Alt Div's Erin Smith recently spoke with The Nationale Blue. With two self-released EP's under their belt, the progressive indie-rock trio formed in Hartford, CT have finished their debut LP "A Different Kind of Listening" on Iodine Records.
What is the story behind of how you all met up and formed The Nationale Blue?
We all met at The University of Hartford in Connecticut. Adam Kriney (drums) and Reuben Bettsak (guitar/vocals/synth) had played together since freshman year (1995) in the pop-punk band LIPMONGER. LIPMONGER lasted several years, and Reuben was one of the guitarist/vocalists the entire time, but Adam only played drums for about a year and a half with the group. Adam, Reuben, and Dave Altman (bass) first played together in the emo group THE LITTLE DIPPER, which formed in the fall of 1997. There was also another member of the group named Dave Kordansky who was the singer. This band played out a lot and toured some too and had a couple of releases. Eventually Adam, Reuben, and Dave Altman all graduated and moved to Boston, MA in late 1999. At this point we had all been playing together for two and a half years, we had enjoyed the music of THE LITTLE DIPPER, but we knew we wanted to do something a little bit more challenging, and we were having problems with our singer, who still had another year of college left. So we realized that the only thing to do was let our singer go and keep playing music and start from scratch, and that officially took place in January of 2000. The process was slow and it involved a lot of experimenting but after about three months of diligent practicing we were headed in the right direction.
What is the songwriting process The Nationale Blue undergoes?
Since our songs are very long and complex, things are not very typical as far as writing. One of our best attributes is that we practice vigorously and that enables us to read each other very well and write a lot of material. In most cases ideas begin with a drum beat. Adam will usually kick a drum beat, most often in some odd but grooving time signature and then Dave will come up with a bass line to go with it, and then Reuben will work something out on the guitar. Sometimes we write by jamming, when we all find ourselves in a nice groove, and we'll just keep the part, add it to an existing work-in-progress, or use it to begin something new. Rarely do we come into practice with a part all worked out. A part might just come to us as we are walking around or at work. It can take months of jamming and thinking to write a song and even then we still might change things around. The use of keyboards or electronics (effects or drums machines) and vocals are very secondary for us. It is not that they are unimportant; essentially we are just a guitar, bass, drums trio. Our songs usually end up very long because we like to keep the 'story' of the song going until it feels resolved or complete. We just go from the initial idea and spend a few months writing part after part, its very exciting for us.
Was the process of writing and recording this record different from your first release? If so, how?
This is the first record we've ever done. We have recorded and released EPs in the past, but nothing as vast as this. Although we didn't know what the final product would be, we knew that it would be 70 minutes on the nose, and it is. We recorded the CD in three parts. The first session was two songs done in the early summer of 2001 with Keith Souza, "Knives and Hearts" and "Your Head Is In The Dark, I Can Not Extract You". We released these songs on the "Cab Don't Kill Me" EP which we self released and pressed up a few hundred copies. The next session was with Kurt Ballou in late summer and mid-fall of 2001 where we did a total of 6 songs, "Made Up Meanings To Made Up Words", "Verbal Aproxia", "Hope Without Saying", two different versions of "Silver Alien Pyjamas" (only one of which is on the record), and a somewhat improvised and experimental song called "Unraveling Secret Codes", which was basically a jammed out version of another track on the record called "Secret Codes" that we hadn't finished writing yet. The next session we did was with Keith Souza again in the early part of this year where we did "Where the Hawks Fly", "Loop Transversion", and the trilogy "Secret Codes", "Focus in Six", and "Hot Wet Kisses In The Dark". The writing of all the material took place since the summer of 2000 and was continuing until we recorded the actual songs. The process on this record was not very linear, though maybe that's what gives it character. It definitely shows our growth as a band from a heavy experimental indie sound to more incorporations of jazz, psychedelic, and poly-rhythmic feels to everything.
You recorded half of the tracks at God City Studio with Kurt Ballou of Converge. What was it like working with him and did it have any particular influence on the way in which those tracks were produced?
