Musicians

Aaron C. Lazar

April 16, 2014

In February of 2011, Aaron C. Lazar stepped down as the lead singer of The Giraffes, a Brooklyn-based rock band that he’d been the frontman of since late 2000. During his ten-year tenure with the band, The Giraffes released eight albums (including their acclaimed 2005 self-titled album) and became known as one of the most exciting and dangerous live acts in New York. And in January of 2005, Lazar died. Twice.

The medical term for the successive heart attacks that Youngstown, Ohio native Lazar suffered within a matter of hours at the age of 27 is “sudden cardiac death.” The survival rate for one such attack is 2%. But Lazar made a miraculous recovery, and an ICD, a battery-powered device that shocks his heart should his pulse rise above a certain level, was implanted in his chest in hopes of preventing future incidents.

Lazar returned to performing and, after a few tentative shows, his fabled recklessness returned. But a mere three months after the initial cardiac event, during a raucous sold-out show in Chicago, Lazar’s ICD sprung to life, shocking his heart and sending him to the ground. Remarkably, he finished the show, but afterwards, headed straight to the hospital, where doctors advised him to slow down.

Lazar eventually left The Giraffes in 2011 to work on solo projects and explore other various creative pursuits. He self-recorded an album under the name of Rumanian Buck and performed live with Mishka Shubaly on bass and Mitchell King on drums, with Danny Barria filling in from time-to-time on guitar, Jessie Blockton on keyboards and Max Cohn on drums. In 2012, he and Mitchell King formed D’NT and have been performing throughout the New York area.

For links to all of Lazar’s various music projects, visit his website.

[Top photo: Todd Kancar]

What was your upbringing like, and how did it — and the town of Youngstown — shape who you are today?

Youngstown was a boom steel town that started to falter right around when I was born. The hardships that extended from the loss of the major industry in town coupled with the corrupt local government, and racial tensions — and then crack — made the next thirty years rather bleak. The closure of the mills ripped the heart out of the local economy. Over the years, there have been several attempts at revitalizing industry — the latest being fracking — but nothing has come close to filling the very big footprints that were left after steel. Things have turned a corner recently, I think. The younger locals have invested in Youngstown and are doing amazing things to revive the community bit-by-bit. Its getting fun and trendy again. It makes me proud. My parents were teachers, and they were really involved in the community, so I felt connected to the town on a lot of levels.

All of the problems that I lived through have made me staunchly progressive. I’ve watched Ohio turn from a blue industrial state to a red suburban/rural state. It’s deeply disappointing to me, as I view contemporary conservatism as a selfish, ignorant and fear-soaked end game. Youngstown made me left of the Left.

Musically, Youngstown has a well-deserved reputation for being critical and informed, a tough place to cut chops in. It’s a city of enclaves, so there was a little bit of everything around me — but curiously no punk or suburban counter-culture that I was aware of ’til I left and went to college. My parents encouraged me to make my own rules and experiment; it is still my favorite method of working.

Prior to joining The Giraffes, what was your musical background?

I didn’t take music seriously. I was going to be a visual artist. From about the age of five, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.

In undergrad, I studied sculpture and went on to get an MFA in conceptual art (mostly video and performance). After grad school in NYC, I was soured on the art business and art world in general and dove headfirst into music with The Giraffes.

I had been working towards music in my art for about a year or two, performing revivals in galleries and clubs. The Giraffes were one of the only bands I saw in NYC during grad school that was in any way vital or interesting, so when they asked me to join it was a great honor.

The Giraffes were (and still are) a celebrated underground band, but commercial success eluded you. Was that something that you would’ve embraced and, if so, would you play the music industry “game” differently if you were just starting out today?

We were hopeless at playing “the game.” It was simply something we were not and are not mentally-equipped to do on any level. What The Giraffes did was usually never the result of any planning. When we tried to plan stuff, it would all go horribly wrong. We gave up on planning pretty early on. I feel good about that now — people can immediately see when a band is contriving — and it turns me way off.

I’m not saying The Giraffes were all that — but we were pretty honest, warts and all —and that’s worth something, I think. Musically, I’ll put The Giraffes up against anyone, any day of the week with complete confidence.

In sticking with The Giraffes after your health issues (and continuing to perform live), how much thought did you give to the possibility of dying young, perhaps even on-stage? Did you have any romantic notions of potentially “dying for your art”?

