name.
Absolutely. Actually, we're working on a kids record right now called United Nations Plays Pretty For A Bunch Of Fucking Babies, which is gonna be all the same songs from the full-length, but done [like] Kidz Bop jams.

[Cracking up.] Seriously?
Seriously. As serious as that idea could possibly be. That's how serious this is. [Rickly later clarified that kids will not actually be singing on the record, but more accessible, child-pandering vocals and novelty instruments such as xylophones will be utilized. He drew a comparison to the Wiggles as an example.]

Is Eyeball putting that out too?
I'm not sure. It might come free with the first 1000 or 2000 orders, and then never be printed again. So it's just like a thing that people who are excited about it in the first place [get], and everybody else [will miss] out on.

Is that already wrapped up?
No. I got like four of those done... I'm in the studio with Thursday right now, starting full-fledged work on [the new album]. I've just been staying in the studio pretty much. We did a split with Envy. We did the United Nations record. So we're working on the kids' record. Now we're recording the followup to A City By The Light Divided. It's just been like a year of staying in the studio for me, which has been...sort of taxing in some ways, but also through not being the lead creative force in United Nations in a lot of ways... I'm just the only one that's not in contract, so I've become like the face of it. But through not being the lead creative force in that band, I've gotten to understand what it means to be a musician a little bit more. Now I'm taking a lot of that and applying it to Thursday, where I can just step out of the way and know that these other musicians are gonna do a great job, and I'm just gonna come in and do what I'm best at.

So that's been really cool. I've been a lot more loose in the studio. I've been able to sing entire songs in three hours instead of the whole day. It would usually take me two or three days to finish a song sometimes. [Now] I can just go in and hit a bunch of notes that I may not be able to hit just because I'm not worried anymore.

Do you think that's one of the reasons why it took so long, because you finally had a window in a band's career, where you're unsigned and not under contract, so someone can actually represent the band?
Yeah, totally. This is a thing that we wanted to do: From the beginning, record all our records in one year, and not record ever again. So there's actually the first United Nations full-length, [which] is done. There's a 7" for Deathwish called Nevermind The Bombings...Here's Your Six Figures. There's a 10" called Music For Interchanging Parts. And then our second full-length is called Dark Side Of The UN. And that's all been recorded.

Wow. How many songs have you recorded in all, then? Like 30 [or more]?
It's hard to say because Music For Interchanging Parts is a 10", but it's one song--so it's sort of like, 30 songs. You'll see when it comes out--it's like one big song made up of little songs.

Who's putting [that] out?
The 10" may be on Temporary Residence.

Do you know who's putting out the second full-length? Is it Eyeball as well?
We haven't really discussed, but I assume it'll be Eyeball as well.

You think next year?
It depends. It depends on what we feel like doing. There are a lot of people that contributed to the first record. There were a lot of writers, actually, that contributed to the first record in the form of different people that are singers in their respective bands. Trying to figure out who should write the lyrics [was difficult], so we reached out to some writers and stand-up comedians. So that was pretty interesting. [Chuckles.] The guys from Stella, I don't know if you remember that show, they wrote some of the lyrics.

Really?
Yeah, yeah. Well, I live in a neighborhood in New York that's all stand-up comedians. So, Mel [Kristen Schaal]--I don't know if you know Mel from Flight Of The Conchords--she's a stand-up comedian too and she wrote one of the songs. So we were able to do some stuff like that, and that was really fun. I'm trying to get some other people involved as far as the next few records.

But, basically the guys that do Homestar Runner--I don't know if you've ever seen that website...

Yes, of course.
Those guys went to school with our guitar player. We're trying to make it so they're directing the band, like the band were one of their short cartoons. Because we think the band is sort of like ridiculous and absurd--instead of running a band like you would regularly run a band, like if you want to have shows or whatever you just do it--they're trying to get them to direct the band like a cartoon. So they're telling us what we should do next--like when we should tour, if we should do shows. I don't know how this is gonna work, but they want us to do a tour in one day--10 different cities.

Wow.
[I don't know] if that means they want us to play all those cities in one day, or if they want different bands to take on the name United Nations and play as us on the same day, but they said it would make for a really good tour poster.

And so, you actually got Michael Showalter, Michael Ian Black and David Wain to...
Yeah.

That's funny.
It's been a lot of fun working with all these different people, but the thing that's crazy is sometimes they'll turn on you. We did all the artwork for the first record with this anarchist artist, Jim Cauty, from the U.K. He used to be in this band called the KLF. He was not gonna do poster art anymore, or print design, and when we got the artwork it had all these copyright violations. It had the Beatles, it had Bugs Bunny, it had all these people we obviously can't use with[out] permission. Jim was basically like, "Well, you can use the artwork, but say you stole it from me instead of you got it from me." So it's funny to be like, "Yeah, we actually worked with this guy--he's okay with us using it, he just doesn't want us having anything to do with him." [Laughs.] "Problems are your fault, [now]. Go ahead." That makes it a little more complicated. Still funny, nonetheless.

