In what’s sure to be great news for flophouses around the globe, it’ll take more than burst pipes, an overflowing toilet, and a crew of unpredictable meth heads to deter Ní¼ Sensae from playing its gigs. The local scuzz-rock ensemble of singer-bassist Andrea Lukic and drummer Daniel Pitout is too fascinated by the grimier side of life to punk out of a performance. While a recent house show in Salem, Oregon, had all the nightmarish makings of a David Lynch movie, the pair opted to ignore some obvious warning signs and let the night take its crazy course.
“It was one of those small-town situations where there’s not enough of an alternative community to have subgenres,” Pitout says from the comfort of the group’s fittingly dank downtown jam space, his bandmate by his side. “Everyone hangs out together because there aren’t enough of them. At the show there were gang bangers, skinheads, meth heads”¦the craziest amount of people.”
“There was this black guy with swastika tattoos that we’d been warned about,” Lukic adds.
While the duo had initially thought the scrawl of “No Meth!” on the gig poster was a joke, by the time Lukic saw the tweaked-out crowd she realized the act was in for one hell of a shit show.
“We couldn’t tell if they liked us or if they were going to beat us up. The whole night was terrifying,” she explains. “A pipe burst during our set. It was flooding and there was mud everywhere; there were burnt spoons in the washroom.
“All the kids were so fucked-up on meth and were shitting in the bathroom,” the frontwoman continues. “There was only one bathroom and the toilet didn’t flush; it was piling up with shit and vomit. It was a situation, for sure.”
While the fetid venue left a lot to be desired, at least one member of Nü Sensae’s entourage took advantage of the stinky situation.
“Our roadie made out with a girl that shit herself,” Lukic says with a tinge of embarrassment.
Despite the tense crowd and ultra-messy playing conditions, Nü Sensae made it out of Salem in one piece. It’s no great surprise that the band toughed things out; its raging new disc, TV, Death and the Devil, is full of songs about similarly messed-up derelicts. As if the duo’s minimalist-minded combination of frantically pounded punk beats and ultra-gloomy fuzz bass weren’t unsettling enough, Lukic’s arcane lyrics about disenfranchised kids are delivered in an all-too-convincing death wail that will get you dropping a deuce in your drawers.
“I’ve always been interested in things that are associated with the devil—sinister things,” the screamer says before hinting at a major theme of the record: “Teenagers doing fucked-up things to other teenagers.”
The slow-burning doom-core number “Cat’s Cradle” finds the vocalist choking out the cryptic lines “Rinsed out nightmare/I know a kid to kill/Fixed bored backup/Write it on my thrill”, which become even more chilling when it’s revealed that the tune was inspired by New York youth Richard “Ricky” Kasso’s murder of a high-school companion in the ’80s.
Similarly, the caustic closer, “Burn Zero”, finds Lukic singing about some more bad eggs, but this time the lyrics centre around the outfit’s old posse. Her screeched-out tale of upside-down crosses and kids gone wild, backed by a chaotic blend of group howls and skronked-out saxophone, suggests the pair grew up on the edge.
“I don’t think we were troubled youth, but there’s a fine line,” Pitout says with a smirk. “ ”˜Burn zero’ is gang slang from the ’50s: to burn is to get into a fight with a gang member and a zero is a nobody, a loser. It’s about hanging out as zeroes and getting into fights.”
While Pitout and Lukic have long since left behind their unruly cohorts, the two have been attached at the hip since they met a decade ago. Though the pair only officially started playing shows a couple of years ago, the Nü Sensae moniker is just about as enduring as their friendship.
“We came up with that when we were 14 years old,” Pitout remarks. “We didn’t own instruments, but we’d be like, ”˜We’re in Nü Sensae!’ It was always in the back of our minds.”
After eventually acquiring gear and slugging it out in sub-par acts—one of them a KISS cover band—the twosome broke off on its own as Nü Sensae, making a name for itself with a self-titled 12-inch in 2008, a lauded appearance on the Emergency Room Vol. 1 compilation the same year, and 2009’s maleficent Three Dreams EP.
Though they remain inseparable chums, the recording of TV, Death and the Devil tested their friendship.
“A lot of the time in the studio was spent sitting around being mad at each other, waiting to come up with something that didn’t sound like what we just did 50 times,” Lukic laments.
The two bickered over the direction of album highlight “Total Drift”, which finds a surprisingly soft-sounding Lukic cooing atop her grungy bass rhythm. An argument flared up over how to treat the vocals in its midsection and, with tensions high, the screecher unleashed a frightening 20-second banshee shriek that would terrify even the most seasoned horror-film fanatic. It’s the finest, and freakiest, moment in the band’s catalogue.
“It’s her screaming at me in the middle of a fight,” Pitout says with a laugh. “I yelled at Andrea because I was getting frustrated. I was like, ”˜This isn’t sounding right; you need to scream that part.’ All that screaming is her being, like, ”˜What? Like this, you idiot?’ ”
But as aggravating as the recording of TV, Death and the Devil could be at times, the long-time best friends knew their dustups were only temporary. And indeed, since then they’ve survived much worse, including a certain gig in Salem.
Nü Sensae plays a TV, Death and the Devil album release party at Funky Winker Beans on June 28.