November 13, 2015
By Lauren Kruczyk
Brooklyn-based indie rock/punk band Narc Twain, the dystopian brainchild of Tommy Siegel (Jukebox the Ghost, Drunken Sufis), writes guitar-centric anthems for 21st century anxiety, striking parallels reminiscent of Dismemberment Plan lyricism, the electrifying belligerence of Cloud Nothings, and the rugged guitar interplay of Television.
Noisey's thoughts? "Cross the millennial angst of D.C. math rock veterans the Dismemberment Plan with the moody atmospherics of post-punk progenitors Wire and you might get something resembling Narc Twain."
The band came together in 2014 and includes drummer/producer John Thayer, guitarist Aaron Leeder, keyboardist/vocalist Dave Cohen and bassist Brett Niederman. Narc Twain's self-titled debut mini album is scheduled for release on December 4th.
In addition to premiering Narc Twain's awesome new track, "Future Shock," I had the opportunity to ask Tommy Siegel a few questions about his life — what it's like being a part of three bands (Narc Twain, Jukebox the Ghost, Drunken Sufis); the perpetual fear of negative fan reactions and "selling out;" and his wonderfully captivating doodle skills (fabulously featured in an article for Noisey's "Open Submission Wednesdays").
Read on as Tommy talks Narc Twain, Death Magic, and "aquariums lined with hedge funds and coffee chains."
You are a part of Narc Twain, Jukebox the Ghost, and the Drunken Sufis. What led you to pursue all of these different paths?
Tommy Siegel: To me, all three projects are in line with different (and equally vital) parts of my musical personality. I've never understood how songwriters and musicians are expected to stick with one genre.
As listeners, I think we're all pretty diverse — there's no one out there who only listens to ONE type of band, so it seems odd to me that musical output is expected to stick to one particular sound. For me, each project scratches an itch that nothing else can scratch.
Drunken Sufis is where I exercise my need to make dissonant, angular music that makes children cry, and Jukebox the Ghost gives me the sunny hooks and musical-theater pop that I need in order to function.
Narc Twain, for me, represents a style of songwriting that I've been doing for a long time with no consistent outlet — it's kinda right at the meeting point between pop and skronk, in its own funny way.
All the Narc Twain songs on the EP are very new, but when I look back on my writing I realize that a lot of old songs in Narc Twain's vein were slipping into Drunken Sufis and Jukebox the Ghost in equal measure, just through a very different filtering process.
You described Narc Twain’s anxiety-ridden “Downhill” as a fever dream of Brooklyn going up in flames, or maybe falling into the sea, “an aquarium lined with hedge funds and coffee chains." Can you go a little more in depth about what prompted you to write this song (or perhaps, a specific person that ignited the flame?)
TS: Sometime in 2014, I found a poetry book poking out of the recycling bin of my apartment building in Brooklyn. It was a book called Cult of Comfort by (formerly NYC-based poet) Jeremy Schmall. I became totally enamored with this guy's poetry — it voiced a paranoia and cynicism dealing with 21st century hyper-capitalism that already fills a lot of my waking thoughts, but he did it in a way I found very effortless and funny. Reading that got me on a kick of writing lyrics in that vein, some of which directly reference or quote poems in his book.
Funnily enough, one of his poems has an email address in it. On a whim, I emailed him hoping it was his real address and told him about finding the book and sent him some of the music. It turned into a really nice back-and-forth. I've never met the guy, but hoping to do some collaboration in the future with him. I think his poetry is absolutely goddamn brilliant. Truly my favorite poet.
But more specifically about "Downhill" — that song was based on a dream I had where I was swimming through an underwater manhattan. I loved imagining the whole city as an aquarium, but a really lame one. Hedge funds and coffee chains instead of treasure chests, y'know?
When venturing into new territory as a musician, what are you most fearful of: the possibility of failure or negative fan reactions?
TS: I think both are pretty scary. But when I really believe in what I'm doing and the whole band is doing it confidently, all of that kinda washes away. Narc Twain's music probably isn't the average Jukebox fan's cup of tea, but it's not trying to be — it's a totally different thing, and I think that would be pretty clear to anyone who stumbled onto it. And I think those who get it and get my songwriting will see something familiar about it.
In a recent Talkhouse article again, you stated:
“I find that I’m continually drawn to albums that do a particular thing and hammer it home without hedging their bets in an attempt to please everyone — and Death Magic is the unabashed result of that kind of process of renewal. It’s not even close to the pummeling noise-rock I was expecting, but it’s an awesome distillation of the band’s aesthetic through a contemporary pop filter. They sure as hell knew what they were doing.”
You refer to “selling out” and the fine lines that go along with the term. As an artist, there must be many hard decisions for you to make. Has HEALTH inspired you to be more free with the direction you intend to take with any new music?
TS: The longer I've been making and writing music in multiple projects, the clearer I get on doing one thing confidently and nailing it to the best of my ability. The lamest music, to me, is music that straddles the fence out of fear of being judged. So when I make a pop record, I want it to be catchy and unafraid...And when I make unlistenable atonal music with Drunken Sufis, I want it to be violent and disorienting.
It's really freeing to develop parameters and operate inside them....But in order to do that, I think it's more fun to have a lot of projects to explore so one in particular doesn't have to be scatterbrained or stretched too thin.
As mentioned, you recently did artistic interpretations of Noisey’s reactions to user submissions on their designated “Open Submission Wednesdays.” How did this opportunity come about, and when did you realize your extraordinary talent in creating such unique illustrations?
TS: Hah! Extraordinary might be a bit generous for my grotesque doodling, but I appreciate the adjective. When I'm on tour, I do doodles-by-request in the van and this was kind of a fun extension of that. I wanted to be a cartoonist as a kid and abandoned it when I hit puberty and started playing guitar. If you had to sum up “Future Shock” in three words, what would they be?
TS: "Alvin Toffler book." Or at least, that's what I'm referring to specifically. I read a lot of it years ago and some of the ideas really stuck with me. With the term, he's referring to the psychology of societies that experience extreme change in a very short period of time. I think we're living in an age like that right now.
All of a sudden, with social media, we're developing a global hive mind and I think we're all addicted to the feeling of hive connectivity without having any idea what to do with it. It's impacting our psychology in so many different ways, some of which are good and some of which are bad, but either it's... uh... interesting to think about, to say the least.
Anything else you’d like to add?
TS: I would love to add a little shout out to the rest of my bandmates. I've been playing with these other four guys in assorted projects for close to a decade and this has been a wonderful new way of continuing to play with those guys.
Extremely grateful to have 'em in my life. John Thayer (drums), Aaron Leeder (guitar), Brett Niederman (bass), Dave Cohen (keys/backup vocals). John even engineered and mixed the entire record...Dude is out of control. Or I should say, "dudes." These dudes are out of control.