When the long-promised, self-titled debut from grindcore supergroup United Nations is released September 9, chances are you won't be able to buy it. That's because no stores are willing to carry it, according to one of the band's members, Thursday frontman Geoff Rickly.
"We've gotten some cease-and-desists," he explained. "We worked [on the cover art] with this British anarchist artist named James Cauty, and he did all this great stuff. But it had some copyright issues, and that's why all the distributors and stores refuse to carry it. We have 1,000 copies of this album sitting around with artwork that has been banned and we're trying to figure out what to do with those."
So what was so problematic about Cauty's cover image? It's the same one from the Beatles' 1969 classic Abbey Road, only in his version, the Beatles are all entirely engulfed in flames. The band will likely face similar copyright issues when they attempt to release their forthcoming 7-inch, Never Mind the Bombings, Here's Your Six Figures, as that record's cover art — by Australian artist Ben Frost — is strikingly similar to that of the Sex Pistols' sole studio LP, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols.
Believe it or not, that's not the only legal snafu United Nations will be dealing with — at this point, Rickly is the only member of this side project who is not under contract. That will soon change, as Rickly claims Thursday is weeks away from inking a new deal. He would not reveal which label the band would be signing with but did say they've already started working on the follow-up to 2006's A City by the Light Divided with producer Dave Fridmann. That album should be in stores this coming spring.
"Officially, we can't use any names, except for mine," he said. The band also features one former member of the Number Twelve Looks Like You and one current member of Head Automatica. "This band is so possible because none of us gives a sh-- what happens to it. We've all got our other stuff and this is just for us to say, 'F--- it — we can do whatever we want here.' "
While Rickly has been talking about the United Nations project for three years, the band certainly spent its time in the studio well. Rickly said they already have enough material for their sophomore album, which could be released early next year.
"It's been really crazy — the response has been insane," Rickly said. "We got a message from MySpace. ... We were one of the bands on the front page, but so was Snoop Dogg and this hot R&B chick, and they told us not only were we the most listened-to band that week but that the second one behind us had only half as many listens. I think it was 186,000 listens in the first 12 hours. So, for me, it's a little weird. I don't know what I was expecting would happen with this band, but it wasn't this."
According to Rickly, the idea behind United Nations is to get people pissed off again and to stir the musical pot a touch.
"To me, it's like we're living in 1984 again, and there's no Dead Kennedys," he said. "To me, it was like, maybe speaking sincerely about things isn't enough to make people pay attention. Maybe you have to make fun of people — and be a mirror — to show them how stupid they look, to get their attention. That's the idea. Punk is just way too safe these days, so we're hoping by making some audacious claims and doing some strange things and breaking a few laws, we can get people to think at least. It's the idea that you need to embrace the absurdity or it will f---ing kill you. The world doesn't make sense, and trying to make sense of it is a fool's errand."
But the record is a tongue-in-cheek affair. One track on United Nations is about the Beatles and their plot to blow up the world so they can all live in the yellow submarine. Another is about a toy-company lobbyist who is obsessed with yo-yos.
"There has been so much great, really aggressive music in the last couple of years, whereas around 2003, I was wondering if heavy music was dying on itself," Rickly said. "Everything became so predictable and formulaic, and in the last couple of years, bands like Young Widows, Ceremony and Cursed have come along, and they've been electric and awesome. This is basically us trying to kick that [heaviness and attitude] back into gear and remind bands that if they do anything safe, it just sucks."