Continuing their rise in the US as one of the best new post-rock/gaze/post-punk bands of recent memory, Nothing will storm the shores of Europe this Fall, playing dates in the UK, Italy, Austria, Hungary, The Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium and return to the Netherlands. This return to European soil follows their acclaimed turn at this past April’s Roadburn Festival with a performance that left tongues wagging and mouths agape.
Nothing released Guilty of Everything on Relapse in March. Surely to mark year-end best of lists in 2014, Nothing has been universally hailed as a new hope in modern, heavy music, Ghost Cult’s own scribe Tiago Moreira raved in his review of Guilty…, referencing the best in post-metal, shoegaze, and even some legit comparisons to Nirvana:
“The high levels of energy are a constant throughout these ten tracks. Jesu, My Bloody Valentine, Smashing Pumpkins, Slowdive can be influences, but they don’t restrain Nothing’s freedom, not even for one second….You just need to pay attention and let the repeat button do his job. In the end I can promise you this: the music and lyrics on Guilty of Everything will make a huge impact on you. You will not explore Nothing’s music, you will explore yourself.”
Front man, Domenic “Nicky” Palermo commented: “Can’t wait to get out of the United States for a while and come visit Europe. I hope someone takes me in so I never have to go back home.”
It wasn’t easy to get a hold of Dominic ‘Nicky’ Palermo. If I’m not mistaken it took something like three attempts to interview the founder, guitarist and vocalist of Nothing. Well, shit happens. No big deal when you’re dealing with a dude that’s not an asshole (sometimes an asshole can be described as a rockstar, FYI). Anyway, I had the pleasure of talking with Palermo about Nothing, their debut album, Guilty of Everything (Relapse), and everything that surrounds this world where literature is as important as punk rock music, loud guitars and shit loads of reverb.
“It started with me, just me, and then I putted some people together to help me record the demo [titled Poshlost]. Shortly after the demo I met Brandon [Setta, guitar and vocals] and we started to write music together and in between of what we have now and then, it’s gone through probably twenty people. But everything is really tight now. Finally, after three years, I found a couple of people that are decent human beings and fine musicians”, starts Nicky, the who founded Nothing back in 2011. Going back to those times where Nothing was just kind of an idea he continues, “Even during the days of Horror Show… I always wanted a project like this. But I was young and impatient. I didn’t have the necessary tools to build it.“ Yeah, one might think that Nothing is just this band with loads of hype, created like six months ago to proceed in this music business with pure swings of luck. It isn’t the case. Sorry! Not only was hard to create this entity and find the right people but there’s even the fact of Palermo’s past experiences. Horror Show, Palermo’s previous band, a hardcore punk outfit that was described, by Deathwish (who released two Horror Show’s 7” EPs – Our Design and The Holiday) as a band that “truly lived the pain of their songs every day”.
“It’s an inspiring place, nonetheless. It wasn’t a pleasant place to be but if you are able to come out of something like that you come inspired by it, for sure”, explains Palermo about his experience post-Horror Show and pre-Nothing. No matter who you are, being incarcerated will ways have a profound impact on you and put things in perspective. Palermo is no different and this period of his life helped to shape this entity that we know as being Nothing.
When asked him about the impact of Emil Cioran’s book, The Trouble With Being Born, on him, Palermo went into great detail:
“On Downward Years To Come [a five song EP] every song was specifically about one writer that took his own life. They’re all really relevant to me. These writers got me through some of the worst times of my life, and they have been along with me for some of the better times too. They were my only friends for a while, when I was incarcerated, and they put it all out there. There’s so much pain… Richard Brautigan and Sylvia Plath, they help me and it feels like I owe something to them. I wanted to do a record dedicated to them, pretty much“.
But going back to more practical things, how much of struggle it’s for this band to write music? An obvious question for everyone that had the pleasure of listen the music and read the lyrics.
