XPoNential Music Festival Artist Interview: An epic conversation with Nicos Gun (Part 1) - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

Philly group Nicos Gun has all the makings of a good friend: they’re open and down to earth, they love a good party, and they know music like nobody’s business—except, of course, their own. Members Barney Cortez, Andrew Black, Nick Bockrath, and Harry Zelnick pursued various projects before coming together to form the group; Zelnick won a Grammy at 17 for his work with Ludacris, and others worked with The Roots and the Disco Biscuits. In the past year, the group has performed at a slew of enormous concerts and events including Bisco Inferno (at Red Rocks Amphitheater), The Roots Picnic, The Roots’ Fourth Of July Jam on the Parkway, and Camp Bisco. The attention is well deserved, as the young quartet consistently proves themselves to be talented and legitimate. If they’re not on an extensive tour, they’re in the studio, and if by chance they’re in neither of those places, they’re probably off making another music video.

Up until now, the group has been consistently releasing homemade, limited-edition EPs among friends and fans. They are currently readying their debut official album, and were kind enough to send over a new track from the upcoming release. (Check it out below.) Prior to Nicos Gun’s performance at the XPoNential Music Festival Friday night, The Key sat down with all four members of the band for an interview so extensive we had to break it up into two parts. In Part One, the members of the band discuss jacking each other’s orange juice, manufacturing beef with other bands, and the problems with performing in front of Porta-Potties. (Stay tuned for Part Two, which will run tomorrow morning.)

The Key: So, you guys just got back from Camp Bisco. Do you have any good stories?

Harry Zelnick: Well, when we played our show, a lot of people were coming up and the guy started removing the Porta-Potties during our set. So it just smelled horrible through our whole set. People are walking away and we’re like, “Why are people leaving? What’s going on?” Literally it smelled so terrible. I couldn’t smell it cause my nose was all stuffed up.

Barney Cortez: You smelled it, right Andy?

Andrew Black: It was horrifying. Like really, it was poopy.

HZ: People were like, “Your set was really good, but it smelled like shit.”

BC: It was a shit show.

Nick Bockrath: Everyone was like, “Oh yeah, it happens, Camp Bisco.” I thought it was just like some spun-out dude threw up during the set, or maybe a fight. Then someone laid it down for me later, like, “You don’t understand, there was shit in the air.”

AB: If you breathe in shit, is that harmful?

BC: If you leave it sitting for a while you can trip off of it.

TK: Who was your favorite act of the festival?

HZ: I liked Yeasayer actually, and it’s funny cause we always talk shit on Yeasayer.

NB: You know how rappers have beefs with each other?

HZ: Yeah, we want to start a beef. But they were good.

TK: You mentioned on your site that you were going to be running a backstage studio and collaborating with some artists, what was that and how did it go?

HZ: Totally, that was the Das Racist thing. It was basically an album that we started last year at Camp Bisco and it was a collaborative thing between all the artists who performed there. It’s for charity. But it didn’t get finished last year for whatever reason, so we decided to do it again this year and then combine the two. Last year we worked with Thievery Corporation and Blackalicious, and there was a guitar player from Shpongle who would play a track that a rapper would get on. So it was kind of like a big collaborative thing. This year Das Racist and a bunch of Damon Dash people worked on it and it was pretty cool. Hopefully it will be done pretty soon, so I can get paid, because our electricity is about to get turned off…tonight. [Laughs.]

TK: You guys are all living in Philly, right?

BC: Yeah, we live together.

NB: The spot we live in was like a movie studio before we lived there, so when we moved in there were all these weird costumes and stuff like that. It’s just a totally bizarre place. We think they made pornos there.

AB: They definitely made pornos there.

HZ: My room has a chainsaw that I can’t get out of the wall.

AB: My room is a movie theater with a red velvet couch.

NB: For one music video we just used all costumes we found.

TK: That’s awesome.

HZ: Yeah, and I smoked the prop cigarettes. They were called “American,” not even “USA.” One desperate time when I was sick and didn’t feel like going to get them. They were horrible. They tasted like cardboard and dead people.

TK: So you guys have appeared at some pretty enormous events recently like Bisco Inferno at Red Rocks, the Roots Picnic, PEX Summer Festival, the Roots 4th of July Jam, and Camp Bisco…

HZ: We were there when Osama bin Laden got killed, like “dun dun dun…”

NB: Wait, where?

HZ: In Pakistan, you don’t remember?

NB: Oh. [Laughs.]

NB: I thought we really played some show that day or something, I was like, “Oh really?”

HZ: But yeah, we played some big shows. They were all really surreal I would say. All the big shows are in the daytime for us because we’re usually opening the big shows. So we’re usually like tired and hot and maybe hungover.

BC: They’re not that big.

TK: I mean, they’re big.

HZ: They’re huge man. Michael McDonald?

BC: July 4th was a funny show.

AB: My car will never be the same.

HZ: I’ll tell the story, so we were kind of late coming to the gig, so we drove the car through a part we shouldn’t have and parked backstage at the Questlove stage that we were playing on. Then me and Andy went to a bar for a while and forgot the car was there. When we came back we had like 50 missed calls from these guys that we had to move the car and we didn’t, and then there was like three million people around our car and it was just trapped there, and we just stood on the roof, and sold people beers, and people were dancing. It was kind of the best view ever though. We were the last people to leave though, it was pretty bad, people were like shooting fireworks at us and stuff.

