Dressed in a black oxford, buttoned to the top, and peppered with grey-scale tattoos, Nathan Lithgow, vocalist and bassist of the Brooklyn-based band NØMADS, seemingly personifies the music on the band’s debut album Free my Animal. His mellow, sweet demeanor set against this dark, abrasive wardrobe mirrors NØMADS’ sound, which Lithgow clas,sifies as “Post-Indie”, too cool to ignore the pretension in the term. With Garth Macaleavey on drums, this two-piece, friendship fueled dynamic accomplishes a complex sound, letting the animalistic theme of the album claw through fuzzy distortions and aggressive rhythms while primal revelations paw through soft vocals and carefully chosen lyrics. Before NØMADS took the stage to perform at their album release party, Nathan sat down with Violent Success to explain the inspirations behind Free my Animal, his new found single-dom, and the duo’s second album.
VS: Can you explain the title Free my Animal?
Nathan: I had an interesting year of upheaval. I was actually married up until a year ago. It’s kind of a funny thing. It’s the concept of shedding a skin in a way. I wrote this song 6 days after meeting someone who made me feel special, or desirable in a way. All the language is asking yourself to be free, to pursue your own desires and looking at those desires from an animal perspective. Not necessarily a sexual thing but more an overarching sense of liberation and allowing yourself to be that object.
VS: So that’s the overarching theme of the album?
Nathan: It’s in there. Like I said liberation and belief threads through it. The third song on the album is called ‘Cosmos’ and it’s about being abducted by aliens, so in that case the animal is an alien. It’s really the closest we go towards a romantic song in the album. It’s very fuzzy and distorted but the goal was to have there be a sweetness to balance out all the metallic, instrumental sound and production aesthetic. The melodic approach of the songs is set against the instrumental sound palette that we go for.
VS: Can you classify NØMADS’ musical genre?
Nathan: I was thinking “Post-Indie”, which sounds very pretentious but there’s a lot of music out there that’s muted emotionally.We tried to incubate the material with a deaf ear to everything that’s of now and really focus on words and expression set against our aggressive sound. “Post-indie” is not a real term but we’re a loud, two piece band and there’s a lot more technical playing. Garth’s a very talented drummer and a flow musician. You get him in the right circumstance and he allows himself to improvise and that’s what we captured in the recording of Free my Animal. It was really a “happy accident” because we’d been developing the material, just the two of us, during this intense time in my life so it was a great outlet for me to have my relationship with Garth in this band developing this material. We hadn’t played for three and a half weeks and couldn’t rehearse at our space so we went to a studio of another band Garth plays in, which was mic-ed up with Protools and everything, and we essentially ran all the songs one time, not to a metronome, in one session, and when we listened to the takes, it was very evident that the record was there as a spine. It was a bit of a lightning in a bottle thing. So much of that stuff that Garth plays in the album I had never heard before because it was in a scenario where he was his animal, and even as we go from recording and mixing it all together to playing it live, he still tries to capture some of the ideas but he’ll never execute them as well as he did the first time and that speaks to our intimacy as two musicians but also as friends, because we really do have a core friendship as a band.
VS: Do you think that contributed to the tightness of the album?
Nathan: Yeah like I said, it was a conscious process of making the songs work because I as a musician do all the writing and stuff but it’s nothing without Garth’s contribution because it’s really just the forms: the bass parts, the melodies, the words. As much as we can say to achieve some dynamic on the record when it’s all distorted and fuzzy, that was due to our process of incubating it.
VS: Can you cite any artistic influences that went into the making of Free my Animal?
