Nurses

Travels in Sound

Dec 11, 2009 Web Exclusive
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The history of psych-pop outfit Nurses and its core members, Aaron Chapman and John Bowers, reads like a musical travelogue of sorts. Having grown up in Idaho Falls, Idaho, Chapman and Bowers took their love of music to California, Chicago, back to Idaho, and finally to Portland, Oregon, where the pair, along with drummer James Mitchell, has taken up permanent residence. The result of all their travel can be heard on the band's sophomore album, Apple's Acre. A shapeshifting mix of organic instrumentation and Garage Band experimentation, the album surges along on melody and psychedelic feel, brought together by friends who have spent a good part of the last decade searching for home. Under the Radar caught up with Chapman to discuss Apple's Acre and the origins of a band that was built upon discovery, musical and otherwise.

You grew up in Idaho Falls, Idaho. I went to a website for the city and it said, "Where great adventure begins...." What's makes Idaho Falls special?

Aaron Chapman: [Laughs] I think great adventure might be a stretch. There is a lot of outdoors activity to be done, which I probably know less about, because I feel like I was more of an indoor kid growing up. One of the things about Idaho that is I suppose unintentional is that it just seems like a mystery. I feel like the only cultural reference point is Napoleon Dynamite or something. People just have strange ideas about what Idaho is about, and I think I do myself as well. But Idaho Falls is just really quiet, kind of small, isolated feeling place. It's really pretty in certain areas. It's kind of like a high desert. There are mountains that are pretty, but sometimes it's kind of dry. It's a lot less green than the Northwest. Musically, when we were growing up there, there wasn't really a lot going on there. The typical band was kind of a cover band that played the bars and things. Definitely a completely different feeling than anywhere we lived after that-California or Chicago or Portland now.

How big a part did music play in your youth?

It was a tremendous part. My mother is a classical pianist and piano teacher and my dad has played in bands his whole life and played music. So I grew up just hearing piano lessons and hearing classical piano. And also my dad would play me '60s and '70s psych records. So that was kind of my upbringing. Didn't have a lot of access to indie music, or a lot of underground stuff in the '80s and '90s growing up. So I was kind of oblivious to that. I was pretty well acquainted with classical music and psych records and Top 40. I started playing piano at the age of five, and I started playing guitar at 12, and it just seemed really fun at the time and I've been playing ever since.

Did you take piano lessons?

It was somewhat of a mandatory thing. So I didn't appreciate it as much. It was like the wake up at 5:30 in the morning and practice for an hour before I could go to school and check that off the list of chores type of thing. At the time, all my siblings and I would kind of practice begrudgingly. But now I'm definitely appreciative of that musical background.

When you started playing guitar at 12, you already had this appreciation of classical music and how music works. Did you find that you drew on that knowledge?

Not consciously. When I first started playing guitar it probably seemed more like a rebellion against piano and classical music. I just wanted to do something that seemed alternative at the time. But once you know music, whether or not it's a conscious knowledge of theory or it's just an instinctual understanding of how music works just from being around it so much, I think you can't help but draw from that or reference that, but initially when I started playing guitar, it was to do something else. Maybe what I thought was punk rock at the time.

When did Nurses begin?

I feel like there were different chapters. Nurses, to me, is the band we are now with James. We've been playing for the last year and a half or so, and released this record, Apple's Acre. That is what I consider Nurses. But we called ourselves Nurses for four years or so and we played with different people and played different kinds of music. But I think this is the first time we felt completely comfortable and established and it seems to have a new beginning point.

I was reading that the songs were written three years ago, conceptualized through jam sessions, just you and John.

That's true. We started a lot of the songs on Apple's Acre, probably three quarters of them, about three years ago. And we were just making tapes. It was when we were living in Southern California, and we would get home from work and kind of just shut ourselves in a room and hit record on a cassette tape. I guess you could consider it jamming, but it was just improvisational, a cappella singing a lot of the time, and we would just kind of make tapes every day, whether we liked it or not, and then we would just go back and reference points that we liked or the highlights. A lot of those became the songs that we're playing now.

The press materials implied that there was this 'aha' moment with Garage Band that added different tone to recordings. Did you initially conceptualize these songs differently from how they turned out when you got into the software?

When we first started playing, the songs definitely were a lot more stripped down, and we would just play guitar and piano or it was the a cappella. A lot of the product of the record was experimenting and not really knowing what we were doing with recording software because we had never recorded ourselves before. So it did turn out differently, as that was kind of a discovery process, not knowing what we were doing and just experimenting with recording itself. The songs definitely turned out differently from how we conceptualized them in the first place.

There was a two to three year gap from time when you starting writing the songs and when they were recorded. What kept you from laying them out at the time, as initially conceptualized? Was there a sense that there was something missing?

It was a strange, natural, serendipitous process, because we had initially planned on recording with a friend, kind of more of a proper studio record, and it more so just circumstantially hadn't happened. We just hadn't had an opportunity to have recording time. We were snowed in, in Idaho, and that's when we started experimenting with recording. And we didn't have a computer prior to that. We hadn't really considered recording them ourselves. We just figured we'd record a proper studio record. And then we ended up messing around, and that's kind of just the way it happened.