“We write songs pretty consistently. Brandon doesn’t work and he just sleeps on my couch at my apartment all the time. We usually just sit around all day with our guitar in our hands constantly. We hear a riff that one of us is playing over and over again before we decide that we should take that riff and start making an actual song. It’s kind of like, when we’re ready to record it’s when we really start to digging in and we try to turn those riffs, those ideas into songs.”
On Guilty of Everything, the debut full length of this quartet from Philadelphia, it’s almost tangible the evolution they achieved since releasing their first EP, Downward Years To Come. “Why bother creating new things if they are just a pure stagnant with no progress whatsoever? We always try to better ourselves with music”. Sure, Jeff Ziegler was an important piece on Nothing’s evolution, but the band shows an urgency of staying on the run like if someone would shoot them in the head in case they stop and get too comfortable.
With the progress of this conversation we reach a turning point where things start to be a little bit clearer. It starts with an innocent question: why this title?
“We were thinking about what we were doing with the record and at that time, actually before even record it… I was reading a book called “Guilty of Everything” by Herbert Huncke. Herbert Huncke is a writer, a criminal and a drug addicted living in New York. Basically is a part of the group of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, etc.”, says Palermo, talking about the group of writers known to be a part of The Beat Generation, a group of American post-World War II writers that were writing about this “culture” of the outsider (the rejection of social standards, innovations in style, experimentation with drugs, alternative sexualities, etc.).
“They met all in New York and he [Huncke] really turned them on into drugs, crime and everything. That pushed them to opening up to the world, which made them like the elite writers of that generation [1950s]. I know that a lot of people don’t know about these writers. It’s nice to give a nod to what inspires you and what inspired something. Sometimes those people get hidden in the past and they never get recognized.“
That explains a whole lot. First it gives the needed space to clarify why they signed with a metal label like Relapse – “We play shows with punk bands, with hardcore bands, indie rocks bands, etc. We’ve never really fit in necessarily anyway” – then allow us to ask about their use of drugs while recording Guilty of Everything. “This was not the first time that we record music while under the effect of performance enhancing drugs. Usually we use all kind of different drugs but this time around we were so heavily stuck into the studio working, like ten hours per day. We were taking adderall at the time. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the drug but it’s a prescription drug for people who have ADHD [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder]… we probably have it anyway. Basically it makes you insanely obsessed with whatever you are doing, and makes it impossible to sleep.”
It seems that there’s almost an obsession with misery. All these stories and the fact of Palermo’s lyrics are so fuckin’ dark and bleak makes us wonder if he sees himself as being a nihilistic person. “No, but I have an almost kind of hatred for human life. It’s disgusting what we are, what we do and what we think that we’re here to do. It’s just dark and depressing. I’m here; I’m designed to be as anybody else but even as aware as I am about all these things, I still get out of bed everyday… I don’t want to, all the time, but I’m like everyone else, you know? I’m not superior in any way. But yeah, I think about how fucking horrible we are as a race. I don’t want to bring a child into this world. It’s funny, there are children out there, at this point, that don’t even have a fuckin’ home. It’s selfish to bring another person out of like a seemingly peaceful to this place where we are basically doomed” says Palermo. But, what about these problems of today like the Edward Snowden’s case (surveillance) and the Russia-Ukraine thing? “I don’t really pay attention but it’s kind of hard to miss those kind of things. I mean, it’s just something completely expected. We do the same things over and over again. Eventually this will come to an end and the world will just do a restart of sorts, you know? Everything comes full circle again. We can take all we want but there’s no stopping what is coming from us.”
