Namelessnumberheadman is the Kansas City band who could. They could easily be the next Grandaddy. You know, that earthly electronic band that seemingly comes from the middle of nowhere to woo crowds full of music critics, music fans, and celebrities alike. Well, even though they are still the lost jewel of the Midwest, someday you'll be uttering their extremely long name in the same breath as bands like Grandaddy and maybe even Radiohead. It's their unique brand of cerebral pop that sets them on a different level. Just because they have released two albums on small, start up labels doesn't diminish the gravity of their affect on my record collection.
It's rare you get to hear something truly original. It's even rarer to hear it in the realm of pop. I don't normally demand that the readers of this little site go out and buy something… but damn it, I'm pulling rank. Go buy "Your Voice Repeating"!
Fine, you want more of a reason? The three that make up nnhm are good guys to boot. Jason Lewis (jl), Chuck Whittington (cw), and Andrew Sallee (as) have been nice enough to deal with a second annoying e-mail interview by yours truly. So here it is. In their own words. And if you still aren't convinced on whether you should give these guys a shot or not… well, I don't know what else to do.
First off, hats off to you guys on the new album. How do you guys feel it stacks up to your first effort?
jl: Thanks Jake. It has been difficult for us to draw comparisons between this one and "when we leave.." We were all hoping that it was a step forward, but when you are so entrenched in making the CD it is hard to make an objective analysis. But I think that the new one is a little more concise, and we are now much more comfortable with our home recording set up. Plus it seems like the more we work together as a band and as friends, the easier it is to create and arrange the songs. Hopefully that all translates into something that is an improvement.
cw: I think being more comfortable with our recording set-up also helped the writing to be better. There were a couple of songs I can think of that I did some serious editing on because they were either too long or too short, and I think that really paid off for those songs. I'm not sure I would have attempted anything of that magnitude on the last record.
Do you guys record at home out of necessity, or do you enjoy the intimate world you guys have at home?
jl: The home recording process for us is ideal. We can take as much time as we need without having to worry about cost. We can let songs sit for days or even weeks and build and tear down as much as we want. I hear about bands going to a studio for 10 days to record an entire album and that seems like so much pressure. With all of the noise and extra things we attempt to incorporate, having unlimited time is huge. The bottom line is that we can make songs that sound just the way we want on our own schedule and in our own space and that is the perfect situation for us right now.
cw: Moving our set-up to my basement was ideal for me, because I really like to tinker with things. We would spend a whole evening overdubbing tracks or mixing, then after the other guys left, I would spend hours in my basement re-listening and mixing and editing. They would come back the next time and say, "Where did that keyboard part come from?" and sometimes "What happened to that part that I played?" which I would have removed in the editing process. With all the things I changed without discussion, I'm surprised they didn't fire me.
AS: I give major props to Chuck for a lot of the 'progress' made on this album. We didn't do anything drastically different, but it definitely feels like a more solid effort. As far as songwriting goes, alongside recording, it feels like we are all more comfortable living in our own band. I feel like I can sense our own identity, however unique or not-unique it may be.
You've been playing more shows away from your home base. has your live show become easier for you guys? I know you each have a ton of things to do to keep that full sound.
jl: The live show has gotten much easier. At first it all seemed so precarious and the results of our shows seemed so random depending on a number of factors, but I think that we've got enough experience with it now to be able to make things sound more consistent. At some points I say to myself "We really should try to scale things back a bit and leave some of the keyboards at home" but overall it seems like the more ambitious attitude towards the live show is the best way for us to do it. I just saw the band Head of Femur play and they currently have 8 people involved in their live show. It takes them quite a bit of time to get it all set up, but then they put on this amazing show with this incredible full sound and you realize why they go through all of the hassle. The same applies to us, although we are just a three piece that uses the amount of keyboards and other junk that an 8 piece band might use.
cw: Lately, I've begun to think of things that might refine our set-up and tear down times, so that we can get on and off the stage quickly. I built a pedal board for my guitar/keyboard station, and my friend Ben helped me build a case to hold most of Jason's keyboards. I think these changes translate into us being a little more calm and feeling more normal because there are less things that need to be plugged in or hooked up together. It also helps us get rid of some of the randomness Jason mentioned.
