I have a big soft spot in my heart for John Cardwell, the guitar player of the Los Angeles hardcore band NASA Space Universe. Not only do I adore his band and their Die Kreuzen-inspired brand of hardcore punk, but Cardwell and his band mates Kevin Rhea (vocals), Kevin Hermes (drums), and Paul Kubacek (bass) continue to impress me every time they play. Their live show is a violent, intense performance, but it’s intelligent. There is nothing nasty-dumb-boy about it. Even when Rhea reads spacey poems from a scrap of paper or spits into someone’s face, he’s calculating a specific kind of aggression; it’s not you, it’s him. NASA Space Universe plays hardcore the way it should be: wall-of-sound volume with sparse guitar, start-and-stop melodies leading up to the unforgiving vocals. They have been known to perform sacrificial consumption or cover the audience in receipt tape. It’s like all the adolescent male aggression in the world is brewing under their amps.
Across The Wounded Galaxies LP
NASA Space Universe just finished a very intense and malfunctioned US tour in support of their latest self-released EP Ice, of which they only pressed 300 copies. "Exclusive," I know, but the choice to make such a small run of vinyl was lack of money and nothing else. The boys of NSU are experts at adjusting when things don’t go as planned.
Do you like touring?
It helps that we're all so close. I prefer touring with the Kevins [Rhea on vocals and Hermes on drums] and Paul [bass] as opposed to any other people. I’d probably lose my shit if I was stuck in a van with other people.
So many terrible things happened to you guys on your last tour. I mean, for starters your van’s windows did not roll down and you had no A/C. You texted me when the records started to melt…
I found out the day that we were leaving that the van we were taking was not the van we were originally supposed to take. We left Santa Ana when it was overcast and cold, but about an hour later, driving through the I.E., I started sweating bullets and kind of figuring we were screwed once we hit Arizona. The van broke down three different occasions. We got ripped off in "Crooklyn." The water pump exploded in Missouri and the hose connecting to the radiator was sliced. Besides that, the van absorbed all kinds of foul smells. Smells that weren’t coming from our bodies, like, real chemical smells. I can’t even count how many times I shook my head and was like, “Fuck this shit.”
It’s pretty impossible to keep morale high in those circumstances, but you boys have known each other a long time. How did you even become a band?
[Nasa Space Universe] started a year after an old band Hermes and I were in broke up. I got tired of doing nothing, so I went to his house with a peace offering of beer and we watched Videodrome with K. Rhea and had a drunken jam. A year later, we met Paul and asked if he had a bass. We finally started writing songs in 2007.
You know, the first time I saw you guys played was at a café in Los Angeles in 2009. I was in town with Nü Sensae. Your set was so crazy. Rhea had this super-punk outfit on that seemed almost jokey, and you guys were so loud. Rhea pulled his dick out, hit everyone, and I was just disgusted by the whole thing.
I remember that show! Did he really pull his dick out?
Yeah. Then our bands played together the next year and I totally fell in love with your set and the whole performance. I finally got it.
I remember our earlier shows were super violent. We just got better with time.
Are you violent people? Is it an L.A. thing?
In L.A., everyone just stands around [at shows]. We bring our Santa Ana/Orange County friends and shit hits the fan. We’re nice people. We just lose it when we play. It’s therapy for us. We have a lot of demons to exorcize.
What draws you to punk music?
I can only answer in the most cliché way; I got into punk early-on and could relate to songs about fucked up cops and skateboarding. Black Flag’s “Police Story” and Dead Kennedy’s “Police Truck” got me started. I had to deal with a lot of harassment from law enforcement as long as I can remember.
Both of my older brothers were always on-the-run—gangbanging, dealing, et cetera. Cops would raid the house looking for them and would just find me there. I wouldn’t let them in ever, so they would bust in and arrest me. I got choked-out over the kitchen sink once while handcuffed. I was twelve. The other stuff happened between ages 5 and 10. Never trust a pig. I didn’t do anything to provoke them. They just had a bone to pick.
Are you angry about that?
I don’t feel bothered when I think about it. It seemed normal at the time. I just don’t trust cops.
Does Rhea ever sing about that kind of stuff in your songs?
Not to my knowledge. He writes mostly of fucked up and terrifying sci-fi concepts, like organisms that attach themselves to your face and suck the life out of you or being a guinea pig for scientists.
What happened to him as a kid?
He was an only child and was almost eaten by a gator when he was a kid.
He had a really fucked up uncle in Florida that tricked him into walking outside just to run into a fucking alligator on the porch. His uncle loved it.
You L.A. kids got it tough.
It’s not so bad, but my brother did drop me out of a two-story window when I was three years old.
Yeah. He was supposed to be watching me, but he went over to his girlfriend’s house. He was banging her while I played in the hallway. I remember it vividly. When her dad came home, he had to sneak out ASAP, so he dropped me out the window first and then hopped out. He rode me home on the handlebars of his bike. I remember crying.
You are sooooooo L.A.
Life is a dark comedy.
Okay, so as you know, being in the business of punk means we will make zero dollars. In fact, music sucks our money and we pay our dues forever. Do you ever struggle with this, or do you accept it?
If money was the motive, I wouldn’t be doing it. We do it for ourselves. Releasing records is how I scar the planet. I've got to leave my mark. I’ll keep doing music, but I’ll never end up like DYS and the Mob (NY), making really embarrassing music videos just aching to pull in some cash before I check out.
I think the best way to do music is because you love it. Anyone who expects a pay off is delusional.
Exactly. I just want food, beer and free records. I’ll work for my money.