There is absolutely nothing romantic about death. It’s beyond disgusting and about a trillion times less dignified than shitting yourself in front of company. It’s horrid. I not only disdain the idea of romantic death, I think it’s fucking retarded.

My implant protects me from any sort of sudden cardiac death episode, and pushing myself on stage and in life is about being fully alive.

What led to your decision to part company with The Giraffes?

1. If you’re killing yourself and not making much money, than it’d better be fun.

2. Fun runs out after a while.

I remember playing a big festival show in Denver and getting a glass of hot piss thrown in my face while I was in the crowd. That was the beginning of the end for me, I think. Who wants to be killing themselves for that?

I knew I could make music on my own, and it seemed like we were ever only going to get more of the same. Bleak. I loved and love the guys, but it just seemed like we had done everything we were going to. I didn’t want to be repeating myself over and over ad nauseam, and I was completely confident in the rest of the guys to do anything they set their mind to. So I called it a day.

What do you miss most about being with The Giraffes?

The fun.

Funny thing… sometimes it comes back under the right circumstances. I have a mischievous urge in me that The Giraffes scratches — well.

Guess what — The Giraffes are going to be reuniting for a single show this fall. Exciting!

Your upcoming Giraffes reunion… is that definitely a one-time thing, or are you guys open to the possibility of reforming the group on a more permanent basis?

In The Giraffes anything that can go wrong will. I am only worrying about making that one show incredible. After that, who knows.

How did D’NT come about?

Mitchell and I had played together in Rumanian Buck, and I LOVED his style. We were both looking for something to do after a year or so of solitary work. So we agreed to a practice schedule and simply played. No plans. No ideas. No lyrics. Nothing written down. We recorded a few months of this and then started listening back. Songs were emerging from this open approach, so we continued working the same way.

It’s nice when your own “songs” surprise you. And even now, I don’t write anything down for D’NT, making it all a bit unstable — which is nice.

I’m also playing (nine-stringed chopped custom weirdo baritone) guitar while singing, which changes the way I present myself on stage. A lot of the fucking with the audience in The Giraffes was simply me being a little bored and fidgety on stage. Now I have something to occupy myself with — which is leading to even weirder things coming out. This thrills me.

What can fans expect at an average D’NT show?

I don’t know what to expect at a D’NT show. And that’s kind of the whole idea. Pretty safe to say it’ll be loud.

Who has the best slice of pizza in Brooklyn?

I just responsibly bought a house and moved to St. George, Staten Island (which is fucking magic), so I gotta rep my home borough:

Pasticceria Bruno Bakery (676 Forest Ave.) is amazing — more for the other dishes and pastries.

Tony’s Brick Oven (1140 Bay St.) has a ridiculous margarita pizza and is my favorite slice in Staten Island.

Totonno Pizzeria Napolitana on Neptune Ave. down by Coney Island wins the Brooklyn prize.

You’re tasked with putting together a four-piece dream band with yourself as lead singer and a guitarist, a bassist and a drummer from any era (excluding current or former collaborators). Who do you choose?

I’m not one for dream team bands, as they almost never live up to expectations. I’d rather get a bunch of weirdos together and see what happens and ride that.

Buuut… Early Can is a gold standard for un-fuck-withable groove and great interventions in the arrangement. Thee Oh Sees have been killing it in their last few EPs, as has Ty Segall. As always, Jon Spencer‘s brain is a magical thing that makes things better/funnier/stranger. The ultimate holy wankfest on a six string belongs to Eddie Hazel on Maggot Brain.

I’ll stack up Mitchell King against ANY drummer living or dead; I’ll do the same with Damien Paris against any guitarist — ever.

3 Comments

  • Reply Josh April 16, 2014 at 10:40 pm

    Saw the Giraffes in a small room (basement?) at Guilford College in Greensboro the last time they came through North Carolina. The fidgety-ness that Lazar talks about always came off as bad-ass nonchalance from my point-of-view.

  • Reply phil April 17, 2014 at 11:17 am

    Saw the Giraffes @ Toledo Ohio during the “2005” tour. What a show and what a band! They just really kicked ass and sounded great!

  • Reply Tim June 19, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    Great Interview- can’t wait to see them reunite!

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