"You’re just in time for the cupping,” Hot Nerds keyboardist Alia Jyawook says as I enter Modern Times Beer in Point Loma.
3725 Greenwood Street, Midway District
Images of medieval hack medicine and bizarre sex moves flash through my mind in the moments it takes to realize that they are talking about the coffee samples on the table. As it turns out, Alia’s high school friend from Chicago, Bartleby Bloss, is the coffee production manager at Modern Times, and he’s invited the band to create a custom Hot Nerds blend to accompany their new album, Tirades in a Mental Arcade. Give it a listen and you’ll see why my thoughts instinctively went weird. Their music already sounds like electric trepanation, and past album imagery has involved an element of outlandish eroticism, such as the fruit wielding, mulleted beach bro on the cover of their previous release, Strategically Placed Bananas.
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L.A.-based artist Josh Freydkis, whose work has appeared on Adult Swim’s Rick & Morty, lent the cover art to Tirades, which was recorded about a year ago with Mike Kamoo at Earthling Studios in Santee. The album sees guitar/vocalist Nathan Joyner coming into his own as a singer and ditching the heavily processed vocals that used to characterize their sound. It was self-released by the band on March 10 as the debut of their homegrown label, Cereal & Soda. Don’t anticipate any live dates in the foreseeable future, however. Drummer Tommy O’Connell has moved back to the Chicago area and the remaining members work full-time, Alia teaching music to elementary school students and Nathan making music for an L.A.-based trailer production company.
Your lyrics always seem to have a kind of sarcastic sneer to them. Where are you coming from when you write?
Nathan: I think my entire life I’ve been sarcastic. It’s more of a coping mechanism for me. So when I’m writing lyrics, I’m not really a singer, so I wanted it to be more like I was having a conversation with somebody. Being inside your head too much is kind of what the record is about, just sabotaging yourself, talking to yourself, making bigger things out of nothing, being sarcastic, making fun of myself. I think the whole band is sarcastic. The artwork, the titles, the arrangements. Alia and Tommy come up with the foundations of song, and those are kind of sarcastic musically. The lyrics are usually secondary to me, but on this album they’re more prevalent. I wanted to be as blunt and direct as possible, and they still came out sarcastic. I think that’s just built in to the way I interpret things. It’s a mess up there [laughs]. It’s a different album than the last. It’s a lot heavier.
Alia: Slightly angrier.
Nathan: I think it was a combination of Tommy learning music theory at school and us being on tour with Torche and Melt Banana for three months [in 2015]. We wrote the album right after that.
Alia: When we started [about six years ago], I had a cheap Casio keyboard that I ran through his pedal board and Nate played a drum set that I essentially dumpstered in Chicago. Then the accident, then Tommy joined, then Nate got to the point where he’s comfortable on guitar. I love the sound that we have now.
Nathan: We moved away from everybody comparing us to Arab on Radar, Daughters, things like that, the Providence sound.
Alia: It’s all we drink. Since his accident [Nathan was almost killed by a car in 2012 while crossing the street in Hillcrest], both of us haven’t had a drop. The last hangover I had was from a Hot Nerds show the night before he got hit.
Nathan: We’re big fans of coffee and wheatgrass and ginger shots. That’s our booze now.
Alia: If you buy the Hot Nerds coffee, you get a record. We make art where once it’s done it’s done. It’s better in someone’s hand than in storage. We might as well give it away. Nathan has boxes of [his former band] Secret Fun Club records. With Strategically Placed Bananas, we have about 50 left. Hopefully we will get more copies in people’s hands with the coffee.
Modern Times’ Hot Nerds blend is 40 percent DR Congo Cooperative Kawa Kabuya and 60 percent Ethiopia Washed Organic Guji Hambela and comes with a copy of Tirades in a Mental Arcade on vinyl.