Interview: The Unicorns

interview by gordon downs

I can trace it all back to one day in particular. One of our graphic designers was fucking around on the internet while looking for an image of some unicorns. For some unforeseen reason or another (probably associated with drugs), he decided to blurt out something along the lines of, “Unicorns fucking rock man!” Those four words stuck in the back of my mind for weeks on end. Subconsciously reappearing in the estrogen filled recess of my mind whenever I would come across an episode of Sex and the City, or when watching the captivating and mystical magic of the late, great Doug Henning. It wasn’t a bad thing, but it was strange. I mean, Doug Henning? Unicorns? C’mon!
It wasn’t until a month or so later that an album came across the desk of Modern Fix, with such appealing cover art that we just couldn’t help but be exceptionally curious as to how it sounded, or speculate what “genre” it might fit into? That album was The Unicorns’ brilliant debut, “Who Will Cut Our Hair When We Are Gone?”

Though I guess I should start from the beginning, as it’s been a fairly short but extremely eccentric and interesting ride so far.

What of the only animal that Noah seemed to have accidentally left behind? My sources in the Ukraine tell a different story than that of biblical fiction. The mythologil tales from the Ukraine tell a story of an over confident and stubborn species, that apparently simply refused a ride.

As Ukrainian folklore has it, all of the beasts obeyed Noah when he admitted them into the ark. All but the unicorns. Confident of their strength, the unicorns boasted, “We shall swim!”; for forty days and forty nights the rains poured down, the oceans boiled and all the heights were flooded, though the unicorns kept on swimming until they
disapeared. And according to this traditional and highly credible Ukrainian fairy tale, this is why there aren’t any more unicorns!

I have to give it up for the Ukrainian people. They certainly know how to tell a good fairy tale. And from the sounds of their fairy tales, Ukrainians are probably some serious pioneers in the world of manufacturing quality hashish. (They’re probably just keeping it on the down-low.) You never can trust biblical folklore though. Either Noah forgot to pick them up, or perhaps the unicorns simply didn’t want a ride and preferred to brave the wrath of Kahn…I mean God. The Unicorns however, are undoubtedly back! And apparently, they’ve been nestled up in Canada since the greatest flood of them all, and are quite oblivious as to the raucous they’re starting to cause within the world of rock music.

Originally from Montreal, Canada, Nicholas “Neil” Diamonds and Alden Ginger formed The Unicorns a few years back as a thing to do while on break from their college lives.
“Before we were kind of just like a holiday band. We would play during the holidays; like the Christmas holidays and stuff. The Unicorns kind of came to us.” explains Diamonds. “We were always playing music together in High School on and off. And, when I would visit on occasion, we would get together, and we just had little songs that we would piece together and work on. And yeah, it just spawned from there. I don’t know the genesis really? I don’t know where it really took shape, but it was probably in the gestation period since we met.”

With The Unicorns embarking on their first actual, full-on tour of the states, Diamonds took a moment to reflect and elaborate on the dual relationship he shares with his tour mate and counter part in The Unicorns, Alden Ginger.
“We’re friends,” says Diamonds, “but we always had problems, relationship problems. We always got into fights with each other, and we were always playing in bands with each other. But it was always kind of awkward and temperaments were high.”

Still despite their tangling tempers, the result from the combined efforts of the now Unicorns trio, is eloquently captured on their stellar debut album, “Who Will Cut Our Hair When We Are Gone?” A triumph in regards to musicianship and originality; their Casio and Roland-driven synth pop is approached in the only way it should and could be handled: comically, yet with a heavy sense of ethos and definite skillz.
“Yeah, we want to have a nice balance of serious subject matter, or just serious songwriting or just like, serious something?” exasperates Diamonds. “And then, like a light sense of humor. Being able to laugh at ourselves, or not take ourselves so seriously.”

Alden Ginger’s take on the bands’ sense of humor is a bit different however.
“That’s just our survival tactic I guess? Nic and Jaime have to take credit for the humor and whatnot. I’m a bit darker than they are.” he modestly admits.

This would somewhat explain the often reoccurring theme of death that appears on “Who Will Cut Our Hair When We Are Gone?”The obvious correlation begins from the get go on the album’s opening track, “I Don’t Want to Die.”
“We don’t want to die in the ocean. We don’t want to die in the sea!” Croons Diamonds and Ginger in a pubescent languid harmony amidst a background of cheap keyboards and classic synthesizer effects.

On “Inoculate the Innocuous” they sing about an abscess that should be removed because it may possibly be cancerous. And the album’s closing track, “Ready to Die,” isn’t a riff on the late Christopher Wallace, (although he is mentioned in the song) but it’s more so a Mr. Bo jangles-how-do-you do? Kinda happy “farewell” from the album itself. Complete with a lyrical list of things done and a pleasant adieu.
“It wasn’t a conscious decision to make a thematic album like that.” explains Ginger of the records’ occasional references towards death. “Once we cobbled it all together, it just happened to have some strong references toward [death]. We have a lot of inbred songs that lead to other songs, and that’s how we end up with something like that.”

