I don’t suppose you should necessarily expect a band named Cerebral Ballzy to be that easy to interview. That is, serious questions about the nature of their music, the pleasing euphony of a ragged power chord or the careful balancing of challenging content with essentially generic form will be blinked at, snickered at, and thrown into the skeevy bin in the corner where they fundamentally belong. Come on. They’re called Cerebral Ballzy None of which, on reflection, so bad a thing: ‘easy to interview’ can just as easily mean ‘bland to speak to’. Cerebral Ballzy are defiantly, insistently, not bland. Take the story that floats around about the origin of their genius-or-disastrous band name. “I was with a friend of mine and he threw a piece of pizza on the train track,” the band’s lead singer, Honor, has said in previous interviews. “He jumped down to get it as it hadn’t toppled over – it was still on the tracks. He went and got it, and I was like ‘man that was ballsy’. He was like, ‘yeah, cerebral ballsy’.” Seriously, is this true? Apparently so. There’s nothing more behind the band name than that? Nope. At all? No. I should leave this now, right? Uh huh. This is a band who have songs with titles like ‘Shitrag’ and ‘Puke Song’. They are not in any way like a box of chocolates: you know exactly what you’re going to get. Honor describes his band simply and with nothing approaching the merest hint pretension. “We’re heady fucking kids that enjoy what they wanna enjoy, that wanna hang with heady fucking kids that enjoy the same thing.” There’s a circularity to that which makes a weird kind of sense, no? You wonder if this stoner logic isn’t a kind of pose, though. Cerebral Ballzy hail from Brooklyn, New York, which in recent years has been known for art rock more than Honor’s brand of wilfully retro skater punk: the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Animal Collective and in particular Vampire Weekend all seem the polar opposite of what Cerebral Ballzy are, the music that they play, and even how they talk. Did the band deliberately set out to oppose that sort of music and those sort of bands? “We’re not opposing them,” Honor insists. “They’re artists. Maybe lame artists, but artists. Half of the shit you see is contrived recycled kitty litter.” That’s both a yes and a no, though – on the one hand, Cerebral Ballzy say they’re not deliberately setting themselves against Ezra Koenig’s college boys; on the other they rail against the commodified product of a commercialised industry. “It’s time to realize that the kids are all we got,” Honor shrugs. “And its time to refute the trivial garbage that certain older figures are trying to constantly cram on us – and the typical punk vibe and spiel is as relevant today as it ever was.” Notice that word ‘spiel’ – the band adopt even their own manifesto with a soupçon of irony. Indeed, many who’ve written about the band – in fact, many of those who’ve simply listened to their music – don’t quite know what to make of them. Why might that be? “Ummmmmm, cause I don’t what to make of myself,” Honor explains. I feel like he wants to make a ‘duh’ noise. “We just like beer, girls, pizza and tre flipz.” Tre-flips are skateboard stunts. I looked it up. Actually, the band met skateboarding, Honor tells me – at Union Square in Manhattan. They have a song called ‘Sk8 All Day’ which sounds like a warped 78 being played on a really bad needle – except like actual music. I’ve seen some journalists almost dismiss Cerebal Ballzy as a sort of post-modern joke; if they are, then the joke is an affectionate one. The skater thing seems genuinely important not just to their image but to them. At the same time, it’s convenient for them that they are essentially the only skater band of their stripe going right now. How do they feel about the resultant hype? “We’re cool. We’re the only ones doing it that way we’re doin’ it. Why not?” Honor’s insouciance aside, some wags have asked whether the world actually needed a skater band like this. It seems to me they can’t have listened to ‘Insufficient Fare’, the band’s best known song, properly: it might be primitive, and it might stick close to that ‘smartly stupid’ vibe the band have down pat, but it’s also catchy, energetic and fresh. It packs a lot into one minute and fifty seconds. Reviewers keep referring to bands like Bad Brains when fishing for comparators; is that fair or lazy, I ask? “Both. They’re a definite influence but there’s a lot more punk bands that we sound like. Agent Orange and Gang Green are two huge influences.” It’s telling that those other influences are also bands which were out and about in the early 1980s. Along with that opposition to the art rock movement comes a stubborn allegiance to music twenty or thirty years old. Skate punk limped on into the 1990s, but these days Cerebral Ballzy are for all intents and purposes a one-act revival band. There’s nothing wrong with that when it’s done with as much commitment and conviction as Honor and company manage – but you can see where the conspiracy theories come from. Still, the band have plans for a proper album, to be released this year. They’re not playing. “Raymond Pettibon did the cover. 12 songs, 20 minutes. Tons of topics covered. YEAR OF THE SHREDDER.” I sort of assume that last must be the record’s title and move on. The Raymond Pettibon connection is pretty interesting – Honor refers to the erstwhile ally of, yes, 1980s punk band Black Flag as ‘our Raymond Pettibon’. They’re aware of the history of their music. They’re also young, drunk and proudly dumb. I reckon they’re serious about this. Cerebral Ballzy play the Camden Crawl on Sunday, May 1st. I asked Honor who else on the bill we should all be going to see, and he just said, “Us!” So be there – bring booze, pizza and your best fighting talk.
Interview by Dan Hartland