Nerve – A Reflection on Modern Society
The New Yorker Band “Nerve” doesn’t need an introduction. The quartett, consisting of Jojo Mayer (Drums), John Davis (Bass & Low-End Manipulation), Jacob Bergson (Keys/Synths) und Aaron Nevezie (Sound and Real-Time Audio Deconstruciton) has dominated the electronic live-music-scene for a long time. In time for their new album “Ghosts of Tomorrow” (Release: November 6th, 2015), we took the time to have a chat with the band before their concert in Zurich. In the cozy atmosphere with a cheese-plate, Sour Worms and coffee, we talked about the new album, the band’s concept, why they need a therapist and much more.
DEAD: You guys had your new album, ”Ghosts of Tomorrow”, coming out in November. I want to talk about the album a little bit. You said on your Bandcamp-page that the approach for the album was radically different. Can you tell us about the process, what exactly was do radically different?
John Davis: I think the main thing is that typically for us and for those bands that use live instruments like drums, bass keyboards and so, 90% of the time maybe you have a song written or you demo it and you start writing and then you record everything and then you have everything and then you start “Hey maybe we should chop this up or we should reverse this or we should loop this and we should sequence this. So what we did is we were trying to incorporate what we do live.
One of the things we are able to do live with Aaron (Nevezie), is he’s manipulating and sampling and recontextualizing what we do in real time. It’s a collaboration that happens live. That’s something we felt we were missing in the studio. So this was really the first time where we said, let’s go into the studio and set it up with all these ways that we can have the drums be glitch edited back at us while we’re tracking and all of a sudden here something gets edited and looped. You know it’s a totally different approach. It became something that could inspire us and help us actually have performances on the record.
To make a record is a tedious process of planning.
- Jojo Mayer
Jojo Mayer: Essentially in a traditional way, to make a record is a tedious process of planning. You compose. You rehearse. You go to the studio. You do basic tracks. You do alternate track. You do it again. So it’s a lot of planning and I think while there has to be a certain amount of planning, with this particular record the focus was on improvisation and on dealing with unforseen things. I don’t think any of us has ever made a full length record in such a short amount of time, because we really didn’t work on it that long.
Usually to make a record, you know some bands stay in the studio for 2-8 months and we went into the studio with a handful of concepts that we shaped up during previous experiences in the process of our EPs. This is the first time that we put that into effect with a full length record. The record was not this big monumental epic thing that was essentially just taking control of us for an entire year. And we produced a lot of material. Maybe 13 to 15 ideas and we kept the best because we had to make the decisions really really fast. On a lot of this stuff we were trying to keep the editing to a minimum, knowing the possibilities that we have. For me personally on this record I left more control than ever to them because they are engineers. It was nice to take this kind of outside perspective.
DEAD: Was this kind of process a result of your last album, the “Live in Europe” album?
Aaron Nevezie: Yeah it follows through from the live experience. I think that has been a big part of developing the band concept, interacting together and the things that happen in “jammy” sections become songs a lot of the time as well. We try to record all of our shows and listen back.
Jacob Bergson: You know we improvise a lot on the shows but we’re intending to do some of the same sort of things and a lot of them had been codified on that record, so there were good versions of the sort of things that we intend to do that were now released. So now part of the things we wanted to do was come up with new ideas so we did a few gigs at a tiny club in new York where we only improvise two sets a night. Plus every day before the show we sat together and listened back to the recording of the last show. And a lot of the concepts for the record came out of that because when we recorded the shows we could listen back and go like “remember when we got into that vibe” or maybe “this idea wasn’t fully developed but I can improve it like that”.
Jojo: Some of out ideas translate well in the studio, some of the things don’t translate. But the important thing is the ability to capture every thing we do. Even the soundcheck. You know your mind is empty then and you don’t try to make something cool, it just comes out. And then we have it and then we can revisit those magical moments that come from not trying. And sometimes we have to fight to, it happens a bunch of times where we do something live and it’s very good and I have made up my mind like “that bassline is not going to work” and then we fight for 5 hours over the bassline for a song that ends up not making the record (laughs)
John: You’d think we’d know better by know. The ones that take five hours discussions rarely make the album.
