November 19, 2015
By Michael Silver
Tommy Siegel is a man of many talents, including but not limited to a singer, songwriter, and guitarist. While most musicians dedicate their efforts towards one sound, such is not the case here. The frontman for Brooklyn indie rock band Narc Twain, and the lead man for bands Jukebox the Ghost and Drunken Sufis, Siegel is on a mission to create distinctive records and have fun along the way. Narc Twain also includes John Thayer (drums), Aaron Leeder (guitar), Dave Cohen (keyboards), and Brett Niederman (bass). I spoke with Siegel recently, as his new incarnation is creating a buzz in anticipation of their debut EP.
How did the band come together? Was it a mutual bond between friends and musicians that spawned this collective? Also tell us how the band name came about.
The five of us have actually been playing in various projects over the years (most notably art punk band Drunken Sufis), but Narc Twain started a little over a year ago. Sometime in 2014, I found a poetry book in the recycling bin of my apartment building in Brooklyn called “Cult of Comfort” by Jeremy Schmall and became totally enamored with his writing. It’s a really hilarious, cynical and emotive collection of surrealist poetry about 21st century America, and it got me on a songwriting kick that inspired this new project. After tossing demos back and forth and improvising in the practice space, we started jokingly labeling them “Narc Twain”, but it stuck. We tried really hard to come up with other names, but after awhile nothing else made sense and felt like the name matched the attitude and spirit of the project. I like that the name by default forbids us from making music that’s too serious or too far up its own ass to be playful.
The EP was recorded locally in Green Point. Was that a convenience factor being that you guys call Brooklyn home? How long was the recording process, and were there any speed bumps along the way?
We recorded it at Thump because John, our drummer, is a regular engineer/producer at that studio (which is coincidentally an incredible local studio). We got a few days locked in there and tracked almost the whole record live over the course of a three-day weekend, with vocal tracking and minor overdubs happening over the next few months at our rehearsal space. All in all, it was the fastest I’ve ever gone from writing songs to having a finished record.
Listening to the record is a quality experience of various sounds. I hear parallels to groups like Fugazi and Death Cab For Cutie. Who inspired you growing up? What direction stylistically were you aiming for?
I’m glad you can still hear the Fugazi in there. Part of the reason the new project happened was because I was on a huge Fugazi kick and kept kicking around songs in that vein. I’d seen them when I was in high school and always loved them peripherally, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I really dug in deep. Of course, my voice isn’t exactly tough or post-hardcore-suitable, so I’m not sure how apparent the Fugazi influence would be to the average listener who’s fixated on vocal quality. But that’s the spirit we were trying to channel, which came to us pretty naturally as a band of ex-DC residents who have all been obsessed with the Dischord thing at one point or another. But again, my voice is naturally very earnest and nasal, and I love writing catchy choruses so it became its own thing.
As far as the bands we were referencing while making arrangement decisions: Dismemberment Plan, Television, Ought, Wire, Slint, Modern Lovers and Fugazi would be the big ones.
On “No Connection”, a new track on your soon to be released EP, there’s a solid build up, which leads to a lengthy instrumental breakdown. Not many bands are keen on this approach. What makes the transition to the bridge so seamless?
I’m really fiercely proud of that song in particular. To me, it encapsulates the kind of chemistry you can only get with musicians when you’ve been playing with them long enough and trust each other. We only did a few takes of that song, but I remember us all pumping our fists at the end of that specific take. It just has that kind of musical ESP and wordless communication that you can only get from playing together for years. That whole ‘jam’ section happened very organically from improvising in our practice space and experimenting where the song could go. It just has one of those modal spaces that we can sit in forever, even though there’s very little chord movement, so we decided to embrace that quality.
The band played a handful of gigs during CMJ, catching the eyes and ears of many industry folk. What kind of feedback did the group receive?
We got great feedback from CMJ! I hope you’re right about ‘industry folks’ getting into Narc Twain. We welcome them with open arms, if such people exist out there in the universe.
The EP is scheduled to release in early December and a headlining show at the Knitting Factory is set to kick things off. What’s in store for Narc Twain in 2016?
Hopefully some touring, and I’ve already written most of another full Narc Twain record, so I imagine we’ll try and record another album in the spring!