With the arrival of N.E.C.'s latest 7-inch "Six" b/w "Popsicle" online — vinyl won't be here 'til 4/20 dude — the group switches gears, showing off a more aggressive side than anything they delivered with last year's Pineapple LP. With talk of a new full-length looming this summer, singer, guitarist and N.E.C. mastermind Cyrus Shahmir took some time out to talk about what the group has been up to, and what they've got in-store with the forthcoming album, Last Point of Radiation due out in July.
Chad Radford: Tell me about the 7-inch you posted on your website this week.
Cyrus Shahnir: The A-side is a song called “Six,” which is the single, and the B-side is called “Popsicle.” The B-side is exclusive to the 7-inch, which we’re putting out for the Free Acid show on April 20, but you can hear it on the website. The idea was to make it something special to get — a full song. We saw this as an opportunity to make a traditional 7-inch with a single and a deep cut for someone out there to go find.
“Six” comes from a much more aggressive place than your last record, Pineapple, which I've always thought of as a transitional record for N.E.C.
Very much so — it’s transitioning into where the band is and where it always should have been. That’s not to say it’s a throwaway, but it was more thrown together because it was recorded with some different people in different studios. This new album, Last Point of Radiation, was recorded all in the same place in the same sessions, in Johnny La Rocha’s basement, better known as Apricot Studios.
The songs we recorded for the new record are more in your face, but at the same time, everything on Pineapple was recorded live with some overdubs added later. For this one we’d gotten into recording on the 8-Track with 1-inch tape, which I think has benefitted the live rock band sound. “Six,” for example, is a first take of that song. We set it up and pressed record, which is also different from Pineapple.
There is a level of improvisation to it, but it’s built into the structure of things. Things can seem like they’re going off on a tangent, but most of it happens in an area where we know that we’re going off on a tangent — or we’re aware of when we’re going to change into the next part.
You’re aware of changes, but is it because you’re arranging songs, or is it a silent telepathy that’s shared by the three of you that determines when, where, and how things change?
There is some of that, but I’ve always thought that arrangement is what sets improvisation apart from a song. I’ve always been attracted to the idea of a song as something with a melody that you can hum to yourself. I’ve been listening to Red Crayola a lot lately, and I think our new stuff is going in a direction where there are these segments of things happening, like a moment in time, and that’s the whole aesthetic we’re going for — first take, second take, and we have the mics set up and the tape machines are rolling. What I’m excited about is that it just sounds better. The band is better, the songs are better, and the production is better. It’s more cohesive.
What Red Crayola records have you been listening to?
Parable of Arable Land is one. It’s funny to read about it in books and stuff from the time period. It’s like them and Pink Floyd got the Mothers of Invention’s Freak Out! and listened to the fourth side and said, “We’re gonna go fucking nuts in the studio!” What’s cool is that the instant that shit comes on it’s like — it’s not for everybody — it immediately strikes a chord. If you listen to 45 minutes of that it could be pretty tiresome. But out of that, a bass line, a vocal, or a drum part emerges. It’s improvisation, but they’re going to a specific point at a certain time. That might change during a live show, but for a recording, that’s what I like: A big solo, but it’s a cacophony. A willed cacophony that you listen to, and what you like you keep.
To pull that off you really need to know the people with whom you’re playing music.
Yes, and I cannot say enough about how musically talented the other guys are.
Who is in the band at this point — it has changed over the years.
James Oh plays bass. He’s been around since the first N.E.C. record I made in Atlanta, after moving here from New York. Saejin Choi plays drums, and we found him on Craigslist. It was a shitty period for the band, and we recorded portions of Pineapple before we got him, but he is on the majority of the album. When you’re recording something you want it to be as good as possible, and then he comes along and he’s the best drummer we’ve had, and he’s easy to work with.
Who’s putting it out?
'Spective Audio is releasing the 7-inch and the 12-inch. We liked working with Pretty Ambitious, but I don’t think they’re in a position to immediately put out another record. When Pineapple came out we were already done with the next record, so we’re just trying to get it out there because that’s what people who make music do.
Did you produce it yourself?
Yeah, and we printed these super limited silk-screen covers for the 7-inch with Reid Small from Jovontaes. He’s a good friend of mine from back in the day who owns the Void Skateshop in Lexington, KY, and he’s done all three of the silk screens that we’ve done in the past.
I come up with the images and the paper, but with the inks, he’s really getting the color and vibrancy that I’ve always been attracted to. There’s only 100 of them, and some of them are super badass — we’re completely proud of the music.
What’s also cool is that we’ve kept it in the family. We’ll go up and hang out at the shop and his kid will be running around, and we’re silk screening record covers and there’s kids there who are interested in what we’re doing. ... It feels like we’re doing something positive and putting something out there. We’re not trying to change people’s minds.
No, you’re trying to blow their minds ...
Well, we’re trying to blow our own minds by going for something that’s really out there.
Tell me about your heritage.
My dad’s from Iran and my mom is like Irish/German with some French in there somewhere.
Does it seem like there’s something about your Iranian DNA that’s drawn to a psychedelic aesthetic? It’s pretty deeply engrained in Iranian culture.
Well, I don’t know a whole lot about the cultural side of it. But, someone like Farbod [Kokabi] or Farzad [Moghaddam] from Lyonnais are Iranian and they’re totally drawn to psychedelic sounds as well — I think they're more involved in the cultural side of it. ... I like drones and sitar sounds and 12-string guitar sounds, and I’m sure that heritage has something do with it, but I’ve never really thought about it too terribly much.
Music can go to these places that are very cerebral and visceral for personal reasons, and that’s the appeal for me. I’ve found that the more you put out records, the less you think of it as a gigantic whole. You only need 15 to 20 minutes of something solid to put on a record, but there’s a lot of shit that’s just inappropriate for where you are.
You think about how or where you’re listening to it, or what you want to hear if you’re in a certain situation. Maybe if you’re bummed out a certain synthesizer sound of bloops and bleeps can take the edge off the negativity you’re feeling — but maybe it’s not what you want to listen to when you’re hanging out with someone. I think about that a lot. I try to imagine what’s on the needle — like you’re looking through a microscope into another world. The fuller it is, the more it draws you in. I think about that more than if people will not like something, or if they'll give me shit over it. Subtlety is good, emotional dynamic is cool, and so is shit that’s completely in your face. That’s how we saw the 7-inch: The A-side is a really aggressive and the B-side is a pop song with the same sonic aesthetic.
I can see someone who likes “Six” thinking the B-side is a little too pop for their liking, and them saying they can’t believe we would choose that song for the B-side. There are a lot of bands out there who are like, “We’re a garage band and we don’t branch out,” or “We’re a fucking metal band and that’s all we do.” Everybody should do their thing, but we’ve always just wanted to span the spectrum of what’s out there.
CL has one copy of N.E.C. Pineapple LP to give away to the first person who can tell us who was the first artist that Cyrus Shahmir recorded in a studio when he moved to Atlanta. Be the first person to leave the correct answer in the comments section of this post and the record is yours.
ooooohhhh, I'm so excited!! I can't wait to see them together!
come on man you know you got a bromance. you probably still rock that OutKast…
Yes, 14 is the correct answer. I'll pass your info along to the group's manager,…
That was January of 2007, and they are 21 now, so I'm guessing 14?