DEAD: So are there any hard feelings now?
John: Yeah we’re seeing a therapist. (laughs)
DEAD: So basically this album is the most “improvised” album you did to date?
John: I think what we accomplished, what we tried to do is, we wanted things to have one sort of strong unifying element. Like what’s the strong idea for this song. Not just like “let’s make a track that sounds like this” because every good song or every electronic song, you can pretty much pin it down to one thing. Maybe it’s the kick sound or maybe it’s one keyboard part. And we were really focused on that idea. You know there’s one tune that was really just about a particular keyboard sample where we thought: “That it’s. That’s the hook”. That and the kick sound. In a way all the notes and the other things that happen are just there to provide context for these two sounds.
Jojo: You know, electronic music, for the most part, is a premeditated artform. I mean we all have a background in Jazz, and we don’t really play Jazz anymore for obvious reasons. I mean it’s not that we don’t love this music essentially but the Jazz community for the most part is not very inspiring and not very interesting. It had its stay basically. And this now is a platform where we can still live the important thing from Jazz, which is improvisation. And improvisation for me is one of the most rewarding aspects in music. You know when you have this idiosyncratic moment that you have never discussed and it’s… bang, and the audience is also in it… I think that spur of the moment, that minute maybe is probably on of the most intense moments that you can have in music. I love that. It’s really one of the most rewarding aspects of performing, or better, of playing music. Because we like to play, not perform. I really distinguish the two.
Our music is a reflection of what’s going on in society right now.
- Jojo Mayer
Playing and performing are not necessarily the same thing. You know I stop aiming for perfection. If I can get a point across good enough then I’m fine with that. I think the improvisational aspect and the “non planning” is very important because I think it’s a reflection of what’s going on in society right now. If you create some sort of a parable of society which I think art is and I believe music is art, I would say that we live in a time where it’s very difficult to plan ahead and the reason why we have been regurgitating the twentieth century to a degree where it has no nutritional value anymore and rocknroll and jazz become a surface reproduction in the best case and in the worst case become a surface for bullshit. You know in that moment to expose improvisation is important because the reason why we’ve been stuck in this holding pattern is because nobody dares to risk anything. The whole. Music industry is predominantly based on fear, decisions are made to prohibit the loss of money. I mean we don’t make decisions anymore out of idealism or curiosity. This band is about the new way. We’re done with this. We’re ready to risk. We’re ready to lose but I think that’s the backstory to our music. And I believe that people can feel that inside our music.
DEAD: You are planning to release the album on Vinyl? What’s the reason behind this, given that most of your albums were only digital?
John: Well, in the past we have made physical CDs for “The Distance Between Zero and One” which we would sell on tour. You know that’s an effective thing, but it’s also not a great quality file and most were just ripping it anyway. You know on the one hand, modern sound delivery can be really really shitty, you know with poor quality MP3 and streaming but there is also the potential for super high quality that’s better than a CD. And then Vinyl is sort of like a totally different thing but it’s a very interesting sound, especially when you have a really good person who does it then you can have an extremely high resolution format. I think part of it was reconciling ourselves with the fact that our fans want to buy something. You know people really want to have something that’s like an artifact.
Aaron: I think we’re all big fans of the Vinyl-experience. It’s like the shopping experience as well as the listening experience. Flipping through the record.
John: Yeah and then you can bundle it with a high quality digital download. It’s sort of an aesthetic as well as a practical thing.
We’re all big fans of the Vinyl-experience.
- Aaron Nevezie
DEAD: The title of the album, does it mean anything specific to you?
John: I think it’s more of a vibe. Some of the songs have a certain sort of melancholy to them but on the other hand were conscious not to be referential. There is the idea that from a future perspective what we’re doing now will be old sometime. You know our perspective on a time-line is always “here”. So all the people that are alive now will be dead in some time now. You know, everything that we are doing will be a ghost before long.
