Let’s get weird
Reno’s Elephant Rifle takes its hardcore party on the road
While it’s long been common for bands to migrate to hip musical destinations like Portland, New York and San Francisco, the true weirdos are still caged up in cities and towns on the fringes.
Elephant Rifle vocalist Brad Bynum says there’s not an interview that goes by where he’s not asked about his band’s place of origin, Reno (I made it three-fourths through before finally asking). While it’s not the hardcore four-piece’s defining characteristic, Reno and the city’s idiosyncrasies seem to creep into songs like “Rib-Eye for the Dead Guy” and “Summer Cottage in the Uncanny Valley.”
While Bynum admits Elephant Rifle’s hometown is sometimes looked at condescendingly, he also says any punker worth a shit knows that some of the great weirdo bands were products of cities that were off the beaten path. Think Montesano, Wash., (the Melvins) or Cleveland (Pere Ubu).
“It’s kind of great because there is a lower expectation united by a bit of an underdog thing,” Bynum said.
Elephant Rifle jams hardcore punk rock, but the band’s no one-trick pony, keeping things heavy, hooky and crammed full of noisy bits and dynamic moving parts, bolstered by Bynum’s twisted sense of humor. The band’s 2012 debut LP, Party Child, was mostly about sex, drugs and food, and last year’s Ivory centered around themes of death and animals in what Bynum refers to as their “serious record.” The magic of Elephant Rifle is its members’ fearlessness of a good time—this is a band whose frontman inevitably will end up shirtless and sweating on you by show’s end. They also had the audacity to record a nine-minute version of Rush’s “Working Man” and squeeze in a sax solo and a few Beastie Boys lyrics.
“If you only listen to the kind of music you play, it limits you,” Bynum said. “I always say the trifecta for what we do is ’70s classic rock, ’80s hardcore and ’90s noise rock. Our identity seems to come across.”
It’s true there aren’t many bands that possess the combination of harsh noise and good feels—and this from a band whose members are in their 30s and holding down jobs and families. Bynum himself is the editor at the Chico News & Review’s sister paper in Reno, and he’s also working on a master’s in musicology and currently writing a paper on British post punk—oh, and he has a son and two stepdaughters.
Yet, Elephant Rifle has managed to release two full-lengths and a couple of EPs, and has appeared on a handful of comps over the course of five years. The band sneaks out for the occasional West Coast jaunt, although it primarily plays at home with bands that rarely sound similar (Bynum says there are only a few degrees of separation between the jazz and rock scenes in Reno). When they do make it out of town, it’s always educational—for everyone. Bynum says he prefers it that way.
“I wish we had a weird accent or something,” he said. “The first thing people usually say when we tell them is, ‘You’re from Reno? That’s weird.’ Yeah, we are—let’s get weird.”