Even among the underground, irreverence is something that’s sorely missing from music. There is no longer a want to be theatrical, absurd or confrontational. Perhaps it’s because there’s a fine line between adhering to such traits and being seen as a novelty act. For hippie haven Eugene, Oregon’s multi-headed circus known as The Blimp, that line is something they stomp all over and blur beyond comprehension, doing so with a maniacal glee. The Blimp is the brainchild of Renaissance man Lucas Gunn, who, when not playing masked from a trash can, is busy making abstract horror films on his own dime and rummaging through the annals of bizarro rock to find his next inspiration. Under Gunn’s direction, The Blimp is a rotating cast of misfits adding everything from theramin to “bathtub” to make his oddball permutations a reality. A sampler of his wild wooly world can finally be found on Not Beer, a one-sided, four-song EP just released by Brooklyn’s Violet Times. Though it’s a brief jaunt that’s over before one even has a chance to get situated, it’s an intriguing collage of all the absurdities that exist in Gunn’s music. From the Beefheartian guitar scribbles to the junkyard accoutrements that flesh out these obtuse pop songs, theirs is a universe that is not quite in balance, one that takes some time to digest. Once that happens, there appears a new found love for everything that’s orbiting outside cultural norms these days. After my e-mail exchange with Gunn, it’s hard not to root for a guy who’s got so many tentacles flailing in every direction. A rare bird indeed.
What was the initial inspiration for starting The Blimp? Did you all play in other projects and bands around Eugene?
Lucas Gunn: The Blimp began in 2004. I was playing in a band called the Rock ’n’ Roll Soldiers at the time and had been in the band for about six years at that point. It was with my best friends from 1st grade and even earlier. I liked it a lot, yet I wanted to do something different as well. I think I decided that I should try to write my own songs because The Blimp turned out to be something completely different than the Soldiers, and I wasn’t really doing that with them. I talked to my good buddy, Brett Harding, and this birthed The Blimp. Brett, Erik Vessey, and I were more or less the first line-up for The Blimp. Erik was in a band called Stop Sign Go, who later became the Useless Fucking Derelicts, and he continued to play in both bands for awhile. We played as a three-piece for quite awhile, not really sure where we were going with it. After a couple years, Brett had to leave, and we had to regroup. At one point, I decided to have a piano player added on. This is when Miranda Soileau, my girlfriend, joined. I also wanted to have someone else in the band doing theremin and extra vocals and make things more complicated. The Blimp has probably gone through more line-up changes than any band ever. I feel like we really started to take shape around when Miranda joined the group three years ago. Recording that album with Justin Higgins was definitely a motivational and inspirational step for us. I really like the direction we’ve been heading in since then. And now, I like having a five-piece, and it really makes it good for having a lot of stuff going on.
What kind of records were you listening to when you started the Blimp?
LG: The two most influential songs for The Blimp are “Slush” by Bonzo Dog Band and “We Got a Date” by Hasil Adkins. Also Captain Beefheart and the really good Zappa stuff, which is the early Mothers stuff and pretty much everything up to 200 Motels. 13th Floor Elevators, Hank Williams, and, of course, MC5 and The Stooges. Also Beethoven, Howlin’ Wolf, and Ornette Coleman. Hubble Bubble and The Shaggs are also very inspirational. Last but not least, Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated.” Everything else is the worst thing I’ve ever heard.
Is it true that your interest in the Mirrors record is what prompted Violet Times to release the record?
LG: That is probably part true. I know James Englebeck (owner of Violet Times) had seen us play before back when he lived in Portland. We had played there quite a few times. I think he liked it. We were definitely acquaintances. I remember one of the times hanging out with him in Portland after a show with The Hunches and The Blimp. We were all partying out at Hart Gledhill and James’ house. James put on the Monks, and we were pretty excited about it, especially Erik, our drummer. For some reason, because we knew what it was or because we had our shirts off, James then turned off the Monks and put on something else. I think it was Hampton Grease Band. We were like, “What are you doing? Why’d you turn off the Monks?” And he said, “Don’t worry about it,” Sometimes you can’t win. When I first saw the Mirrors record, I was like “awesome”, and I didn’t know James had put it out until later. My brother, Chris Gunn had a lot to do with sealing the deal with James and getting us in contact with him, which was great and I thank him a lot. James having seen us previously definitely helped with everything. I think we just sent him the recording thinking we’d have a good chance with it because we were for the most part living together at the basement in Eugene, Oregon at the time and we knew him, and knew he liked us, and I definitely thought the label was good because he put out that Mirrors record.
Is there a purpose aesthetically to having a one-sided 12-inch? Do these four songs just belong together or are they a part of a bigger forthcoming record?
LG: Originally, I wanted to release four original songs of ours that really defined us as a debut. I realized that having four songs on a 7-inch was too long and they wouldn’t fit, and they’re not long enough for a full LP. We could’ve put them on a 10-inch I suppose, but I really like being able to hear all four songs right in a row without having to flip the record. Rather than having two songs here and two songs there, I like it better just four in a row. The amount of time turned out to be perfect for one side of a record. So it was an EP. I guess that’s just how it happened. The four songs go together well and could be summed up into one, “Not Beer.” That’s sort of what the front cover painting portrays. We might record some of the songs again to be on full-length albums. Not Beer could be some sort of pre-existing early compilation. But that’s in the future. Albert Ayler has a really cool one-sided record called Bells. Not that we have anything to do with that, but sometimes it just happens that way.