Nathan: I’ve recently been taking a look back at Kurt Kobain, who’s twenty years gone now, and as I said it was a time of upheaval in my life so I really tried to pay attention to the words I was putting in. So Nirvana is a profound influence for me as far as using words in songs. I was also a huge fan of Rage Against the Machine in 8th,9th and 10th grade. I knew every word to Evil Empire and they kind of get a bad rap because of all the Rock shit that followed them. Our title track, ‘Free my Animal’, is definitely a Rage Against the Machine influenced groove. It’s sort of buried because of the style of vocals we have but to me, those records sound harder and more intense than anything I’d ever heard up to that point and still now. They’re really talented musicians and sold so many albums so as much as they were an anti-authoritarian, anti-society brand, they were a very successful group of musicians. Fugazi was also a big, almost philosophical influence for me because they were one of the original independent bands, when “Indie” wasn’t a sound genre and when it was an actual pragmatic description of saying “Were going to do this outside of the fold and keep an integrity to our output”, and that’s something that I think has been lost a little bit. I’ve done a lot of touring with My Brightest Diamond (Lithgow plays bass) where we played in Brazil, Australia, Sao Paolo and you ask people what kind of music they listen to and they say “I like ‘Indie’ music” and it has no reflection on the pragmatic element of that term. It just became mutated into a marketing term so saying “Oh, I’m in an ‘Indie’ band” means absolutely nothing to me. So when I say “Post-Indie”, it’s not to say there’s anything wrong with genre labeling, it’s just interesting that that term started out with a band like Fugazi, doing things completely to their own standards, and then having it become something else. “Indie” bands are on major labels, being described as “Indie” so it’s a little bit of a paradox. Again, its just classification.
VS: I just watched the music video for the title-track ‘Free my Animal’ and it’s pretty creepy. We see a man in the process of stalking his lovely female prey across a dreary looking New York. Do you identify as a predator or prey?
Nathan: I think we’re all predators and prey in different relationships we have. This past year is the first time I’ve been single in my life since I was 17, so there’s an element to my background with this album of losing everything and when you lose everything, you have nothing to lose. I’ve met a lot of people recently and it’s been a lot of fun getting to know them so the predatory element of the video is supposed to be creepy, to be an interplay of nature and the urban landscape as much as it is the hunter and hunted or predator and prey. To me, the idea was to have a duplication of a nature program, so that’s what a lot of the spliced animal imagery in the video is. Alex, who’s in the video, is one of my best friends. I’ve known her for 17 years. She’s an actress herself and when I asked her to be in the video she just said “Awesome let’s do it” and really embraced it. We shot her from 9:00 to 6:00 in the morning on a very cold night. It was funny to go for that creeper-cam angle and having your best friend be the person you’re stalking and then looking back at it thinking “Wow, this is creepier than I thought it would be.”
VS: Do you think the NYC landscape affected that predator-prey theme in the album?
Nathan: Yeah, the city really does inform how I process my life. I’ve been here for twelve years now and it’s always been a bit of an adversarial relationship; it is like a jungle for me because its just not always easy and the song ‘Blood in the Water’, the 5th song, is about the singular attitude of men in the city and it’s not saying positively anything, basically just that this is what everyone else does. Were all sharks circling. So that’s where the city comes into play.
VS: What’s your favorite song or band right now?
Nathan: I’ve been going back and listening to Trans Am, which is kind of progressive, mid 90′s as well as Tortoise, a great instrumental band. A lot of instrumental stuff. I studied jazz in school and was really into instrumental music and I’ve been going back and revisiting some of those things. Trans Am is a band that never really broke through in any major way but they’re very well appreciated in a lot of circles of heavy musicians. I really like the production of all their stuff, I think it’s amazing. There’s aggressive distortion and it has this iciness to it. A lot of it is synth based and base stuff which as a bass player I respond to. It’s kind of angular and jagged. That’s how I look at their catalogue.
VS: What’s next for NØMADS?
Nathan: Tonight is our album release party for Free my Animal but we have the entire next album written so were going to start recording about the first week in May and aim to have it done by September. It’s an album called Phobiac about 8 clinical phobias. It’s looking at fear in the modern age as a phenomenon but also finding ways to decipher certain fears. There’s the fear of darkness, the fear of insanity, the fear of dreaming, the fear of boredom, the fear of being alone, which is probably gonna be the single, and the fear of disorganization. A total of 8. It’s a concept album in a way but really just looking at these fears and finding ways of framing them. ‘Autophobia’, the fear of being alone, uses the metaphor of looking at yourself as an old man and seeing yourself alone and as much as it’s an image of you alone as an old man, it’s also questioning who’s behind the lens.
