Nap Eyes and Lowtide: Two Conversations at End of the Road

(c) Photo by Countessian Photography

End of the Road really is the loveliest festival around, as last weekend once more proved. On Thursday, Kim and I directed live-in vehicles around the campsite and learned the word ‘awning’ as part of the steward-volunteer experience. On Friday, we were impressed by Aldous Harding’s voice and movements and danced the night away at the Silent Disco. On Saturday, we woke up early for Pixx, were disappointed by Car Seat Headrest, witnessed a secret piano stage gig and were part of a select group of about ten people who gazed at projected stars in a blow-up planetarium whilst sipping cherry brandy & coke. On Sunday, finally, we didn’t mind the rain and saw this year’s best performance by Perfume Genius. While the mist made the festival site disappear we ate marshmallows by the campfire using twigs we found in the woods, before we ourselves disappeared on Monday morning.

I also talked to two bands over the weekend: Lowtide and Nap Eyes. The former played on Saturday early afternoon in the Tipi tent. The band from Melbourne have got a nice, expansive shoegaze sound, although like almost all shoegaze it often verges on the boring, which means that the crowd isn’t quite captivated. Despite that, both their cover of Asylum Party’s ‘Julia’ and their own new song ‘Alibi’ are decent hazy tracks. Two days earlier they’ve gone to see Slowdive, who are obviously sources of inspiration to them, and when I talk to Lowtide’s Lucy (vocals/bass) and Gabe (guitar), I ask whether they’re planning on taking their music in a new direction the same way the shoegaze giants have done. “I don’t think it’s necessarily different,” Lucy says. “There’s a different instrument in the mix, which has allowed us to expand on some of the melodic ideas, but we didn’t set out to do something different.” Gabe adds, admittedly not entirely enlightening: “It’ll still sound the same… but different.”

Another thing that’s the same but different according to the band is the crowd in the UK, compared to the folks at home in Melbourne. It’s not quite a culture shock, Gabe explains, but there are ever-so-slight differences you pick up on. Lucy relates the observation to the guests at End of the Road: “Everyone’s so well behaved out here too; everyone looks like they’ve slept, showered, and we’re like – wow, if this was Australia…”. Although this one, I reckon, might be true more of EOTR than of English music festivals in general.

But there’s a lot of good things back at home too for Lowtide. When I ask Lucy and Gabe about their favourite bands from the local scene, they spend two minutes listing basically all of their colleagues. What’s so distinctive about the Melbourne scene? Lucy: “I think that something interesting about Melbourne that’s not so common worldwide is the very supportive community radio we have. They will play all-local music and people sell out shows off the back of their radio play. There’s college radio in the States and BBC6 here, but in terms of such a focused effort, which really connects everyone together, I really think that’s unique about Melbourne.”

Above: Lowtide; Below: Nap Eyes (photo by Carolyn Hirtle)

Nigel from Nap Eyes also has plenty to tell about where he and his band hail from, namely Nova Scotia, Canada. He explains how the region’s connection to England has inspired his own music. “Most obvious would be when the British Invasion happened with The Beatles and The Stones, which was huge especially on the East Coast of Canada. Nova Scotia literally means New Scotland, and bands like Belle & Sebastian have really inspired us.” Other than that, Nap Eyes have often been compared to Lou Reed and there’s indeed something to be said for that, but when playing the scenic Garden Stage on Sunday afternoon in an English drizzle, it becomes clear that they’ve got their own distinctive sound, which is quieter and contemplative. After the show, I meet up with Nigel to ask him about his songs.

Nigel’s songwriting basically has two distinct phases. During the first, he comes up with chords, words and simple melodies at home. In the end, most of this material doesn’t make the final cut. “70% of the things you say are pretty mundane and repetitive, but if you can figure out what the other 30% are you can get pretty good work from those,” he says. After having made this selection, he and the rest of the band have a “songwriting collaboration” to work the track to completion. I ask Nigel how he decides which songs are part of the worthy 30%. “That’s a good question,” he replies, “and something that I seem to repeatedly need to relearn. That’s the part of the process that really involves some kind of routine. It’s not gonna seem as much fun as sitting down and barfing something up. When you work in this more editorial way you want a critical, non-judgemental approach – you want to be as objective and consistent as you can.” Often, what he is looking for is more intuitive than conceptual, but nonetheless there are some specific qualities Nigel requires of a song. “You want some kind of honesty about yourself and about humanity, but then at the same time some kind of concise ‘meaning-thrust’. Usually, I want to represent two sides of a philosophy in a song.” This almost Cartesian tendency towards doubt and introspection is clearly present in Nap Eyes’ songs, but despite their contemplativeness the tracks are never indecisive or empty. Ultimately, songwriting is a project that is as much about communicating an idea as about attaining self-knowledge. “I think you gain something, yeah,” Nigel agrees.

Nap Eyes is still touring their excellent second album Thought Rock Fish Scale (although a new one is on its way!). I aks whether there are any overarching themes on that album. According to Nigel, if there are any such themes, they are “emerging properties”: “When I write a song I don’t usually know what it’s about until after it’s done.” Two emerging themes Nigel mentions are social anxiety and moral judgement. Regarding the latter, Nigel is sceptical about its role in society. “When is it really good to morally judge people, either yourself or others? I certainly believe in morality and goodness and humanity, but as far as our own ability to nail it I’m sceptical. That’s my rebellion.” It’s a fairly small-scale rebellion, but there is also a way in which this refusal to judge is brave and deeply humane (although, I hasten to add, we cannot honestly live our lives without also judging the evil around us – it’s just that we should be especially careful here). This thought leads on to a more philosophical discussion regarding free will, determinism and responsibility. On Nigel’s view, determinism and freedom shouldn’t be seen as two mutually exclusive alternatives, but rather as two different ways to view the world that each have their own merits. “I really do believe that determinism is a good thing to lean on for a lot of people, because it forces you to analyse and understand another person’s character, or your own. Sometimes though it leads to fatalism, and it becomes a problem when people start thinking ‘because I used to be like this I have to be like this’. So then you want to switch out of deterministic mode into a free-will or chance-based mode.” Here again transpires Nigel’s intention to represent both sides of an idea, and again I note there is something admirable about choosing the middle-ground position of mutual understanding, even though this is often seen as a cowardly position to take.

Finally, if you’ve read some of our interviews you will know that there’s a question we always ask: would you consider yourself to be a ‘beautiful freak’? Lowtide – like many others we have asked this question – opt only for the ‘freak’ part of the descriptor; they’re not necessarily aiming for beauty, or perhaps they’re too modest to think of themselves as beautiful. Nap Eyes’ Nigel, on the other hand, thinks that the term ‘beautiful freak’ applies not just to him but to everybody. “It’s an apt thing to say since everybody is weird and strange and a freak and you can also say accurately that everyone is beautiful, so in a sense I would agree to that statement universally.” And perhaps – I’m speculating here – that sort of explains the End of the Road-feeling: it’s a place that’s immensely beautiful, with the woods and what not, but also one where you can be a bit of a freak with glitter accross your face.

-- Beautiful Freaks, September 7, 2017