words and photos by Keith Marlowe
The Giraffes played their last show with singer Aaron Lazar on Saturday, February 5th at the Mercury Lounge, a 20 song farewell set. If you are at all familiar, an unhinged show was no surprise for the unflinchingly real band, who has spanned time and trends and never gave a shit about what anybody else had to say. A front row seat at a Giraffes show meant getting caught in a beer rainstorm, as the band and audience members alike went flying into the crowd with wild abandon. Beer and bottles of Jameson were passed. Aaron made a noose out of the mic cord, wrapped it around his neck and gave it to the crowd to choke him while he forced lyrics past his collapsing trachea. A Giraffes performance is a spectacle you will never forget, and I'm so sad this era of the Giraffes is over I feel like someone died.
I talked with all four members about this last show, and what the future holds for them. The results of that discussion, more pictures and the setlist from Mercury Lounge, below...
The Giraffes had already been around for a couple years when you joined. How did you end up playing with them?
Aaron Lazar (vocals): They were one of the first bands I saw in NYC that I liked after I moved here. I thought, these guys get it, this music is awesome. Small world being what it is, it wasn't long before I started playing with them. I couldn't believe how lucky I was.
When was that?
They started playing in 1996, and I joined them in late 2000. We played a New Year's Eve party in Williamsburg and slayed everybody. From that point on we knew it was gonna be something. Our first real show was at North Six the next week.
Two of the founding members, Damien and Andrew, have always said you were the one that started the really aggressive nature of your live shows.
I started confronting the audience because it was fun. I've never liked the holier than thou hipster types in New York that go to shows to see something. Being from Youngstown (OH), the way we grew up, you went to shows to be part of something. I mean, that used to happen more in NYC, and of course it happens in other places, but that was what I knew. That was my favorite part of the punk aesthetic, and I tried to bring it here.
You've had three heart attacks, necessitating the implant of a pacemaker, while you were the singer of the Giraffes. Is your health a contributing factor to you leaving the band?
I'd have to say, if anything, the heart attacks kept me in it longer. They helped me contribute something new and novel to the music. And also, all of a sudden I became not just another jackass, but a jackass who kept coming back from the dead to get onstage. I think it was the death of my mom (in 2009) that really made me step back and think, maybe fucking with people wasn't going to be enough for me anymore. After ten years of that kind of drunken aggression, it became more of a novelty, kind of a shtick.
You didn't think you could make it a different kind of band?
We'd gone down that road so far, in so many cities, I thought the best way for the band to live on was for me to leave. There were a few shows where it wasn't as fun for me as it had been, and then I started to dread playing live. Which is funny, because it made me MORE aggressive when I actually got onstage, and that wasn't what I wanted. And finally, I said I needed out, and that we should do a last show for the fans, and then whatever happened next was up to the rest of the Giraffes
You think the next singer, if there is one, is gonna be subjected to the same kind of abuse as you?
I really hope that ends with me, unless that's what the next singer really wants. I hope they are given enough respect to set their own ground rules. If not, that might make me not like the fans as much. We're all friends here, let's act like it.
What was it like, knowing this was your last show? You didn't seem to get very emotional about it onstage.
(laughs) Well my thoughts were basically what they always are at a Giraffes show, not get hit in the face by too many blunt objects being thrown at me, trying to stand upright on what has become basically as slippery as a skating rink, and holding onto the mic and getting back onstage after I jump or get pulled into the crowd. Not really much time to get wistful. After the show I had a nice meal with my family and friends. It was a good ending to my time with the band.
Are you gonna miss it? I mean, you're walking away from one of the toughest bands in NYC.
Of course I'm gonna miss it. It's been a lot of fun, but I made the decision and it's time for me to leave the stage. It wasn't an easy decision. I'm not going out like, FUCK YOU ALL, but I'm not in love with it, not passionate about it anymore. And that's what the band and our fans deserve.
When you look back at the ten years you spent with the band, what are gonna be some of your favorite memories?
For me, I mean the stage is great, but it's the stupid things from tours and practices that really stay with me. So much of being onstage is just autopilot and trying not to get hurt too badly. Driving thru the Mojave Desert listening to Pink Floyd, visiting out of the way roadside attractions, just sharing ten years with those guys, that's what is gonna stick with me. One of the highest, and lowest, points was playing the Monolith festival at Red Rocks in Colorado, and somebody drenched me with a glass of piss.
Where do you think the band is headed without you?
They were great before me, and they will be again. I can't wait to see what they do next. No matter where they start, they're gonna end up someplace strange and interesting, and I can't wait to hear it. Knowing they're still writing great music makes it easier to walk away.