What band did you say he was in?
He was in the KLF, which was this dance group. They had that song, "What's Time's Love." He's actually this crazy anarchist. When he signed his record deal, he burned a million pounds in front of Parliament just to make a statement. [Rickly may be a bit off if he's referring to this event; also, one million pounds today converts to approximately $1.8 million U.S.]

Is there a release date for the 7" on Deathwish?
We're not sure yet, because the artist for that is an Australian guy named Ben Frost. We got the cover, but we don't have the rest of it yet... And he's amazing, so it's worth it to wait for him. And Jake [Bannon, Deathwish founder/owner] asks me every so often, "You know when this is gonna be?" I'm like, "Nope!" "You're on the release schedule, but you don't have a date yet."

Were there other labels who expressed interest in putting out the first full-length?
Yeah, there were, but this is something we wanted to keep close, just like [with] our friends. Eyeball is partly my record label with Alex and Marc [Debiak]; we've run it like a family since the beginning. So that was obvious. And then the Deathwish thing, some of the other members in the band are involved with Deathwish. The [Temporary Residence] thing, since I've been working with him for the Thursday/Envy stuff, Jeremy [DeVine] and I have brainstormed so many cool ideas, and Jeremy's actually playing on one of the records, so that just made sense too. [We said to Jeremy], if you're gonna play on it, you should probably put out one of the things.

People were [saying], "Oh, Relapse might be interested and this and that." And that's so flattering. I fucking love Relapse and I love metal labels. But it was also just [like], "You know what, it's not really where the band comes from." I mean, it'd be a little fake if we actually tried to pass it off as real heavy shit, not real heavy shit, but some kind of classic metal or something.

To be honest, do you think many Thursday fans, as well as fans of the other...certain big band that's represented here...are familiar with bands like Orchid and Majority Rule?
Probably not. But I don't necessarily think that means that they're too stupid to get those bands. Because they haven't been exposed to it doesn't mean like, "Oh, they're gonna hate it because they don't get real hardcore or whatever." I think a lot of those kids are pretty open-minded, and a lot of them are saying, "I went and checked out the bands that they're ripping off or whatever, and I don't dig it, but I'll listen anyway." You never know. They might actually end up liking it. For me, at least, it's really liberating to be like, "Well, I don't really give a shit whether they like it or not because that's not really what this project's about." I'm having fun and I'm just gonna do it.

Do you think United Nations could sort of be a gateway, in that sense?
I hope so. Even if there's a few kids that get into all the stuff that inspired me to be in Thursday because of United Nations, then I'll be stoked. All the bands that we played with when we started--like You And I and Saetia, Reversal Of Man-- played my basement and are from my whole culture. [They are] my whole cultural reference.

On that note, do you think it's at all ironic that guys from bands commonly mis-categorized as screamo in the past few years came together to form an actual screamo band?
[Cracks up.] Yeah, that's kind of funny, isn't it? Because that's what Ben [Koller] from Converge kept saying, like, "Dude, I know that we're sort of calling this power-violence or whatever, [but it] really actually is what screamo is about. This is mid-'90s screamo right here, for real." And I was like, "I know. It really is." But if you say that, everybody thinks the Used. You know what I mean? Or whatever people call Thursday or Glassjaw, or whatever. It's not actually what it is. [We] always [say], "No, really, Thursday is post-hardcore. We're not a screamo band. I know screamo bands, and--[Laughs.]--we're not."

Have you guys tossed around ideas of any live performances?
Yeah, it's just really hard. When you have [all these] different members, it's like, "Okay, we're all in town enough to actually play a show. That still doesn't give us any time to practice." And I'm not talking getting tight--I mean even knowing the songs together. Because there are songs where I don't play guitar at all in the studio, I'd have to learn the part for live and I don't even know what notes they are.

Earlier today a friend linked me to the new MySpace page, which I saw just launched [on the 21st]. I guess the first song will be posted the 26th?
I think the whole album's gonna be posted then. I think.

Do you think there'll be further recordings?
I don't think so. This was a really intense time, and a cool place for us to do this thing. It depends. If we start touring or something and we have a really good time at it, then maybe. But I don't really see it happening. Everybody else is committed to their other projects. [Coughing.] Sorry, a bit worn out. Drinking last night. [Coughing.] God.


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