Though Diamonds and Ginger are both the singers and songwriters of the band, they seem to share the duality of being “the front man.”
“No.” moans Diamonds. “There’s no front man. We all kind of share that prestigious title. Alden and I are rotating up front between synthesizer, bass and guitar. We’re not stuck on one position that we belong to in the band. On one song, Jaime rocks the bass while he’s playing drums too. We’re all trying to be as multi-tasked as possible. Alden and I both sing and, we both write the songs, as well as playing guitar, bass and keyboards. And we’re both up at the front, so if there had to be a front man, it would be both of us. So there’d be two of us. Kind of like that shitty band the Beatles.” he adds laughing.

Despite Diamonds’ claims of Ginger being co-front man, Alden’s thoughts on the matter are quite the contrary.
“Actually, I’m not handling much of the press at all.” Ginger blatantly admits. “It’s actually pretty rare that I’d be talking to you.”

Self-released back in March of 2003, The Unicorns first album, “Unicorns Are People Too” was a tour-de-force into the no-budget frills of low-fi recording, and reached the esteemed ranking of number twenty-nine on the Canadian charts. Recorded by Diamonds and Ginger on a shoestring budget, the album has officially taken its’ place among rare out-of-print albums, liken to that of Pavement’s “Slay Tracks.”
“It was [recorded on] a shitty computer; like a shitty old computer and a shitty computer mic.” recalls Diamonds of the recording sessions. “It was just the cheapest. I don’t know? It cost nothing to make that album. We didn’t know what we were doing. We only put it out because we felt like we should.”

With an initial pressing of only five hundred compact discs, the now out-of-print “Unicorns Are People Too” is the latest hot commodity amongst the over-crowded underground.
“We recorded it like a year before that, but it kind of just sat around for a long time. And then we were like, ‘Shit, let’s just put it out!’ So that’s what we did. I don’t know why we did it, but we did it.”
“And it’s obvious that the songs don’t sound the same now than they did then.” adds drummer Jaime Thompson. Also noting that, “The new songs we’re doing now are a bit more collaborative.”

Joining The Unicorns in July of 2003, Thompson is essentially “the new guy,” despite the fact that he’s been the man behind The Unicorn’s percussion section for awhile now.
“I’ve been playing in the band for almost a year now,” Thompson sighs. “And during that amount of time; that’s when we toured and things were really starting to happen. I don’t feel like I’m an after the fact addition.” He says proudly. “But that’s not really the case anymore.”

The evolution from “Unicorns Are People Too” to “Who Will Cut Our Hair When We Are Gone?” is tangible and evident. Thompson’s assault on their playfully danceable tunes not only compliment but also complete The Unicorns’ sound in terms of a raw, live touring band.
“I’m really glad that Nic and Alden are really good to play with.” adds Thompson. “Whenever we get together, we can all bounce ideas off each other; with the three of us working together. Which is great as opposed to one person controlling, or one person being the center. It really feels like it’s the three of us.”
“I knew Jaime from before, just from playing music. We played together in this band called So Long Tonto.” recalls Diamonds. “I lived with him for awhile. When Alden moved to Montreal, and it came time to step it up in terms of playing live with a drummer, it just seemed right to have Jaime because he’s an amazing drummer. He’s not on as much of the album as we would’ve liked, but when we were recording, we were having some issues. But now that the album’s out, we’re all as tightly wound as can be. So the next album will definitely showcase more of his

Recorded at The Bread Box, “W.W.C.O.H.W.W.A.G.?” is without a question, a low-fi independent masterpiece for the ages.
“We lived in the Bread Factory, which is like a loft that used to be an old bakery.” explains Diamonds. “We recorded in the Bread Box, which is our rehearsal space right next to the building.”
“It’s not literally a Bread factory at all.” interjects Ginger. “It was a wooden loft that we lived in; we actually held some shows there. The name came from when we were baking bread one day, and it smelled good. And a name like that would probably attract a lot of people who are looking to have a good time.”

Stepping only slightly into the realm of sonic proportions – trying to describe The Unicorns’ sound would be like trying to describe a sunset to someone without sight. Unfortunately however, Modern Fix is not yet available in brail, and the only thing I can equate The Unicorns sound to, can best be described as the preliminary feelings of an acid trip on clean blotter. Childlike in nature and sound, and far from the sacred halls of Abbey Road. Recorded with the direction of Mark Lawson, the synth-driven songs that can be found on “Unicorns Are People Too” became re-hashed and fleshed out on “W.W.C.O.H.W.W.A.G.?”
“It was very minimal,” Lawson reflects on the recording sessions at The Bread Box. “We had some old tape machines and some very basic microphones, and we did the best we could with that. Then, when we ran out of space, we went into my computer and put the bells and whistles on.”
Ginger concurs on Lawson’s influence on the record. “Mark was very integral, because basically, the final mix was up to him and he also overlooked the mastering of it as well.” Adding. “He was basically there for the whole thing. He was the technical wizard that was on our side.”