How much do you feel that the songs changed when you started really experimenting with Garage Band and loops and things like that?

The song structures and the melodies are more or less the same. I just feel like it's kind of the way we dressed them up, and we had fun with that. But the songwriting process wasn't so much informed by that but more so some of the sounds you hear, we wouldn't have come with had it not been for that recording process. It's somewhat of an aesthetic thing. Because those songs are kind of folky or pop songs on a guitar or piano, but on the record we had fun. I think we wanted to deconstruct the idea of traditional instrumentation when recording, because we had been playing more traditional rock and roll and I think we wanted to approach things differently. Like, let's do something that isn't necessarily identifiable as an instrument, but it plays the same role, and then it would put the focus more on the music than what the instrumentation is. You don't picture a guitar happening here, you just hear a song. The recording process allowed us to experiment and delve into that idea.

The press I've read has made a big deal of your moves. You've lived in a lot of different places prior to settling in Portland. Can you tell me a little bit about the different places where you've lived and what occasioned the moves?

Being from Idaho, we had a friend who lived in California. I was going to school and was unhappy, and more unhappy than probably I realized at the time, but a friend just presented the idea: 'You guys should move to California. We'll play music.' It's not anyone that we play music with today. So I think it was just adventure, and just experience. So we moved to California and started playing. Those were different bands at the time that slowly started evolving. We started playing with John and it slowly evolved. I think being in Southern California, we were very restless, and we weren't involved in any sort of musical scene. We felt really strange. We got called weirdos and had eggs thrown at us, and all these things. And we were like, 'What? This is weird. Is this how the whole country is?' We didn't really know any better at the time. We didn't know what it was like to be in a band and live in these places, like Inland Empire in California. So I think we were just really restless, and we were shut-ins and didn't hang out with anybody, just worked on music, and felt like we were going crazy.

I had a sister who lived in Chicago, and I had visited Chicago and I think initially I was in love with the city, and the architecture really impressed me. It seemed like this fast-paced place, with lots of artists and musicians, and that was something that we just craved, having not being involved in anything like that. On a whim, we just decided to move to Chicago. We didn't really know anybody. We ended up living in our van for four or five months. We had toured and stayed in our van before, so it wasn't that big of a deal. We just said, we'd live in our van and find a place eventually. It was just crazy, because we never slept or anything. And then we headed back to Idaho for Christmas, and that's when we were snowed in and started recording our record.

And I think it was also sort of on a whim, the decision to move to Portland. It was just one of those things where people had hinted. People would say, 'You guys ever been to Portland? I think you guys might do well there.' I think they were maybe referring to the fact that it's a weird place and that it's really accepting of things that are eccentric or weird. But when we moved, we had no idea how accepting and how incredible the music scene in Portland is. It was just similar to any of the other moves. It was part adventure, part change, part restlessness, and we moved to Portland, and really, really quickly started realizing it was the first time that we felt home after moving around so much. We just felt accepted and it was such a positive thing, and it made sense. It was the first time it really made sense, to be anywhere and to call it home.

Let's talk about the music. Where do you feel your melodic sense comes from? The Beach Boys have been mentioned, but you said you listened to psych records and classical music. What's been influential in terms of your melodic sense?

That's tough. Definitely classical music for sure. That was my understanding of melody and harmony for so long. As far as The Beach Boys go, I definitely had a phase where I discovered Pet Sounds. I heard it in the past, and I wasn't necessarily running parallel with the spirit of it. And then when I discovered it and it really clicked and I got into that. It's definitely influential, but I don't think it was anything that we were consciously referencing or going for.

I have also come across a lot of Wizard of Oz references.

That's actually a valid one. I feel a little bit strange talking about musical influences, because I don't like the idea of drawing any sort of straight reference point. I don't feel like we approach music that way, but I think we did more so reference film and things, and that was one of the ideas that we had talked about.... With that, it was kind of an intangible thing. We referenced The Wizard of Oz when we were recording in the sense of the aesthetic, the spirit of it, and how grand it was and how dreamy and magical. That's definitely a fair reference point. But then again it's really hard to talk about that because its not a direct musical influence, it's more so visual landscapes and things. I think that's more of what we referenced, and The Wizard of Oz is just the closest reference point for fictional landscapes and fictional visuals that we had in our head. It wasn't like we were watching it and being influenced by it, but more so just referencing it when talking to one another, John and I.

Finally, what does your father think of the record, being that his likes were the '60s and '70s psych stuff?

He's pretty into it. It's always hard to tell when talking to your parents, you know? He seems to be sincerely impressed and sincerely into it. He's definitely into the kookier, like Zappa and all those things, so I think he does get a kick out of it, being kind of a weirder thing. But surprisingly, he also likes the stuff that we do that is more pop-tinged. He exists more in the pop world these days.

www.myspace.com/nurses



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Travel Ins
January 5th 2010
2:36am

I think he does get a kick out of it, being kind of a weirder thing. But surprisingly, he also likes the stuff that we do that is more pop-tinged. He exists more in the pop world these days.