TEN QUESTIONS WITH NUDGE
Nudge is the type of band whose status often seems to be in flux. With years separating its releases, one begins to wonder whether the group is still alive or whether its core members—Brian Foote, Paul Dickow (aka Strategy), and Honey Owens (aka Valet)—have decided to completely channel their respective energies into their solo endeavours (Jon Pyle is now on board too). It bears mentioning, however, that though four years separated the release of 2005's Cached and the new As Good As Gone, 2008 did see the release of two EPs: Stack on Community Library and Infinity Padlock EP on Audraglint, the label overseen by Foote. To make a long story short, Nudge is very much alive—for now, at least—as evidenced by As Good As Gone, which finds de facto leader Foote assuming an even stronger role than before. On the new recording, Nudge once again assembles its pieces from improvised sessions, expertly shaping the tracks' components until they resemble pre-determined compositions, but this time it's Foote exercising the primary controlling hand. Speaking on behalf of the band, he recently spent a few moments discussing Nudge, Audraglint, kranky (for which he handles PR duties), and his production work for Atlas Sound and Lotus Plaza, among other things.
1. In tracing the evolution of Nudge from Cached to As Good As Gone, the balance appears to have shifted in recent years between Nudge being a project equally shaped by three individuals to one where you're the primary director. Is that a correct assessment or simply a matter of misperception? If it is the case, how and why did the change come about?
Yeah, I'd say that's about right… if, that is, you're talking about Cached to As Good As Gone (Trick Doubt, issued by Outward Music Company in 2002, and Elaborate Devices for Filtering Crisis, by Tigerbeat 6 a year later, preceded Nudge's kranky debut). The songs on Cached were from a period when Paul, Honey, and I all lived in the same house and the line-up for live gigs had stabilized as the three of us for a few years. The change came about largely due to geography. I moved to Chicago for two years and now I live in Los Angeles. It's relatively easy to collaborate long distance, but it couldn't be more different than jamming together once a week as far some kind of sustained influence is concerned. If you're talking about the entire life of the project, for better or worse, I've always been the primary director of Nudge since it started in the late ‘90s.
2. Once again this may be a matter of misperception but it strikes me that, more than many bands, the mood of the music Nudge makes seems like a reflection of the times, political and otherwise. Though it may seem grossly reductive and simplistic, it's hard not to hear Infinity Padlock, for example, as somewhat of a scathing “State of the Union” report on the Bush administration and the regrettable decisions made regarding war involvement. One would expect, then, As Good As Gone to be more hopeful yet there's a bleak dimension to it too in its images of a firing tank and protective face mask. To what degree are the Nudge releases mirrors of US society in your estimation?
Well, I don't know about society as a whole but it's definitely a reflection of our lives as part of society. Prior to Infinity Padlock, I always tried to make Nudge as egoless and ecstatic as possible. I blame this partially on the drugs I was into at the time. Infinity Padlock is a collection of the songs from a ten-year spread that were about as dark as Nudge allowed itself to get. It seemed like a true expression to me so I decided to put it out. There were so many heavy things happening personally that I had never had to deal with before and the world situation just kept looking more grim by the day. As Good As Gone is somewhere in the middle, neither trying to forcibly be in la la land turning a blind eye on crap vibes or locked in its bedroom crying how things won't change. It was still mostly composed under the Bush dynasty's reign for what it's worth.
3. Could you shed some light on the title and cover images that juxtapose a painterly nature image with the violent photo of a tank firing and the unsettling photo of a protective face mask?
My friend David Nakamoto does all the design for Nudge as well as our label, Audraglint. He has a print of it at his house. It was the first time I knew what I wanted the art to look like for a release before the music was completed. As I get older, I hear some unbelievably jaded things come out of my peers' mouths. Nudge has been around long enough to have our music described with multiple genre tags completely fabricated and subsequently glommed onto, then discarded by journalists. Add to that my day job in music publicity, it's easy to sympathize with these kind of burnt sentiments but I really think it needs to be avoided at all costs or you should just hang it up. The title and the cover are kind of a reference to actively seeking some kind of purity. At the same time, it's just a jokey double entendre like the rest of our album titles. The other images are ones that David chose to represent a kind of “danger everywhere” feeling.
