March 18 2015 10:29 AM

This geek squad’s weirdo-punk music is joyful and bizarre

From left: Alia Jyawook, Nathan Joyner and Thomas O’Connell
Photo by Mike Blabac

“Hardcore mariachi music.” 

“The type of music you’d play at the circus to get people to leave—or when the lions turn on the tamers.” 

“An autistic kid’s worst nightmare or wet dream. Probably both.”

These are just some of the more creative comments I heard used to describe local spaz-rockers Hot Nerds at their record-release show at Soda Bar, where they were dressed in matching banana costumes. None of those descriptions seemed entirely apt, but none of them seemed totally wrong.

“We get the whole autism thing, but more often than not, we get the ADHD thing translated into music,” singer and guitarist Nathan Joyner responded when I read the descriptions to the band a few days after the show. “Really, though, what mariachi band was that person listening to?” 

“Sometimes Nathan’s guitar can sound like a horn,” points out drummer Thomas O’Connell, citing all the effects pedals Joyner uses onstage to make his guitar sound like anything but a guitar. “I guess it could sound like a saxophone.”

The fact of the matter is that even Hot Nerds don’t exactly know how to describe their music. It’s certainly weird, and the members of the group (Joyner, O’Connell and Alia Jyawook on keyboards) are just some straight-up weirdos. Still, I’m not entirely sure who the target audience is for Hot Nerds’ debut, Strategically Placed Bananas.

Other weirdos? I don’t think it’s unfair to predict that the band will never sell more than a few thousand records, and it’s entirely likely you’ll never hear their music unless you purposefully look for it. And once you do, there’s a great chance you won’t like it. But that just means you probably don’t get it, because you aren’t weird enough.

“Every sound is calculated to some extent,” Joyner says. “Tommy knows where every drum hit goes. There’s no point in any of our songs where we’re like, ‘This is the part where we spaz out.’” 

The album is about as short as short gets, featuring 10 tracks in a span of 16 minutes. Given the rate at which most punk bands release material these days, the release seems belated, considering the core unit (Jyawook and Joyner) has been together for more than three years (O’Connell came aboard in 2013). Talking with them, I quickly realize that the album—like the band itself—has been a labor of love and that, for Joyner especially, they’re lucky to be playing together at all.

The details are pretty brutal. Walking home from his bartending job one night in September 2012, Joyner was struck by a car. The list of injuries he sustained is lengthy and cringeworthy: brain bleeding, torn ligaments and broken bones.

“He woke up after a week of being in a coma and was like, ‘What happened to me last night?” recalls Jyawook, “and I looked at him and said, ‘Girl, it’s been a week.’ For a couple weeks, he was just rolling around like an animal.”

Joyner’s right elbow and tibia had to be replaced with metal, and he had to do extensive physical therapy just to walk again. After a month in the hospital, Jyawook, Joyner’s girlfriend and music partner, helped nurse him back to health. Joyner says he still pulls gravel out of his neck and head that had been lodged in there and has been slowly pushed out by his body.

“I wish I had gotten those metal claws like Wolverine,” he jokes.

“I feel like we could still get them for you,” Jyawook counters.

Joyner says the accident helped him reevaluate his priorities. He’d been a hard partier for years, having spent time in bands like noise-punks Some Girls and Justin Pearson’s farcical, electro-punk group All Leather. After the accident, he decided to get sober and focus more exclusively on Hot Nerds.

“It was definitely an eye-opener, but not because life is so precious or whatever people think. It just made me realize that it was time to do something different and see what happens,” Joyner says. “They were telling Alia that I was going to have permanent brain damage, but I don’t know, I just kind of snapped out of it. I knew then that I had been lucky. I got a second chance. Not even a second chance, a third chance.”

“Or maybe a ninth chance,” Jyawook chimes in. “Like nine lives.”

“Yeah, I’m on my ninth life right now,” Joyner agrees. “So let’s not waste this opportunity.”

So, maybe that’s it: Hot Nerds is the sound of a band happy to be alive and playing together.

“The thing with us is that we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” Joyner says. “Some people might see it as us not being serious, but the point of this band is to have a shitload of fun.”

Email or follow Seth on Twitter at @combsseth.