Tommy Siegel on the art and anxiety of Narc Twain
Each day, humanity is given the opportunity to wake up and embrace the day on a scale that runs anywhere from sun shiny optimism to disenchanted apathy and right down to stagnant pessimism. Where one falls on this spectrum during any given day is probably heavily affected by the events happening around us.
Given the many unstable and controversial topics that permeate today’s society, it’s not surprising that the public at large is so riddled with vocalized opinion and what better way for a public held up by many points of view to be both entertained and thought provoked, than through an indie rock/punk band that focuses on “anthems for 21st century dystopian anxiety?”
Where can one find such a band with such music? Look no further than Narc Twain and their eponymous, debut EP, arriving in less than one week!
(Note: This song contains explicit language.)
Narc Twain are:
Tommy Siegel (Guitar/Vocals)
Aaron Leeder (Guitar)
Dave Cohen (Keys)
Brett Niederman (Bass)
John Thayer (Drums)
A new five piece band conceived by Siegel and based out of Brooklyn, while Narc Twain’s story is just beginning, none of its players are new to the game of music. Siegel even shares pre-existent band mate status with Thayer in another group named Drunken Sufis. The evolution of Narc Twain came about in a most interesting and happenstance way: Siegel’s recycling bin discovery of the limited edition book, “The Cult of Comfort,” by Brooklynite poet, Jeremy Schmall, led to a hard and fast bolt of inspiration for a slew of songs commenting on the corporate state of America and its polarizing side-effects.
While Siegel has an established reputation and level of public recognition through other bands like Drunken Sufis and Jukebox the Ghost, Narc Twain is a freshly brewed undertaking that has flown relatively under the radar leading up to this imminent release, outside of an early summer performance at New York City’s Mercury Lounge and a pair of showcases during this year’s CMJ Music Marathon. Already having released two singles from the eponymous EP, “Downhill” and “Same Shit” respectively, Narc Twain’s no-frills approach toward indie rock and punk, infused with splashes of ardent spoken word, is sure to gain a variety of lasting fans, fast.
Counting down to the EP’s release, Siegel and I discussed the nuances of Narc Twain’s development, the value of being a multi-project musician, choruses in 5/4 and much more:
Kira: Seeing as you’re someone with many musical outlets, how necessary and or important do you feel it is for music career-minded musicians to be involved in more than one project? There are clearly some individuals in addition to yourself, whose list of bands in which they participate end up longer than the discographies themselves but, it’s a setup that works and one that doesn’t leave their creative brains starved or stunted to one side.
Tommy Siegel: Personally, I find it super helpful – it’s good for me to compartmentalize a project and know what it’s trying to do. With Narc Twain, there’s a specific songwriting voice that I find myself writing in pretty regularly that works well in the world we’ve set up as a band, somewhere in the camp of the DC post-punk bands who influenced all of us. Jukebox the Ghost and Drunken Sufis each have their own songwriting language and boundaries too, and it’s usually pretty clear which project a song or riff falls into. That being said, every one writer is different – I have some musician friends who seem confused by my involvement in polar opposite projects. I definitely know plenty of people who feel comfortable with one genre and one songwriting voice. And kudos to them! That’s true monogamous love.
Kira: The main artistic reference made about the songwriting and performance style of Narc Twain is Dismemberment Plan but, the first thing that came to my mind was Conor Oberst’s project, Desaparecidos and their latest release, “Payola,” in particular. Narc Twain and Desparecidos share a topical focus in socio-political with a mix of snarky and straightforward metaphors discussing past and present states of affairs. Additionally, I appreciate your decision to alternate between smooth melodic singing and more of a spoken word, adamant poet-esque delivery of lyrics –another element shared with Oberst. (Especially prominent on “Same Shit” and “God Given Right”).
These commonalities in mind, do you feel, in choosing to orbit around these themes, that the potency of Narc Twain’s songs fare better with some direct delivery (channeling an almost protest-song vibe) or is it simply a choice coming from a place of artistic preference?