And playing in a trash can—how did that start? Do you gain any powers from the practice?
LG: I’ve been playing in a trash can for about six years. It actually started with me playing on food and on top of a TV. As you could see, I got tired of the mess it made and I got tired of carrying a TV around. We used to practice at a Muffin Mill that Brett Harding’s mom owned because we worked there. We would always eat muffins before and after practice. I don’t remember exactly how, but it was there that the trash can began and it just kind of stuck with us. I definitely feel more at home when I’m in the trash can. For shows, I’ll play in the trash can for usually at least a couple songs, and I also like to have things like heads and body parts with us on stage, as well as the masks we sometimes wear. We also have Toplady, who is our producer, join us. I don’t know about everyone else, but I definitely feel more comfortable with all these things on stage with us. It’s sort of like a whole community kind of thing. I could only imagine all these things would make whoever’s there watching us less comfortable.
This reminds me of Petertag. Petertag is the movie I made. I filmed it here in Eugene, had my friends act in it, and did the music for it. I would call it a bizarre horror cult comedy. It”s about a boy who decides to make his career out of cutting off people’s heads, literally. He has to rebel from the power of his mom’s authority. It has a very strong message, and it is very important to The Blimp. If you haven’t seen it yet, I strongly recommend seeing it, especially anyone who has any interest whatsoever in The Blimp. You will understand me and The Blimp a lot more after seeing Petertag. We also have Petertag playing in the background of our shows whenever we possibly can. I’m planning on making a new movie soon starring my friend, Jess Pottker. It’s still just being brainstormed right now, but more or less it’s about the philosophy of God. I also have a song called “I Was Drinking in a Trash Can,” which is about drinking and throwing my life away. This also has something to do with the whole trash can thing.
What’s the musical landscape like in Eugene? Are you the outcasts purported in your description? Does the liberal slant in the culture of the Pacific Northwest help the lost of art of keeping a band fresh and cultivated?
LG: There’s absolutely no music scene in Eugene. We might as well live in Aruba. In fact, sometimes I say that’s where we’re from. More often than that is Cheeseburger, Oregon. Yes, we are pretty much outcasts. Most of the music here is jam bands, and we definitely don’t fit in with it, but I don’t mind. We usually just fall upon deaf ears or go unnoticed. Yet the people who do like us are really awesome. We are very much supported by our ever so loving friends and fans here. Yet we are also under-supported and rejected by many more. We’re banned or kicked out of most places here in Eugene. The police here are very strict, and several times we’ve set up shows only to not be able to play because of the cops. We even had a CD release show once that we didn’t even get to play because it got shut down by the cops. I’m really glad the WOW Hall is allowing us to play there because other than that, I really don’t know where we’d play now that we don’t live in The Basement anymore and can’t have the shows there. Nonetheless, I like Eugene. I like being able to stand out easily and be different, not that we wouldn’t stand out in other places. This is just where we are. It doesn’t matter where a band lives. As long as you can get out and tour and get your music out there, it doesn’t matter. Anyone who judges a band or musician by where they live is wrong.
The Blimp seems to have a very distinct sound, especially in the arrangements and the non-linear guitar playing. I suppose I could pin a certain absurdity to it or a theatrical quality that is rare these days. Where does that influence come from?
LG: I suppose it comes from wanting to be who we are. I like how you refer to it as non-linear guitar playing and absurd and theatrical. As far as the theatrical aspect of it goes, us playing with the Petertag movie in the background, the trash can, the heads, and Toplady all work really well with this. I want to be as obnoxious and absurd as possible. That’s part of the whole thing with having five of us now. I want to have weird stuff like theremin, and we’re incorporating violin into our music too, played by our friend Sarah Ditson. I like having ugly clashing guitars doing different things for awhile and then come together unexpectedly for a while and then drift off again. The piano actually adds a pretty side to it. I also want to have two people singing lead for some of the time, which kind of adds to the feeling that you’re driving a car upside down, which I like.
What’s next for the band? Is Violet Times doing a full-length?
LG: Yeah, we’re working on a full-length right now. It’s almost done and it’s going to be 16 songs. We’re planning on doing a tour at the end of this summer. The plan was to go play at Gonerfest in Memphis and tour back home from there. We’re going do whatever it takes to make this happen. We might be able to make it all the way to New York—we’ll see about that. Now that I see you’re in Columbus, Ohio, we’ll definitely try to make a show happen there. Also, we’re going to do another full-length after this one. As well as the band, I’ve started doing solo stuff and will be putting out those records as well. It’s quite a bit different than The Blimp. (A lot of this is featured in that Petertag movie). Maybe at some point, the two will be combined into one, and we’ll do Lucas Gunn and The Blimp stuff together. There’s also that new movie that I mentioned earlier. As well as all this, my brother Chris and I have a project called the Lavender Flu that we’ve been doing some recording for and will be doing a lot more of. This is mainly his direction.
And finally, fill in the blanks:
In 10th grade, I was listening to ____, doing ____ in the ____ with ____, wishing I was ____.
LG: In 10th grade, I was listening to good music with no boobs in my face doing alcohol in the bushes, wishing I was as far from school as possible.