Jojo: I think you can look at it from different ways. You know there’s the idea of a ghost as a spectre. You know something that can’t get to rest. Something from the past that still haunts us. And I think there’s something like this waiting for us in the future. You know things like big data, total surveillance and all these crazy things that are scary that are kinda putting us into a position of fear. And this is something that we have to face and do something. We just can’t remain in the present just like that because we are moving into the future. And if we don’t use our creativity change the future then forces are gonna take over. We’re gonna be completely helpless prey to the circumstances and I refuse to do that. You know I’m a warrior. This is why I do this!
Maybe I should mention that this time were taking a proactive step towards collaborations with singers for a number of reasons. I mean we have always collaborated with singers. Not because it sells more records, because this is never an issue. We perform all over the world and we have been forming alliances with people all over the world like MC Xiz, who is a drum and bass MC from Brazil, or Juliana Ronderos from Columbia, she lives in New York and has a project called Soul Cathedral. We have collaborated with her before on the last EP. And then a friend of mine from Iran, an exiled singer from Iran Mohsen Namjoo who is kinda like the Bob Dylan of Iran but he’s an exile because they don’t like him there anymore. And we start to do stuff with MCs and singers and we’re gonna come out with a series of remixes from “Ghosts of Tomorrow” with vocalists. So far we are all very happy with what came out of this.
DEAD: Do you try to incorporate this community aspect that has been made possible by the Internet into your music and how you interact with you fans?
John: We try to do it a little, like on social media, but honestly, doing that stuff takes a lot of time. It’s like a full time job and we don’t want to pay some kid to pretend they’re us on Twitter. Probably were doing it too little but we’re trying to answer every message on Facebook that’s not like: “Hi I love your drums, can I have a lesson from you?” (laughs) We are not gonna reply to those but sometimes people reach out to us with ideas or questions that are cool. The only thing that is odd about the whole social media thing is that it has become all corporate, so it’s the question, is there an online community that’s not in some corporate megatructure. There’s a lot of weird paradoxes about those things. We’re working with it but it’s kinda weird going through a sort of corporate portal.
DEAD: I feel that your concept of a band and your music has always had a tie in with technology, but how is your personal relationship with technology?
Jacob: I use technology all day, every day.
John: (laughs) yeah more than I’d like to!
Aaron: You know working in the studio, as freelance people, we don’t have the luxury to take a month vacation and get off the grid. Because you’re always looking for work. When were not in the studio, we’re always communicating with people.
John: It’s a blessing and a curse. I mean on the one hand it makes things easier but on the other hand…
Aaron: …you’re never off the clock!
John: Exactly. It is what it is.
Jojo: I think technology is not really the issue. The issue is how we use it or how we get used by it. And that’s only a matter of perception. It’s a very important issue right now. Because people’s perception are kinda like out of whack. People have difficulties to discern what’s real and what’s not and I think music or art are some things that you can use to recalibrate perception. Me personally I have a personal disdain for social networks because those things are mostly kline. And the noise signal ratio is just completely disproportionate and it comes to a point where people really believe that what’s behind that screen is more interesting than their actual real life. That’s depressing because it’s a total fucking delusion. So the social networks have really helped us because at this point it has allowed us to be somehow independent and still tour in Japan, tour in China. Tour the United stats, tour in Europe without being splines to a record company.thst is not only unusual, it has been impossible before, without a record company. So there are good things but you just have to keep and eye on it.
Technology is a blessing and a curse.
- John Davis
Aaron: I think not only the social media technology hat also the music technology have been really innovative. If you’re talking about technology as a means to more freedom then over the last years, we have found ways to integrate technology into our performances and our writing that has allowed us more freedom. I mean Jacobs keyboard rig is pretty high tech.
Jojo: Look on stage we have a fender Rhodes. That’s old technology. And we can replicate that sound with a plug-in or with a synthetic. Now why do we schlepp this huge cumbersome fucking thing around? Because…
John: … It sounds fucking awesome. That’s why! (laughs)
Jojo: It just sound a different when you hear it. There’s just something visceral when you hear it. It’s is just richer, than just a sample. On the other hand what John does… John essentially plays an analog bass. There’s not a single bass player that does what John does. Everything has been created from scratch. And we’re still pushing the envelope. The rig that John uses on this tour is a premiere.
