Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Each and every Friday we offer songs by local artists. Today’s featured selection, chosen by Afternoon Show host Kevin Cole, is “Narwhal Aerobics” by The Nightgowns available on their self-released debut, Sing Something.
A lot of Seattlites have an inherit snobbiness about our Pierce County neighbors, but Tacoma-ites are proving there’s much more to their fair city than just a cleverly rhyming nickname. For the past few years there has been an influx of artists of all disciplines setting up camp and creating spaces to make their art. They have created a tight-knit artist community akin to what’s going on in Portland. Musicians of all genres go to their friends shows, lend each other a hand, collaborate, and support one another has made this a dynamic place to play and create music. The Nightgowns released their debut full-length earlier this year and it’s quickly becoming one of those albums that people everywhere are starting to talk about. The songs are dreamy, somber, but are still beautifully poptastic and reflect the influence of living in a place where genres collide and bend.
I got the chance to talk to Trevor Dickson and Cody Jones, the creative impetus behind the project about the band, the new album and making a fresh start.
Let’s start with some basics for those who may not be familiar with The Nightgowns you guys used to be called The Elephants. What was the impetus for the name change?
There were a hundred other bands called the Elephants, namely this band from Denmark. Articles about us had photos of them, articles about them had photos of us. Also, since we had a different line-up and new record coming out, it was the perfect time for a new name and fresh start. We still play songs from the Elephants debut record but our sound has changed, and our new name fits better. It’s nocturnal, and perhaps a little more eerie.
How did The Nightgowns come together?
Jason Freet left The Elephants to start a more psychedelic sounding project The Drug Purse. Cody and I wanted to continue in the direction we were already headed, which was to write and record a more solid and interesting sounding POP record than the previous one. Kyle Brunette of the band Friskey expressed interest in playing guitar and bass with us, and BJ Robertson joined as our first real drummer. Prior to him we were faking it through sloppy sets of wild percussion. Kyle and BJ have allowed us to play the kind of pop music we would have never been able to perform live prior to their joining the group.
Was this album put out via Team Unicorn Records? Who from the group is a part of that? Just Kyle or are other of you involved with that?
Um. Good question. Team Unicorn is more of a collective or clubhouse than a record label. We released Sing Something ourselves. We associate ourselves with each other because we are all making our own records in Tacoma basements, occasionally collaborate, and most of the time just get plain wild at each other’s shows. It’s not really a business or label. More of a stamp.
Musically, Sing Something is different from what you’ve done in the past. What influenced you to go in this direction?
We all have very different musical tastes and favorite records... but I think it can easily be said that this record was heavily influenced by 1980′ pop records... everything from OMD to New Order, Orange Juice to Echo & the Bunnymen. We wanted to fill this record with cheap drum machines and thick warbly synth tones. We were experimenting with intricate melodies over two and three chord drones on much of the record.
You’ve mentioned that when you went into the studio you didn’t want to worry about how the songs were going to sound live. Did you have a difficult time translating them from studio to live versions?
So many bands go into a studio and record an album exactly the way it would sound live. We were a little less worried about how these songs would translate live, and more concerned with making a record with layers of colors and noises... most of my favorite pop recordings would be nearly impossible for the artist to perform live. That’s what makes their record so special. The emotions and energy will translate in a live show.
Can you tell me anything about today’s song Narwhal Aerobics?
I (Trevor) 4-tracked a demo of the song about a year ago, shortly after which Cody convinced me to record it for our new record Sing Something. It’s loosely based on the Inuit legend of the narwhal whale and a woman who was dragged into the ocean by a harpoon rope that was tied around her waist, and became the tusk of the whale. But it is also about the violent nature of love.
The Nightgowns have a few shows scheduled up and down the west coast including one in Seattle at The Sunset Tavern on August 7th with BOAT. For more info and dates check out their MySpace page. Here’s a video for “Oh, Tina” performed live at the Warehouse in Tacoma earlier this year: