Eugene Ugly’s anxious anti-pop
How booze and conflict fueled the Sacramento duo’s dark debut
Band members fight. It’s what they do.
But earlier this year, Eugene Ugly’s Cameron Betts and George Seruset didn’t speak for three weeks—a pretty challenging obstacle considering they’re the entire band.
It wasn’t typical band drama that halted communication; rather, Betts’ behavior towards Seruset’s wife. Betts says he was drinking too much and would relentlessly tease her in a way that would obviously make her uncomfortable.
“I’m grossed out that I was doing this, just stupid shit all the time,” Betts says, embarrassed. “That is one example with one person. You can honestly apply that same level to everyone.”
For three years, Betts abused alcohol to avoid his recurring anxiety. The problem, Betts admits, is that when he drank he also got flaky with his responsibilities and emotionally abusive toward friends and loved ones.
The drinking has stopped, and Betts is doing much better. But before he came to terms with the chaos, he and Seruset started writing Eugene Ugly’s debut record, The Boca Vampires, which gets released on Saturday, November 26, at Starlite Lounge. It’s filled with Betts’ manic, anxious energy, as well as the darkness permeating his life at the height of his personal insanity.
“It’s a super-ugly record,” he says. “I was just trying to purge myself of all these ugly thoughts.”
Even the sound of the music is unsettling: angular, jangly, guitar-driven anti-pop with lively, rock ’n’ roll drums, which serve as the anchor. Betts twists and turns through the vocals, bouncing between gut-wrenching emotionality and self-conscious anxiety.
The content is much more complex. It’s a concept record about a family in crisis in a somewhat surreal town called Boca. The perspective changes from different townsfolk and family members, but the primary focus is on two brothers as they try to define adulthood for themselves.
The concept isn’t easy to immediately understand, but Betts is full of enthusiasm as he explains every aspect of it in full detail, pausing for caveats and self-deprecating asides along the way. In contrast, Seruset is calm and even-keeled, piping in only on occasion.
While these songs were being written, Betts wasn’t aware of their personal significance. He was just vomiting all his bile out into the music. After he had some time to analyze the lyrics, he realized how much of it was about him. A song about alien invasion is actually about his own feelings of alienation. A song about God is really about how he feels that we’re all alone in the universe. And so on.
The next album, Blachany, won’t be set in Boca. Betts calls it the band’s “sad record.” In fact, it’s a more straightforward expression of all the darkness Betts had gone through earlier this year when he was drinking too much.
“I consistently let my friends down, would lash out in anger toward anyone who said I should do otherwise,” Betts says. “I slept with all my female friends. I started useless feuds. I wish it was a better story.”
Despite the mess, Betts seems optimistic about life. He says that he’s been dealing with more depression and anxiety than when he was drinking, but he’s happy to actually be dealing with his problems instead of flooding them with booze.
“Anxiety has informed my moral code for so long, it’s terrifying to think I lived without it,” he says. “I’d rather be crazy than cruel.”