Kurt is an amazing engineer. He used a combination of analog and digital recording methods and he is very competent at both, as well as how to fiddle around with different effects in the studio. He was very open to experimentation and our use of synths, drum machine, extra percussion, etc. You can tell Kurt is a guitar player too, because he is picky about the sounds and a perfectionist when recording extra guitar tracks. He even took the role of a producer when he recorded us. He was always coming up with ideas and effects. Even telling us that a note sucked. We appreciated the honesty and input. I think he was happy to record us because there was room for him to be creatively involved with the finished product. With us, mixing the record was almost as challenging as recording, and Kurt did very well. We loved working with him. He also played the melodica on one of our songs too, what a multi- instrumentalist, I tell you! But Keith Souza also did a great job and he's an excellent engineer and multi-instrumentalist as well, and we can't wait to record with him again. He is more analog focused and I think we're a band that challenges him when we record with him, but we're very happy with all we've done with him. We hope to work more with both of these fine men in the future.
When people listen to A Different Kind of Listening, what do you want them to get out it? Did you have any set goal or expectations upon the completion of this album?
We want them to get lost in the journey of the record, to just put it on and travel with it, to go where it takes them, to enjoy it as a personal experience. We think it's a sit in your room type of album. We just want to communicate and inspire with our music and to effect people's minds and thoughts. We worked hard to make this record blend well together, and we're proud that we made our first full length sound pretty rad. We just wanted a good recording that represented us well. This is the first full length that any of us in the band have ever done and it was hard to craft an album over 3 recording sessions while the band was progressing. In a way, it made the album more interesting though.
What is your favorite song on the new album and why?
Adam: The trilogy of "Secret Codes", "Focus in Six", and "Hot Wet Kisses In The Dark" is my favorite song, although it is actually three tracks, they are continuous and represent one small story. This trilogy was our most complex achievement and I love the all-percussion track "Focus In Six", obviously because I am the drummer and played separate two drum set tracks on the song and because I got the other two to play additional percussion with me, there is great energy to this song when we do it live too, it is real, it is alive. We have already revamped this song and it is longer and better now, I can't wait to release the newer version.
Reuben: It is really hard for me to pick just one song. I'm really happy with "Silver Alien Pyjamas", "Hope Without Saying", and the trilogy of "Secret Codes", "Focus In Six", & "Hot Wet Kisses In The Dark". Those are probably the standout tracks, but I really like all of the songs.
Dave: I would have to say that "Silver Alien Pyjamas" is my favorite song on the album. I just love the energy and the vibe. Plus I was just really happy with the production on it. I also am really happy with how "Unraveling Secret Codes" came out.
You have been compared to the likes of Drive Like Jehu, Sonic Youth, Yes, and even Rush. How do you feel about these comparisons?
It's very difficult for any artist to make comparisons with whom they are similar to, because everyone wants to feel original, and believe that they are in the forefront of a new direction, but at this stage of human existence nothing will ever be original again, which is sad, but at the same time intriguing. We know who our influences are and we wear it on our sleeves. We can be confident in knowing that we've worked hard to define ourselves and that we are writing 100% from our hearts. Bands like DRIVE LIKE JEHU and SONIC YOUTH represent the experimental and energetic indie sound that we exude at times and they are both are innovative and aggressive indie rock groups. But groups like YES and RUSH are ones that we feel more aligned with as of late because of our departure into more complex grooving and jazz based music. These prog-rock bands were some of the best and earliest to take rock and play with jazz skill, and I think we're playing indie rock with jazz skill, or approaching that to some degree, we're not there yet though we're on our way. We really push ourselves, and hope to be able to constantly shift our abilities to the next level.
What were your musical influences when you were growing up? How do you think this affected the unique sound of The Nationale Blue?
