JASON RIVERA might be the most sharply dressed man ever to front a band capable of leveling a city block. Wearing a polka-dotted bowtie, pressed shirt, and khaki pants, Rivera is sharing a plate of black-eyed peas and collard greens with drummer Nick Parks, discussing their newish project Gaytheist.
"It was one of about 200 names," says River, explaining that their original name, Power Bottom, was already taken. "It not only tickles me, but I am a gay atheist. I knew a lot of the subject matter would fit with the name."
Although the name has the potential to turn off some listeners before they ever hear a note—either for what it represents, or more likely for the silliness factor—this is some serious shit. Gaytheist's new full-length, Stealth Beats, contains 12 fireballs of rock that carry on the tradition of Pacific Northwest heavies like Karp and the Melvins. It's not quite metal, but it is heavy. While the metal influence looms in the precision riffs of "Bland!" and "Talk Doctor," what separates Gaytheist from the eternally brow-furrowed genre is that they can take a joke. And there are even... hooks?
"I want to play metal shows, but I'm glad we're not full-on metal," says Rivera, explaining that a big part of his musical education was learning what not to do. "Some bands I've played with were too serious. I don't want to be like that."
There is plenty to chuckle about in Rivera's lyrics—but songs like "Stampede of Savings," which pokes fun at Black Friday, and the excellently heavy and tuneful "Post-Apocalyptic Lawsuit," about a dystopian world with no one left to sue—use satire in the best possible way. Rivera, the band's only gay member, also touches on more personal topics, including, well, a being a gay atheist.
Rivera grew up in Vancouver, Washington, spending his teens headbanging to classic American thrash. He came out in high school, although the machismo in metal had already been rubbing Rivera the wrong way. By 1990 he traded in his Metallica cassettes for R.E.M., and it would be years before Rivera got back into the heavy rock he grew up loving.
"Karp is what got me back into heavy music," Rivera says. "Fuck it, you know? I don't have to take it so personally."
Over the past few years Rivera played in a handful of what he calls vanity projects, including Sprinkles (pronounced "Thprinkles") and Females—heavy bands with a lighter, sardonic touch. Gaytheist began similarly to Rivera's other projects—the plan being nothing more than to record an album, play a few house shows, and move on. But things changed. Stealth Beats is Gaytheist's third LP, and first for formidable Seattle label Good to Die Records. It's the first record Rivera's been part of that he's truly happy with.
It helps that Gaytheist includes an airtight rhythm section, consisting of Parks—who played drums in Nihilist and El Cerdo—and Tim Hoff on bass. It's a heavy good time—just ask the members. Best of all Gaytheist could give new meaning to the phrase, "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke."
"I just sing about what I want to sing about," Rivera says. "I don't worry about it too much. I realize I can't write anything serious."