Siegel: I’m a little embarrassed to say I actually haven’t heard Desaparecidos, but I’ve been told that Narc Twain has a similarity before. There’s a voice that comes through Narc Twain consistently that I wouldn’t classify as ‘protest’ particularly – caustic observation might be a description I’d use? In the 21st century, I think people with any degree of curiosity about the world around them begin to realize that the game we’ve rigged for ourselves is pretty messed up, even when it works in our own favor and benefits our lifestyles and comfort level. For me, music is a pretty helpful way to channel my frustration and confusion in the world around us in a way that (hopefully) doesn’t come out as anger or overly preachy. Also, by expressing this stuff as lyrics, it makes it so that I don’t constantly annoy everyone around me by being a total bummer of a human being.
Kira: Generally speaking, for whom would you say the songs of Narc Twain primarily are? Are they a mostly a self-reflective platform for you and your bandmates, meant to serve a cathartic journal entry type purpose or, are you equally interested in conveying a specific thought/opinion among the public?
Siegel: I think it’s just an outlet that provides a path for expression for all of us in the band. I think if you start thinking about “the public” when you write songs, you end up writing songs that don’t feel like the truth. To me, the catharsis and the message are all the same thing, and if you’re coming from a more personal place it lends the ideas more power anyways. That being said, there is a bit part of me that misses the Fugazi school of thought where you could make direct, political points phrased as poetry — it seems like a very passé thing to do right now, but it’s a shame.
Kira: Midway through the EP, the track “No Connection” really breaks any kind of presumption of brevity from the songs the public has heard thus far. Roughly nine and a half minutes of music places this track (at least quantitatively speaking) squarely in progressive rock territory. It’s a fantastically done work to be sure, but, there’s no denying its stature as an outlier on the EP. Might you recount what it was like recording that track? (With more than five minutes of purely instrumental music and what seems like lots of improvisational and dissonant writing, cutting this in the studio must have been an experience.)
Siegel: Of all the tracks on the EP, that’s probably the one I’m the most proud of. I’ve been playing with Aaron, Brett, John and Dave for years as Drunken Sufis (a very skronky, instrumental art-punk band), and that track to me is one of the first times we’ve caught our band’s chemistry and communication in recording form. We didn’t really know exactly how long the song was going to be, and no one was calling out changes, but there’s a certain wordless musical vocabulary that can only happen when you really trust and enjoy the people you’re playing with. In this case, it created this flowing, arpeggiated middle section and the closing chord progression that feels like it keeps rising and rising endlessly. To me, that track in particular represents the five of us at our best and most locked-in…Those are the kind of moments I want to re-create over and over again.
Kira: Jeremy Schmall’s book, “The Cult of Comfort,” isn’t all that long (104 pages) but quite a few pieces are packed in there. What stuck out about his poem, “And Today Nothing,” enough for it – as opposed to anything else in the book –to be made into a song for the EP (and as the closer to boot?)
“In the 21st century, I think people with any degree of curiosity about the world around them begin to realize that the game we’ve rigged for ourselves is pretty messed up, even when it works in our own favor and benefits our lifestyles and comfort level.”
Siegel: What I like about Schmall’s work is that he manages to find a way to tap into all sorts of weighty, existential, political issues without being preachy. I hate preachiness from people like me – Anyone who says they’re not complicit in the systems they oppose isn’t looking hard enough at themselves. The comforts of the 21st century are largely built on the back of things we’re all willfully ignoring, whether it’s gasoline, food, water, or clothing. So I think preachiness is silly – we’re all the enemy, to varying degrees. To me, Schmall’s poetry gets at that with a really sick and wonderful sense of humor.
