Let’s be real: COVID-19 has not only wreaked havoc on our community, it has completely squashed the music scene. With venues being forced to close due to the Colorado social distancing ordinance, we have kissed goodbye hundreds of amazing live concerts and spring music events.
There is light amid this weird darkness, though, as we have been able to discover and rediscover some amazing music with this abundance of time. That, among the plethora of meme-scrolling, has been life-saving in this otherwise-tragic time.
We had the chance to catch up with Jason Rivera of Gaytheist in March, just before the postponement of their Denver show was announced, and the world went on lockdown. While the news of concert spaces closing and tours being postponed made headlines in the music world, Rivera remained in good spirits and is optimistic about getting back out on the road again and sharing their upcoming, brand-new album with the inevitably stir-crazy crowds.
Pacific Northwest-based Gaytheist, a trio of rockers in the genre mixture of noise, hardcore, and heavy punk, are made up of Rivera on guitar and vocals, bassist Tim Hoff, and drummer Nick Parks. Playing together since 2011, the band got their name from a combination of Rivera’s identities: gay and atheist. Delivering a coarse dose of beat- and guitar-driven authenticity to your ears, we can’t wait for the day when the city opens again, and Gaytheist makes their way to Hi-Dive.
We are bummed that the Denver show was postponed! Do you carry any concern or fear around the coronavirus situation we are faced with?
Yeah, I do. I have an older mom, so my plan is to get her a bunch of things that she’ll need for the next month. Then, we have a show tomorrow night, and that might be our last show for a bit because currently, the entire West Coast is on, ‘no gatherings over 200 people.’
We’re playing a little neighborhood club that can fit, like, 150 people, so it’s fine, but even then, I don’t imagine a lot of people are going to be out right now. The West Coast has too many cases that are spreading right now, and I think people are going more and more toward the Italy route, which is to stay indoors. Tool was in town last night; I think that was the last mixed gathering that was allowed in Portland right before the rule went into effect.
What are you looking forward to most about playing in Denver once you can tour again?
What we’ve loved about Denver is, we have been through before but just because of our tour itinerary, we always end up in Denver on either a Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday, and it’s great that people actually come out to the shows. They actually seem into it, and hanging out on Monday night. Crowds have been really diverse, too, and we always get to play with a pretty eclectic group of bands from Denver. And the last few times we were in the area, we friended the band Muscle Beach, and when they came to Portland, they played with us.
Gaytheist has a really strong and dedicated following, how does that feel to find fans in every city you go?
It’s been really nice; it’s always it’s great to show up in a town we’ve never played and find that we have an audience.
What can people expect from a Gaytheist show?
We’re a three-piece, noise-rock band; it’s just guitar, bass, drums, very loud. The singing is a little more ‘singy’ though, instead of ‘screamy.’ Our drummer’s kind of our secret weapon, Nick. He’s kind of the lead musician, so instead of having guitar solos when there’s empty parts in the song, he’s doing drum fills. We try to keep it pretty light, crack jokes, but otherwise, it’s pretty loud and fast. Sometimes the crowds are into it; they jump around and flip out, and other times, they just kind of nod and watch. Either way, it usually goes pretty good.
Can you talk about queer visibility in the punk and hardcore music scene?
In the late 80s, I was really into speed metal, and that’s a lot of German bands and a lot of East Coast bands. They tend to be pretty tough dudes and half of these guys have at least some lyric saying ridiculous, horrible stuff about gay people. So, I really fell out of it for a long time; it’s been nice to get back into heavy music these last 20 years. Way more people are open-minded now, and out, and it’s just not even an issue.
I know we kind of forced it in everyone’s face; just from our name right there regardless, we’re kind of in the conversation. So, it’s been nice that I haven’t really found too much resistance from other bands or other people at shows we played in.
Having a name like Gaytheist is a conversation starter, no doubt! Was that an intentional choice of being visibly queer from the beginning?
I’d love to say it was, but we were just throwing names around. It was going to be called Hemporer; every time we tried to tell that name to somebody, they go, ‘Isn’t there already a band called Emperor?’ Then, we stumbled across Gaytheist as we were just spitting out a bunch of names. We not only really liked it, but I’m gay, and we are all atheists; we just went with it.
I wasn’t that naive about it; I know it’s an over-the-top name, but I also don’t think it should be that big of a deal. It’s really just like gay atheist, just even the fact that saying those two words can can make some people uncomfortable is so ridiculous to me that I have no qualms with the name.
Have you noticed any shift or change in the extreme punk scene overall since Gaytheist began?
I used to go to a lot of heavy shows in Portland, and in the early 90s you’d have to contend with skinheads and all kinds of ridiculousness. And at this point, that just seems kind of like, not really prevailing prevailing to the shows that I’ve been a part of the last 10 years.
It’s not just queercore or queer scene shows that we’re playing, we tend to just play like generic rock clubs, sometimes more queer centric spaces but for the most part. We’ve tried out places that we were a little wary of, like Laramie, Wyoming, just because they’re known for Matthew Shepard, and then we played there and not only was there a great crowd and a lot of queer kids, but they were having their first gay Pride parade. Wow. It just feels like everywhere has got an accepting scene now, which is pretty cool.
There’s still a bunch of douchebags out there but we have a lot of say in our shows, in the bands that we play with. So, most of the time where we’re making sure that we are playing shows where at least the bands we know are going to be cool. The crowd we have, we can’t really control that but so far we’ve gotten lucky. Just the occasional asshole, but that’s actually far and few between instead of the norm. I used to go to a lot of heavy shows in Portland, and in the early 90s you know you’d have to contend with skinheads, just all kinds of ridiculousness. And at this point, that seems not really prevailing at the shows that I’ve been a part of the last 10 years.
What are some of the themes on the new Gaytheist album?
There’s one kind of background theme, always: post-apocalyptic things like, ‘Where are we going to be at after everything falls apart?’ This time, I was alone a lot when I was working on this album; I wrote a lot of it when our drummer moved to Florida for a year and a half.
It’s a bit on the isolation spectrum of lyrics, but I enjoy taking dark themes, writing heavy, heavy music to play along with it that isn’t too downbeat; usually, it’s pretty up-tempo and fast, and then sometimes, I’ll scream. Like the last album, I was a bit more in a bad place, and so that’s a lot of screaming; this one’s a lot more singing.
When you were writing this new music, did you intend for them to become Gaytheist songs?
When Nick was away, we were playing only when we could fly him back, so we were really barely playing at that period. At first I wrote the music and I performed twice under a solo name, Fill Colons, a play on Phil Collins. Tim came and saw me both times and he was like ‘That just sounds like new Gaytheist songs.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I think you’re right.’ When Nick came back, a good 75 percent of our new record is based on songs I wrote during that period.
You’ve been playing music with Tim and Nick for quite some time now.
Yeah, Nick and I started playing in his basement at the end of 2010. And then Tim joined us, and we became a trio, and then we played our very first show in January of 2011. I think we’ll be at 10 years here before too long.
What is it between the three of you that works so well?
We give each other a lot of leeway; we all have major life events going on the whole time. Nick had a kid and moved away; Tim had cancer; I have all of my own BS, but we always manage. Normally, it’s assumed that’s when you break up, and then we just go, ‘Well, let’s just try and persevere,’ and so far we have.
To follow the latest releases and upcoming tour dates for Gaytheist, check out their official website, gaytheist.bandcamp.com.
Photo provided by Gaytheist