Speaking of writing music, what are you working on now?
The other band I was working on, Romanian Buck is on hiatus. I'm working on a batch of songs that are really desolate, lonely. Still, dark waters, there aren't any vocals for them yet. When I feel they're ready, I'll present them. And hopefully they won't inspire anyone to throw a beer at me ever again.
(laughs) Or piss.
Anything you wanna say to everybody after all this time.
I'd like to thank everybody who came out, and listened to our music, for a great ten years. Including you Keith.
Awwwwwww. Shit. Thanks buddy.
(laughs) But seriously, I'm not in the Giraffes anymore. Don't ever spit on me again.
You got it. Thanks Aaron.
When we talked at the show you seemed pretty upset over Aaron leaving?
Damien Paris (guitar): Well, what the fuck do you think? But if his hearts not in it, his hearts not in it, and it's the right move for him. I'm sad though, it's sad, it's like losing a piece of me. I'm very emotional over it and it hurts not to play music with him again after all these years together. It's like having a girl dump you, and it hurts like a motherfucker until you get laid again, and then you're like, fuck that last girl. (laughs)
The guy is so goddamned talented and it's gonna be a bitch to replace him. The last time to see this guy sing, man, there are so many people that SUCK and they can't wait to jump onstage. He earned it. He played through fucking heart attacks. Where you gonna find another guy like that?
You started the band with Andrew and the original bass player (Tim Kent) almost 15 years ago, and you sang, right?
Yeah it was 1996. One of our first shows was at Coney Island High, I can't really remember after all these years. We were mostly an instrumental band, but I did the few songs with vocals.
Did it surprise you the band became so aggressive as quickly as it did?
No. I always wanted it to be kickass, an open forum for everybody, so it was only natural it turned into this beast. A lot of it was Aaron though, this is his monster. I'm playing, you know, I got a job to do, and that stage is so slippery it's all I can do to just stay upright. I'm proud of it, people respond to our music.
It seems like the three of you are set on moving on.
If somebody dies along the trail, you bury him and keep moving. He'll be missed, and he's got a heart condition. Three heart attacks is serious, but come on, do you wanna die onstage or on your couch?
Of course we're gonna keep moving. People will be like, Yeah, the Giraffes have been around forever and they're still going. We got a lot of good years left in us. We've got a whole records worth of music ready, we just need vocals. If you can sing, get ahold of us. We'll give you a shot.
You were the last addition the current line-up. When did you first see the Giraffes and when did you join?
Jens Carstensen (bass): I actually saw them before Aaron joined, and I was at some of the first shows Aaron played with them. When Tim quit they talked to me about playing with them, but then Jon was in the band, so I joined after he quit in 2008. I had about two weeks to learn all the songs too. So after waiting in the wings for years, it happened really fast. (laughs) I was actually in two bands at the time, and I quit them both. It was the easiest decision I ever made.
Only being in the band for two years, do you feel shafted that it's kind of ending so quickly for you?
I wish I could have toured more. Now that the formality of playing the last show with Aaron is over, I hope we can get things moving quickly and get back on the road. That's the best part of being in a band.
What did you think of the last show with Aaron?
Andrew Totolos (drums): It was great. Epic. Aaron got soaked. (laughs) A urinal baptism farewell. You should always treat every rock show like it's your last, if you're playing or in the pit. New York has a huge reputation of people standing around watching bands, and we've always thrown the first beer, the first punch to let em know, "Listen faggots, you can't stand still at our shows." This was no exception.
At the show, you didn't seem very surprised Aaron was leaving.
He did his time in the Giraffe Army. I knew this was coming, so I'm not shocked, angry or pissed off. I told him, if you don't want to do this anymore, you should get out. It sucks that he's leaving, because I'm not gonna have fun with him onstage anymore. It's just gonna have to be prison, all male orgies, that kind of shit from here on out....
So right now, for the time being, you're back to being an instrumental band.
I know. It's a weird bookend, a fun new element. We're all playing a lot of notes. I remember when we first started, I was supposed to be moving to Texas with this girl, and after our first practice, I was like, Holy Shit, this is what I wanna do with my life, and I told her the move was off. I'm fine with being back where we started. 3/4s of the band is still together and kicks major ass. We've barely missed a practice in 15 years, and anyone that knows us knows to not schedule anything for Tuesday or Thursday. That's not gonna change.
Mercury Lounge Set list:
Million $ Man
Honey Baby Child
I'll Be Your Daddy
The Power of Fatherhood
Medicaid Benefit Applique