YHWH Nailgun Plays The Long Game

The rising punk band has played festivals across the globe, signed to WME, and received the TIDAL Rising grant. In short, they're destined for big things. But what matters for them is the journey, not the destination.


The four members of YHWH Nailgun all live in a triangle-shaped radius of each other in Queens. I met Sam Pickard, the band’s drummer, years ago in college, and frontman Zack Borzone and I lived together for a few months in Bushwick while The Drunken Canal was having its heyday. Zack moved in with Jack Tobias, their synth player, not long after, and the band started to gain steam, having now released two EPs, toured across the country, and performed at numerous festivals, most recently SXSW.

After four or five days of straight rain, we meet at Abracadabra Magic Creative Food on Onderdonk. The doors keep flying open with the heavy wind and rain, and the proprietor, a tiny Turkish woman, struggles to batten down the hatches. The café is empty except for us, Eartheater, and her friend. An Omar Souleyman remix of Crystalline by Bjork plays loudly. Saguiv Rosenstock, who produces the records and plays guitar in the band, slides into the booth next to me, and soon, the rest of YHWH (pronounced Yahweh, like the name of God in the Hebrew Bible) pile in, all soaking wet.

Would you guys have been friends in middle school?

Sam Pickard: I think we had different interests in middle school, but yeah, maybe we would have been friends.

Some bands and musicians don't even actually like each other. But your band is founded on friendship.

Sam: We've toured with other bands who don't get along.

Saguiv Rosenstock: Or they were friends, and now they hate each other.

Sam: I mean, when we're not doing music stuff, we're still hanging all the time. It makes it easy to communicate and be a unified front.

You're going to tour Europe this year with a crazy schedule. Is this in anticipation of a new EP? Are you going to be playing new stuff?

Jack Tobias: This is us shooting our shot. There's a bunch of cool festivals, we’re headlining some stuff in Slovakia. This is our “exposure to Europe tour.”

Sam: The opportunity just presented itself. Probably the next big tour we’ll do will be for the record we just recorded. We've been really dialed in with it for the last seven, eight months.

What's this new body of work like?

Zack Borzone: We figured out how to focus with this new EP. Our music has a lot of force and we've been trying to get that force segmented into these little sections, arranging them right, channeling that force into a solid song, sometimes with kind of pop structures. There are hooks on this album, which we're excited about.

Sam: We've trimmed the fat and have been zeroing in on the essence of YHWH.

I published a couple of Zack's poems earlier this year, and listening to your lyrics, I saw the threads. When we were living together in Bushwick, you were really into Frank Stanford. Who is influencing your songwriting now?

Zack: With the first two EPs, I got ahold of the plot of land that I work in. I just knew what YHWH Nailgun lyrics are, the world of it, at least for that time. And I wanted to try to expand it a little bit more. It was mostly just like a forum expansion. A lot of the same themes and concepts and style, but expanded into hooks. Yeah, so Frank Stanford's still in it, Paul Celan, Walt Whitman definitely…

So you guys all have different things going on simultaneously, Zack you have this literary influence. And Sam, you've been tattooing?

Sam: It's a new thing for me. I think there's probably some kind of connection to how I think about drums, something about these stark, forward, aggressive images. There's a through line there.

Have you tattooed any of the band?

ALL: No.

Sam: Pretty much everyone else I know, though, except for them. Might never do the band. Might not shit where I eat [laughs]. But yeah, we're all busy with other stuff in my eyes. It's all in service of the project. I've always wanted to tattoo and a big part of it is I want to do something that I could do on tour. And Jack does design stuff, Saguiv produces records.

“Our music has a lot of force and we've been trying to get that force segmented into these little sections, arranging them right, channeling that force into a solid song, sometimes with kind of pop structures.”

I was gonna ask about your album covers.

Jack: What Sam was saying about tattooing, that’s the way I view design: there's this kind of longevity to everything where we're trying to siphon out the trends.

What kind of trends?

Jack: The angelic thing going on right now, the black and white and blurry thing…, that's gonna be like the equivalent looking at like a Thompson Twins album cover. Super bright 80's, so specific to that time. You start to see bands that form around imagery before the music, prioritizing aesthetics...

Sam: We're trying to do something that's not bound to a place in time. Sometimes people will come up to us, and they'll be like, “Wow, the music sounds really ancient”, or “it sounds like it’s from the future.” And that to me is way cooler than somebody situating the music and culture in a really particular way.

Zack: I just kind of personally feel a real desire for something that feels solid in general. Culturally, aesthetically... I really do like a lot of the stuff that's about reprinting things that already exist and referencing things in culture, but I do really feel a need for something more permanent.