Though somewhat newcomers to the scene, The Unicorns have already toured with the likes of Daniel Johnston, The Microphones and Hot Hot Heat. Currently on their first tour across America, the members of The Unicorns seem to be amazed by their spanking notoriety here in America.
“It is amazing that people are somehow there.” blushes Ginger. “We just have this magnetism I guess, I dunno? Maybe it’s because we get good press?”

Diamonds shares the sentiment regarding The Unicorns well received attention in the states.
“We’re oblivious to it largely I think. We’re just rolling with it. People seem to be coming to our shows, so I guess there’s good press? Minneapolis was kind of insane. We didn’t think Minneapolis would be a good turnout at all on a Monday night. But it was like, over-sold; like over-capacity and kids were like, begging for an encore and shit! That we’ve never dealt with before. We’ve never been faced with a crowd demanding an encore. Like, they just wouldn’t leave. And that’s exciting, and I guess some of that can be attributed to good press that’s getting out there and reaching people who are checking out our shit. I can’t say which factors are at work here? We’re just on tour, that’s all.” he says while laughing.
“Something good is going on,” adds Ginger, “and I have nothing to do with it. I really can’t explain it myself because, last thing I knew we were playing in Canada to nobody. And we enter the states and all this craziness is happening, people are showing up to our shows!”

Much of the buzz The Unicorns are experiencing can be slightly attributed to the internet, and the various e-zines which populate the information super highway.
“Yeah, I don’t know what that is?” ponders Ginger. “I guess we’ve had a lot reviews with on-line zines? I dunno? It’s where everybody is right now .”

In early January of 2004, a website reported on The Unicorns latest release, which will be a seven inch single available through Suicide Squeeze Records in March. Though possibly misquoted, or perhaps due to a trigger happy journalist with an “inside scoop”, the website almost inadvertently began a feud between New York City scenesters The Strokes, and The Unicorns!
“They misquoted the title. I think our manager misquoted the title as “20:14” the time (Actual title is “The Unicorns: 2014”). So it kind of looked like it was a play on “12:51” or whatever that Stroke’s song is?” explains Diamonds. “But no, that song’s a bit older. It’s from actually about 2001, when we wrote that song originally.”

Hopefully this will clear the some of the smoke for The Unicorns, as they already have a rivalry going on with fellow Canadian rockers The Stills.
“Yeah, they’re from Montreal.” explains Diamonds. “It’s a friendly rivalry; I don’t even think they know there’s a rivalry going on just yet. We’re actually playing with [The Stills] in Cleveland and Baltimore. We’re opening up for them, and we’re gonna make subtle jabs at their lack of credibility in the music world.” He adds jokingly. “But nothing to overt. Our plan of attack is to make our jokes just subtle enough that the audience will pick up that we’re making fun of the band, but the band won’t. I don’t think they’re very smart individuals, so it shouldn’t be a problem. They used to be a ska band.”

Their sense of humor is a rare find these days, amongst the huddled masses of emotionally angst-ridden bands. It’s their sense of humor and unique sound that separate them from the clones, and is what’s making audiences take notice.

David Dickenson, owner of Suicide Squeeze Records agrees. “I was on the Modest Mouse tour for “The Lonesome Crowded West,” and you could just feel things snowballing. It’s the same vibe I got seeing The Unicorns perform. Like Modest Mouse at the time, The Unicorns are young. I seriously believe the sky’s the limit for this band.”
Nicholas “Neil” Diamonds couldn’t be more stoked on The Unicorns up-coming Suicide Squeeze release. “Yeah, we just sent off the art work today,” Diamonds explains jubilantly. “And the masters were sent off yesterday for the two songs, so that’s pretty exciting. ‘The Unicorns: 2014’ is the A-side, the B-side is a song called ‘Emasculate The Masculine.’ Yeah, the A-side is kind of a dancey track or something? And the B-side is…something else!
The ever laconic Ginger simply puts it as, “No one else approached us. They came up to us with the idea. We were planning on doing a seven-inch anyways, and Dave from Suicide Squeeze came to our show in New York, and basically presented us with the logistics. I don’t really know of any other specialty seven-inch labels in the states?”
With a stage show that may or may not consist of puppets, homeless people or the occasional appearance by Max Groadie American Roadie, The Unicorns’ live show has become a legendary experience, currently infiltrating America state by state.
“We have used puppets in the past,” admits Diamonds. “We don’t have a stage set-up, or a shtick or a performance kind of thing. It varies all the time. If we’re coming to your town and we find something in the local garbage dump or army surplus store that can make the show a little bit more exciting, we’ll use it.

Armed with their wit, keyboards and sense of humor, The Unicorns somehow evaded Earth’s biblical flood and are back to reap vengeance on Noah and The Stills.

God bless America.

I mean Canada.