Adam: I grew up always listening to music. My mom raised me going to concerts from a very early age. She took me to see SIMON AND GARFUNKEL, THE GRATEFUL DEAD, RINGO STARR, TOM PETTY, THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS, SANTANA, THE ALLMAN BROTHERS, THE MOODY BLUES, NEIL YOUNG, JETHRO TULL, EMERSON, LAKE, AND PALMER, and more. All of her friends always introduced me to cool music as well, when I was in 7th grade one of them gave me mix tapes with VENOM, METALLICA, KING DIAMOND, MERCYFUL FATE, BUDGIE, and BLACK SABBATH, how amazing! On my own though I listened to mainly heavy metal and got into punk and hardcore in high school. I think that all of the heavy music influenced me to play very hard and loud, and the past few years, I have revisited a lot of the music that my mom introduced me too, so I am getting back into psychedelic and classic rock. So when I compose, things are aggressive, loud, heavy, and also psychedelic and groove based. Now that I am studying jazz as well, that is adding even more elements into the melting pot such as complex poly-rhythms. I have played instruments my whole life also, I studied clarinet, flute, keyboard, and I am currently studying drums again, so all of this background adds up.
Reuben: So many influences like LED ZEPPELIN, VAN HALEN, RUSH, THE BEATLES, YES, KING CRIMSON, THE RAMONES, THE CLASH, 7 SECONDS, SEAWEED, SONIC YOUTH, BUILT TO SPLILL, MEGADETH, IRON MAIDEN, MICE PARADE, TORTOISE, TRANS AM and countless other punk, electronica, indie, and metal bands. I learned guitar by myself. I think that all these influences swirled up in my mind. I think a lot of these influences are always present in my mind. But with THE NATIONALE BLUE, I really try to use guitar parts that sound a bit different to me. I try to be as original as possible. I think that we all do that as a band. Right now I think that a lot of 70's prog rock bands like YES, are inspiring what we write, or how we write, but blending those sounds with punk rock roots, electronica, and other forms, can create some truly exciting new music. It's like moving on. Lots of people think that everything has been done, but that's not the point. It is taking everything that has been done, and stretching it, and making it different somehow.
Dave: When I was growing up I listened to classic rock and grunge or whatever was on the radio until I got to college where I was introduced to bands like FUGAZI, DRIVE LIKE JEHU, SEBADOH, QUICKSAND, SENSEFIELD and SPLIT LIP (CHAMBERLAIN). These were the first indie bands I got into. It just progressed from there. Everything you hear affects what you play in some way, whether on purpose or not.
What are you currently listening to?
Adam: SOFT MACHINE, MILES DAVIS (68-75 period), MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA, CHICAGO UNDERGROUND DUO, EMERSON, LAKE, & PALMER, JIM O'ROURKE, YES, ORNETTE COLEMAN, ALBERT AYLER, and BOARDS OF CANADA.
Reuben: The new GUIDED BY VOICES album, AESOP ROCK, MUM, TRANS AM "TA", YES "Fragile", MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA, WILCO, LACK (from Denmark), and AMERICAN ANALOG SET.
Dave: I am currently listening to 90 DAY MEN on the stereo. Other bands I have been listening to include AFGHAN WHIGS, RUSH, KING CRIMSON, MUM (from Iceland), DJ SHADOW, LACK (from Denmark), LUSTRE KING (my favorite live band ever), WILCO, TRAIL OF THE DEAD, LED ZEPPELIN, DEAD MEADOW, MILES DAVIS, THE MARS VOLTA, and FARAQUET.
What are your plans for the future for the band?
We just got done with a highly successful 23-day tour out to the mid-west and back. We plan on going into the studio this summer to record some more. We'd like to do a week long mini-tour this summer back out to the midwest as well, but we're not sure if we can swing that. We may do a few northeast dates with FORSTELLA FORD later this summer. We will be self-releasing a limited CD of live material that we recorded onto MiniDisc this tour featuring some improvisations, and new live versions of songs. We are also thinking about a several week tour of Europe for next year. Most importantly to keep practicing, writing music, and pushing ourselves!