Artist Spotlight: Elephant Rifle (or; The Biggest Little Noise Rock Band in the World)

Elephant Rifle is a noise rock / punk rock / hardcore / post-hardcore / Loverboy cover band hailing from Reno, Nevada. When confronted with negative stereotypes about Reno, singer Brad Bynum isn’t worried about it. “We love being from Reno. The negative national perception of Reno is very creatively liberating. The fact that people from other places have a bias against you just because of your hometown is great because you don’t have to worry about being cool,” Bynum says. “Artists and musicians here just do whatever we want because we’re not trying to conform to anybody else’s tastes, because we know people are already dismissive of Reno. And there’s a lot of unique, weird, rad things in Reno because of that. Everybody who lives here in Reno loves it.”

There’s not a whole lot out there about the band, so I was just going to snark on Reno for a little bit, but Elephant Rifle has a lot of releases… plus I don’t want them coming after me… so, let’s go!

Christian House of Girls (EP) (2010)

All the way back in the year of our lord 2010, singer Brad Bynum and guitarist Clint Neuerburg teamed up to form Elephant Rifle with original drummer Troy Micheau. Neuerburg was a fixture in the local music scene playing in band after band, and Bynum was a journalist with free alternative paper Reno News & Review (until it ceased publication in 2020 because of the pandemic). The two met when Bynum interviewed Neuerburg in 2005 and remained friends, and Neuerburg asked Bynum if he wanted to start a new group. The decision was made when the pair were returning home from seeing The Jesus Lizard, and the sound of The Jesus Lizard is the foundation of their music.

“If I recall, we had tossed around the words ‘Elephant’ and ‘Rifle’ separately before putting them together realizing that ‘Elephant Rifle’ is the name of an actual thing,” Bynum said. “Anyway, it’s loud, ugly and hypermasculine—since both words are phallic symbols. And we like that—pushing masculinity to the point of parody.”

The trio recorded and released Christian House of Girls in 2010, and it sounds… unique. Neuerburg played his guitar through a bass amp, but without a proper bassist, it sounds kind of anemic. At this point, they are still firmly in the Jesus Lizard phase of their songwriting. This version of “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life Part II” is from the upcoming Party Child, which does have bass, because Christian House isn’t on YouTube.

After the short 7-day west coast tour, Micheau moved back to his home of Portland and left the band.

Teenage Lover (EP) (2011)

There are no credits for this EP, and my Google Fu turns up nothing at all. However, there is bass now!

Party Child (2012)

The band’s first full length finds Bynum and Neuerburg joined by drummer Ty Williams and bassist Scaught Bates. This is the band’s first release put out by Humaniterrorist Record Collective, co-founded by Neuerburg.

“Humaniterrorist Record Collective is a collectively run label I started 10 years ago to release a record by the band I was in and a couple records from my friends’ bands. It was initially supposed to be this sort of G7 Welcoming Committee-type thing, but mostly what it means is all the bands are the same groups of dudes reformed in different ways and 100% in control of how their record is created,” Neuerburg said in 2015. “Collective probably wasn’t the right word to use, but fuck it, we’re stuck with it now.”

The album expands on the band’s sound a little, but it’s still rooted in Jesus Lizard worship. “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life Part II” has the cyclical, hypnotic guitar that apes Duane Dennison, but breaks free with the help of some saxophone and bizarre vocal contortions. “Your Mother Was Delightful” adds some 60s style organ, “My First Rodeo” gets a little spacey and prog-y at the end, and “Second Wives” is more punk fueled and immediate.

Dirty Pillows Mixtape EP (2013)

This collection was recorded primarily in Williams’ basement and with the same lineup.

The limited cassette has primitive versions of “Rasputin”, “Frank, Black”, and “Dogs, Wolves, Wolverines”, all of which turn up on the upcoming Ivory.

Perhaps the most bizarre is the 9-minute cover of Rush’s “Working Man”. “It has something like 3 saxophone solos, a Theremin solo, a couple of noisy guitar solos, Beastie Boys lyrics, and a Fugazi bass line all shoehorned in there,” Neuerburg said. “Who would have thought a hardcore band from Reno could make something more excessive than the masters, but there’s the proof.”

But it’s not on YouTube, so if you feel so inclined, hit up Bandcamp.

Alphabet Cult / Elephant Rifle Split 7” (2014)

The band contributed “Clones & Clones” to a split single with fellow Reno band Alphabet Cult. A different version of this appears on 2015’s Ivory. The split version isn’t on YouTube, so here’s the album version.