The ceiling is a wave of red lights, illuminating a staircase that leads down to the performance space. The stage covers the left side of the room, with booth seating on the right and an open dance floor in between. True to its name, Le Poisson Rouge (which means the red fish in French) invokes an otherworldly atmosphere, under the ocean in a bubble of music. To celebrate their April 8th release, Free My Animal, NØMADS performed at Le Poisson with Corbu and ÆON RINGS. Each band brought their own distinct sound, notably different from each other, which made for a conglomerate of musical talent and a surprisingly succinct variety.
Corbu was up first, the band’s name illuminated in Lite-Brite at the front of the stage. The five-piece band stared out strong and immediately the crowd was swaying to the music. The bassist plays a five-string bass, emphasizing the grunge-heavy nuances of their music. Corbu played fluidly together on stage, churning out rock-infused indie with some psychedelic undertones, complemented by the abstract visuals projected in the back. The bass and drums carried the music laced with sweet guitar riffs and vocals, the pulsating keyboard kept it from being too dark, lifting up the music to a more accessible pop standard and prevented it from slipping into a post-rock drone. Corbu clearly has strong instrumental skills and are strong live performers, but they are missing something; that intangible sort of spark that truly brings the music to life at a live show. It is not for lack of passion, which is clear, but perhaps they lack in stage presence and presenting a unique quality to their music. However, the crowd responded well, some entranced by the visuals on the screens in the back, some dancing with eyes closed, but all swaying to the music, clearly enjoying themselves.
Next on stage was ÆON RINGS with a dark synth-pop set, which I can best describe as a dance combination of Joy Division, The Cure and Depeche Mode. The two-piece began huddled over the synths, dark and heavy with assaulting strobe lights. Frontman Davey Partain then rushed to the microphone and broke out in dance (with excellent dance moves, I might add) and began to sing. His demeanor channeled that dark 80’s synth pop vibe perfectly. I felt like I had been transported back to the 80’s, the drum machine being the icing on the synth pop cake. Davey’s deep, gritty vocals truly make the songs – without them, it would be exciting but generic synth-pop. The crowd was extremely into it, dancing compulsively. Davey reached out to the group of people at the front of the stage, all of whom were imitating his 80’s dance moves, and sang directly to them. Strobe lights scattered all about the venue. Surrounding sound master Chuck Flores’ synth table were two light towers that pulsated with the music. ÆON RINGS are fantastic live, in fact, better than they are in the studio, which is always the sign of a truly talented band.
Finally, around 9PM, NØMADS took to the stage. With only a bass, drum kit and vocals to work with, their sound was much more heavy rock, closing out the night fast and strong. Unfortunately, the sheer volume of the bass and the drums combined drowned out Nathan Lithgow’s vocals, which was part technical foul, part poor sound check but as a whole disappointing, because as anyone who has heard one of their songs knows that the vocals and lyrics are critical to completing the dark sound of the band. Black and white visuals played in the background, alternating with mirrored footage of a cheetah running across an African plain. Heavy-loud drums came to forefront unlike a typical 4-piece band, where they function like a metronome. NØMADS can rock that’s for sure. The crowd moved from their easy sway to Corbu, to their electric club dancing to ÆON RINGS, to the head-banging delight of NØMADS. By playing high on the bass Nathan Lithgow imitates an edgy, deep guitar sound. Nathan and Garth have a fantastic musical connection to one another but leave the audience hanging. If you plan on going to a NØMADS show in the near future be warned: this is a band you see to rock out to and head bang furiously, not watch the stage performance of the band. The last song of the night was a song from their next album, Free My Animal, about the fear of going insane. The microphone malfunctioned but the feedback from it worked surprisingly well in the song. Improvisation is accidental genius.
All in all. it was a night of three talented bands. NØMADS’ Free My Animal is available now on iTunes, and ÆON RINGS is scheduled to release their long awaited debut EP sometime in the late Spring. Corbu’s EP, We Are Sound, is only available on the UK/Europe iTunes site, as of yet. It is clear that all three bands are developing as musicians daily, and will release some high quality albums in the future. This release show truly provided something for everyone, from Corbu’s electronic indie pop, to ÆON RINGS dark synth-pop to NØMADS heavy-hitting rock. No matter your specific genre taste, this show proved that the future of music is in good hands.
