NO THINGS

DANIEL BLUMIN


PHOTO OF NO THINGS BY JENNIFER BAILY

In 2002, due to creative differences, Liars singer Angus Andrew and guitarist Aaron Hemphill expressed to pat Noecker and Ron Albertson, the rhythm section, that they wantedtobreak up the band. Having recorded two well-received records asonehalf of the critically acclaimed New York band (They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top and Fins To Make Us More Fish-like (Mute Records)), pat and Ron nowfound themselves free agents. Andrew and Aaron wound up keeping the name and Liars returned with a new lineup sans Ron and pat in early 2004. But there was still no sight of Ron and pat. Then, in the fall of last year, WNYU got wind of a new project called No Things, which featured pat onbass, Ron on the drums, and Christian Dautresme (ex-The Letter E & D.C.'HiM) on guitar and vocals. In September we received their debut single, Coward, on Blast First Petite, a new label founded by paul Smith, owner of venerable UK label, Blast First. The single - percussive, ominous, and intense - got a lot of spins on The New Afternoon Show and made it into our Best of 2004 year-end-list. We then got in touch with pat to see whether there was any new music in the works and, soon thereafter received an as-of-yet untitled album also tobe released by Blast First Petite sometime later this year. The record, an impressive debut, is full of tense, angular, agitated songs, which, if all goes according to plan, should be out sometime later this year. The New Afternoon Show will be playing acouple of select cuts as you read this. A band to watch in 2005, folks! You heard it here first! pat spoke to WNYU in February about the break up of Liars, the new band, the scene in New York, Led Zeppelin, and lots in between.


Daniel Blumin: Let's talk about the band's formation.

Pat Noecker: Well, let's see… After Liars split up in 2002, Ron went back to Nebraska to paint and see his son, and I stuck around New York and just went down into our basement and did a lot of 4-tracking. A lot of that was done with Christian, whom I met around that time. Christian would come over and we'd just 4-track stuff together just to make shit. Not really with any big idea in mind, but just for the sake of creating something, you know? And we'd do that, but we didn't use any of that stuff for No Things. It was just really a means to get to know each other and understand each other's styles. We were both fond of what the other was doing. I already knew how Ron played and so did Christian. So Christian and I just 4-tracked stuff together and made weird wacky shit until Ron got here and then we all started writing together. The songwriting is democratic.

DB: One of the issues that I read about in the press after you left Liars was the issue of songwriting in that band. It seems like it was less democratic.

PN: Well, Ron and I always wanted to be in a band when you get together and play and get songs from that. And that was kind of the background we came from, you know? And Angus and Aaron had a different approach. They wanted to write songs on their own and have Ron and I be their rhythm section, and that's not how it really was in the beginning. It was more of a democratic thing, and there was a good balance between Angus and Aaron bringing in a 4-track thing or all of us just coming up with stuff off the cuff and writing songs that way. Like “This Dust Makes That Mud” on the end of Trenchis a good example of the latter process. Ultimately, Liars split because Angus and Aaron wanted to do one thing and Ron and I wanted to do another, and No Things is a good example of how Ron and I wanted to approach it. In this band, it works well for us to have the patience to start with a little seed and make that thing grow and kind of sculpt it into shape or give it a pattern. And sometimes it works and other times it's, “Well, this is not working; let's drop it.”

DB: So would you say the working environment is quite different in No Things than in your Liars days?

PN: I would say so, yeah. It's definitely an evolution from that because we're allowing ourselves the time to just sit down, play together, and see what happens. When Liars got going, there wasn't a lot of time to do that.

DB: You mean in Liars you got together and immediately started playing live and recording for the album?

PN: In the early days, we practiced a lot more and wrote a lot more, and then, when the band got busy, there wasn't as much time to do that. And that's when the idea started happening like, “Ok, Angus and Aaron just wanted to do this stuff that they were 4-tracking and Ron and I wanted to do it the other way.” In No Things, all songs are gonna be written by the three of us in the room together because that's where you get the most feeling from; that's how you extract the most creativity out of this combination of people. I don't want to do a song and go, “Hey, everybody learn my song. Doesn't that sound like fun?” That is fucking boring. And I've done it, you know? And it's not exciting. I don't want to learn anybody else's songs. Nobody should want to learn my songs. For us, it's that community thing where you get together as a group of people, you make something, and you try and feel each other. This is something we really try and base it on -letting our feelings write the music. We're not trying to write a masterpiece; we're not going for a style. We're just trying to feel what is going on inside of us and letting that come out in the music some way.

DB: And was the decision to be a trio in any way connected to your previous experience? Why did you stop at three?

PN: We were actually a four piece in the beginning and Christian was just singing. We had a guitar player, but he couldn't commit to how much time we wanted to spend on the band. He was a great guitar player, but…

DB: Is he on any of the recordings?