Kira: It was Mark Twain who said, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect,” which is aligned very nicely with the self-aware nature of Narc Twain’s character as a band but, I’m told the actual label of “Narc Twain” was originally conceived as a joke folder where demo ideas were exchanged. Did this quote of Mark Twain’s just happen to fit the ethos of Narc Twain’s lyrical foundation or, is there something about Twain’s life / work that stood out to you long before Narc Twain actually became a band? (Something that inspired the joke label to begin with perhaps…?)
Siegel: The origin of “Narc Twain” was trying to figure out a band name that had the word “narc” in it. Narc Twain was just a horrendous pun we came up with, but it felt like it fit the spirit of the band as the record actually started coming together. I like that it keeps an odd pressure on the project not to take it *too* seriously. It’s just rock and roll, at the end of the day. There’s something about subverting the image of an American icon that feels right, and it also helps that Mark Twain was a real badass of his era.
Kira: Where is your head at right now – in terms of how you perceive yourself as an artist – given the variance between Narc Twain, Drunken Sufis and Jukebox the Ghost? How does it feel to be working on something new and from the ground up, knowing you’ve got more than a decade of music and a reputation built with other work already? Do you enjoy the rush that comes from having to start from scratch, so to speak?
Siegel: There is a certain rush that comes from starting from scratch – but it’s also terrifying. The further you get from a band’s moment of inception, it becomes easy to forget how difficult it is to get anyone to give a shit about your music. You just have to hope that the music speaks for itself. And it’s important for me to remember that I make this stuff because I love it, not because I need other people to love it as much as I do.
Kira: Speaking of Jukebox the Ghost, the band has a fast approaching winter tour that takes off in January, not too long after Narc Twain’s release party. How do you feel about having to pivot your focus again so soon after hitting this important milestone with a fledgling endeavor?
Siegel: It feels good! Narc Twain is hoping to tour at some point, but likely later in the spring and it seems unlikely we’d try and do a long tour like the kind Jukebox does regularly. I’m really looking forward to Jukebox’s tour — we’ve got some new music to showcase which keeps it fresh and our fans are amazing.
“To me, [“No Connection”] in particular represents the five of us at our best and most locked-in…Those are the kind of moments I want to re-create over and over again.”
Kira: You recently posted on your Tumblr – amidst birthday wishes for fellow guitarist Aaron Leeds – a cheer of appreciation for “songs written in 7/8 with 5/4 choruses.” Any other uncommon compositional choices you are fond of that music lovers might look for in Narc Twain’s music going forward?
Siegel: There’s a song on our EP called “God Given Right”, that has a minimalist intro section with rim clicks and single guitar notes that are stereo-panned — I keep writing songs in that vein, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the next record has that sound as a recurring motif. Angular, minimalist, dual-guitar verses are really doing it for me right now. And thankfully, I have Aaron to help me figure out how to put them all in 5/4.
Kira: Lastly, a favorite pair of questions I like to ask that blend the personal with the technical: What’s your pedal/effect of choice and why?
Siegel: With Narc Twain, none! We’ve gotten into the habit of no pedals at all, just amp distortion from using tiny amps. It’s so refreshing. For years I’ve been lugging around effects pedals with various bands and sometimes it takes having them all yanked away to realize how little they’re adding to the music and how distracting they can be. It’s probably just a phase though. Guitar pedals are indeed fun as shit.
Narc Twain’s self-titled, debut EP is due out on 3 December.
The EP was recorded at Thump Studios in Greenpoint Brooklyn, recorded by Keith Rigling and mixed/produced by John Thayer.
The band will commemorate the occasion with a release show at Brooklyn’s own Knitting Factory. Full details and ticket link below!
Keep in the loop with all things Narc Twain through these social media platforms:
And (occasionally) Tommy Siegel’s Tumblr.
Narc Twain’s EP Release Show!
(with special guests Norwegian Arms and Lithuania)
Thursday, December 3, 2015
The Knitting Factory Brooklyn
361 Metropolitan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11211
$10.00 (Advanced Sale)
$12.00 (Day of Show)
Tickets available HERE.
Leave a Reply