The Giraffes return

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The Giraffes still can’t agree on anything, but will play a couple of reunion shows

By Brian F. Johnson

“It took a couple years, but now I can look at him and not want to shit in his mouth,” said The Giraffes’ lead guitarist Damien Paris during a recent interview with The Marquee.

Paris was talking, of course, about lead singer Aaron Lazar, who unceremoniously left The Giraffes in 2011 right as the band was releasing their fifth album Ruled. “I’m really glad that I don’t want to murder him when I see him. He fucking fucked me,” Paris said. “But he’s that guy. He’s the kind of guy that has to destroy everything and then sift through the ashes. He’s not the kind of guy that can step back and figure out how to go out on a high note. Don’t even tell him where the red button is, because he’ll want to press it.”

Earlier this year though, Lazar’s inability to leave the button alone resulted in a positive turn for The Giraffes. Out of nowhere, the band’s former bassist Tim Kent — who had left the band after their 2002 release Helping You Help Yourself — created, without any explanation or content, the Facebook group “The Giraffes :: 2014,” and in February, he posted “Doctor, we have a pulse…” Kent had put the button in front of Lazar.

Kent, now a successful painter, had gotten the idea to see his former band reunite, and surprisingly not the incarnation that included him, but the final version of the group that included Paris, Lazar, drummer Andrew Totolos and bassist Jens Carstensen. After a few months of footwork, Kent had reassembled his army, and announced a hometown reunion show in Brooklyn, NY, and one in Denver. Period.

 

“I had said no to a bunch of offers [to reunite]that came up before, because they all seemed like we’d work really hard and end up taking a further toll on our friendships,” said Lazar in a separate interview with The Marquee. “But this seemed like it was something we could do cleanly and have some fun and at the end of the day say that we were better friends because of it.”

Before the split, The Giraffes had grown into one of the country’s most cathartic live shows. Atop blistering rock and roll that borders on metal — centered around Paris’ insane left-handed guitar work and Lazar’s huge voice — every venue they played took on the appearance of a carwash on high. Mere seconds into each performance Lazar (and for that matter the whole stage) would be drenched in beer. Fans would throw drinks and the band would throw them back. Lazar would casually shove his hand into Paris’ mouth and drag him around the stage by his lower jaw, or better yet, wrap the microphone cord around Paris’ neck and hold him out over the edge of the stage while he continued to solo.

If it’s true that Lazar can’t leave the button alone, then it’s equally true that Paris can’t help but pick a scab. And despite the power of the shows, Lazar started to become distant with his bandmates until Paris ultimately picked that scab. “We were friends in this club house. It’s like a boys club and that’s half the reason I start bands. My total way of going about playing music would be different if it were just solely based on talent. But we spent a lot of time philosophizing and talking about his problems and it wasn’t going to work. He’s very stubborn. I told him that if his heart wasn’t in it I didn’t want to play music with him,” Paris said.

According to Paris, Lazar left the group thinking that someone else could easily step into the role of frontman and that the band would continue. “He didn’t realize his worth and his importance to the band,” Paris said. “We released something after him and it wasn’t the same. The Giraffes are known as a band with a lead singer.”

Lazar, not shockingly, sees it differently. “Well I could turn that around on him just as easily. If Damien, or Drew or Jens would have taken the lead role after I left maybe it would have been different. It’s about presentation and confidence, and somebody needed to step up to that position. When they kept going without me, I noticed that they had these two lovely girls singing with them and they were great, but they were like back up singers for a singer who wasn’t there.”

Lazar said that the majority of his decision to leave was based on creative differences due in large part to the fact that Paris and Totolos were writing a majority of the group’s music near the end. “With The Giraffes I always felt like a creative consultant/carnival barker. Damien and Drew would work together in this language that only twins speak to each other in, where it’s very hard to figure out what they’re saying at any one time. And then they would go to Jens who would make a few suggestions and then they would come to me last — and probably because I was being pretty insufferable at the time. I’ll take all the blame on that,” Lazar said.

The lead singer, who has been doing graphic design since he stepped away from The Giraffes, has long struggled with heart problems. At 28, he suffered sudden cardiac death, which resulted in two heart attacks and a seizure in a six-hour span. He lives with a defibrillator and an enormous medical debt, which he has used as fodder for some of the band’s most celebrated songs, like “Prime Motivator,” “Allergic To Magnets,” “Medicaid Benefit Applique,” and “This Is Sickness.”

In addition to those struggles though, Lazar was still, in some regard, goofing on an art project that he had never really intended to start in the first place. “When I joined The Giraffes, I had no intention of being a musician. I was going to be an artist, a visual artist, and The Giraffes sort of turned my head and introduced me to music as a serious form of expression. At first, it was a joke. They were my grad school as far as making music as art. But there were creative itches that I couldn’t scratch in The Giraffes.”

On top of it all, Lazar had grown tired of the nightly flood of drinks tossed at the stage. “I still don’t like people throwing shit at me,” Lazar said, before adding, “but I’m pretty sure I’m going to be doused for the reunion.”

Paris of course welcomes the mayhem. “I love it when people throw beer,” Paris said. “I mean it got crazy when people were throwing chow mein and sardines. One of the big reasons Aaron hates it when people throw shit is the last Denver show when he thought he got hit in the face with a cup of hot pee. But if he wants to be a little pussy about it, let him be a pussy about it.”

Through all of their bickering, and their bullshit, the men of The Giraffes are still a boys club with some undying friendships that have weathered some nasty storms. They’re close enough that they can tell each other exactly what’s on their minds and honest enough to do so without pulling punches, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that this reunion is going to be a lasting one.

“When Tim started to put this together, I think his best case scenario would have been that we’d all fall in love again and start writing music and playing shows. What he got was that we’ll play a few shows and then fuck off afterward,” Paris said.

Originally, the group had discussed writing some new material, and possibly producing a 7” to be released at the reunion, but while most of the sting from the years apart is behind them, many of the creative differences remain.

“We actually worked on that pretty hard, but never got to work on the actual songs because, creatively we’re in different places,” Lazar said. “We tried to get through it, but if I got what I wanted they would have been pissed at me, and vice versa, and we’re not trying to piss each other off. So we decided let’s just have a good time and play these shows and maybe sometime further down the road we’ll be in synch again,”

Predictably, Paris points his finger at Lazar for the difficulties. “It’s up to Aaron. If he can get his foot out of his ass, maybe we can find a way to compromise and write together, but he has too many ideas,” Paris said. “When we were at our best, we all did what we did and we came to the table and wrote songs and it wasn’t idea rock. It was a collective. Aaron has a lot of ideas.”

If they make it through their reunion show in late September in New York, they’ll play Denver the following week.

| The Giraffes |
| Larimer Lounge | October 4 |

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