Funny to see how much of Kurt Cobain is in Palermo… I mean, not only Nothing is punk as fuck, just like Nirvana, but it seems that it goes beyond when we see that Palermo shares some views that Cobain always confessed so publicly. But there’s one more thing: Nothing, just like Nirvana, loves to play live. How much of a problem is to want to destroy eardrums? The relationship between them and the sound guys must be wonderful. “It will be easier to deal with it over here [U.S.A.] than where you’re at [Europe]. I heard that over there they have like a 100 decibel limit… it’s never gonna work out. We don’t have issues with sound guys. I have issues with assholes. We work with a sound guy last night, in Birmingham, Alabama, and he was great. He was so attentive and he cared about his job. It is tough when you walk into a venue where there’s some guy that gets paid 30 dollars and doesn’t wanna be there and doesn’t care about the band… Sometimes that guy feels even offended by what the bands asks, mostly because the band is asking something that’s different. That’s an asshole, that’s not a sound guy”.
“I was listening some radio show and they were talking about how there’s no good new music and they were referencing lots of random sort of MTV things and… It seemed so obvious that these were just people who didn’t either know where to look or weren’t willing to put the effort.” That’s what Andee, co-owner of Aquarius Records, said on Kenneth Thomas’ Blood, Sweat, Vinyl. DIY in the 21st Century. An amazing documentary movie that everyone should watch. Now, let’s think about what Andee said and apply it the band Nothing. The “MTV things” is a good way to start because one of the things that every listener will notice, or so I hope, is that Nothing is, at the core, a punk band full of dark ambiance, delivered by the music and Domenic Palermo’s lyrics. If you go back to the early 90s you will find a band that jumped into the mainstream, with the help of MTV, and had some of Nothing’s characteristics, or the other way around if that’s so fuckin’ important to you… Yeah, I’m talking about fuckin’ Nirvana. The other thing interesting about Andee’s words is the “where to look” thing. Well, Guilty of Everything, Nothing’s debut album, was released by Relapse Records (a metal label). Yeah, it’s probably a weird match and you didn’t see that shit coming. Well, let’s think again. Everything has a turning point, it doesn’t matter if we hate changes or not… It will eventually happen. Right now we’re seeing a fuckin’ turning point. Deafheaven’s Sunbather, Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Death Grips’ The Money Store, and Nothing’s Guilty of Everything, these are some of the records that are putting an end to the limits that we know. I mean, they were not the firsts to stretch the boundaries but they are definitely, because they are what we know now, the ones to put the boundaries on the moon. We can even look at Nothing’s own history. They released their stuff in an indie rock label, in a punk label and now in a metal label. There’s no stopping this shit: eclecticism is our next stop. Nothing’s debut album is, indeed, another important landmark on the music business. Just like Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing.…., etc – No, I’m not saying that that is better or it will make the same exact impact… Fuck off!
That being said, let’s jump into Nothing’s world. The band, which if from Philadelphia, was formed in 2011 by Palermo (guitars/vocals) after some complicated moments and the break-up of his band, the hardcore outfit Horror Show. From their demo, Poshlost, to this album (don’t forget about their two EPs, Suns and Lovers and Downward Years To Come) the evolution is remarkable. Starting off with ‘Hymn To The Pillory’, where the first moments of melancholy are attacked with loud and noisy guitars, to ‘B&E’ (a track that was re-recorded, since it was present on their demo), that seems to use a type of crescendo that is always limited (I’m aware of the weirdness of this statement, thank you). There’s no stopping or dull moments in here. Brandon Setta (guitars/vocals), that joined the band after the demo, was indeed a turning point for Nothing. Looking at the cover you might think they have surrender in this bleak and dark world. Well, it doesn’t seem like that. The high levels of energy are a constant throughout these ten tracks. Jesu, My Bloody Valentine, Smashing Pumpkins, Slowdive can be influences, but they don’t restrain Nothing’s freedom, not even for one second. Probably the diversity and cutting edge style that I’m talking about will not making sense at first. You just need to pay attention and let the repeat button do his job. In the end I can promise you this: the music and lyrics on Guilty of Everything will make a huge impact on you. You will not explore Nothing’s music, you will explore yourself. “Spent summers in a well watching pale moons disappear. Alone.” Haven’t we all?