A chiseled, carnal bellowing was coming from the adjacent room of a subterranean Capitol Hill rehearsal space. The guitar, synths, and drums on the other side of the wall stirred a synth-punk cauldron of medicine-noise. I didn't know who or what it was, but it swallowed me whole. Songs were systematically devoured by a polyphonic octave generator effect, the same way a swarm of ants eats a jungle. A voice sang, fervent and possessed. The drums played like they were carving a glyph on the ancient Mayan stone sarcophagus beneath the Temple of the Inscriptions pyramid in Palenque, Mexico. (It depicts Pakal sitting in a fucking spacecraft, yet it was carved in the year 685.)
I was powerless to do anything but listen, so I turned the lights off and lay on the floor until their rehearsal was over. Staring into the darkness, images of ancient spacemen danced around a fire in my head. When they finished, I knocked on their door and discovered the band Charms: Eleazer Tolentino on guitar and vocals, Josh McCormick on keys, and drummer Ray McCoy. Surprisingly, they weren't covered in blood.
These young, fresh-faced Charms are close to finishing their first full-length album, which will be out by year's end. For this interview, the band accompanied me north on Aurora Avenue to the Drift on Inn Casino. I had my lucky charm with me—my grandmother's bronzed baby shoe. I had Charms rub the charm, and then we proceeded into the casino for beers and blackjack.
Quickly we each lost $20. Then we left.
In your song "Separator," you're either saying "The tastes are growing pink" or "The chaste are blowing shrinks." Or "The haste is showing tinc." (Tinc as in weed tincture.) A play on contradiction there? Because it takes tincture a while to kick in.
Eleazer Tolentino: And tastes could easily be growing pink, if you like strawberry flavorings, or you like parts of the body that are associated with pink, or maybe you're just becoming more fond of the color pink in general.
I think I like the "blowing shrinks" interpretation the best. The person who is pure, who may even abstain from sex like Russell Wilson, is blowing their psychologist? Hell yeah. That's rich.
Ray McCoy: When Russell Wilson signs his new contract, that is what's rich. So why do you think the chaste are blowing their shrink? You tell us.
I'm sure shrinks get blown all the time. They're seen as authority figures, like a teacher. Some people find that sexy. Also, people are attracted to doing forbidden things.
ET: I wish I could say those interpretations were all correct. I'm actually saying, "The ticks are growing faint." It's a reference to a Filipino mythical creature, which is what the song is about. To confuse its prey, the sounds of this creature grow more faint as the creature gets closer. It terrifies me.
Ray, you have a degree in anthropology. You studied glyphs, didn't you? [I hit on a king and a five playing blackjack, and bust.]
RM: I have a degree in anthropology, yes, focusing on Asian culture, religions, and philosophy. I enjoy a good glyph, though. I studied Mandarin and lived in China for a minute. I like Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers, and I take beginners martial arts when I need to lose some of my video-game-playing weight. Asian culture is fascinating. Thousands of years old. The way they interact with pop culture and the way it's transmitted to the West is interesting. Why is it so cool to us, so fetishized, and more importantly, what's it actually like there?
Josh, get into some extraterrestrial shit for me. I hear you're into it. What draws you in?
Josh McCormick: I'd say the root of the whole thing is fear. Fear of what might be out there. Fear that there's nothing out there at all. I'm into questions that mankind is incapable of answering. Like life after death and other dimensions. I feel like if I came in contact with an advanced species that all the secrets of the universe would be revealed to me.
Talk more about advanced species.
JM: There's a deep, detailed history regarding the battle for control of Earth and the human race. Supposedly, reptilian shape-shifters—a hybrid race known as the Anunnaki —some say they've integrated themselves into human society and hold key positions in government and finance. They essentially rule the world. To be clear, I'm not a full-on believer.
Do you consider yourself a medium? Can you tell which ones are reptiles? [I stick on 16, and the dealer beats me. The 97-year-old man to my left has won every hand he's played.]
JM: I mean yeah, I usually wear a medium or small [laughs].
Eleazer, get into some postapocalyptic shit for me. I hear you're into it.
ET: The concept of civilization ending is beautiful, and sexual, and scary. How people would act without the confines of social constructs. It unites everyone in an indirect way because life for most humans would be simplified to survival. All relationships would become more precious. I think I might function better in a society based on survival.
I love the poly-octave effect you all run. What other effects do you use? Make it sound paranormal or postapocalyptic.
ET: The key to the nuclear guitar tones comes from that Electro-Harmonix Micro Polyphonic Octave Generator you love, and my EarthQuaker Devices Rainbow Machine. Both could be names for doomsday devices. If you have the Rainbow Machine dialed right, it sounds like an air-raid siren. Josh plays a Casio calculator watch to get his tones. Zero divided by zero? Forget about it.
What are your favorite charms? Or talisman objects? [I bust again and am out.]
RM: I don't really think of any one thing as my lucky charm, but given how often I eat burritos, I'd say that's an object that has a special sort of power for me. I think of "charms" as a type of spell that can be cast on something, like Harry Potter's "Expelliarmus!"
ET: You know that small front pocket on jeans? On any given day, I'll usually have a penny in that pocket that I've found heads-up during a saunter.
What charms you?
What doesn't charm you?
ET: Putting on airs.
How do you charm others?
ET: I tell people to look at Josh's ass. He has a charming ass.