It’s mid July, the sun is shining, the air is warm, and life is overall pretty damn good. I’m in a car on the way to Coney Island, NY for a music festival, and the driver turns his Ipod on to a song on the playlist called ‘Having Fun’. I listen carefully, trying to place the sultry male voice against the hard rock/metal sound of the music. I want more. I want to know who this is, and why I haven’t heard it before.
I soon discover the song was by none other than The Giraffes: a Brooklyn based band who’s been around since the late 90’s. I feel ashamed and sorry for not having heard of them until this moment, but I quickly compose myself and inquire further. Turns out guitarist Damien Paris and drummer Andrew Totolos formed the band in ’96 and quickly gained notice in the hard rock scene at the time. After a few years, singer Aaron Lazaar joined the group and the band was then rounded out by bassist Jens Carstensen (whom I can’t forget to mention was rocking a boy-scout outfit at the show I saw at Mercury Lounge).
I was intrigued and needed to make some purchases, which included their self titled album ‘The Giraffes’. Once the “listen all day and night” phase passed, and I had marinated in their grunge and metal infused sound, I couldn’t ignore influences such as Black Sabbath, Iggy Pop, The Stooges and some similarities to contemporaries like Queens of the Stone Age (whom The Giraffes have been associated with in the past).
Any way I spun it I had to meet these guys, have a chat about life, music, and most importantly check them out live, because as we all know, a band is no band without the live thing down. At least not in my book. Turned out these guys are seasoned professionals when it comes to their live act. I was privileged enough to see them in a very intimate setting, and this really helped not only for picture taking purposes, but also to really feel the energy coming from the band. The Giraffes’ shows feel very interactive, especially as they often enjoy grabbing plastic beer cups from the audience and interchangeably drinking and dumping it back on them. The end result is a hot beer mess, but a rocking and exciting one at that. I must say they sounded better live than on their albums. Andrew’s drumming complemented Damien’s guitar playing perfectly, and Jens was extremely animated and on point on the bass. Aaron’s expressive eyes and attention-demanding body language, embodied what any true rock star should possess, and his incredibly sexy voice is hard to ignore. For a late show, where most people would be too drunk to keep up with the music, the audience fed off their energy and gave it right back, singing along to popular tracks such as ‘Honey Baby Child’ and ‘Smoke Machine’. Overall, these guys put on an awesome rock show worth checking out if you are ever in town. These men are not only musicians, but excellent and talented performers with their eye on one thing: rocking out and having fun while doing it.
Following the show, The Giraffes welcomed me in the venue’s cellar, the same space where both U2 and Radiohead have at one point hung out, for an interview. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the guys, considering all the buzz about their wild behavior and mention of some possible whiskey swilling during the interview. I put on my dancin’ boots, grew a pair and off I went to meet the band.
Andrew and Damien arrived at the same time, and Jens quickly followed. I was told Aaron was taking a much needed nap and would join us as soon as possible. So, we arranged ourselves in the cozy cellar, sitting in a semi circle, and so it began:
Q: How do you guys define rock music and what is it about?
A: Jens: “Being brave enough to do your thing is what it’s all about. We could have stopped doing this a long time ago, but it’s what we love, the Rolling Stones are still touring, do you think they are doing it for money? If rock and music was only about making money then we wouldn’t be here right now”
Damien: “It’s about what happens on stage, that rush, that’s where our motivation comes from.”
Q: What are you guys currently listening to?
A: Damien: “I’m really into this Egyptian guitarist named Omar Kaoshid, he really rocks and I have to give him respect, also some Electric Wizard (whom I have consequently checked out and they ARE awesome)”
Jens: “I listen to a lot of stuff from the 70’s, also Pony and Dirtbombs, and a great newer band I’m listening to are The Goaries“.
Andrew: “George Hurley, Men and Men, Om Kolthum and Urk Korgy“.
Q: What are some changes you guys have noticed since you began playing, over 10 years ago?
A: Aaron: “Our fans have evolved, in the beginning our friends would come and support us at our shows and we recognized most faces in the crowd, as time has passed faces have changed, our friends have grown, have families and work and can’t be out partying all the time. We love to hear stories about how we have begun to influence newer bands. I received a text one night while we were setting up for a show, telling us that at another venue a band was doing a cover of one of our songs!”
Q: What would you guys be doing if you weren’t making music?
A: Jens: “Well, we all do other stuff besides music, it’s not easy to support yourself solely making music these days. I write for a website, Aaron is a graphic designer and Andrew does voice overs. But we do all this stuff so we can have nights like this where we play and do what we really love.”
Q: OK, so you bring up a good issue, how has the shift in the way the music industry functions (from record labels to the ever growing access to music online) changed things for you guys?
A: Aaron: “We were caught in the middle of the shift. Around 2005 our label was having issues with a dip in record sales, and when they approached us about it we tried to explain to them that those numbers were no longer as good a measure as they used to be, as far as the growth of a band. More and more people were coming to our shows, so clearly our fan base was growing, but because they were downloading music online instead of going out and buying albums, we were not doing as well in the record label’s eyes. So we had to take matters into our own hands and evolve with the changes that were taking place around us”.
Q: You guys have a reputation for wild stage antics, what are the sorts of things that have happened while on tour?
A: Aaron: “We have had all sorts of things thrown at us, I believe it was in Denver, which is one of our favorite cities to play in, we had someone throw sardines at us. Oh yeah, and cherry pie! I remember looking at my hand and seeing something red on it and I thought it was blood, until I realized the consistency wasn’t right. I also suffered from a heart attack on stage several years ago, I believe my heart rate had reached almost 200 by the time they got me off the stage.” (To read more about that story check out a recent New York Magazine write up about Aaron: http://nymag.com/arts/popmusic/profiles/57166/)
Q: So, what are you guys up to in the next few months? And what does the future hold for The Giraffes?
A: Jens: “We don’t have touring scheduled outside of NY until the spring, and we are currently trying to figure out who is going to pick up our album, so it probably won’t be officially out until 2010. As far as the rest goes, we play because we love to and I’m not planning on stopping anytime soon. As some say, if you have a thousand hardcore fans, that is all you need to keep doing your thing. I think we have just about that many”.
To check out an audio version of The Giraffes’ Mercury Lounge show, head over to: http://www.nyctaper.com/?p=1617