PN: He played on Coward and Trees. He left shortly after we wrote those, and he kind of wants to be forgotten about. [laughs] He's a super great guy and we get along fine, but he says, “Don't even mention me in this project.” Then Christian took over on guitar. I knew he could play guitar and sing, so we wound up evolving into this three piece where you don't have the rock star front man and you have more of a unit. There's not one focal point so much, you know? Whereas Angus was very much a focal point of Liars, No Things is a little bit of a different kind of thing -maybe more of a Minutemen or firehose type of approach -where you just have a three piece, and it's more about the song and less about a front man star kind of thing.

DB: Do you think that makes a difference in the process of creating the music? When you know you have a showman like that in the mix, does that play a role?

PN: I think the biggest difference is the writing process. I would say it takes a little bit more time to write as a three piece than it does as a four piece where you have one guy singing, one guy playing guitar, one playing bass, and one playing drums. In a three piece, Christian is singing and playing guitar, so the vocals aren't always there right away. He'll just concentrate on the guitar part and then do the vocals or vice versa. So I'd say the biggest difference is the writing and not so much the performance because performing always kind of feels the same whether or not you have three or four people on stage.

DB: What about the lyrics? Is that Christian's thing?

PN: Yeah, that's definitely Christian's deal.

DB: Are they written for particular songs, or does he have lyrics that exist and then you guys try to work them into songs?

PN: As far as I know, he usually writes the lyrics after we write the music.

DB: Was there any kind of pressure on you, having left Liars, to worry about, “Oh, I've kind of already done such and such things musically.” Did that make any difference in what you were creating?

PN: My feeling is you can't consciously try and create a particular sound. You can't go, “Ok, I'm going to sound this way now,” because for me, my state of being, my condition as a human, that's what writes the music. It's the bottom line for me. And getting older as a person and going through different experiences in life is what I choose to let evolve the music, not a conscious idea about what I want my sound to be at this particular moment.

DB: Yet the record actually has a very unified sound. You're saying that it just happens organically?

PN: Yeah, absolutely. That sound coming out of me is exemplary of how I feel and what I want to hear. For No Things, we wanted to do something a little bit more tribal or a little bit less dance-oriented as far as rhythm goes. Obviously you don't want to repeat yourself, but you kind of go, “OK, what would make me feel good right now? What sounds would make me feel good?” So, again, it's a balance between your consciousness and your feelings. I think it's important to ignore what people say. It's important to accept that this is what comes out of me and I shouldn't be worried about what somebody else is doing. I shouldn't be worried about if this sounds too much like something else, you know? I also aspire to the idea of not thinking, and that's kind of what our name is about - kind of having a blank state of mind where there is no conscious thought.

DB: The record's coming out on Blast First Petite. When is the release date?

PN: I would say tentatively April, early May. Keeping our fingers crossed…

DB: Will there be a U.S. label doing it here?

PN: As far as we know Blast First Petite will be doing it all over.

DB: Was there a producer for this record?

PN: No, we did it ourselves. Do you know the engineer, Tom McFall? We did the record in London in October and Tom did some semi-production on it. We had sent the demo to paul Smith, and he asked us if we wanted to come to London and do some shows and I said, “Why don't we do some recording while we're over there?” So, we wrote that record in about three months and recorded it over there.

DB: I guess you knew paul from your Liars days?

PN: Yeah, paul Smith started Blast First. He wanted to start Blast First Petite because he needed an independent version of his label. Blast First's parent company is Mute, and the parent company of Mute now is EMI. Blast First is subject to the corporate machinery of EMI, and Blast First Petite is independent of all that. We don't really want to be stuck in a five record deal. It's like a record by record basis with greater split, and it's independent. We deal with paul directly. paul doesn't have to ask his higher ups or anything like that. So it's a smaller kind of thing. It's a little bit more intimate - a closer personal relationship with people putting out your record.

DB: What are some of your favorite Blast First bands?

PN: Sonic Youth, definitely. Big fan of those guys. Who else? Big Black, Butthole Surfers…

DB: Do Ron and Christian share your likes and dislikes? Do you all have similar tastes?

PN: Yeah, Christian has less of a rock background than Ron and I do, but the three of us appreciate any genre of music if it's done well, and being done well to us means just something that has a true feeling behind it. Music virtuosity does not matter to us. If it's done with feeling, that kind of shit takes care of itself. I'd say our appreciation for things done with a true feeling is equally shared among us. But as far as our backgrounds go, Christian grew up in New York City and Ron and I grew up in Nebraska, so Christian was exposed to more different forms of music here, I believe.

