*All answers by A. Gomez unless noted.
My best friend in Florida keeps telling me how she’s getting rid of her cell phone because she thinks the screen light might be interrupting her “natural pattern of brain waves”. I have no idea if there is any actual scientific truth to her belief, but it makes sense in some ways that technology has taken up the space in her brain where dreams used to be. NRVS LVRS seem to be resisting this very same issue with their song “City Lights”, a single released from their forthcoming March 16th LP release, “The Golden West”. It is a song which reaches a peaceful understanding of their rapid, rabid urban environment. As resident San Fransiscans, NRVS LVRS know what it is like to live in the center of a world that stays spinning with industry, synthesizers, and long electric nights. Below, Overblown gets to know this dynamic 6 piece group, and what we can expect from their first album.
Overblown: Ok, first we have to know, what do you have against vowels?
NRVS LVRS: Vwls mrdrd my fmly. Wll nt rst tl vwls r dstryd.
The straight answer is I started writing it in emails as a shorthand to “Nervous Lovers”, and we ended up appreciating the symmetry of the letters, the aesthetics of all-caps, & the graphic design possibilities. It looks like something that could be stamped on an ancient Roman coin, so we went with it. We didn’t expect the vowel police to come after us for it.
O: In your bio, you cite the rapid urban evolution of San Francisco (your home-base) as a huge inspiration for this album and the track “City Lights”, could you detail this influence a bit more?
NL: It’s hard for this city not to have an influence on our work. Most of us were born and raised here, so we’ve seen the changes, and they’ve directly affected us, from friends moving away to the higher cost of living to just the conversations we overhear. This new tech culture demands its employees’ work be indistinguishable from their leisure time, and that’s insane. How many conversations about money and startups and marketing strategies can you hear around you before asking, “Shit, does anybody talk about music or film or art in the city anymore?” Perhaps there’s a handful of remaining San Francisco bands & artists touching on our loss of culture, diversity, & weirdness, but we wanted to put a finer point on it, so all this turmoil has been a fount of inspiration.
Our families live here, so we’re not willing to just throw up our hands and move. It’s been a frustrating struggle to work, make music, and afford to live here, and it’s also disheartening watching some of the institutions that make San Francisco unique being closed down to make way for boxy, garish condos. There’s a fault line between the new technological element and the historical heart of this city, so marrying digital, robotic noises and warmer standard instruments seemed a natural choice.
As for City Lights, when Wendy showed the demo to me, I already heard the dynamic possibilities in it, as well as the fear & apprehension in the lyrics & melody. We always think of city lights as twinkling prettiness, but they’re also cold, spiritless, & disconnected from each other.
Wendy brought this song to the band, so I’ll let her explain her inspiration for it:
Wendy: For me, the city lights I’m referencing are the negative thoughts and experiences that were holding me back. This song was part of my effort to be stronger and to refuse to let myself down.
O: Did the urban aesthetics of SF encourage you to choose electronic instruments for the creation of this album?
NL: I certainly think the record would’ve been different had we written & recorded it in a farm house in the country. The songs were built on top of circuit bent noises and 80’s keyboards, and the icy nature of their tones informed the lyrics. I thought it would be interesting to take a rock n’ roll approach to electronic music, but to replace some of the well-worn classic tones with digital ones.
O: New frontiers for electronic music seem to open up everyday, how does this rapidly growing genre inspire your group? Is it ever overwhelming?
NL: We’re inspired by exploring all of the options that technology is making available. It’s not overwhelming because I take that to mean that it discourages us, but really the opposite is true. Discovering new ways to make music is an exciting challenge. We’re just having fun experimenting in our little apartment at our own pace.
O: What approach do you take to collaboration and experimentation within the group?
NL: These songs all started with a basic spark & chord progression, sometimes with multiple parts. Then, I slowly layered them to the point where the songs were pretty well cooked, and I had exhausted all of my ideas. After that, I ran them by the other members, who then added their performances. So, the band sort of formed around the songs, but I expect us to write more as a group moving forward.
O: What sort of physical setting do you find most fertile for collaboration or inspiration? That is to say, where do you do your work?
NL: I’ve got a small studio setup in our apartment in the Haight where most of this record was recorded. I try to get in there on a regular basis & just play around. I also have a little voice memo recorder that I use to grab any ideas I have throughout the day. It’s useful for snatching up all the good ideas that show up at our rehearsals, too
I knew I needed help with drum & vocal tones, so that pushed me to go to Different Fur Studios. It was validating when Patrick Brown, producer & owner of the studio, said he thought we should keep most of the sounds. His confidence in what we already did made it much easier to go into his home base and perform comfortably, which is probably my favorite thing about the place. And, there’s a long list of things to like about recording there.
O: You utilize both electronic tools as well as conventional instruments, how do you bridge and blend these two elements?
NL: It boils down to just trusting our ears and not being afraid to throw an idea away. Not every sound does what you want it to do, so whatever the initial inspiration is, we try to to surround it with complimentary shades of color. The first sound isn’t always the best, so there’s a lot of exploration, patience, and serendipity involved. I imagine it’s like catching butterflies: an aggressive approach will just leave you flailing. The more you do it, the more you can intuitively know what gadget will get you the results you want, and when that doesn’t work, we throw the kitchen sink at the song, and just start peeling off what doesn’t fit.
O: How do you translate electronic experimentation into performance?
NL: I sample many of the sounds and make Ableton instruments out of them. For some of the droning textures & for the electronic drum sounds, we assign them to a controller’s pads. This allows us to have the same tones as the recorded song, and it allows whoever is playing keyboards & drums, usually Bevin & Aaron, to improvise within these songs at their leisure. With 6 members in the band, we feel we can cover all the parts without backing tracks.
O: What do you study to make music and what influences (visual, musical, written, etc) would you sight as inspirations for this group?
NL: Regarding study, I try to listen carefully, take notes on songs I love, and read everything I can about recording. Tape Op is a great resource, and Gearslutz’ forums can be helpful, too.
As for influences, there’s so many. There’s six people in this band, so we’re all coming at it with our own experiences and influences, which has an effect on whatever we play on. Bevin & I were listening to a lot of Kate Bush while we were writing the album, and that combination of childlike lack of inhibition & masterful musical proficiency was and is a huge inspiration. Also, Jonathan Richman’s “Corner Store” was basically on repeat.
At the time we were writing, we did a lot of talking about Patti Smith’s Just Kids, and how it allowed us to peek into her experience making art at all costs. I had also recently read a couple Cormac McCarthy books given to me by a friend, and I kept thinking back to The Road. The bleak environment in the book is like another character, and I love how its hopelessness infuses every interaction. It was really inspiring in trying to anthropomorphize technology in our record.
O: Besides, The Golden West, of course, what other albums should Overblown’s readers be looking forward to in 2015?
NL: Above all else, I want to hear the Tobias Jesso, Jr. record. I’ve been listening to the demos since Sean Paulson, the engineer on our record, showed them to me.
But, yeah, I’m excited for Run The Jewels releasing yet another one, Grimes, I hope to hear a Life Stinks album, Sporting Life’s new album ‘Rivalry’ (Full disclosure: some members of NRVS LVRS play in this band as well), Kendrick Lamar… Can’t wait to get my ears on all of this.
Check out NRVS LVRS‘s single , “City Lights”, here . The Golden West will be released March 16th, via Hz Castle Records.