4. Is the Nudge material assembled bit by bit with you building the tracks up with instruments and weaving into them the contributions of Dickow and Owens, or do the three of you record the basic tracks live with you alone subsequently embellishing them with additional sounds?
For most the songs on As Good As Gone, I would first track improv with a small ensemble. Then, I would take that raw stuff as source material, pick out inspired bits and cobble it into the skeleton of a song that we would then flesh out bit by bit. That said, we've done it every which way, from members bringing in chord progressions or lyrics that we work up in a traditional rock band fashion, while others are built completely synthetically as if you were producing a techno track.
5. The Nudge sound is a unique amalgam of multiple styles and reference points—dub obviously but also rock, experimental, ambient, and so on. Could you elaborate on how each of the three members shapes the collective sound?
That's a tough one. It'd be easy enough to imagine “Oh, Honey is Valet, so that's where the trips come from” or “Strategy did that 45 on Shockout, so that must be where the dub influence lies,” but really I think the sound is shaped most by our love of diverse musics, production techniques, and excitedly turning each other onto these things as friends more than anything else. The same is true for the other fifteen people who have made contributions to the music over the years.
When Nudge started I took the word ‘experimental' very much to heart, often pretending each song was by a different imaginary band. This led to some releases that sounded more like compilations than proper albums. As more songs were written, a couple of different Nudge defaults started to make themselves apparent. On the current album, I tried to make a conscious effort to merge them another step together.
6. Outside of Nudge, you've been heavily involved in a production capacity with Atlas Sound and Lotus Plaza. How has working so intensively on those projects influenced the new Nudge material and your overall approach to music-making?
It was great to work with those guys as they are both so inspired and instinctive, not to mention great songwriters. Aside from helping teach Bradford a few basic things about Ableton which he subsequently shared with Lockett, I really just mixed those albums. The main thing it made me realize is that I can be much more decisive when I'm working on a tune where I don't feel some authorial burden. I've been able to keep that feeling when I am finishing Nudge material where normally I tend to go back and forth on things for months. I also found that I like working on other peoples' tunes more than I realized. I recently did production and mix work on a new full-length from Signaldrift and an album that Kip Uhlhorn from Cloudland Canyon has written. I hope to do more of this sort of thing.
7. Nudge seems to be a rather unpredictable entity. What's the future hold for Nudge in terms of touring and recording plans?
I'm working on dates for a European tour for late October and November now with Starving Weirdos and White Rainbow. I've been staying busy in the studio as always, but have no immediate plans for release.
8. As already said, the Nudge sound is a unique amalgam of multiple styles and reference points—dub, rock, experimental, ambient, and so on. One thing that the new album also seems to share—I'm thinking of “Two Hands” as an example—with a number of recent kranky releases is a gravitation towards a hazy sound that draws upon psychedelic and krautrock traditions—Cloudland Canyon's Lie In Light and White Rainbow's Prism of Eternal Now are two of many one might cite. What do you think accounts for this seeming movement, or is it simply a matter of the cyclical nature of styles? And what specifically accounts for Nudge's move towards slow and often dirge-like meditations on the new album?
For myself and all the folks who contribute to nudge, psych music is a huge touchstone. I have always viewed ‘90s space rock or shoegaze or whatever you want to call it as an extension of that. In trying to narrow the palette for As Good As Gone, this was a very natural choice for me as I played in bands in the ‘90s that did that sound exclusively. Also, I would be lying if I said I wasn't influenced considerably by what my peers are up to musically...
9. With Owens and Dickow absent from “Aurolac,” the track is pretty much a Brian Foote solo track (though Marc Hellner and Jon Pyle help out). Despite that, the result is pure Nudge. Is there any reason why the others sat this one out, or did you simply feel it was complete after you'd worked on it?
This really just boils down to who was present at the initial session for the song. It was Marc and me in this instance. I really only track additional overdubs on any song if it warrants it and this one sounded finished once Jon laid his drum part on it.
10. In addition to your involvement with Nudge, kranky, and production work, you're also at the helm of Audraglint. Despite the label's generally low profile, it—like Nudge—remains very much an ongoing concern. What can we expect to hear from Audraglint in the future?
We just got the pressing in for a seven-inch from Salem which will be out in late September, and after that there will be full-lengths from Signaldrift and Pulseprogramming. We continue to specialize in limited runs and do most of our sales via mailorder through the Audraglint website.