John: Yeah so let’s hope it works! (laughs)
DEAD: We’ve already talked about the concept of planning. Do you have any specific plans for the band? Do you know where you want to go next?
Jojo: Well for now we’re touring. We’re touring in the UK, we’re gonna go to Turkey, Hungary and then go back to the US for a quick break before going to Indonesia and japan’s and China. I think that’s it for this year. And then next year I think we’ll be coming back to Europe. We haven’t really decided anything else. The Remixes are going to come up out as an EP. And I’m sure that by the end of the tours this year, we’re gonna have a lot of material, jamming material from the tour, so be were gonna put another live record out and we surely are going to go back to the studio in the first half of next year I guess or summer to do another record.
DEAD: Jojo, you said in a blog post that you’re a kind of a cineast. Can you tell us what your favorite movie of 2015 was?
Jojo: Oh yeah I’ve been a movie buff for a long time. So my favorite movie this year? Most of the movies I watched this year, I watched on a plane, which creates a total fucking salad. Just flying to Australia or Asia you can watch like 6 movies and fall asleep and wake up. What I saw on the plane and really liked was “Assassination Classroom”. Have you guys heard of this one? It’s a Japanese movie. I’ve never seen a movie like this. (laughs) It’s just so weird, really weird. Other than that… What was good this year? You know, I think the best shit right now are TV series. I think they’re taking over. Narcos is pretty good right now. I’ve never seen anything on TV that’s that good. Ah now I know! My favorite movie last year… No actually it was this year. “Wild Tales”! An Argentinian movie. This was probably my favorite movie.
DEAD: So, after having done an official live-record and playing multiple shows a year, do you plan on making a live DVD sometimes?
John: Yeah it would be cool. We’ve talked a little bit about it, but just doing a live album, only audio was an incredible undertaking. With video you’d have to have an incredibly efficient film crew who sees eye to eye with you on everything. It depends if you want to do a tour DVD or a concert DVD. Because then there are logistical questions. But even with a concert DVD you’d have to play the same club for four nights, wear the same clothes every night, so that you can cut like “Oh these 8 bars were really good, and then we’re gonna cut to those 4 bars from the night before” and it can’t suddenly be like we’re wearing a different shirt for 8 bars. Or you’d have to play a 2 hour set and get the best 60 minutes.
Making the live-album was an incredible undertaking.
- John Davis
DEAD: Well I guess with today’s technology every concert can be made into a concert DVD, because there are always 50 people with their iPhone filming everything.
John: Yeah but we want shots not just of drums. (laughs)
Jacob: But that’s how we would sell enough DVDs. Just splitscreen feet and hands and that’s it. (laughs)
John: Yeah no but it would be really cool. But then you spend all that money and it ends up on a torrent. Unless you have a label that hires lawyers to hunt every fucking YouTube upload, but that’s not what we want to be.
Aaron: I feel like we should do something with Google. You how how they provide you with time to shoot in their studios?
Jacob: I guess part of the deal with that stuff is like it makes them look good with the artistic community and it’s a huge tax write off. It’s a way to waste millions of dollars and it’s also a great promo.
DEAD: So the next project is Nerve/Google?
Aaron: Yeah, as we said, just stay away from corporate. (laughs)
John: (laughs) Yeah we’re totally independent. We’ve found some friends to help us. Don’t worry. They can see all the files on your hard drive. They even list our torrents.
Jacob: So I’m gonna set up everything on stage, and set up my computer.
John: Yeah let’s hope it works this time.
(Spoiler) It didn’t work at first.
After thanking the band for the interview, we concluded the interview. The four musicians prepared both mentally and physically with some snacks and singing. Jacob asked Jojo, where he wanted his setlist and with the argument, that nobody knows him anyway and therefore there wouldn’t be any commotion, left for the stage. Nerve’s “Ghosts of Tomorrow” is availabe digitally via Bandcamp and will be released on Vinyl next year.
Text: Raphael Wuillemier
Tags: Ghosts Of Tomorrow Jojo Mayer Nerve