A madcap clan of instantly lovable weirdos, Sons of an Illustrious Father is the sort of band you look forward to introducing to your friends, lovers and anyone else you might care to impress. Made up of Lilah Larson, Josh Aubin and Ezra Miller (who brings the same enchanting charisma to the stage as he does to the screen in films like The Perks of Being a Wallflower), the band is far from your typical indie rock outfit. With all three members constantly trading off on instruments and vocal duties, their music is continuously shifting from serene and melancholic to fervent and frenzied.
But don’t just take my word for it; check out their hauntingly infectious new single, “Very Few Dancers,” and its accompanying video, which BULLETT is pleased to premiere below.
Directed by the band’s longtime pal, artist Joseph Wolf Grazi, the vid features animal skulls, bona fide ninja weapons and an ill-fated watermelon. “Ezra and I have worked together as artist and muse through crazy photography sessions and installations,” says Grazi. “I’m not a video artist or anything so they kind of trusted me to give them something. It’s certainly a collaborative effort.”
A couple weeks ago I chatted with Lilah, Josh and Ezra, who are currently on tour with Saul Williams (their collective dream come true), over whiskeys and honey pretzels. True to form, we struggled to stay on topic, but it was a damn good time.
How did you all meet?
LILAH LARSON: Ezra and I went to middle school together and traded bootleg CDs for a couple years.
EZRA MILLER: And cassettes!
LL: He gave me the Smiths “Meat is Murder” and said, “You know, you should really stop eating meat.” Dude was 10 at the time. We lost touch for a number of years and then in high school I sought him out and was like, “Come to this Daniel Jonston show with me.” We started spending all of our time together and that sort of collapsed into the band I was already in, Sons of an Illustrious Father, which was just me and another girl making acoustic music. A couple years down the line we needed a touring bassist and Josh apparated.
When did it whittle down to the three of you?
LL: At our peak number of humans we were five and then we shed a couple. This trio configuration is two-years-old.
Did you shed by conscious choice or by circumstance?
EM: Both. There was a dispersal of the band and we three came back to it.
You were like, “We’re going to pretend to break up the band, and the three of us will meet back here in a week.”
LL: Bands do that all the time.
EM: That’s why people think Andy Kaufman is still alive – because he said he was going to fake his own death and come back 35 years later, and it’s about that time.
JOSH AUBIN: The shitty thing is he actually died like two years ago.
In your opinion, which celebrities that are thought to be fake dead are actually still alive?
LL: Andy Kaufman’s still alive. Elvis died before people think he died.
EM: Yeah, he was already dead when he’s doing that thing, [Singing in Elvis voice] “And time can do so much.”
And Tupac’s dead for sure?
EM: Ummmm… yeah.
LL: I believe that Katherine Hepburn is still alive and she alternates between pretending to be David Bowie and pretending to be Tilda Swinton.
Getting back on topic… How do you know Joseph and why did you entrust him with directing this video?
LL: We were in a car and we were like, “This song…” and we looked at each other and were like… “Joe?”
EM: Thematically, in terms of the energy of the song, the work that Joe makes fit 100%. Explorations of humanity, of nature, of consciousness – these things were what we were after.
Where did you get the ninja weapons?
EM: It’s called Mastersmith, in Midtown East. It’s a magical place and I don’t feel bad about exposing it as a gem of New York. The blades are really, really beautiful.
I get the sense that you guys don’t get into many disputes. Can you remember the last fight you had?
LL: Oh, no no no no no. We fight all the time. I’ve probably had some of the most intense interpersonal interactions of my entire life with Ezra and Josh.
EM: We’re really good fighters though. We’re responsible, accountable fighters.
LL: …And extremely devoted to each other. We work so hard on our relationships that it seems seamless externally, but we’re constantly negotiating how to be loving and committed and respectful towards one another. Being in a band is a really intense long-term relationship and you have to do the shit you do with a lover or family and you have to care enough and be committed enough to make that a central part of your life.
EM: Otherwise the commitment will be purely financial and professionally based.
Do any of you ever get stage freight?
JA: No, I feel more comfortable playing music for someone than I do talking to them.
EM: Every single time I perform. For me stage freight is part of the fuel; something in the DNA that cues adrenaline, cues a certain level of focus.
LL: I feel most like myself and most intelligible to the outer world when I’m performing. Normal life scares me a lot. So I don’t identify with the idea of stage freight, but I definitely get adrenaline. The other thing is that besides being the only time I feel normal as a weirdo, gender non-conforming queer person in public, when I’m performing it’s the only time I’m not experiencing chronic pain, because of adrenaline.
EM: You just love stage freight because it’s a painkiller.
There should be an indie film about someone trying to combat chronic pain by using adrenaline.
EM: That’s that Jason Statham movie.
You’re right – Crank!
LL: That’s my biopic! I do kind of feel like Jason Statham would play me in the movie of my life.
Who would play each of you in the movie about your band?
LL: I asked my sister this once and she looked at me and said, “Either Emile Hirsch or Sandra Oh.” But when I play this game in my head, Ezra is always played by a woman, usually Kathleen Hannah, even though she doesn’t actually act as far as I know… but she should. And Josh is just an undeniable Steve Carell.
What’s the biggest onstage mishap you’ve ever had as a band?
LL: Let me set the stage, if you will. We’re on tour, we haven’t slept in a week, we probably haven’t eaten either, we’re extremely dehydrated and all going through total emotional meltdowns. We’re playing a house show in a tiny, tiny house in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is a million degrees out. There was a makeshift curtain, possibly a sheet, hanging on the ceiling of this living room. So we’re kind of behind this curtain and Josh and I are having such a horrible fight that we had both just made each other cry and are literally yelling “Fuck You…”
EM: Yeah, it was bad [Laughs].
LL: There are people two feet away from us on the other side of this sheet – it’s a packed house show. Ezra comes over to us, puts his arms around us, and he’s like, “Guys, you just can’t do this right now – we’re playing a show. Ready? Here we go.” And the curtain is swept aside and we go into the set and it was the fucking best set we played on tour.
EM: I had drank some tap water while they were fighting and by the end of the show I knew I had to vomit. When we played the last note I got up from the drum set but it was a packed crowd and they were like, “Hey, I really liked your set, man” and I was trying to say “thank you” through vomit mouth. I made it just in time. Now that we tell that story, I realize there was no technical onstage mishap – the mishaps happened right before and right after.
JA: So it might have been the show at Rockwood, where we were supposed to go on at 9 and both of you were late and it was just me onstage by myself, asking the sound guy for all the things that I realized we were missing just as we were supposed to be playing…
I can see Ezra and Lilah are both like, “This is the first time I’ve heard this story.”
EM: Yeah. I’m genuinely sorry, Josh. That sounds terrible.
Have any of you ever had a fallback plan if this music thing didn’t work out?
LL: I was going to move back in with my mom.
EM: Mole person.
JA: I was going to move in with my mom, who is a mole person.