DB: There's a heavy post-punk influence on your record, and there seems to be a lot of interest in the UK post-punk sound in the US underground. In the past, most underground US bands had an “American sound” to them. I'm thinking of Nirvana, pavement, Dinosaur Jr, Replacements, Husker Du, etc. You could usually tell an American band from a UK band. However, over the past couple of years there's been a rise of bands that have made it kind of big nationally, such as Interpol and the Rapture, with a sensibility that is definitely more akin to a UK sound.

PN: I have to say that I don't really know. Our record -I know that the three of us concur on this – has this kind of English vibe because we recorded it there. We spent three weeks in London and eight days in the studio, and we recorded the record right in the neighborhood where Jack the Ripper did all his killing, and we recorded the bells in “Gather Round White Chapel” where they made the Liberty Bell, so there was this like American-English thing happening there. You wake up everyday and you know… Toast and beans and mushrooms and tomatoes and eggs.

DB: And Marmite?

PN: Yeah! [laughs] And you know some of that might seep into you in some way or another. But across the board, I don't know. I can't really say if there's an apparent English influence on American bands nowadays. I know there's a lot of bands from New York going to England and playing. perhaps that has something to do with it?

DB: I find it funny that some New York bands who have an English post-punk sensibility are going back over to the UK and becoming fairly well-loved, whereas, seemingly, there aren't as many UK bands mining their own post-punk history. In the past, bands like the pixies, Throwing Muses or Nirvana went over to England and became quite popular, while sounding uniquely American. Now it seems like there are bands that sound kind of UK-influenced going over to Britain and getting accolades. In fact, it's somewhat like the UK punk bands selling punk back to us in the late 70's. We're now selling UK post-punk back to them!

PN: It's really hard for me to say where these trends come from, but it's like the resurgence of blues and underground bands in America. I think that's been a really obvious evolution in punk rock bands over the last five years. Start with the White Stripes or the Black Keys. Before that it was Jon Spencer. Like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs -there's blues in their music. I think that maybe at the same time that American bands are possibly assuming a more English sound like Radio 4 or the Rapture, there's also American punk rock bands that are assuming or pulling those indigenous American forms of music, like the blues, into their music and creating that kind of hybrid, which has been done already, but it's in a new context.

DB: What were some of your favorite UK bands that inspired you or still inspire you?

PN: I've been watching some of that Led Zeppelin DVD and they're great! I love watching Jimmy page play guitar and Jon Bonham play the drums. I grew up with that band. Black Sabbath, also. I guess, the Beatles had all kinds of blues in their music, but I'm not as big a fan of them because Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath made the blues a little bit scarier. The blues is a dark form of music, and maybe its truer the way Led Zeppelin did it, or the way Black Sabbath did it. The Beatles were very much a popified form of the blues.

DB: How about the bands that it seems ev-eryone's been name checking for a while now such as Gang of Four, etc. What attracted you to those bands, assuming you liked a lot of that stuff.

PN: Yeah, I like Gang of Four; I have “Entertainment”. To be honest with you, I don't have a lot of post-punk records.

DB: How about Ron and Christian?

PN: Ron has pretty much no record collection, and Christian has quite a small one, and that's pretty much obscure reggae and dub stuff. We're a band; we're not record collectors really. I probably have like 200 records, but a lot of it is country, reggae, and thrift store records. I started out with my brothers, who listened to a lot of obscure 80's new wave bands. They played in a rock and roll band that didn't play songs you heard on the radio, and they wrote their own songs. I grew up watching them do it, and that was definitely the biggest influence on me. I was exposed to The Clash in fourth grade and, living on a farm in Nebraska, that was pretty amazing to me. Bands like that were the gateway to the world. It was wild music. Gosh, we were used to hearing fucking Foreigner and Air Supply on the radio…

DB: And BTO, I hope.

PN: Yeah… [laughs] And then your brothers give you this strange music that they don't play on the radio. Eventually you're asking yourself the question, “Why don't they play this on the radio? It's so much better!” And then you start to understand a whole lot more…

DB: About the economics…

PN: Yeah and the stupidity of commercial radio.

DB: Speaking of economics -a lot of bands in the 70's and 80's moved to New York. It makes sense to me why they did so then. people moved here because things were quite cheap, and they moved here to participate, to express themselves, and to be able to do it with pretty low overhead. You moved to New York in '97. Could you talk a little bit about the economics of having a band in NYC today?

PN: The logistical nightmare of trying to have a band in New York City? Well, I guess I can best explain it through my own experience. In Nebraska, you pay cheap rent, you're able to buy a van, the parking is always more than plentiful and you're surrounded by a lot of land. plus there's not anything to do besides play music, drink, or do drugs or whatever your choice poison is. It's easy to jump in your van and hit the road and only have to pay $200 rent. Here my rent is $700 and [laughs] I have to find a subletter, and I have to work a lot compared to what I used to work. Basically, I think that the struggle for a lot of bands in New York is having to pay the rent while also wanting to do their passion, which is play music. I think that's the general struggle of any artist, or any person in New York - that rent thing. And it's the biggest impediment to a lot of people's success - having to constantly fight that battle.

