Concert preview: Despite a background in theater, hardcore trio Nuclear Moms not playing any roles

Andy Downing, Columbus Alive

Nuclear Moms singer Tyler Fernberg might have a background in the theater, but the frontman insists he's not playing any kind of role when he takes the stage alongside his bandmates.

"I actually wanted to be an actor. I was always in plays and musicals through high school, and I went and had an audition at Juilliard and everything," said Fernberg, 22, who joins drummer Collin Kovac and bassist Alex Blocher, both 22, for a performance at Worst Kept Secret Fest on Friday, May 22. "But when I'm [onstage with Nuclear Moms] it's just me. A lot of it is the raw passion for the music."

If anything, Fernberg exists as a more extreme version of himself during the band's fierce, borderline violent sets, which often leave the singer battered and bloodied. After one performance he discovered a three-pronged gash running the length of his forearm, as though he'd been mauled by a Velociraptor. Another time he head-butted an amplifier and briefly saw stars. Then there was the show where a smashed knuckle - "I like punching things," explained the singer, who displayed a prominent, circular bruise on his forehead during a mid-May interview downtown - left his bandmates wondering if he required medical attention.

"[Fernberg] was like, 'Touch it,' and I touched it and it like vibrated," Kovac said. "We were like, 'Do you need to go to the hospital?'"

The music on the band's self-titled debut EP, which surfaced in August 2014, is similarly unhinged, building on a drum and bass assault as corrosive and chaotic as song titles like "Crusty," "Mudbath" and "Cracked" suggest. According to the bandmates, gnawing frustration with parents and girlfriends inspired much of the early material, though Blocher is careful to point out that not all of the songs are fueled by anger.

"A lot of it for me comes from anxiety," he said. "And we have these almost dance influences, so there are other times I want to groove on a beat a little bit and just forget about everything."

Lyrically, however, Fernberg tends to adopt a more acidic tone on the band's debut, lobbing his growled, grizzled words like so many Molotov cocktails. "Don't try and hold me back," he howls on one tune, his aggressive delivery suggesting it wouldn't be possible if one tried.

"For the EP, a lot of it was from parental issues and arguments, and on a deeper basis I had a relationship that was messing with my head a lot of the time," the singer said.

In the months since, the three musicians have moved beyond these accumulated frustrations, and a new, in-progress album finds the trio taking a more introspective -though no less ferocious - approach. So if Nuclear Moms' debut could rightfully be described as a mushroom cloud, its current output finds the crew taking a step back to acknowledge its role in the destruction.

"That EP was a catharsis, like, 'What are we mad about right now? Let's get it out,'" Kovac said. "With the new album that we're about to release, it's commenting on our progress, like, 'OK, we're over that. What now?'"

"It's always been about how I feel and what's going on and what message I want to get across," Fernberg continued. "We're getting over our own issues, and we're finally moving forward."

Photo by Meghan Ralston

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