Liner Notes is a close up look at a great new album you may have missed.
This week, Nigel Chapman of Halifax band Nap Eyes talk about cool coastal vibes, balancing social life with introspection, and how getting in touch with yourself can help you connect with others. Also Ghostface.
Nap Eyes are effortlessly cool. Their music draws on the edgy, stripped-down rock of the '70s, using the familiarity of that era to drop your guard. It eases you into songs about the difficulty of navigating social spaces and making them sound more relaxed than tense.
For those already acquainted with the group, Thought Rock Fish Scale marks a kind of departure for the Haligonians. Gone are the seven minute long journeys and in their place are more restrained, contemplative songs, highlighting the group’s melodicism over their sprawling sonic exploration.
In an interview with frontman Nigel Champan, the band's vocalist and guitarist explains that Thought Rock is the record they’ve been waiting to release for some time. It’s what wooed labels You’ve Changed and Paradise of Bachelors, the one that got their excellent Whine of the Mystic re-issued, and turned a larger audience onto the band.
We got our socio-philo-histori-scientific kicks in our UNCHARTED interview, so here we dig deeper into how this specific record came about: how the decision to send it to the Constantines’ Steve Lambke changed their career, the coastal vibe that informed the record’s sound, and the album’s themes of interconnectedness and identity.
Nap Eyes' Thought Rock Fish Scale is out now via You've Changed. Stream it below.
Chart Attack: Your previous record Whine of the Mystic was made, self-released, then re-released when you were signed by You’ve Changed and Paradise of Bachelors. By that point, you were already talking about having another record already finished. How and when did Thought Rock come about?
Nigel Chapman: So this album was actually recorded before Whine of The Mystic was reissued. We didn’t have an idea to reissue Whine of The Mystic until the guys at You’ve Changed and Paradise of Bachelors came up with it.
There’s a lot of beauty in humanity and universality that you get in touch with through your search for individuality. It’s a weird paradox.
They had the idea to put this record out, but to first introduce U.S. audiences to Nap Eyes, that we should reissue Whine, so it could get a larger pressing. That pushed back the release of Though Rock by a year. It’s turned out to be a really practical strategy for getting people to hear us. It’s great to work with people who know what they’re doing.
I guess you’re probably not that used to sitting on a record that long after your relatively release schedule previous to Thought Rock.
Yeah, it was definitely a bit weird. Just because the way that we’ve been recording has been to create the thing, you know, in a simple way and in a moment in time, and to release it to get it out there and let it go so we could let it go after making it and just wait for people to hear it. But it was a bit of a long time. It was released maybe eighteen months after it was initially recorded. That was a kind of strange trip.
I’m inclined to describe the record’s sound as “toned down” but I’m not 100% sure that’s right. The songs are definitely leaner, and not as rough around the edges. What was the impetus for this shift?
I think you could put it down to a couple factors. One is probably that I’m always practicing and over the years I've gotten to be a bit more disciplined as a musician. Playing the guitar a little more carefully, not slamming the thing so hard with my right hand, that sort of thing. We definitely played the songs more quietly on Thought Rock, but the songs themselves were also quite different. I think it was just natural.
We recorded this album during the day for the most part, and there wasn’t as much in the way of consumption of alcohol like there had been with Whine. Day time recording could be a factor, and also being on the shore as opposed to being in the big city. When you’re in the city I feel like you have to be noisier in order to hear yourself think.
What brought you to record near the shore this time around?
Whine was recorded in Montreal, and this record was recorded here in Nova Scotia on the North Shore where my cottage was when I was younger and where my parents live now. We brought a very old four track and a big mixer and just rented some microphones and set up a studio for three or four days. It was a very fun experience, very relaxed in a way, but also driven. We were really lucky, like on the last day, we got like four of the songs finished. We were just really lucky to get enough songs for the record. We didn’t go into it with any demos or anything.
Photo by: Steve Louie
A lot of press places you and your lyrics at the centre of the group. This narrative seems to downplay the contributions of Josh, Seamus and Brad. Your voice is definitely foregrounded in the mix. Do the songs on this record also start with you? Where do the other members of Nap Eyes fit into the songwriting process?
I think the way that our writing process works is that I’ll work on a song at home, and in a kind of rudimentary way I’ll have lyrics and a melody, three to four basic chords, that kind of thing. That’s what I’ll bring to the band. Everybody in Nap Eyes — Josh [Salter], Seamus [Dalton] and Brad [Loughead] — all are really intuitive skilled musicians. Basically I just play them what I've been working on and they make up their parts.