Sam: It's really easy to fall into this cycle of inventiveness, which centers around the novelty of reappropriating certain forms. Now it’s so rapidfire and micro referential. I think most people I know want something that speaks to some kind of universality.

Saguiv: If you don't have any of those signifying aesthetic things, you really have to listen to what the thing is rather than what it's referencing.

“It's really easy to fall into this cycle of inventiveness, which centers around the novelty of reappropriating certain forms. Now it’s so rapidfire and micro referential. I think most people I know want something that speaks to some kind of universality.”

Did you guys always want to be musicians?

ALL: Yeah.

Zack: I played football. That was the thing I cared about the most.

Saguiv: I wanted to be an astronaut before five. There was a time before I started playing music, where architecture or engineering seemed okay for me, because everybody in my family is a numbers person. But very quickly, I was like, I'm not gonna do that thing everybody in my family does. This is what I want to do.

Does it feel like what you always dreamed of?

Jack: I was just thinking about that recently. There's no shock or surprise. It's all really gradual and natural.

It's good to take things slowly. I've been thinking about this with writing and art world stuff, it's actually not good to blow up overnight. You want a slow burn, you want milestones and to enjoy that journey.

Jack: When you go back to people prioritizing an aesthetic, that's where you get attention really fast.

Saguiv: It's like a shortcut.

Jack: We put a lot of time into it, and when you put a lot of time in anything, you're gonna get somewhere.

You've been making music like what, probably like most of your life at this point. And so to get to the point where you're able to live life as a musician, that shouldn't be crazy, you know?

Sam: There's a bit of a sentiment among some people that your life sucking is baked into the project of being a musician.

Jack: When we tour, we're just making jokes, having a good time. We would be doing this no matter what, in a car or at home, regardless.

Sam: I love it. I love every day.

“When you go back to people prioritizing an aesthetic, that's where you get attention really fast.”

I want to know more about your performance style, Zack. I watched some of your videos [which involve a lot of movement, twisting, dancing] and read about an extensive stretching routine you do.

Zack: I don't know if I'm not really doing it that much anymore. Because people started telling me that I was doing it. Now I'm just too aware of it. It's not really that self conscious, honestly, which is kind of funny because pretty out there--like how could you not be aware of what you're doing? A few years ago, I realized that you can't try really hard to be authentic. And that's it. You have to make some artifice, you know. I feel like I sort of inherited a little bit of this indie rock mentality from the era of my teens that was like, “Oh, be as authentic as possible.” But over time I realized if you make a mask for yourself or you inhabit this sort of persona, even if it's not exactly a nameable persona, then it becomes creative and even more expressive than if you're just letting it out.

Oscar Wilde said "Give a man a mask and he will tell you the truth." If you make a silhouette and a shape for yourself to operate in, not only are you recognizable, you are making an icon, a shape, which allows you to continually go back and inhabit this form.

Zack: A friend of mine asked if it was some sort of fantasy. That made me think about a little bit like what the character thing is. I actually don't really think of it as a character. That's the easiest way to say it, but it's more because I'm thinking of what I'm doing as choices. That's the benefit of adding a mask. You can do shit to it. It's pure affect. You can stand behind and alter. And everyone knows what is going on and we all get to watch me do this thing I do.

It looks fun. You can tell that you guys really do like each other, that’s the core of the project.

Sam: Even more important than that is respecting one another. There's no hierarchy of decision-making or taste. There are those dictatorship bands where somebody calls all the shots, and everyone else kind of defers to them. And probably some of the greatest music of all time has been made that way. But for us, the whole thing hinges on us being evenly invested.

Have you ever been chased by an animal that isn't a dog?

Sam: Goose.

Zack: Bees. Yeah, I remember we were looking for a building for our co-op when I was like four or five. I was homeschooled, so it was a community school thing. We found this old church and my friend stepped through some old steps and his foot went through the wood and a huge cloud of bees came out and chased me, him, and all the moms.

Jack: Stingray.

YHWH Nailgun Tour Dates

4/25 - Ukie Club - Philadelphia, PA

5/10 - Ridgewood, NY - Stone Circle Theatre

5/16 - Great Escape Festival - Brighton, UK

5/17 - Great Escape Festival - Brighton, UK

5/21 - Tabacka - Kosice, SK

5/22 - Loophole - Berlin, DE

5/24 - Transforma Festival - Prague, CZ

5/25 - Wide Awake Festival - London, UK

5/25 - Dot to Dot Festival - Bristol, UK

5/26 - Celebrate This Place Festival - Cardiff, UK

5/26 - Dot to Dot Festival - Nottingham, UK

5/27 - Windmill - London, UK

5/29 Ormside Projects - London, UK

6/1 - Bad Bonn Kilbi Festival - Dudigen, CH

6/8 - Best Kept Secret Festival - Hilvarenbeek, NL

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