After startling the scene with the potent and earnest strength of their EP debut A FLOOD TOMORROW, Kingston, NY’s NIGHTMARES FOR A WEEK are back with their much anticipated first full length Don’t Die(Academy Fight Song). The beautifully packaged disc (featuring a winsome photo of balloons flying out of a smokestack) takes the tight-knit three piece’s ragged songs about friendship, good/bad times and weathering heartbreak to the next level. Drummer Steven Markota, guitarist/vocalist Bill Manley and bassist Sean-Paul Pillsworth buckled down with producer John Naclerio (POLAR BEAR CLUB, MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE) at Nada Studios in Upstate, NY and have created something truly special, a punk/Americana album in 2010 that reads like a road map back to believing in something bigger than being petty or disingenuous about art. It’s about putting on record exactly what you are feeling and the buck stops there.
What was the process like writing for this record as opposed to what you did on the A Flood Tomorrow EP, which a lot of people loved? You still have great songwriting elements and I think you’ve grown but the camaraderie is still there which translated very well in the songs on the EP. You’ve retained that but I think Don’t Die takes it to the next level.
Bill Manley (guitars, vocals): As far as writing goes nothing really changed. The main thing that changed is probably just being a band for two years. Getting more comfortable as a band and individually getting more comfortable in our skin, y’know…just rockin’, man. We’ve played relentlessly since recording the EP, so we’ve kind of found our niche.
Sean-Paul Pillsworth (bass, vocals): The absolute main difference is that whoever heard the EP was hearing NIGHTMARES FOR A WEEK the band, but a band that hadn’t really experienced anything live yet. That was supposed to be our demo but gained success, which is awesome. When you hear Don’t Die you are hearing the same songwriting process but the band is more comfortable creating together overall since we have been able to spend so much time together both live and demoing. It’s awesome that we can have such fun live and I think that was what we tried to translate in the studio. We didn’t have that on the EP ‘cuz we’d never even played a show, so that’s a huge difference.
Yeah. You can hear on the EP the excitement of the band but now it is a little more seasoned. Did you discuss any different approaches you wanted to take with Nada Recording Studios owner and producer John Naclerio?
Sean-Paul: The one focus was not to go for absolute studio perfection, which John Naclerio is really good at. That’s fine because it’s his thing and he makes bands sound perfect, but for us ditching some back up vocals that aren’t gonna be there live or working with the tempos to make sure they aren’t as laid back (because we tend to speed things up live)… we just wanted to go in there and make a rock record. People always say that, but we wanted to just make a rock record. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It still sounds pretty…
Bill: Pretty damn perfect!
Sean-Paul: That’s why we go to Naclerio. He listens to us and respects our opinion and we’re good friends. We stick by him and he sticks by us. I would say the EP is 85% Naclerio and 15% Nightmares and Don’t Die is 50/50. That’d be the difference. (Looking at Bill) I got that one, biiitch!
I really like “Old House”, the grooves and anthemic sound of it. This is a two part question. I just saw you play it live when you played with THE ATARIS at The Basement in Kingston, NY and I think you played it at the Titus Andronicus show you opened back in April. Now I’ve seen you play it live a few times. I was wondering about the writing of that song? It is a big tune and has a friendly uplifting sort of comfort to it. I was wondering about that, and…you’ve been broing down with THE ATARIS lately. I was wondering how you got to know those dudes?
Bill: The writing of “Old House” was like any other song as far as music goes. The subject matter, I wrote the first set of lyrics to it and wanted to go for something positive that captured a moment in, I don’t wanna say childhood…in our youth growing up. The song is about a place where Sean-Paul and I spent a lot of time. It was a party house our friend Mike owned and we used to have band practice there in other bands and a lot of parties. After I was done with my lyrics Sean-Paul added his touch and kind of gave, y’know, another perspective to that whole time of growing up.
Sean-Paul: I don’t think Bill gives himself enough credit when he says it’s like every other song. Bill comes to the band with the “big chunk” done and we kind of fill in the blanks. The first time I heard it I knew it was an anthem. It was a big song. Usually the process is Bill will do something by himself on Garage Band and then me and Steve can kind of hear it and maybe we hear it the same way or two different ways which can make for an interesting song. We really wrote that early on right after the EP. We were still in EP mode, but that song totally captures a moment in time for me. It’s one of those songs that when we’re playing it I’m actually thinking about what we’re singing about, which is awesome. I wish everybody had a point in their life where they had a place to rock like that.
Bill: We had a sense of carelessness back then with no responsibility and were around people we loved, having a blast.
Sean-Paul: It was about being able to be a bunch of kids having a house where there were no parents to tell them what to do and to have a band. It was incredible, but I think we’re recapturing that now.
Bill: The song can translate to maturity too, not even in a “juvenile” sense. You could say it is that kind of freedom, y’know what I mean? You can find that in many different things.
A lot of people give that up as they get older.
Bill: Yeah. I don’t think you should give up anything like that. Sean-Paul, take over.
Sean-Paul: Don’t Die.
