Brooklyn trash-pop punk band Nihiloceros spent the summer making up for lost touring time – playing shows on rooftops, at DIY street pop-ups, and basically anywhere with a feasible outside area. And until they connected with Totally Real Records for their newest album, Self Destroy, they pretty much did everything themselves. Released September 17, the record still retains plenty of grimy personal touches: the duct-tape logo lifted from someone’s homemade Nihiloceros sign, left behind in the detritus of Warped Tour 2018, that somehow followed them through their subsequent East Coast tour dates; the cover shot of a derelict building taken by the band’s bassist, Alex Hoffman (he’s also a civil engineer).
“It was ominous dark and grimy, but there was a little sunshine poking through. That all seemed in line with the themes of the record,” says vocalist and guitarist Mike Borchardt of the album cover. But rather than self-release this project, Borchardt, Hoffman, and drummer German Sent wanted to press the album to vinyl and see it reach a wider audience. “Ultimately, we decided Self Destroy was just too good to not have a home. We also wanted someone with a different perspective to help us not fuck it up when we rolled it out,” Borchardt tells AudioFemme. “Secretly, I already had Totally Real Records at the very top of my short list of labels.”
Nihiloceros never planned to write a concept record, but it just kind of happened in the months before the pandemic hit, stemming from a conversation Borchardt had over dinner one night with his wife, Sarah. The couple contemplated how much our human experiences have varied based on the time period in which we’re alive. “Like to be born, exist, and die. Cease to exist without ever experiencing Netflix, the Internet, electricity, indoor plumbing, modern cities or spoken language. The further back you pull, the more it seems these modern amenities are both so arbitrary and necessary, yet, at the same time, so crucial to our comfort and happiness,” Borchardt elaborates.
He kept returning to a single question: When did humans stop being animals? When did we get beyond survival instincts (like roaming, hunting, and eating) and begin to express ourselves creatively? Once he started writing songs to try to answer these age-old riddles, his thoughts only expanded. “We are all just overly complex, self-domesticated animals, rapidly erasing the world as we try to write our history,” he realized. “I started writing this whole story about the unraveling of the human condition and the end of the world.” Everything will be destroyed. Nothing lasts forever. These thoughts consumed Borchardt and he started seeing big-picture theories in everything – even down to a unicorn Memoji Hoffman sent him, which combined with a chorus he’d been writing. It eventually became lead single “iamananimal.”
With the album partly written, COVID-19 appeared as if to confirm the descriptive apocalyptic lyrics, mixed with grist, earth and human matter, presented on Self Destroy. “It felt strange and eerily prophetic to write a record about the end of the world, right before the onset of a global pandemic,” Borchardt reveals. “But it put the brakes on the entire project. While we entered a series of different types of focus and creativity in the ensuing months, we didn’t feel inspired to touch this record again until late Summer 2020. At that point we were able to revisit the lyrical content through a different lens.”
Some of the songs rely on symbolism, while others are quite literal, with obvious references to headlines like, say, the rash of millionaires desperately launching themselves into space. “We exit by silver rocket/This world where mammals all the rage/If we start over/No you can’t go/Speed thru stage four evolution/Stop to drill this plastic cancer,” Borchardt sings in “Mammal Science Fiction.” The song ponders what will happen when there is no planet on which to leave behind our human legacy. Will it be our nature to leave, like animals migrating through the landscape in search of less hostile environments? Though the band believes that some world-ending fate is likely to befall us, they felt compelled to tell the stories of our dying species – even if just to keep from going insane. Borchardt hopes that the rogue survivors waiting in the future will understand the story of Self Destroy. Maybe that would be the band’s legacy.
Part of that legacy, too, are the connections Nihiloceros made and maintained over the years, outside of the basements they once performed in. Authentic to the album’s love of earth and human matter, and collaborating with friends, the band is slated to play as Alkaline Trio for a Halloween-themed show at The Windjammer on Saturday, October 30th. It’s presented by the Footlight Underground and Bands do BK, and also features Hot Knives as The Stooges, Mary Shelley as Nirvana, and Nevva as Nevva2k. “Sam Sumpter from Bands Do BK and Laura Regan and Kendra Saunders of Footlight are all old friends of ours. And of course, we are also friends with all the bands on the bill so we are really excited,” Borchardt explains.
Those who want to bask in the existential glow of Self Destroy specifically can do so at Blonde Records’ The Wavy Awards, at Abrons Arts Center (supported by the NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment) this Saturday, October 23rd. Nihiloceros will perform at the awards; they’re nominated for Record of the Year, and Jen Meller is nominated for Video Director of the Year for the “iamananimal” music video.
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