Back in 2004, Pittsburgh's small but dedicated experimental-music scene met Slices — at the time, a two-piece comprising brothers John and Mike Kasunic. They manipulated feedback, using a no-input mixer and other noodly electronic equipment. They were both still in high school.
Fast-forward to 2012: Gone are the oscillators, replaced by more conventional instruments — drums, guitars. Slices has doubled in size, and it's now one of the bands getting Pittsburgh into the national press; half of the band's new LP, Still Cruising, premiered on the big-deal music blog Brooklyn Vegan, and this month's Spin magazine features the band.
Slices started when the Kasunic brothers — students at Quaker Valley at the time — started toying with electronics. They got their first gig by chance when Mike was talking with Wolf Eyes' Aaron Dilloway at a show in Pittsburgh and ended up telling local avant-garde impresario John Fail about Slices. The brothers played Fail's going-away party soon after.
"I remember drunkenly shouting, 'The torch is passed!' after they played at the party," explains Fail, via email from Europe, where he's lived since. "A bit of arrogance on my part to think that I had some torch to pass, but I knew I was leaving Pittsburgh and maybe never coming back, and to that point had focused my life around weird/out music in that city."
During the mid-'00s, Slices evolved: John picked up guitar ("Some of my shit broke, and I couldn't replace it, so I started using a guitar," he says), and eventually Mike began playing drums in addition to electronics.
"When we were in high school, we didn't really have anyone to play music with," Mike Kasunic recalls. "I didn't really know how to play drums, but at the time it was just — 'If we want drums, I guess I'm going to play drums; there's no one else to do it.'"
Enter Mike Ovens and Greg Kamerdze. Veterans of bands like Warzone Womyn, Brain Handle and Corpse Grenade, both joined Slices as the band transitioned from more experimental sounds to being a straight-up hardcore punk band. Ovens now plays drums, and Kamerdze lends vocals.
It's a different lineup, and a different aesthetic ... but it's still Slices.
"We never really thought about changing the name," explains Mike Kasunic. "We took a little time off around 2006 then came back, but it was like — it's still us, Slices."
"We really liked Slices, so we wanted to join Slices," says Kamerdze. "We didn't want to be some other band."
Slices' first LP, Cruising, was released in 2010; it's a collection of aggressive hardcore punk tunes with just enough weirdness. (One five-minute track takes over two minutes to evolve into anything beyond droning guitar work.)
"We get comparisons to side B of My War by Black Flag," says Kamerdze, referring to the sludgier side of the 1984 album. "I've heard people say Killdozer or Halo of Flies — the earlier stuff was noisier and more hardcore punk.
"I think the new stuff sounds like Poison Idea," he adds.
Still Cruising, like Cruising before it, was released by Iron Lung Records, the Seattle-based label run by the guys from the powerviolence band Iron Lung. The label has strong connections with the Pittsburgh community Slices is associated with, having put out a single for Brain Handle (Ovens' old band) and Copsucker, the latest LP from Kim Phuc.
Slices also garners comparisons to Fucked Up — they don't sound exactly alike, but both play straightforward, guitar-driven punk, have a screaming frontman and high production quality.
"We get lumped in with Fucked Up and Pissed Jeans, bands like that," says Kamerdze. "I think those are bands that have high-quality people working on their recordings. Matt Schor, who's recorded basically everything we've done, does a really good job, and I think that shows."
Kamerdze's often absurdist lyrics tend to add levity to the pummeling aggression of Slices tunes, though they're not always met with appreciation.
"There are reviews of the new LP that say it's filled with inside jokes or whatever," Kamerdze says.
"The thing is," Ovens adds, "half of the time the rest of the band doesn't even get it."
The result is tunes with names like "Slices Is Dirts" and "Mustard" alongside slightly more straightforward songs like "Human Resources" and "Horse Race."
The "cruising" theme seems a little silly, but it's not irony, exactly. "It's something everyone can relate to," says Mike Kasunic. "You're in your car, driving down the highway and there are no other cars around — I think that our music has that feeling."
In a way, from its simple, neutral band name to the continuing "cruising" theme and the members' slightly disjointed and unconcerned aesthetic, Slices embodies a unique attitude in 2012. It's a band that expresses frustration, but doesn't define itself by its anger; one has to assume that the members delight somewhat in playing aggressive music without necessarily looking the black-clothes-and-tattoos part.
But then again, they might not care enough to delight in it. And that could be exactly what makes them a little more punk than you — or they — realize.