November 18, 2015
One person’s trash is another person’s inspiration for starting a dystopian-themed punk band. Well, at least that’s how it worked out for Tommy Siegel. The Jukebox the Ghostand Drunken Sufis guitarist was leaving his Brooklyn apartment one day when he spotted a copy of Jeremy Schmall’s The Cult Of Comfort in the recycling outside his building. He flipped through the book, and soon became engrossed by the writing. It quickly turned into an obsession, as he repeatedly read the cynical and surrealistic collection of poems from cover to cover again and again.
These poems ended up becoming the inspiration for his new band, Narc Twain. After forming the lineup, it only took six months for Siegel’s dystopian obsession to turn into material for the group. The text’s sense of paranoia and unease lives firmly within the lyrics of the punk group’s upcoming self-titled debut, out December 4th. To give a taste of the nightmares and loathing, the band has shared their latest single, “Same Shit”.
As the name implies, the song finds Siegel bemoaning the monotony of everyday life. He offers his observations on the stagnation and lack of progress of the world while the band pummels out dissonant guitar riffs with propulsive rhythms. Siegel’s rambling monotone vocals on the verses echo his despondency, lifting up into a melodic rallying cry on the chorus as he shouts, “It’s the same shit in a different nightmare.” It’s just the right blend of wit and cynicism that Schmall would no doubt approve of.
Listen in below.
Consequence of Sound caught up with Siegel to find out more about his infatuation with trash can discovery, his dystopian fixations, and how his new band stands out from his other projects. Find out about this and more in our Q&A below.
COS: You have to tell us the story of how you came across Jeremy Schmall’s The Cult of Comfort. What exactly drew you to grab that book out of the trash? Were you familiar with Schmall before this moment of kismet?
A couple of years ago, I was leaving my apartment building and the book caught my eye in the recycling pile outside of my building. I liked the cover. It had a giant emoji of a smiley face with The Cult of Comfort as the title, which I thought was pretty provocative. After flipping through it a couple times, I became totally obsessed with his poetry. He just … gets it. That post-millenium paranoia and fear that comes coupled with feeling overwhelmed by inaction, and the realization that everything we take for granted as comfort is acquired through some horrible means. The horror that comes with being aware of how things work in the world we’ve built. That, and his strange fascination with deli meats. Somehow he really gets to all of that existential dread while still being deliriously funny. I think a writer in my building threw it out. My building seemed to have a writer thing going on, as Tao Lin lived in my building at one point, or at least he was always getting junk mail.
I’m rambling here, but Schmall’s poetry got me on a songwriting kick that wouldn’t stop — It was refreshing to read something that so effortlessly (or at least, seemingly effortlessly) expressed a lot of what I also enjoy expressing in lyrics. I’ve always had a thing for lyrics with a cynical, dystopian edge to them, and reading the book regularly became a launchpad for writing more songs in that vein. That, and caffeine. And even more importantly, my incredible bandmates (John Thayer, Brett Niederman, Aaron Leeder, and John Thayer) who turned these shells of songs into what they eventually became.
Specifically what about Schmall’s work, and even more specifically The Cult of Comfort, spoke to you? Is there a passage or verse that sticks out in your mind even now?
I really loved the title of the poem “& Today, Nothing”, and it eventually became a song on our record — we even debating naming the band “& Today, Nothing”. The end of it reads:
“The woman sitting beside me
says the ocean is lousy
with adorable sea mammals
jamming their fins
into rusted aluminum cans.
I guess they just love our trash.”
That kind of spirit was something we wanted to channel in the project. Somewhat political, somewhat dark — But never taking itself too seriously or becoming impenetrably depressing. Keeping some one-liners in there.
How would you present this project to fans who know your work from Jukebox the Ghost? Are there any similar threads? And for you personally, how do you make the sonic switch?
I think there’s definitely a common thread. Jukebox the Ghost’s first record has a series of six songs I wrote (initially as a concept album) about the apocalypse — This stuff, to me, very much feels like a continuation of that spirit but with a different musical backdrop. Rather than framing them in a quirky piano-pop setting, these are distilled through a different group of musicians with the intent of making something that represented a different set of influences. WWFD (What Would Fugazi Do?) became our mantra for figuring out parts in these sessions. I think my voice is a little too pure and nasal to be ‘hardcore’ in any real sense, but that brainy post-hardcore Dischord thing is something we were trying to channel. Dismemberment Plan and Television were two of the other major influences looming over the record for us.
The album sort of came together with the help of John Thayer, Aaron Leeder, Brett Niederman, and Dave Cohen. Why did you decide to bring in all these gents, and did you share Schmall’s book with them? How did they help drive the direction of your infatuation with this poetry towards making an album?
Oh it more than came together because of them and I didn’t bring them in. This is very much a “band” and only happened because this set of friends exists in the first place. I wrote the bare skeleton of each song, but they were workshopped and arranged at every step by Dave, John and Aaron (Brett came in a little later). I’ve been playing with those four guys for close to a decade now as part of the instrumental/skronky/art punk band Drunken Sufis, and this project was just a different outlet and a new iteration and style for the five of us. But even under a new umbrella, there’s a certain wordless chemistry that just happens when we’re in a room together. “No Connection”, for me, is the best example of that. We haven’t released that one yet, but it’s 10 minutes long and doesn’t feel too gratuitous to me. There’s an improv section that no one in particular ‘wrote’, but just effortlessly oozed out of us when we were all in the same space. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever been a part of recording, simply because I think you can hear the musical connection happening in the moment and it doesn’t just sound like anyone in particular showing off or ‘soloing’ in any traditional sense. I’ve been a part of a lot of records, but it’s really tough to capture a full band’s chemistry on tape — It’s something you can feel in a practice space that tends to get washed out by over-thinking and over-arranging in the studio. I’m fiercely proud of that track for that reason.
What’s next for Narc Twain? Is there more music in the works/in mind? What about a tour?
I’ve already written of a lot of what I think might turn into our second record, the goal is to start recording again in the spring if schedules align. Would love to tour in 2016 too! We’re but a baby band, so all of these things are still new to us. We expect to make billions and billions of dollars, in short.