Sean-Paul: That kind of encapsulates everything. Don’t Die doesn’t literally mean don’t put yourself six feet in the ground. If it’s a good thing, don’t let it die out. Keep it strong. P.M.A.
Bill: That’s right, brother.
Sean-Paul: The second part of the question…THE ATARIS. We got asked to play with THE ATARIS close to a year ago and we got invited up to Albany, NY to play. THE ATARIS were one of my favorite bands growing up. They took a real liking to us straight away while we played. They liked what we were doing and could see our influences and they approached us. We never stopped keeping contact and when they came back around the North East they asked if we would open up their show in Albany again and I asked Kris Roe if he wouldn’t mind coming to Kingston to play a show.
“Nobody plays Kingston.”
Yeah. Fuck that girl. (chuckling) I’m not gonna tell that story. But I’ll tell you this, people do play Kingston. THE ATARIS played and it was awesome. Those guys are our friends and I give them all the credit in the world. There is a dying breed of bands that are keeping strong and I think they are one of them. Hopefully people will be able to hear some of the new songs they played me ‘cuz they are incredible.
You got back from The Fest. How was the trip down to Florida?
Bill: The trip overall was a blast. This was actually the first time we got to travel out of the North East to play a show as NIGHTMARES FOR A WEEK. Getting down there and being surrounded by a lot of like minded bands, both musically and mentally was a very positive experience for us. Completely immersed in music for the whole weekend. Meeting all different kinds of people.
Sean-Paul: Me and Bill have done things similar to that like CMJ and SXSW, but those are more a little bit of everybody and more schmoozing. The Fest was like a common ground between all the bands there but it wasn’t an elitist thing. You walk the streets and you saw people and you knew they were there to see you. You saw the bands you wanted to see and I didn’t see one fight, one person with their nose in the air or saying a negative thing. I just saw people who wanted to hear good music live and they heard it for three days. We got to see all our friends at Academy Fight Song who put out the record and treat us amazingly. We got to meet some labelmates like Such Gold, who are like the best guys in the world. The guys in AFTER THE FALL, AFICIANADO…
Love that band.
AFICIANADO signed to No Sleep. Those guys are great. We got to meet the No Sleep guys. Those guys were nice to us to. There was a lot of camaraderie. You hang out and…(burping)
Sean-Paul: (laughing) Pretty much. There was a lot of that. The one thing about being back on the road that I forgot was how bad the van stinks when you put a bunch of dudes in it. It smells so bad. I totally forgot that.
Bill: It’s the smell of rock n’ roll.
Sean-Paul: I hope we’re down there next year. Many music festivals are out there but The Fest is an incredible time that everyone should check out.
Can you talk about how you got involved with Academy Fight Song and also how you got Walter Schreifels (from every awesome band ever) on your record?
Bill: This time last year we were planning on recording the full length and we planned out recording dates for June. We knew we were recording with John and he gave us the sum amount and we were saving up to pay it. At the same time we were looking for a label. The EP got a little notoriety which we were surprised at since it was a collection of demos. Sean-Paul asked our good buddies in AFTER THE FALL who are signed to Mightier Than The Sword, who…R.J. who runs that label also runs Academy Fight Song. So we were pitching to those guys if R.J. had heard our stuff and he emailed those guys and R.J. already knew about us and was a big fan of the EP. He assumed we were already signed since we were under the Music For End Times/Broken English kind of thing. That put up false signals that we were taken but he was into putting out our next record and that was it, in a nutshell.
Sean-Paul: Big shout out to Mike Moak from AFTER THE FALL who was actually the guy who called R.J. for us and got the ball rolling right away. AFTER THE FALL’s Eradication just came out. Go pick up that record. It’s amazing. And having Walter on the record…it hasn’t hit me yet.
It’s full circle, since JERK MAGNET covered GORILLA BISCUITS!
Sean-Paul (smirking): Yeah, yeah. The first band that me and Bill were in covered the GORILLA BISCUITS. Walter’s whole career has just been something that’s to be in awe of. He’s starts a lot of great bands and writes a lot of great songs, but…he put out a record on Academy Fight Song. Bill had written a song about Townes Van Zandt and we were just thinking it’d be awesome if Walter would sing on it. R.J. was in constant contact with him. Walter was really busy but he fit it into his schedule and I think he liked what the song was about.
Bill: It was very humbling and makes us feel very fortunate. This is huge for us. Big ups to Walter. Thanks a lot. In addition to Walter we had James Felice from the Felice Brothers lay down some accordion on two or three songs. He almost ripped the accordion in half!
Sean-Paul: If you listen to the title track “Don’t Die” and let it fade there comes a part where James was feeling it. He’s a big guy and he pulled the accordion so far you can hear the reeds ripping. He’s ripped accordions before and the guy who repairs them has never seen that but he goes to the guy and says, “I ripped another one.”
Bill: The Felice Brothers are a big influence and you have James Felice and Walter and Frank from By Land Or Sea. All these people coming from different sides of the spectrum being on our record, which is awesome.
Sean-Paul: John Naclerio screamed on “Don’t Die.”
Bill: He did! And my dad plays saxophone. The list can go on and on. We had a lot of help and it’s great.
