Thurs Dec 19
What kind of music does a band with a name like Cocaine Unicorn make? Sped-up Balrog-metal? Attention-deficit prog rock? Sex-addicted house?
"'Rock music in primary colors,' is how a friend of mine described us," says Paul Burkhart, singer and songwriter for the Portland rockers. And, while the members of Cocaine Unicorn cite disparate musical influences and tastes--Manowar, Stone Roses, Flaming Groovies, French Kicks--Burkhart explains, "all those groups have really good melodies--you know, cool music with good melodies, that sound good and makes you feel good."
Burkhart and drummer Ryan Sumner started Cocaine Unicorn two years ago in Eugene. Since then, the band has gone through countless lineup changes (current bassist Collin Hegna has been bass player numbers two and five)--including Burkhart's sister, a keyboardist, who didn't make the final cut.
"I didn't fire her," Burkhart says. "We just changed the whole lineup."
"You fired her ass, dude," contradicts drummer Ryan Sumner, the group's drummer and other original member.
"Initially, we didn't really have that much ambition," Burkhart explains. "Then we wrote lots of songs and went through all these lineups, and we finally got this sound that's in between Big Star and Teenage Fanclub, hopefully a little of the Who--mod pop kind of stuff."
"We're really easy to like," he continues. "We make basic pop music--it's just really natural and fun. That sounds like a fucking stupid hippie, but"
"By the way, we came from Eugene!" says Hegna.
"We don't get together and say, 'Let's try to make this kind of music. We just show up, and have some beer, and Paul brings some new songs, and we play music. That's it," Hegna continues.
"We just like to make music and play foosball," Sumner says. "Oh yeah, we also like drugs, too."
Though Burkhart writes all the songs, the band members--who have been best friends and roommates for years--write their own parts during practice. "Everyone's an equal," Sumner says. "We all argue and fight, but that's just because we're good friends. Nobody is a dick in this band."
Burkhart: "Nobody's a weird, power-hungry megalomaniac."
Sumner: "Except me."
Burkhart: "Except for Carl; he always wants to solo."
Kalstron: "I mean, Paul writes all the songs, but without us--I mean, the last solo show Paul played, he couldn't tune, and he ended up smashing his acoustic guitar onstage."
Sumner: "That was awesome."
Dasa Kalstron (a.k.a. Dr. Tambourine) does admit that being the tambourine player opens him up to extra heckling. "Sometimes I feel weird about it, like 'what am I doing?'" he laments. "But I do take it seriously."
Lead guitarist Carl Werner reaffirms his position. "Without the tambourine, it sucks. We sound really hollow."
In addition to tambourine, "Dasa is the muscle in the band," says Sumner. It's important because the Unicorn gets in "lots of fights."
"I totally saved Paul's life," Kalstron says dramatically, referring to a time when a ne'er-do-well tried to attack the doe-eyed singer with a baseball bat.
"You have to expect that if you're going to get up onstage, someone's going to throw some shit at you," says Hegna.
Cocaine Unicorn plans to record in January, and they are booking a West Coast tour for February. "In June or July," Sumner says, "We're all going to quit our jobs and go on a U.S. tour. Collin won't have to quit his job though, because he just got fired."
Another day in the life of a local rock band.