I think that yeah, the press is interesting. They have to take an angle, and I’m flattered when they like the songs in terms or the lyrics or the way I’m singing, but for sure, there’s no doubt that a huge reason people like Nap Eyes is because of how Seamus, Josh and Brad play. They’re the reasons why we sound the way we do. If it was just me, it would be like, not totally skilled strumming at the guitar, singing without much of a dynamic in the way that we have it, or any harmonic or rhythmic complexity. There’s a real happiness and gratitude that I have towards those three for playing with me. I think the world gets to hear the songs in a much better form than if I was making them just on my own. I think whether people realize it or not, Seamus, Josh and Brad are a huge reason they like us.
When I first read the title Thought Rock Fish Scale it I immediately thought of Ghostface Killah, though I’m not entirely sure if you’re referencing him or high quality cocaine.
Music is a kind of cure for loneliness. Not just making it, but hearing it as well.
The “fish scale” part is a couple plays on words. The intentional meaning is, like, the oceans have fish and the fish have scales, iridescent and cool. That’s a cool animal. It could also be a play on the words in the sense that it could be a kind of musical scale.
“Thought rock” is an actual rock, near our cottage when I was young. When my mom was pregnant with my sister, I was told that they would go and just sit there and think, and it became thought rock. That’s more of a special meaning for me, but I like the meaning too that it could be a kind of music. Just a kind of joke.
When I think of "fish scale," I think of a suit of armour. Scales have that same interwoven characteristic of armour or chainmail. And I get the sense that the album is concerned with interconnectedness between people. On “Roll It” the narrator is trying to get into the mind or perspective of someone else, or “Lion in Chains” which talks about a kind of multitude of selves, or potentialities. Is that an underlying concept of the record?
For sure, interconnectedness between people is huge. The way that people exist socially and individually is something I find really fascinating and something I’ve struggled with. If you’re a solitary person, but you’re also a social person, how do you connect to people and how do you become a part of a community while still being an individual and retaining your own sense of identity? How is your sense of identity informed by your relationships with other people? People are so important, so how can you do the right thing by them and justify yourself to them, and be a good person and still get to do the things that you love without being selfish? Without being preoccupied or callous? I have all kinds of social questions.
No, I don’t want to give up my individuality, no I don’t want to have to contort myself in ways that are unnatural to me just to please other people. This kind of pull in both directions is something I’ve always felt and became more conscious of as I grew older. When you’re small you don’t worry about those kinds of things as much, but it’s something I’m really interested in now. That’s cool that you got that image out of the title.
Do you think music, which can be both self-serving and a kind of communication, helps bridge that gap or ease that tension between solitary and social lives?
Definitely. Music and art and all kinds of visual or written expression serves society in a way. With any aesthetic work, its origins are like you say: a self-serving, self-preoccupied thing of the artist, but it’s also a great gift that you get out of sharing. For all the things you do that make you feel isolated or lonely, even not things you choose, but the way that existence seems to be for the individual, getting more deeply in touch with your individuality is like a bridge that connects you to other people. Music is a kind of cure for loneliness. Not just making it, but hearing it as well. I love that quality of music and art and all inspiring work, like science and history. There’s a lot of beauty in humanity and universality that you get in touch with through your search for individuality. It’s a weird paradox.
That idea of interconnectedness is also in the album art. Who is the artist?
Danika Vandersteen. She’s an amazing artist. She’s here now, actually. Smiling. She’s so gifted and it’s hard for me to visualise any image that goes along with my music. If I left to it myself I don’t know what I’d do. But then when we asked if she could help to make this a visual thing, both for Whine of the Mystic and Thought Rock, she came up with such beautiful and amazing images. They’re so aesthetically pleasing, but really represent some of the themes that are present in the record and in the titles. She’s the best.
Do you give her the music to listen to?
She usually has the music to listen to when she’s making it. I think she knew the title in both cases. I think it’s definitely an influencing factor when you say it. She knows us and me and the songs. This is something I feel so grateful for, both with the band and Danika. I don’t know how to direct anyone to do anything, I’m not a leader. I’m just so grateful to let people create from their own minds. That’s a really lucky thing to have, that anyone would want to help and contribute.