Recently, I met the three most sarcastic musicians in existence while they were visiting LA. The trio found each other in New York and formed the glam grunge group UNI in 2017. The group consists of bassist Charlotte Kemp Muhl (formerly of GOASTT), guitarist and vocalist Nico Fuzz and guitarist David Strange. So far they’ve released three psychedelic music videos for their singles “What’s The Problem,” “Adult Video” and “Mushroom Cloud,” each video met with confused admiration.
I was not surprised at all when meeting them as they look exactly how they sound. Even if I didn’t know what they looked like before meeting, I could’ve picked them out in a crowd. Side note: David Strange is probably the only person in history to be able to pull off a black velvet bowler hat, a real skill in itself.
They just finished up a small East Coast tour and are set to play at SXSW this March. After SXSW they’ll head out on a West Coast tour with Star Crawler starting on March 20th in Denver and LA on March 31st. All three members took the time to sit down in Santa Monica to discuss their future plans, current music videos and Nico’s mom.
mxdwn: First off how do you pronounce “Uni”?
David: But we accept any pronunciation if you’re buying a record.
mxdwn: How did the band start?
Nico: There was a big blimp crash.
David: There were jumper cables, put into gear, lift up the clutch and it started.
Charlotte: No it was Craigslist. I put out a Craigslist ad and was like “Who wants to start a rock band. Rock is dead.”
David: That’s not really true. It didn’t say that. It actually said, “Single, white female seeking companions.”
Nico: “Seeking two lonely men.”
Charlotte: Tonedeaf men.
Nico: Yeah, we met in New York.
Charlotte: Where everyone meets.
mxdwn: Why the name UNI?
Charlotte: Sea urchin. We all love uni and it’s also a sexual reference.
Nico: Protein. Aphrodisiac. We love oysters, we love uni.
Charlotte: All the slimy, aquatic stuff.
mxdwn: You guys put out “What’s the problem.” How has the response been?
Nico: Really good actually.
David: No one’s figured out the problem yet though. We asked the question, we’re waiting for the answer.
Charlotte: We’re waiting for submissions.
David: We’re very disappointed in our fan base so far.
Nico: [Pointing at a homeless man on the street] I want that guy to be a fan.
Charlotte: He knows what the problem is. And the solution.
mxdwn: He could be in your next video.
Charlotte: We actually do cast our videos on the street a lot. We work with this guy who has giant pythons and Dave and I just saw him on the street one day and chased after him.
mxdwn: Is that where you got that python from your last show?
Nico: Yep. 180 pounds.
David: Sometimes it backfires though because we approach people who aren’t of sound mind or living situations. There was a woman we met who has been around since the ’60s and we asked if she wanted to be in our video. She said “yeah,” and we asked where we could send an Uber to and she didn’t have a place that she lived, but we gave her an address to come to and she didn’t show up unfortunately. It’s not the most fail-safe casting method, but you do get to avoid all of the agency fees. No SAG, no AFTRA, nothing like that.
mxdwn: Rolling Stone described you as “bringing back to ’70s,” how do you feel about this comparison? How do you describe your sound?
Charlotte: I think they meant the 2070s.
Nico: A bucket of KFC that didn’t make the assembly line.
Charlotte: We also love the ’90s and the ’60s, so there’s a little bit of all of that in there.
Nico: No I mean the glam of the ’70s…
Charlotte: Big inspiration there. It’s one element. There’s a lot of bands doing retro stuff now, but they just stay in the lane of doing one thing. We’re trying to piece together a patchwork of different aesthetics of different periods we like and then make it modern. There’s a little grunge, a little glam, little riff rock, little prog. And we’ll use some electronic drums even though that gives me a face twitch to use.
David: You’re not going to get famous these days unless you bring back something.
Nico: And make it cool.
Charlotte: The daunting thing of being a musician now is that everything has been done. In a post-GG Allin and Andy Warhol world, what can you do? You can’t shock people. They’ve already thrown themselves at audiences and stabbed themselves with syringes. They’ve invented every new genre under the sun. What new genre is left? So we’re trying a collage approach instead of recreating a specific genre.
mxdwn: Who, specifically, are you inspired by?
David: Each one of us is inspired by different things.
Charlotte: Neil Diamond and Barbara Streisand.
Nico: I love Neil Diamond. No, we love Bowie and T.Rex and that kind of stuff.
Charlotte: We love Zeppelin and unfortunately, all of the obvious shit.
David: Nic is inspired by Ansel Adams and the poetry of Emily Dickinson.
Charlotte: We also really look up to people like Frank Zappa for being such a prankster and The Residents for being so weird and freaky.
Nico: I love Iggy Pop.
David: We just got turned onto a cool band called Captain Beyond. Very original music.
Charlotte: Very similar to Captain Beefheart. I wonder if they fought over them both being captains.
David: One should’ve been lieutenant.
Charlotte: They should’ve coordinated better.
mxdwn: And I love your videos, there are three total right?