“I Can’t Believe You’re Still Alive” (2014)

A stand-alone single, which is a re-recording of a song from Dirty Pillows Mixtape. The bassline here almost approaches Krautrock.

Ivory (2015)

In 2015, the band released Ivory, with new bassist Mike Mayhall.

“It resonates with the band name because an actual Elephant Rifle is designed and aimed to obtain ivory, which is this beautiful substance that’s harvested through a very inhumane and obscene process—murdering or mutilating magnificent, endangered animals. We liked the combination of beauty and horror,” Bynum said. “For some reason—maybe getting older—I’d been writing lyrics about mortality a bit more than usual. I’d previously written mostly about sex and drugs and food. And animals. Once we noticed the trend, we started tailoring lyrics and song titles to the themes a bit more—the connection to death and animals was another reason why the album title made sense.”

Ivory plays more straight up hardcore (and post-hardcore) than prior releases, especially with “Dogs, Wolves, Wolverines”.  “Rasputin” has some bizarre vocal inflections, “Skeletons Keys” is a type of dirge, while “Horses” borders on doom metal.

Hunk (2018)

A new album, and a new lineup. This time Williams exits the band and is replaced by new drummer Mike Young. “Ty Williams, who was our drummer for several years and pretty integral to a lot of the songwriting, moved across country to New York not long after Ivory was recorded in 2014. We love him, and he’s our brother for life, but we needed to keep making new music so we started working with Mike Young, who’d been a friend of the band for a few years,” Bynum said. “Most of the songs we just recorded were written with Young. We have two Mikes in the band, so we have to use last names like a high school basketball team or something… A couple of the songs on the new record were originally written with Ty but they’ve mutated a lot since we’ve been playing them for a couple of years.”

Our DNA is equal parts 70s classic rock, 80s hardcore, and 90s noise rock, so I guess most of our obvious influences are in that vein. Personally, although I love hardcore and punk, given the type of band we are, I try to draw influence from non-hardcore bands,” Neuerburg said. “Granted, that’s not always easy as I still listen to a ton of punk and hardcore, and the usual suspects you would imagine for a band like us are all definitely represented, but I tend to think that if you lean too heavily on stylistic peers, then you end up sounding like those peers. We all four have vastly different record collections and draw from different wells.”

“I’m really happy with this album,” Bynum said. “Lyrically, it’s pretty diverse: a few political songs, a couple of things with a bit of humor, a nasty sex jam or two, a couple of horror movie-inspired cuts, and a nerdy history lesson about technology.”

Hunk was my introduction to the band, and the album really is the intersection of noise rock, art-punk, and classic rock. Improbably, some of the bass lines recall Talking Heads, while that foundation of Jesus Lizard is sprinkled with healthy amounts of Helmet-like riffs.

Pressing the Flesh – Clint’s Pics Vol. 1 [Live 09/21/2018; Reno, Nevada] (2019)

Here we have a live document of the band opening for Russian Circles in Reno. It sounds pretty good, and at the time of this writing, it’s listed on Bandcamp for one dollar. None of this is on YouTube, so head over to Bandcamp and check it out.

Teach You to Dance – A Decade Anthology (2020)

A collection with three previously unreleased tracks (which are just alternate takes), and it collects the strays from the split seven inch and the stand alone single. Plus, it’s only $5 on Bandcamp (in fact, as of this writing, you can get their entire discography for $14.70). From the Bandcamp page:

The songs on this compilation are not “hits” so much as they are the songs that have anecdotally resonated with the suspect breed of people who attend Elephant Rifle shows in hopes of commingling bodily fluids with hirsute strangers and/or who value musical compositions about intense scientific rivalries, vampiric healthcare workers, aspiring ax murderers, barbecue, and the like—all set to pure cacophony. What I am saying is that these songs are here because you put them here. And as strange and creepy and ugly as Elephant Rifle can be, that makes you even stranger and creepier than the band that composed and performed these songs. You’re not ugly though. You’re beautiful. So, hop in and come for a ride, baby. Watch out, though. They’re bad at driving.

There’s a whole lot more silliness there, but I can’t post all that garbage. You can go read it here if you want.

So, there it is. It’s a bare bones entry, since there isn’t a whole lot out there about this group, but hopefully you enjoyed it, and we’ll see you next week!