It’s no secret that 80’s infused synth-pop is making a comeback. Increasingly danceable synth jams have appeared and faded into the background. ÆON RINGS stands out from the crowd as synth-pop with a dark edge, a gritty sound that is at the same time catchy and gothic. We recently got the opportunity to sit down with frontman Davey Partain and synth master Chuck Flores to talk about their long-awaited debut EP, their musical influences, and more.
Violent Success: What is your musical background? Have you had any formal training?
Davey Partain: I’ve been playing guitar since I was 10. Then I joined the school band, playing trumpet. My guitar playing was really influenced by Metallica; until I got into the synth pop that really formed what sound I want to make now.
Chuck Flores: I had four piano lessons when I was younger and that was it. So I’m primarily self-taught. But I did go to school for audio engineering.
VS: You used to be Night Visions, why the change to ÆON RINGS?
Davey: Well, we wanted something with more depth. More, I don’t want to say epic but…
Chuck: Yeah, something more epic.
Davey: And that definitely comes across with ÆON RINGS. ÆON being eternal, an eternity, forever and ring as in a resonating sound, so itsmeant to invoke a sort of eternal ringing. Like a sound you never forget.
VS: Who are your main musical influences?
Davey: As a kid I was mostly into Metal and Goth music. Then I started to really get into 80’s synth pop, dance synth stuff like The Faint and Fischerspooner. Dance punk, but heavy on the synths. The combination of those really made an impact on the music I make now and the music I want to make in the future.
Chuck: I work as an audio engineer, so my influences are pretty varied. I grew up listening to a lot of post-punk and semi-hardcore. Since then I’ve shifted more to post-rock, Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, really any post-rock, post-punk – the whole post genre.
VS: How is the recording of the EP going? When will it be released?
Davey: We’re done recording and mixing, just going through the finishing production stages. It should be out sometime in late Spring.
VS: What was the writing process for the EP like?
Davey: I had some older songs that we went through and improved. Some of it was written from scratch over the past year or so. On this EP we really wanted to make a distinctive sound for ÆON RINGS, different from our sound in Night Visions. It’s definitely a process developing a sound, that’s really what we focused on. In all the bands I was in in high school everyone wanted to sound exactly like one band they idolized, like ‘Let’s sound just like Metallica!’ but we really wanted to mature our sound and break away from being pegged down to sounding like one band, or one genre. We took our time recording the EP, we wanted to make sure what we release is the highest quality.
VS: What genre would you classify your music as?
Davey: I don’t want to just say synth pop because that’s always connected with a sort of Pet Shop Boys peppiness and that’s not what we’re doing so I like to add ‘dark’ on to the front of it. Dark synth pop. Dark dance pop. Synthy and dark. Although I always did want to be a Pet Shop Boy when I was younger.
VS: What’s your dream show? Who would open for you?
Davey: I don’t think I’m at the point where I could think about having anyone open for us, but my dream hands down would be to open for Ladytron. I love female vocals and there’s something so ghostly and aural about their sound. It has the feminine element of her voice but at the same time is so dark. Opening for Ladytron would be a dream come true!
VS: If you weren’t doing music, what would you be doing?
Davey: Something I already do and love – doing hair.
Chuck: I would be a Producer.
VS: What are your favorite albums or artists?
Davey: OK Computer by Radiohead, Louder Than Bombs by The Smiths, and Witching Floor by Ladytron.
Chuck: Ah this is the hardest question! I listen to such a wide variety of music, its hard to pick just one! But I do love Explosions in the Sky so let’s go with that.
VS: Anything you want to say to the fans?
Davey: We love you all!
Regardless of genre, it’s safe to say that the Minneapolis music scene has contributed a great deal of undeniable talent over the years. You’ve got your folk heroes, pop mainstays, rock legends, etc. And now, twin cities natives, Buildings, are making a name for themselves in the world of punk music. With their unique brand of aggressive, high-energy noise rock, Buildings have amassed a following that extends far beyond the reaches of Minnesota’s borders.
