- Joey Ma
"What are The Nods?" is the kind of direct-yet-gauche question that in journalist lore is a no-go for starting an interview. But when it comes to the band in question, it's important to cut the bullshit as soon as possible.
It turned out to be a good question. While first and foremost they're a Salt Lake City band that has played shows for the past seven years, frontman and guitarist Rocky Maldonado doesn't waste time getting at what The Nods aren't. "To be honest, The Nods is ... kind of going against psych and garage rock, that pool that unfortunately a lot of shit gets classified as," he says. The group cracks like an egg from that point, and with a case of Pabst nearby, a soupy, invigorating conversation begins about not only what The Nods are, but what punk is, and what good music (including their own) should do.
"We'll freak you out in two minutes," bassist Josh Brown says about their fast-paced, noisy music. They nudge against terms like "psych," "garage" and "punk," and reject the aestheticization of those terms—the distance, for example, between punk ethos and what has become culturally understood as a punk sound. Although Maldonado offers up "busy psych rock" as a descriptor, and Brown describes it as more "to the point" than spacey psych rock, it seems they really can't pin themselves down. This hesitation, or inability, to identify fully with a genre might be a result of their myriad influences—and of the music it compels them to make.
Collectively, they like everything from '50s and '60s pop, according to guitarist Joey Mayes, to "weird stuff" from the '60s and '70s, and punk stuff from the '70s, '80s and '90s. Brown notes how '60s psychedelic bands have always felt punk to him, simply because they weren't playing pop music. Maldonado brings up '60s psych rock pioneers The 13th Floor Elevators as an example. "Punk ... means just being yourself, not caring what people think about it," he says, expanding on Brown's feeling. "It's completely 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder.'"
Caught up in this interchange between musical moments and genres, The Nods' own sound seems to be a product of its members' restless struggle to get at what's between the labels that seemingly separate different types of music. This interest and determination translates to the harried, wily final product that is their every song.
And on their way to these, they walk a careful line between knowledge and ignorance. With their respective music tastes, multi-instrumental knowledge and experiences in other local bands, they're still able to embrace not knowing everything, or doing anything "right." Maldonado plays a $90 tear-drop shaped Vox-lookalike that he got for free, while Mayes' long-owned amp and guitar are a result of personal cultivation.
Despite these personal differences, Maldonado remarks, "We still have something that ties it all together ... I don't really know what that is." Drummer Jeremy Devine offers up "Ariadne's Thread," which happens to be the name of their 2015 cassette release, as well as an ancient Greek method for solving puzzles by exhausting every logical approach—an apt metaphor for the band's tendency to explore every creative avenue.
The result is a complex, fiery sound that Maldonado explains well: "I think [we] have a great dynamic with a call and response. We have an intro and a guitar riff, a lead line and then vocals, but then after almost every phrase of vocal patterns, there's a little bass hop or a drum fill or bend on the guitar that just stretches it out. You can do so much with so little. I think in a weird way limiting yourself is one of the most powerful things you can do." The band's upcoming album Overripe—released by the U.K.'s Hot Wax Records—will feature clean production to highlight all the little changes that make their songs pop the way they do, and will leave listeners with something that lasts.
In addition to working on the album, this last year found the band busy with frequent shows, too. They struggled against burnout, which was thankfully countered by the gratification of getting to play with local up-and-coming acts. Mayes and Maldonado make sure their regard for live music isn't understated. Not only do bands serve the purpose of "getting people moving and dancing and drinking," as Mayes puts it, but of leaving people with a feeling they didn't have before.
Maldonado says, "To me, it's way more than having a good time. It's giving someone something to relate to, and that is so important." Mayes agrees, recalling certain shows and bands that changed the way he thought about music. "If I can do that for somebody else at a show or on a record, then let's do it," Mayes says, "I wanna shake folks up."
Anybody who has ever been to a Nods show certainly knows what it feels like to be shook up by them. If that isn't the case for you, then treat yourself to their album release show in the novel but svelte venue that is E3 Modern—a fitting choice for a band that pushes any and all expectations far, far from its wild pursuits.