Let’s talk about the “Veins” video. I know you got Zac Shaw from Music For End Times and the band Dead Unicorn involved with the video? A lot of live videos are boring but I like the camera work in yours. The aesthetic captures your chemistry and the cuts are reverential to rock music as a process. I like the up close cuts of Steve’s cymbals, for example. It feels like you are really playing and not miming singing along to a recording for the video.
Sean-Paul: Well, we were really singing. We were screaming! That’s exactly what it was. It was the brainchild of Zac Shaw of Music For End Times and Chris Rahm, who got us the video. We made a day and went out to Tech City which used to be an IBM in Kingston and we had a whole floor to ourselves. We set up in the best spot and Chris had a vision for what he wanted to do with us live, knowing how we play. Another guy who was really working the camera was named Zoltan and two production assistants. Those guys ran around all day fixing lights and moving stuff. The “Veins” video looks like what we look like playing live. It was Chris Rahm’s vision to have quick cuts of us playing. It didn’t need a subplot. Any press picture you usually see of us is taken by Chris Rahm. We owe him a world of thanks and the crew from Ellenbogen Creative. He does a hell of a job with everything and Zac Shaw. Still probably the people we keep closest with. We all work together with each others musical projects.
Bill: It was like playing live, almost. We played it a million times so it felt like playing a set even though it was one song we were repeating. There was no make up. What you see is what you get. That feels good to not have crazy effects or enough make up where we look like porcelain dolls. You can see all our imperfections!
Sean-Paul: Zoltan had the song mapped out by seconds to certain accents and crescendos and stops! We put in a thirteen hour day and he was still ready to do more.
Bill: He didn’t take a lunch break or drink anything!
I love twelve hour recording sessions or long video shoots. Everything else is half assed.
Sean-Paul: We were really sweating. It was hot in that room. We also did it in a room that NASA ran a project out of and I don’t know if the windows didn’t open because they didn’t want people to jump out or they wanted to save on heating and air conditioning, but the building is now vacant. We got there and it was pretty comfortable but after a couple of hours of big lights and jumping around…it got hot in there.
Lastly, I wanted to ask you about the popular song “Feelin’ Blue.” I love the story behind it so could you share it again? I feel like you guys are personally responsible for WEEZER touring Pinkerton again (laughing).
Bill: (laughing) That was all us? Well, ok…growing up as an avid WEEZER fan in the early 90’s when they put their most ambitious work out I was too young to go see them. I never saw them growing up and a few years we all got tickets to go see WEEZER and Blink-182 at SPAC.
Sean-Paul: Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
Bill: Thank you. BLINK cancelled and WEEZER headlined. It was my first time seeing them after many years of being a fan. I don’t know why my expectations were so high but they were, regardless. We got there right to see WEEZER and as we were getting drinks we heard them open with “War Pigs” by BLACK SABBATH. We were like, “Yes! This is gonna be so awesome.” I was so excited after all these years. Obviously I know what they’ve put out between then and now but I kind of had a romantic idea in my mind that I’d go see them and play all the stuff I wanted to hear off the first two albums, maybe one or two of The Green Album, that’s fine.
I hear you, “Pink Triangle” is the story of my life several times over, Bill.
Bill: (laughing) Yeah. Those tunes… WEEZER could have started another band and called it under a different name. The way the older songs move you is a completely different thing than the way they do now. People like them and they sold a ton of records, but I digress. While we were watching the show, to my dismay their set was heavy on the new records and left the rest of us hanging, at least for 5 or 6 songs at a time. I loved them so much. It was deep rooted. It was a naïve expectation. They played Lady Gaga covers. They dressed in jumpsuits. Pat Wilson, the drummer, I’ve always loved his style. He was playing guitar so that was a let down. Rivers wasn’t playing guitar for the majority of the set. We left early. That’s how our song came about. WEEZER, love you and everything. More power to them to play what they wanted to play.
Sean-Paul: The ultimate disclaimer is we are still huge WEEZER fans when it comes down to it. Did we get ourselves really pumped before we got there? Yeah. I heard a guy offered them ten million dollars to break up. That’s stupid. I know that times change and other things change. Who knows where we’ll be fifteen years later. In my opinion they didn’t have a clear progression between records. They come out with a record and say they have another record written already. That’s awesome, if every record still had a lot of heart, but “Pork and Beans”? I love WEEZER, but “Feelin’ Blue” is the way we really feel. I’m…I’m glad they’re touring Pinkerton.
Bill: The song was written off the cuff. It shouldn’t be taken too seriously. There’s some deep rooted emotion in there, but…
Sean-Paul: We did pay $16 for a beer…
Bill: That’s ridiculous.
Sean-Paul: I don’t wanna come off as another cynical person, but…
It’s like your first girlfriend when you found out she banged somebody else, ya know?
Sean-Paul: And then she puts out a catalogue of commercial records… and a Snuggie.
“It’s Not Me. It’s You.” (laughing)
Bill: That’s a good name for a song!
originally posted on November 16, 2010 at http://www.ampmagazine.com/6209/nightmares-for-a-week-stream-interview/