‘Gold’ comes to us off the 5-song EP, It Doesn’t Matter, the highly-anticipated follow-up to 2011′s Melt, Cry, Sleep. The track kicks into high gear immediately with the introduction of frontman Brian Lake’s commanding vocals and doesn’t let down throughout its duration. The chant-like chorus almost sounds like a call to action as the dark guitar chords swell underneath the words and the raucous drums carry on. The band’s own bio describes their 2008 debut as “a punch in the face that takes you on the ride of your life and makes your mother cry all at the same time”; fast-forward to now, and their new track ‘Gold’ can be described in the same way. It is a gripping track that pulls you in and drags you along on a roller coaster ride. With music this engaging, it is a ride you won’t want to get off.
On Tuesday night I had the pleasure of seeing The Mercy Beat live in Los Angeles at The Echo, an intimate venue where one can see a variety of bands and DJs on any given night. The Mercy Beat is the new endeavor by The Bravery frontman, Sam Endicott. While comparisons will certainly be made, they won’t be made just yet.
The doors were set to open at 8PM but we weren’t let in until almost 9. Live music is not an exact science and we could hear the strains of sound checks through the open doors. A sizeable crowd snaked out the doors and all manner of live music enthusiasts were represented, from hipsters ready to see relatively new music acts, fans of The Bravery, and people drawn to the promised “pop music club night”, pleasantly titled “Pop Shop West”. There were two other bands scheduled to perform but I was there for The Mercy Beat.
The Echo is a great place to get up close and personal with standing room only and a smaller stage. It’s great for journalists and enthusiasts alike and it was fairly clear who was who when we were let in. Most went to the bar, the rest of us crowded each other near the stage. The room was not yet full, but no matter, they took the stage almost unnoticed and after a quick count off from the drummer, the show began.
While I’m sure there was a fair amount of interest in seeing if The Mercy Beat was anything like The Bravery, I believe that the purpose of starting a new project, with little-to-no buzz, is to try something different and get a fresh start with neither the blessings nor curses of past efforts. From the first song it seemed to me that perhaps Endicott was tired of hearing himself every ten songs on all the “alt” radio stations. Indeed, Endicott’s voice is familiar but there’s a softer, Jeff Buckley-ish tinge to it. It fits the music perfectly, which itself is softer and more chill, with dreamy synths over pleasantly upbeat tempos. It’s not a strong departure, but it’s a step in a much different direction. Their warm synth work, delayed guitars, and sweet vocals captivated the audience quickly and those standing in the back of the room soon crowded to the front to swoon and be bathed in the reds and blues of the stage lights.
While Endicott himself is fairly restrained with his stage presence, landing somewhere between Morrissey and a shy shoegazer, the rest of the band rocked out in appropriate measure. I do feel that the size of the stage (and perhaps the sound system) hindered them a bit. The drummer was completely obscured by huge amps that bookended the stage and at one point the bass player asked for more vocals and bass. Again, live music is not an exact science. But with a band as nuanced as The Mercy Beat, their sound should come across as a tapestry, not a blanket. Their set lasted somewhere under an hour and honestly I did lose track of time because this band generates waves, auras if you will, that draw you in. So when the last song came and everyone dropped their instruments and left the stage, and looped feedback drowned out the confused voices, I was shaken out of a strange reverie. It wasn’t pleasant but it did have a noticeable effect.
It’s a bit difficult to find much about The Mercy Beat online, and it’s made only more difficult because there’s another band with the same moniker and let’s just say their sound is markedly different. So I was truly glad to have an opportunity to hear more from this dreamy, ghostly, sad and yet wryly joyful band. Fans of The Bravery may or may not follow, and I don’t believe Endicott has or will purposely shun them, but The Mercy Beat appeals to a much different audience and I would venture to say that’s the aim.
If you are in the LA area, The Mercy Beat is beginning their Monday residency at The Echo starting May 5th. If you want to catch what will certainly become a popular band, I strongly suggest you check it out.