AS: Our most recent tour was the first time we have really had the opportunity to play every night for more than a couple of nights at a time, and I have to say that was a great feeling. I feel very fortunate to be at this time and place where we get to make something as three people that feels like it is very particular to us.
What do you tell people you guys sound like?
cw: the short answer I always use is "futuristic lo-fi pop music," but most people don't get that, so I normally just say we're sort of like Radiohead and the Cure.
jl: I usually say "Well, it's a little electronic, but we use live drums and acoustic instruments as well..." Past that point I hem and haw and mumble and eventually give up. I'm afraid that most people who only get that explanation think we are like Moby or something frightening like that. The keyboards and electronic parts are explainable, but the acoustic hybrid part is tricky. Some people I work with haven't heard of bands like Sparklehorse or the Flaming Lips so I can only imagine what my efforts to explain our sound really mean to them, if anything.
AS: That is a hard one, mostly because I live and work with a lot of people who don't listen to the same music. To the average Indieworkshop reader, we are probably not that weird, but to the majority of people I see every day, we are pretty strange. Every once in a while, someone who hasn't exactly heard us, but knows I'm in a "band" wonders if we might want to play at such and such picnic or dinner. I usually get a kick out of the mental image of people eating some fancy deserts while we wail away on "Every Fiber" or something. (Dropped forks and missed mouthfuls ensue.)
Why don't you think you guys are bigger than you are... it seems that everyone who hears your albums loves them.
AS: You tell me, my friend. Seriously. Tell me.
jl: In many ways I think that all three of us would like it if we were more well known, but in other ways it either isn't a priority or isn't feasible. We really aren't able to tour more than a few weeks and weekends during the year, and we definitely don't have any major label "quit your day job" ambitions. With our type of music I think that a huge amount of creative compromise would be necessary to make that leap. We are pretty content to keep making the music (which is easy and enjoyable) and doing what we can to promote ourselves independently (which we are terrible at and do not enjoy) and we don't worry about it too much beyond that. So I would say that we fall right in the middle of the extremes of "we want to stay completely underground" and "we wanna be rock stars!!!"
cw: Well, I don't think everyone who hears them loves them, but it seems that a lot of folks do. I think word of mouth and accidental discovery are the two ways people hear about us. Someone has a friend who's really into us, or they saw our name on a flyer and just had to know what we were all about. And I think that's alright by me. Most of my favorite band discoveries were that way: A friend had a DJ Shadow CD that he hated and gave it to me. That's one of my favorite albums now.
jl: Ironically, I was the friend who gave away the DJ Shadow. What was I thinking, Jake? I've been to counseling since and now I've totally got "mad love" for Josh Davis.
Do you still pass the time with movies?
jl: Unfortunately, I don't make it to many movies. I still really enjoy them, but I feel very removed from the indie film fanatic that I was when I first moved to Kansas City. It seems like playing and going to live music has become somewhat all encompassing. I did see "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," which was excellent, but I am definitely no John Vanderslice when it comes to cinematic patronage.
cw: Once my wife and I bought our house, we severely cut our entertainment budget, so I don't get out really, either. Most of my entertainment comes from borrowed movies (recently "American Movie", and "Run, Ronnie, Run"), video games ("Zelda: Majora's Mask" and "Tony Hawk: Pro Skater" right now), TV (just "Alias" anymore), or just watching our animals interact. I really miss seeing new movies, though; I feel I can expand my horizons quite a bit by watching good movies.
AS: I have just been spending the last three years trying to finish "Infinite Jest" and annoying the other David Foster Wallace veterans in the band with my new-found IJ obsession.
- Jake Haselman | 2004-05-09