East New York’s Cerebral Ballzy is like the infected wart on the androgynous ass of the current New York City synthpop scene. Taking influence from the darker sides of the ’80s (Black Flag not New Order), the five-piece of skateboarding, pizza-eating, 40-ounce-drinking and hardcore-punk-blasting dudes seems to be taking its mild amount of recent success calmly and confidently.
Before playing a show in London, Honor Titus, the group’s hyper and charismatic lead singer, calls up CMJ for a quick chat, and the long-distance connection inevitably drops out. The publicist immediately rings back and apologizes. Before putting Titus back on the line, she asks, “Is it all right that he is saying a lot of this stuff?”
Titus’ real-life, in-person persona is about as brash and unforgiving as the hardcore music for which his band is known. It is also just as genuine. “I’m kinda fucked up right now,” he says. On what? “Let’s just say alcohol,” he says with a laugh. Cerebral Ballzy’s self-titled debut LP, out via on Adult Swim’s Williams Street, is deeply rooted in hardcore punk from the late ’70s and early ’80s via Dead Boys, Circle Jerks and every other lesser or greater band that managed to spit out snarling screams and distorted guitar lines during that messy and beautiful era. Though the group acknowledges these easy comparisons, Titus describes his music in different terms. “The new album sounds like trying to do a tre flip in your garage for like three weeks,” he says, “and not landing one.”
Cerebral Ballzy has been around for more than three years, and like any good punk band, the group built itself by delivering hard-hitting, unforgiving live shows at any and all DIY venues it could find. Titus reflects on past shows like the one where he sprained his ankle after jumping off of an amp, the other where the guitarist almost had to have a finger amputated after a guitar string cut got infected and that time when a couple having sex in front of the stage distracted the crowd from the group’s set. All standard, right? The group’s secret to putting on a gnarly show, according to Titus, is “fast music, white powder and, I don’t know, cheeseburgers?” He then reflects on the list he gave, starts to laugh and then backs it up, saying “We’re fuckin’ aristocrats, dude.”
At one point, Titus suddenly cuts off the conversation by bursting into laughter. “You sound like Spencer,” he says. “You ever talk to that dude?” He’s talking about Spencer Pollard, the bass player from Sacramento’s Trash Talk, a group that almost runs side by side with Cerebral Ballzy. Pollard was allegedly stabbed by a white supremacist this past spring. “He’s OK, he’s OK,” Titus reassures. “He’s a fucking g. I think he still whopped all their asses.”
Cerebral Ballzy has received a lot of attention for being interracial, and Titus enters a somber mood when asked if the band has ever dealt with racial issues itself. “I guess it depends on what the word issue entails,” he says. “A lot of people think we’re big just because we’re multiracial and that makes us gimmicky.” Titus has been asked enough questions about race in his interview lifetime for now, and he would rather talk about something else, like his tattoos, one being a “cat wearing a jacket” and another being “a chick showing her tits.” To Titus, the role of race in his group is as inconsequential as the expiration date on the bottom of the 40 ounce he buys at the bodega. “Whatever man,” he says. “We’re not sweating anything. We’re just skating and drinking and making our music.”