I was hoping to catch Chris Lutzko during his happy hour phase.
Logically, the best content for this story would come in the moments just before the Unholy Two leader mutates from a (somewhat) mild-mannered starving artist to the rowdy, egomaniacal tough he becomes on stage.
“I could slag on other bands if you want,” cracks Lutzko.
That’s not what we’re here for, I say. We’re here to talk about the music. We’re here to talk about art, about hardcore.
“It seems like the only art people buy into these days is victim art. Fingerpainting, that’s what a record has become now,” says Lutzko. “It’s a bunch of grown men acting like 13-year-olds on their deathbeds, acting like children.”
Lutzko has had run-ins with controversy before – writing about young girls who cut and infamous serial killers will garner a reputation – but no more than any other post-modernist raging against the mediocre tide of popular culture and the media’s PC constraints.
With song titles like “Redskins” and “OKC1995” it’s likely some modicum of revulsion will follow the release of the band’s sophomore record, Talk About Hardcore, out in May on Austin-based 12XU Records. Lutzko explains, though, that these are just “songs;” there’s no pressing ideology or political agenda. Adam Smith, the band’s guitarist and engineer, takes it further by calling Lutzko’s rabble-rousing rants “character portraits.”
Likewise, those jabs at celebrity excess and the dark side of humanity seep into his visual art. Eventually we sift through the last five years of Unholy Two flyers. There’s one with a cartoonish image of our mayor beheaded, some featuring pornographic playing cards, or Hank Williams Jr. clad in Satanic garb. It’s more satire or Warholian Xerox than anything misogynistic or hateful.
“It’s fan fiction,” continues Lutzko. “It’s not ‘you’ writing these things, it comes from a different perspective. It’s true crime. It’s noir.”
Even musically the line is blurred. To call the tracks of Talk About Hardcore“songs” is a stretch. First impressions result in instant shock and awe. Lutzko makes brutal, punishing punk – the kind of noise most might consider only suited for enhanced interrogation at Guantanamo Bay. There’s a worship of the prickly nihilism of the Brainbombs and local garage legends the Cheater Slicks, who Lutzko considers kin. The goal, though, is to make what has come before irrelevant. After a roadside fire destroyed the band’s van and all of their gear, Smith went into the lab, custom designing distortion pedals and amps to take the recordings to the next level of disorientation. Now there are air-raid sirens, smoldering drone jams, visceral riffs repeated into oblivion, and above it all Lutzko’s tilted chants leading the charge. Hardcore is sonic terrorism compared to the group’s few contemporaries.
If there’s anything tangible connected to the larger-than-life veneer of the Unholy Two, it’s the colorful characters and Greek tragedy of professional wrestling. Throughout the interview there’s plenty of talk about Sgt. Slaughter’s days as an Iraqi militant and the implications of winning the Intercontinental belt. Lutzko wants to project that same aura of “might” – the Royal Rumble mentality – even if it’s just for a destructive 20-minute show in a Memphis dive bar.
In the beginning, the band was more in line with the braggadocio of the Honky Tonk Man; with Hardcore, it’s the Great Muta, a mysterious Japanese destroyer known for spitting green mist at his opponents. Muta’s face dons the cover and is a perfect symbol of the Unholy Two’s evolution into what Lutzko calls “going ape.”
It’s survival of the fittest, and the Unholy Two are winning.
Catch Unholy Two live on Record Store Day (April 19) at Used Kids Records (1980 N High St.). For more, visit www.unholytwo12xu.bandcamp.com.