Charlotte: Released. Two more about to come out.
mxdwn: And you directed them…
Charlotte: So the animation my friend made. It’s hard to direct an animation. I sent him references for the aesthetic and he animated that. The other two I directed and we built the set and put together the cast and production. The three of us pretty much do everything ourselves. We don’t have anyone doing stuff for us. It’s cool.
mxdwn: Is there a video you like more than the others?
Nico: Well there are two videos coming out in March.
Charlotte: I like “Adult Video” because I put the most work into it and it was the most epic to shoot. It’s like a mini rock opera.
Nico: I also love the guy that we cast for the lead role.
Charlotte: That douchebag.
David: He’s a great actor, but a real pain to work with on set. He was always asking for his latte.
Nico: It took forever to convince him to put that syringe in his ass.
Charlotte: It didn’t take too much convincing as I recall. But I also really like the animation. “What’s The Problem” was our first video and it turned out really cool but we were still figuring out shit and it was a simple idea. “Adult Video” was a lot more work so I’m more proud of that one. I’m really proud of the animation as well, but I didn’t do the animation [laughs].
Nico: People are really liking the animation right now.
Charlotte: It’s hard to be objective about your own art. You like it for ulterior motives. When you put so much work into something that factors into how much you like it.
Nico: We have a claymation video coming out.
Charlotte: Yeah a lot of work went into that.
David: I’m really curious how people are gonna take it though because there’s a lot of full frontal male nudity in it. So will it be considered pornography? Will it be banned from YouTube?
Charlotte: I want all of our videos to be NC17
Nico: Dude there’s nothing anymore that’s NC17.
David: Why see an NC17 movie when you can watch porn on your computer all day.
Charlotte: If we fail at music we can always try porn videos.
mxdwn: So what song is the claymation video for?
Nico: “Girl Who Has it All.”
Charlotte: And that’s about to come out on vinyl. We’ve been releasing a lot of 7-inch vinyl. We have a lot of material.
David: There are going to be a lot of mini-releases in 2018.
Charlotte: We can’t keep track of our own releases, that’s how many we have.
mxdwn: When can we expect a full-length album?
Nico: Next fall.
Charlotte: Everyone keeps asking that, but we decided to wait. We just want to introduce people to us. Then we’ll do a ten-inch and then a full-length.
mxdwn: Besides these releases and the videos, what else is happening this year?
Charlotte: Mental breakdowns.
David: A lot of controversies.
Nico: No I think for 2018 it’s gonna be shows, playing live. We’re doing a little tour in February of the East Coast and then SXSW.
mxdwn: So you’re doing an East Coast tour, when are you coming back out here?
Nico: It’s a small East Coast tour with a band called Star Benders.
Charlotte: It’s actually our first tour. It’s like our warm-up tour.
Nico: We only started playing live two weeks ago. This is a really new band.
Charlotte: We’ve only played a few shows live and they’ve been really fun.
David: We might come back out here before SXSW.
mxdwn: What would be your dream venue or city to play?
Nico: Dude. Fucking Mars.
Charlotte: I want to play piano on the moon.
mxdwn: And is the snake on your shoulders going to be a regular thing?
Nico: When we’re home.
Charlotte: We do something different every time. Sometimes we have girls come out and dance in weird outfits. Or a big inflatable penis.
David: It has actually been a big success. It made its first appearance at Nic’s mom’s holiday party.
Charlotte: I think we actually set Nic’s mom up on a date at her other holiday party.
mxdwn: Is your mom a musician?
Charlotte: She’s a great musician. Why haven’t we had her play flute on our album?
Nico: She’s a badass. But enough about my mom.
Charlotte: We should have this interview be just about your mom.
David: This isn’t an interview, it’s an intervention. We need to talk about you and your mom.
mxdwn: And who’s your drummer?
Nico: Great guy. Andrew Oakley.
David: Our drummers mysteriously disappear after every show.
Nico: We love Andrew so much we hope he sticks around.
Charlotte: Usually drummers are the most high maintenance members of the band, but he’s the least high maintenance. He loves Black Sabbath and weed.
mxdwn: Is there something you’ve never been asked but want to answer?
Nico: You probably asked it.
mxdwn: Your mom?
Charlotte: We’ve all been noshing at the bit to talk about Nic’s mother. That’s a good question. I find talking about myself or my music torturous no matter what so I like being asked about gear.
Nico: This is probably the best interview we’ve had.
Charlotte: Yeah, the least torturous. Explaining yourself is always awkward.
David: I’m always looking for an opportunity to talk about my rash. I’ve been to a lot of doctors and no one seems to know.
Charlotte: Did you know King Tut’s penis is missing? It’s true. He was photographed with it before the ’50s and then some prankster stole it.
mxdwn: That could be a cool music video.
Charlotte: Finding them and putting them back.
David: The alleged journey. Like the Travelocity gnome.