N8NOFACE (who, for the record, absolutely has a face) first came to the public’s attention thanks to the Tucson, Arizona outfit Crimekillz. That duo coined the term “Gameboy punk,” incorporating those old Nintendo ditties into their aggressive punk rock in a manner that preceded and arguably foretold the 8-bit scene.
“We were just a mess, so we ended up breaking up and went our own ways,” N8NOFACE says. “I’m always going to make music — I have to, it’s a fucking passion of mine. I was like, ‘I still want to do this.’ So I bought me some synthesizers and started going with synth-punk on my own. Started doing my own thing. In the same vein as what Crimekillz was doing, but that’s how the solo stuff came about. I don’t make music, I don’t make beats. I’m really a vocalist and writer first. But I was like, nobody’s gonna make the shit I hear in my head.”
The vocalist describes his solo sound simply as synth-punk, heavily influenced by under-recorded but much-loved ‘70s L.A. punks the Screamers.
“Kinda what they were doing sonically,” he says. “The only difference is the subject matter, which is something you might find in an outlaw country song, or a rap song. Tales of drugs and streets. Things I’ve seen my friends do growing up in Tucson, Arizona. I just tell those stories. I’ve heard it called rapping on synth-punk beats. To me, I don’t know if I’d call it rapping but it’s subject matter you would find in that so maybe that’s why people address it that way. Just a couple of synthesizers and some drum machines, and me screaming my head off. I cover the Screamers’ ‘122 Hours of Fear’ in every show I do. It’s a must.”
As a solo artist, N8NOFACE says that he feels less constrained than he did as a member of Crimekillz — he’s free to sample anything and not restricted to those damn Gameboys.
“I’ll sample something,” he says. “When you try everything you get my sound. I definitely think going solo helped my sound. No shots fired at my buddy, but it helped me.”
Now based in Los Angeles, N8NOFACE is finding that there is a scene for him there — a number of like-minded musical experimenters — even if he’s kind of out there on his own sound-wise.
“It’s just crazy that I’m getting thrown into the scene with — there’s the whole Cyberpunk 2077 video game coming out and I was featured on that with a collaboration with the band H09909,” he says. “Now the whole world started to notice me during COVID because they all had to stop. Earlier, maybe a year and a half, two years ago, the way you would get noticed was to play shows and network in clubs. Either I was battling addiction, so I never showed up to shows (I’m good now), or I’m just not a social person so I just wasn’t out there. With COVID, everything stopped and they had to look at their phones, look at the internet, and there I was lurking. So it made everyone take notice of me.”
He’s 45 years old, but finding himself collaborating with hip-hop and punk kids. He says that he’s benefitting from the new breed’s apparent desire to do away with genre restrictions completely.
“Back in my day genres were really, ‘you’re over there, you’re over there, you’re over there’,” he says. “This new generation, they’re embracing it all. Sonically and even performance-wise, you’ll see someone like Tyler, the Creator open for [Sacramento hardcore punk band] Trash Talk. It’s like all these different bands playing on one stage. So I think the sound is everything melted together. Punk — there’s some dope sounds coming out. Some of these kids don’t do their research — they think I invented synth-punk. Man, bands have been doing this since the ’70s. So I’m glad that I’m bringing it to some kids who want to do punk, don’t know how, don’t have a band, and they can turn some drum machines and some samplers.”
The collabs with fellow crossover enthusiasts and cookie-cutter defiers HO99O9 makes complete sense, and the relationship has been blossoming for years.
“Eaddy from the band followed my band Crimekillz since the Myspace days,” N8NOFACE says. “I really met him through Myspace. He just wrote me one day and said ‘this shit is amazing.’ We just kept in touch online. When he showed up in L.A. one day, I was happy to be living here for a couple of months. He said, ‘Hey man, me and my buddy are doing a band, you want to open for us?’ I didn’t even know they did music, but I opened for them and it’s been a friendship ever since. When ‘Punk Police’ came about, two mixtapes ago, it was from something I saw Eaddy wrote to somebody on the internet. I wrote the song and showed it to him. Eaddy heard it, and said ‘we want to get on that.’ They added their verses to me. I did ‘Flesh and Blood’ on their latest drop. Now me and theOGM have a project that’s gonna be dropping February 19. Distorted 808s [Roland drum machines] and us screaming our heads off.”
N8NOFACE’s new solo album is Bound to Let You Down, out now. The artwork is BDSM-centric, but the artist says that’s more of a metaphor than a theme.
“That was just the label doing the art,” he says. “My ‘bound to let you down’ was addiction, and my personality is, I’ll probably let somebody down if they rely too much on me. So I wrote about that, and they added this bound girl. It works, it’s amazing, I love it.”
While restricted by lockdown like everybody else, N8NOFACE says that he pretty much spends all his free time working on music anyway. That’s what he’s been doing, as he waits for the opportunity to tour.
“The release with theOGM of HO99O9, that comes out February 19, and then I’ll hopefully play some screen shows until the bars and everything open up,” he says. “I was supposed to go on tour with HO99O9 but COVID happened. That would have been my first tour ever. They’re speaking about late ‘21, early ‘22, doing that again. Really, I’m just riding this wave of the love I’m getting. I’m so grateful for it. I’ll be making music until I’m 80, man.” ❖
N8NOFACE’s Bound to Let You Down album is out now. Find it on Spotify.