Remo Drive return! Today they’ve revealed details of their highly awaited new album, A Portrait of an Ugly Man, which sees its release June 26 via Epitaph Records. With its acrobatic guitar work, deeply self-referential lyrics and off-the-walls energy, the album calls back to the dextrous, eccentric sound that helped the band – brothers Erik (vocals, guitar) and Stephen (bass) Paulson – explode into the underground with their 2017 debut.
Remo Drive sound larger than ever on the album’s hook-filled, indie rock anthem, “Star Worship”. The lead single preaches the need to eschew reverence for others and instead trust in yourself. It comes accompanied with a video which the brothers shot in their parents garage to keep busy during the ongoing quarantine.
A slice of tremolo-heavy classic rock filtered through the lens of the gunslinging American West, Remo Drive’s third album, A Portrait of an Ugly Man finds them truly in their element – both physically and sonically. Whereas the Paulsons filtered their buoyant songwriting through the concise lens of storytellers like Bruce Springsteen and The Killers on Natural, Everyday Degradation, A Portrait of an Ugly Man is more spontaneous, bolstered by the same charm and levity that made 2017’s Greatest Hits such an underground favourite.
“I wanted to get back to playing guitar the way I used to, and then throw songwriting on top of that,” Erik says. “On the last album, I approached playing guitar in a more songwriter-y way. I had really scaled it back so it wouldn’t be as hard for me to sing and play simultaneously, but the guitar is way more forward again now.”
Self-produced and mixed, A Portrait of an Ugly Man feels all at once familiar and fresh. Taking shape in their parent’s basement, the space breathed a looseness into the songs, while the freedom of the sessions left the band able to explore the next evolution of their sound.
As such, the 10-song set tips its hat to both the classic rock the brothers grew up on as well as previously untapped influences: Erik namechecks desert-rock artists like Queens of the Stone Age while admitting The Good, The Bad and The Ugly soundtrack and his binge-watching of old Westerns contributed to the album’s tumbleweed pastiche. But this time around, the guiding hands of their musical influences are consciously less overt.
That unflinching sense of self-awareness is what made Remo Drive so endearing as they found their footing in the mid-2010s, but it’s never been as crystalized as it is on A Portrait of an Ugly Man. The loathsomeness Paulson explores on the album certainly reflect less glamorous aspects of both his psyche and that of others, but when they’re cut with his quick wit and self-deprecation, they seem less like an actual indictment and more of an embrace of all of life’s imperfection and absurdity. “I was bumming myself out by trying to be more serious than I actually am,” Erik admits. “On this album, I wanted to write stuff that still communicated real ideas but had a bit of lighthearted, fun energy to it.”
In turning the mirror back at themselves in this way, Remo Drive have learned a lot about who they really are: A Portrait of an Ugly Man is an album that doesn’t seek to minimize important subjects like mental health or self-worth, but rather welcome them in and accept them as part of what it means to be human. The record also cements their place as an insular, self-sustaining act who don’t need shiny gear or expensive studios to produce a great album – that task starts and ends with the songs themselves. And, as it turns out, the recording process was proof that when it comes to a nurturing, creative environment, there’s no place like home.