So you go out with this particularly inquisitive stranger and grab a couple of beers. You answer questions with variable degrees of honesty. You drink for free. You could be bar scum on a date, or you could be band scum on an interview, but it's basically the same, maybe especially if you're the Unicorns (as seen looking goofy in VICE!), and you need to know the rules. Otherwise, no one will ever call you back.
DO CALL AHEAD
It can be pleasantly informal when you personally schedule a date or interview, rather than relying on your secretary or publicist. But then Unicorns singer/guitarist/keyboardist Nick Diamonds called me at 11:52 on a Tuesday night and said, "Do you want to get dinner tomorrow? Split a bottle of wine and settle this thing like two adults?"
DON'T KEEP THEM WAITING
Being late for a date is a good way to get dumped immediately. Being late for an interview is a good way to get dumped on. We were supposed to meet at 7 p.m., but Diamonds called a few minutes before to say he was going to see Joanna Newsom play instead. The pay-phone operator was requesting another quarter, so it was hard to hear him—did he say he'd call when the show is over? Fastforward to 10:30 p.m. Phone rings. It's Nick. He had a nice night—went out to dinner with his sister, found a big used bookstore, just wandered around the city all night. No mention of our dinner plans. No apologies. Just wants to know if I can meet him at a Brooklyn indie-rock bar called Magnetic Field. Pronto.
DON'T BRING YOUR SISTER
Especially if she's hot or more interesting than you. When I get to the bar, Nick is sipping a glass of red wine in a booth with his sis, Elise, who is doing her best not to get involved. She doesn't look up from the post card she's writing, but she clears her throat awkwardly when he says, "Hi, I'm Nick. Can you refer to me as 'the one with the shaggy hair and the pea brain'?"
DO EMBELLISH STORIES TO MAKE YOUR FRIENDS/BAND MATES SEEM MORE INTERESTING THAN THEY ACTUALLY ARE
"[Singer/bassist/keyboardist] Alden [Ginger] is in Florida, enjoying the sunshine, and [drummer] Jaime [Thompson] is partying with some friends of his who are in this band called Velvet Revolver—ever hear of them?" Nick asks, deadpan. "Yeah, Slash and Scott Weiland. The nice thing about Jaime is that he picks out the good things in people. He doesn't judge them by their music. He's probably doing coke off the older [kid from] Hanson's left butt cheek right now."
DO SHARE YOUR INTERESTS
Nick claims he's been grooving on the String Cheese Incident and Leftover Salmon, and he admits that the next Unicorns record might sound like something the Dead would have recorded in the '70s. I tactfully mention that I expected him to be more of a Daniel Johnston fan—the Unicorns' call-and-response flutaphone anthems about mythical creatures seems to have more in common with Johnston's quirky, lo-fi, pop. Nick's eyes light up as he says, "Oh, really? We love him!" But he catches himself in a moment of honesty and quickly adds, "But I think he cites the Beatles as a major influence, and I think—in terms of songwriting—that Air Supply is a much better band."
DON'T MAKE SHIT UP
People aren't necessarily laughing because they think you're funny. Nick's first glimpse of the USA: "Before we started touring, the only American artist we knew was Liberace—who is very big in Canada." Nick's explanation for the border troubles the band had last March: "Alden didn't mean to stab me, but he punctured some arteries, so they didn't want to let him out of the country. I showed the border guy my scar and swore that we were cool, but he wouldn't have it." And Nick's feelings on carbs: "If you have gluten intolerance and you ignore it, you can get serious bowel cancer. You've got what's known as a case of 'jelly buns.' Dr. Atkins had it. That's a conspiracy, but I think it's true."
DO GROOM YOURSELF, BUT NOT AT THE TABLE
When Nick started clipping his fingernails during our chat, Elise whacked him, told him to cut it out, and said, "If you're trying to seem weird, why don't you tell her how you were afraid of germs as a child? He used to think that the little stones in the pavement were germs—he'd only walk on the grass."
"I didn't think the rocks weregerms," said Nick in a defensive whimper that could only come from a little brother. "I thought the germs were on the rocks."
"Whatever, and he thought dust was germs, too!"
"Elise, dust is so germs."
DO KEEP THEM GUESSING
The Unicorns are great at doing interviews in which they don't divulge much about their band. Normally, Nick's strange comments ricochet off bizarre remarks from Alden, but without his wing man, Nick is running out of potentially perplexing topics. Until Elise jumps in. Soon the brother-sister duo are clapping their hands, swaying from side to side, and singing their favorite sea shanty about privateers. Then they're talking about this French-Canadian motorcycle gang called Rock Machine that was led by a man named "Mom" Boucher (pronounced "boo-SHAY"). And then they're explaining how all Canuck kids like to make "ghost gum" by pulling a marshmallow between one's thumbs and forefingers until it becomes smooth, elastic and chewy. They're amazed I know nothing about this. They really seem to feel sorry for me.
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But I'm pretty sure they're ganging up on me, just to see which parts I'm dumb enough to put in my article. Except it all checks out: from the Privateers on Halifax piers to the motorcycle ringleader who goes by "Mom" (his real name is Maurice) to that marshmallow mess. And it turns out to be the one moment Nick actually has something serious to say: "You know, I think the whole band loves ghost gum. Maybe that has something to do with the obsession with ghosts we have. Maybe all of our songs are really metaphors for marshmallows."
DO SAY YOU'LL CALL
Nick said he'll e-mail me this great recipe he has for squash soup. I'm still waiting. But I think he'll come through, and when he does, I'm gonna see if he wouldn't mind passing my digits to his sister.
The Unicorns perform with Ben Kweller at the House Of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-Blue. Thurs., Aug. 26, 8 p.m. $16.50. All ages (16 and under must be accompanied by a guardian).