DB: I guess the question is why do people stick it out here and not move away and do it somewhere else, right?

PN: I think that it happens both ways. I think people will move here and stick it out, but I think people also move away because they get sick of having to fight against every little logistical thing. So yeah, I think New York's a tough town to be in a band, and I think people stick it out just ʻcause it's an interesting place to live. There's always something interesting going on in New York, and I guess one of my fears as a New Yorker is to never be able to go anywhere else because New York's exciting; it's the most exciting place in the whole world, I think!

DB: So do you feel a sense of community where bands kind of play with each other and hang out?

PN: Yeah. This guy Todd p., he's got a new space in Brooklyn at River and Metropolitan Streets. And that's like “the new spot”.

DB: And it's cool to have a new venue open up because over the last couple of years we've just had venues closing and not many new ones opening up, so I'm really glad that he's getting it all together.

PN: Yeah, me too; we played there last weekend and it was really cool. It's just such a friendly place and it's big. It's not a high pressure Manhattan socialite scene or even a Williamsburg socialite scene. Just people coming out to have some Miller High Life and watch some bands. It's just fun; you feel like you're surrounded by friends, and that's what I like about the place. It's the same when I go to Northsix. I feel like, “Ok, I'm in my hometown.” I can feel that vibe. I think this hype thing has all kind of died down a little bit, but I still think there's comradery among people who go see music and those who play it; there's also comradery among bands who play with each other.

DB: Funny hearing you say Miller High Life and talking about fun because there's a lot of dread and paranoia on your record. It reminds me a bit of the pornography-era Cure but with a much more rockin' sensibility.

PN: I can't say I know that record that well. Again, it was totally creepy and overcast over there and raining all the time and the whole Jack the Ripper thing… Granted that was the environment we were recording in - the way we wrote the songs and the sounds we came up with is another thing - but I think as people, the three of us were making a lot of transitions, and that may have contributed to it. I know my own personal life was going through transitions. I doubt the next record is going to be as dark as this one. Right now I think it's gonna sound completely different than this one as far as the vibe goes. It's gonna be a different mood. It's gonna represent a different state of mind because we're people; we're moving on through our own condition.

DB: So what are your plans after the record comes out? Do you have anything else in the works?

PN: We're really up against the clock. paul is in the process of buying the record from Mute to put out on Blast First Petite, so there's a lot of tentative things that are going to be more firm once the logistics are made clear to us. The plan is: the record comes out and we go on tour.

DB: The life of a band!

PN: Write songs, record comes out, go on tour, write songs, record comes out….

DB: You are 33 and Ron is 42. Is it as exciting now as it was when you were starting out playing in bands in your teens and twenties? Is it getting harder? How do you feel about it?

PN: I would say the reward is greater than ever because the longer you do it, the richer it becomes. Sometimes another fucking late night in a bar, and you're like “God damn”, but we're so used to it that you kind of get to a point where it's, “This is what I do with my life.” It does become like a job in a sense.

DB: It doesn't make you want to go, “Ah, I don't want to do this anymore; I think I'll go to law school.” [laughs]

PN: No, no, not at all.

DB: So, you see yourself basically doing this as long as you can.

PN: Absolutely. I don't know what's going to happen in my life, but I know that playing music is a gift to me, and I like to treat it as such. Where that gift comes from, I don't know. I've been lucky enough to do it in Europe and all over the United States and it's a really amazing thing. Being able to go on tour with Sonic Youth and shit like that; that is evidence of progress, I believe. The main evidence of progress for me is just making music that just hits you harder and harder. It's not any harder to write a song; it's just sometimes [laughs] the “another night in a bar” can be a pain in your ass, but, then again, that's how I felt when I was 25. As far as playing music goes, I want to do it all my life if I can. And it's exciting, having gone through the whole Liars thing, to have this new band and go, “That's my history, and I'm happy about my history” and then go, “And this is new… This is new life; this is all a part of the picture.” Some bands last a long time and some don't.

DB: Most bands last too long! [laughs]

PN: Yeah, exactly!

DB: I guess you kind of hit this vein at a certain point when you're doing something, and maybe you're not able to hit it again after a record or three…

PN: You can't really try and hit the vein. You don't want to be a one trick pony. If you want to be a one trick pony, you're going to make one too many bad records, I think. I don't want to sound like a blues band. I don't want to sound like a punk band. I don't want to sound like anything but the life I'm living. And your music always does reflect that, and I think if you embrace it, your music will be a broad thing.

Cowardis out now on Blast First Petite.

For more information on Blast First Petite and No Things visit http://blastfirstpetite.com/



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