AB: There was a lot of heat and alcohol that day.

NB: That was cool because I liked the fact that it was just a free show for people in Philly where you don’t have to pay a ton of money to go to it. There was just a range of people, old people dancing. Questlove’s mom, she asked for our CD and stuff like that.

BC: Yeah she sincerely came up to me and gave a really nice compliment, said she really dug the band.

NB: It’s cool because not everyone goes to festivals and stuff like that all the time, so it’s cool for anyone to be able to come up and check us out, they seem to enjoy it.

TK: Do you have specific relationships with The Roots and The Disco Biscuits, or do you have a very talented booking agent, or is it a combination of both?

HZ: It’s kind of a combination of all of them. Definitely the Biscuits thing, I’ve known them for four or five years now and produced a record by them and stuff like that, so they’re pretty much like family. The Roots we’re sort of affiliated with, we’ve worked with different people from The Roots, so they’re friendly, very supportive, a good band from Philly that digs what we do so they help us out.

NB: I was always up in Larry Gold’s, like The Roots’ studio, so I got to know and we got to open for them a whole lot because of this band Elevator Fight. So I played tons of shows with The Roots from that, so they’ve always kept up and they always have love. So those are kind of like the two. It’s funny too, their studios are literally down the street from each other.

HZ: Barney actually played on a Roots album before. So I guess we’re definitely pretty friendly with them.

TK: So in the end, do you enjoy the festival experiences? It sounds like you liked the music but they also can be pretty hectic.

BC: It is cool, it’s cool to be able to go in, experience a bit of it, play your set and just get out of there. That’s the best thing, everybody else is there for like the two three days or whatever it is.

HZ: I like checking out the bands and meeting people and stuff. As long as you have a clean bathroom and shoes that work, it’s pretty fun. I’m interested in checking out Gathering Of The Vibes on this tour that we’re about to go on tomorrow.

NB: I grew up going to all of those and stuff like that, so it’s cool now to be playing them. That used to be my summer, just sweating it out in a field going to all the festivals seeing all the bands. It’s cool just to check out all the other artists, and it’s cool cause it’s like a meeting point for all the artists, you get to see all your boys especially at Camp cause there’s so many people that you don’t get to see all the time. It’s fun; it’s like a big ass party.

TK: So when you guys first started the group, did you expect it to become a full-time thing?

HZ: It is like a whirlwind. Stuff happened quickly. Like, I didn’t even know we were going on tour. People were just like, “Oh we’re going on tour tomorrow,” and I’m like, “What are we doing?,” you know what I mean? We just got back yesterday. I spent a night in New York and now we gotta go back on tour tomorrow morning.

BC: I know it sucks! Sike, it’s awesome.

NB: The fact that you can just get four people to commit to something, that’s what kind of makes it the next level. I’ve played in a lot of bands and people kind of have to work or play with a bunch of bands, that thing works only so far. And you can sit around Philly and just be a gigging dude and make some money and it’s fun, I used to do stuff like that, but I think that the four of us are all like, this is what we’re doing. We live together, we turned down other things…Harry had all sorts of production stuff, we were playing with different other people, we kind of had to shut all that out.

HZ: I turned down millions.

BC: I could have played with R&B acts you’ve probably heard of on the radio.

NB: But if you can get four people that are fully committed, it’s kind of a blessing if you can find that, it’s pretty rare. That’s what’s made it a full-time thing for us.

BC: I’ve played with a lot of different types of people. To be a hired musician, to play other people’s music—once I started making music I liked? I’d rather do construction work or something. I swear to god. I just did landscaping work the other day and I was like, “This is cool.” Playing music or rehearsing music that I don’t like is the hardest work that I’ve ever had to do. I’m literally like a little kid, I’m almost in tears, and I stink at it.

HZ: I think we made a conscious decision too, that whenever we don’t want the best for each other, whenever we don’t want each other to get laid every night and have fun, that’s when the band’s over. As long as we still like each other. And we actually don’t fight that much, considering we live and tour and work together. We’ll fight, be like, “You jacked my orange juice,” and then five minutes later it’s cool. Because you can’t carry on a fight if you have to see the person all the time. It’s like brothers, girlfriends, bandmates, business partners.

TK: Does that feed into when you guys are making music at all?

HZ: We actually probably mainly argue about music more than anything else, because that’s the most important thing to everyone. So they’ll keep me on my toes if I’m being lazy, cause I have to do a lot of stuff in terms of finishing tracks and more stuff on the production side. Nick and Barney will argue about guitar tones, and we’ll argue with Andy about moving around more or slapping the bass more or whatever. So pretty much all our arguments are about either music or food, I would say. Occasionally drugs.

BC: Cigarettes. Just cleanliness, too.

Nicos Gun will be performing at the XPoNential Music Festival along with artists such as Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Ra Ra Riot, Givers, Sun Airway, and many others. The festival will be taking place July 22-24th at Wiggins Park in Camden, NJ. Tickets are available here.

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