Out of this world: Downtown glam rock band UNI and the Urchins takes music lovers on a far out journey

UNI and the Urchins Jack James Busa and Charlotte Kemp Muhl
Jack James Busa and Charlotte Kemp Muhl of UNI and the Urchins in their rehearsal space/studio
Photo by Bob Krasner

Charlotte Kemp Muhl, Jack James Busa and David Strange form the core of UNI and the Urchins, a band that is beginning to rise out of a sea of possibilities to stake their claim as the newest concert stage superheroes.

Having what it takes — vision, charisma and musical chops — the combo has taken an eclectic set of influences and poured it all into their first disc: “Simulator,” now out on Chimera Records.

Chatting with them in their Downtown rehearsal/recording space yielded answers to some questions and raised a bunch more. For the record, Muhl — songwriter, film director, musician, model — explained the group’s origin.

“I went on Craigslist to find a mechanic to help me build a time machine and met David,” she recounts. “Turns out he didn’t really know how to fold time-space with a microwave and a Dell computer, but he was pretty good at guitar. Then Jack crash landed in my backyard like a flaming isopod and we kept him in the basement with canned food and a CRT (cathode ray tube) TV until he suddenly started singing.”

Though their beginnings were humble, Muhl has some, well, let’s call them out-of-this-world ambitions for the project.

“I’m hoping that we will get hired to be the elevator band for Bilderberg meetings. Maybe we’ll even get to play children’s birthday parties on Mars for the Illuminati. I’m currently speaking to the Chinese government about funding our performance of Moonlight Sonata on the moon,” she states.

Check out the videos for all of the tracks for a taste of UNI beyond the music, all of which were directed by Muhl. The stage show, recently experienced at the House of Yes in Brooklyn, includes surreal imagery and occasionally additional performers such as human blockhead Anna Monoxide.

Jack James Busa serenading Anna MonoxidePhoto by Bob Krasner
Onstage at the House of Yes, L-R : Dave Archer , Charlotte Kemp Muhl, Jack James Busa, Jack Helfriech (obscured) Andrew Oakley , David StrangePhoto by Bob Krasner
Charlotte Kemp Muhl , playingPhoto by Bob Krasner
Jack James Busa performing with UNI at the posthumous Mick Rock book launch at The Georgia Room last NovemberPhoto by Bob Krasner
Charlotte Kemp Muhl , Jack James Busa, David StrangePhoto by Bob Krasner

“I’d love to make the live show as spectacular as possible,” says Busa, the lead singer. “We’re so inspired by iconic tours that act more as theatre than a rock show, a la Bowie’s ‘Diamond Dogs’ tour, Madonna’s ‘Blonde Ambition,’ or pretty much anything Grace Jones has done. The live show should feel like a physical manifestation of the music and videos.”

Some dissension crept in from Muhl, who responded, “Oh no. We’re very against theatrics. Only gritty realism for us. Only when you bore the audience can you get them to think deep thoughts.”

Thinking it best to let them work that out among themselves, we moved on to the topic of their accompanying visuals, which also includes their stunning outfits.

Muhl explained the present state of their artistic evolution, saying, “We’re media polygamists, currently working our way up to crayons and macaroni art paired with interpretive dance” and Busa further noted that “the visuals are an extension of the music but also we’re very inspired by fashion and cinema and performance art so of course that bleeds into every thing we do.”

Strange adds that, “I think we come from a very experimental place. We’ve never really let genres dictate where we go. It’s all about what serves the song.”

Their songs can be haphazardly described as a blend of glitter, punk, prog-rock, psychedelia, grunge and a few other things into what they call “neuro-divergent pop.”

“I just call it art-rock,” says Strange. “We’re taking pieces of music from the history of popular music over the last 75 years and introducing them into new forms rather than reinventing the wheel.”

Busa feels that he’s “generally pretty flattered by what people perceive our influences to be. Our fans are so smart and love all the nerdy references that we like.”

Not losing their heads : Muhl, Strange and BusaPhoto by Bob Krasner
Charlotte Kemp Muhl , posingPhoto by Bob Krasner
David Strange, contemplatingPhoto by Bob Krasner
Jack James Busa , reflectingPhoto by Bob Krasner

Watching all the videos one gets the idea that Muhl generates more ideas that she can use, which she confirms while giving us some valuable insight into her working process: “It’s true that I have too many ideas to sudoku, let alone Jack always wanting to be crucified and have alien backup dancers and David’s suggestions to have more necks on his guitars. So usually we just take a Kubrick film, play it backwards, project it onto a mural of Marc Bolan, film that with VHS, rub glitter all over the magnetic tape and overlay it onto a Cronenberg student film.”

One of the themes that crawls out of these productions is the concept of beauty, on which Busa muses, “I’m always attracted to anything that makes you do a double take, so to speak. Anything that makes you second guess what you’re looking at. We’re not trying to redefine anything but rather to look at the normal world abnormally.”

“It’s weird,” adds Muhl. “I thought the praying mantis arms would get us another Maybelline deal for sure.”

What do they want people to take away from their encounter with UNI? “Hopefully, not a rash,” says the ever optimistic Muhl.

“I want people to be challenged and realize that there’s more out there beyond their four walls,” says Strange.

“After an experience with UNI and the urchins, I highly suggest reaching out to a psychologist,” Busa replies.

More info about the band at uniandtheurchins.com and on Instagram at @uniandtheurchins. They perform next at Elsewhere in Brooklyn on Friday, March 3.