Hometown hero's new album First Blood brings a glimpse at the man behind the mange
MUSIC The morning of our scheduled interview, he sends me a text message, asking me to push things back a bit. Because he says he's been up until 5:30 a.m., I figured he's spent the previous night out being a bad bunny. But my assumptions are incorrect: the self-professed early bird known as Nobunny has stayed up late getting work done. The masked man, who now lives in Oakland, is out and about in San Francisco. I remain patient, knowing that he has plenty on his plate, including the release of his new album and an imminent European tour.
Nobunny's First Blood (Goner Records) is more polished in production than previous efforts, including Love Visions (1-2-3-4 Go! Records), his breakthrough from 2008. He's been at it for nearly 10 years now, but our hometown hero's ascent to garage-rock stardom hasn't come easy. Before getting off the phone with me, he speaks of darker days in Chicago, where he went from two-time Bozo Show visitor to "lying and stealing heroin addict," only to be saved by a heartbroken sister and a pre-Hunx and His Punx member of the now-defunct Gravy Train. And by the time I finish interviewing him, he shares some information that I didn't expect him to delve into, giving me glimpses of original obsessions, addictions, and future ambitions.
Still, at about the 30-minute mark, our first conversation comes to a sudden halt when Nobunny alerts me he has to put money in his parking meter. My time is up. After all, Blag Dahlia of Dwarves fame is expecting him for a radio interview. (Nobunny takes a page out of that fellow Chicago-to-Bay Area transplants' book by shedding his threads on stage with the exception of the mask.)
I have the sense that Nobunny is holding back a little, like there is a wall. Is he guarded? Maybe a little nervous? He'd publicly admitted to shooting heroin before, but it isn't until after our initial phone call that he begins to be genuine and upfront about his humbling experiences and the struggle that made him who he is today. All the while, I feel he is in complete control of our interactions, and imagine that's probably what it's like to work with someone so self-critical in the studio. The dichotomy of the man behind the mask begins to unravel.
We initially speak through a dodgy cell phone connection, interrupted by distracting wind and disruptive sirens. I'm in the TL, and he's in the Mission. Both environments are worn down, sort of like the mangy Muppet-looking mask Nobunny wears during show time. He's lived through misery before. He spent one winter in Chicago with a trash bag serving as his front door, and worked the graveyard shift at a highway gas station during his last year in the city. "I lived in a cage in a squatted grocery store that had become a shooting gallery-crack house," Nobunny says. "Things were not all right."
Just a week earlier, I'd seen Nobunny at the Total Trash Fest. He did what he does best: live rock 'n' roll, delivered sweaty and in briefs, with some crowd-surfing. The one new song worked into the set hinted at First Blood's tone. The album itself clocks in at a short but very sweet 26 minutes. Nobunny rips through the tracks, playing guitar, bass, and drums himself. He gets some assistance from his pal Jason "Elvis Christ" Testasecca, who's aided him with home recordings in the past, and a couple of other musicians who get honorable mentions in the credits.