It was a very cold night in Dallas, Texas on the evening of the Moon Sounds Records showcase. Five shoegaze/dreampop bands played including Nightmare Air. I had the opportunity to torture… I mean sit down with them in the very very cold outdoor part of the club and chat with them. They were very patient and gracious as we all had teeth chattering. Also, what you can’t tell from a transcription of a conversation are many things. In this case, there was a lot of laughter during this interview and the band seemed to have a good time (unless they were fooling me). They answered my questions about gear, their writing process, writing and recording High in the Lasers, as well as their new record which is waiting in the wings (come on record labels… someone pick this record up and do us all a solid!).
Hello all in Nightmare Air. Can you start by introducing yourselves and letting us all know what you do in the band?
Swaan Miller: Hello, I’m Swaan and I play bass and sing.
Dave Dupuis: Hello, I’m Dave and I play guitar and sing.
Jimmy Lucido: Hello, I’m Jimmy and I play drums.
Liza Stegall: Hello, I’m Liza and I play keyboards live.
How did you all get started in music?
Dave: I started playing saxophone at age 7.
Jimmy: I started playing coffee pots around age 7 in my parent’s kitchen.
Swaan: I started singing when I was little in my parent’s living room.
Liza: I started playing the piano when I was about six.
What sort of process does the band go through in writing songs? Has the process changed or evolved since High in the Lasers?
Dave: Yeah, it has evolved a little bit. I’ll come up some ideas and then the band will work off of those ideas.
So, you are the initiator?
Dave: Kind of.
Swan: Generally, yeah.
Dave: I’ll dick around with some shit. I’ll try to sing over it for like a week, then Swaan will come over and in an afternoon, blow me out with a sweet vocal. Then she wins the vocal. Then I’ll have some shitty drums and Jimmy will do some better drum work. And that’s how the new record has formed.
Do you all concur?
Swaan, Jimmy: Yes, yes.
You have a beautiful sensibility when it comes to tones and textures in your music. Can you talk a bit about how you approach exploring tones and textures and what draws you to particular sounds in populating your songs?
Jimmy: This is definitely a Dave question. He’s the layering master.
Dave: I guess I gravitate toward what’s inspiring. I layer everything. On every album, I try to do like this one really cool guitar line and then it turns into this four guitars doing the same exact thing. It’s all about blending those tones and making that one sound big. I try not to but I just fucking keep layering it up. And that’s the problem. We’re trying to finish this new record and there’s so much shit going on. Putting it out is the important thing to do now but it’s difficult. You know, cuz you fall in love with your layers. I mean, it’s like, “I love that little layer” and it’s totally fucking the mix-up.
Does he pet the screen when he’s recording?
Swaan: Maybe his pedals.
Dave: When we are mixing, I’m like… well, you didn’t have that little [makes random noise] in there! And the engineer is like, “Dude, you have so many noises in there! You gotta let them go.” It’s hard.
How do you see your environment playing into how you approach music? Does writing music in Los Angeles shape the way you approach music over against writing in northern Europe or the north east?
Dave: So, this record was written in Amsterdam but was started in Vegas. The first couple songs were written in Las Vegas. Nothing was done in Los Angeles. It’s the most fucked up thing because we live in the city of rock-n-roll. Swaan and I had to spend a couple of weeks in Vegas for some fucked up reason in a dope ass condo. So, I brought all this gear and we wrote a few songs. Then we went to Amsterdam after one of our tours since Swaan is Dutch. We wrote the second half of the record there.
So, we aren’t going to get to hear any of the Vegas songs, right, since they were written in Vegas?
Dave: Yeah, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas! Anyway, we recorded in Ireland and did production in Toronto. It’s also being mixed in Toronto. So, yeah, nothing is happening in L.A. We like to spend money unwisely and spend money outside our fucking house. But Los Angeles is inspiring and I love Los Angeles. It’s probably why we sound like we do.
It’s been four years this next weekend since the release of High in the Lasers.
[After proclamations of astonishment over the four-year time frame]
Dave: We’ve been working on this album for two years. But the reality is, Jimmy and my life, we tour for a living with other artists. It’s an exciting life but we will go out… like two years ago, we were gone for nine months. You really can’t do anything when that’s happening. I mean, you can think “I’m going to write on the road” but that’s a fucking lie.
Jimmy: Also the Ireland recording thing kind of set us back. We were planning to record earlier but we just kept looking at songs to weight them. It just took a lot longer.
Dave: Yeah, it would have been nice to have it a year earlier.
So, looking back at High in the Lasers, how do you feel the album holds up, what tracks are your favorites generally, and what do you like to play live most?
Dave: I think the album holds up pretty well. I listened to it for the first time in about four years the other day. I mean, you don’t listen to your own albums. I mean, you listen to it every day for a year or two and then you are just like, I’m done with this fucker. So, I’m so happy and looking forward to being done with this next record.
Jimmy: I think all four of us love playing “Escape” from the record.
Swaan: I love playing “Icy Daggers”.
Jimmy: Yeah, that too!
Dave: We also like playing “Sun Behind the Rocks” a lot. We play the songs live much differently than they are on the record which even goes for these new jams now. Live and on the records are two different things and we play the High in the Laser songs very different live. Those are the three fun ones for us.
I really dig the track “Icy Daggers”. Can you talk a bit about the writing and recording of that track?
Dave: That was two sub-standard songs that we made into one song but it will take all the mystery away if I tell you.
That’s fair. Same question for “Silver Light”.
Dave: I had one prolific night in Seattle… yeah, that record [High in the Lasers] was pretty much written in Seattle. It was me, all by myself.
So let’s talk about “Who’s Your Lover”. Are we getting a single release soon, perhaps on 7” and what’s it like working on the new songs?
Dave: It depends on what record label wants to put it out.
So, you don’t have a record label?
Dave: We are unsigned. We haven’t shopped the record yet and we have a whole new record we need to find a home for. Hopefully, the new label will put out the record properly and help us out some. [Back to “Who’s Your Lover”] In terms of the record, I wanted to use Logic for this record, so I bought it. So, we recorded it with Logic and we were fucking around with all their soft-synths. So, it’s kind of synth heavy. It’s not as much anymore but that’s how it started.
For the gearheads, what gear do you use live and in the studio?
Jimmy: I use Ludwig Vistalite Amber Jon Bonham drums and Paiste 2002 cymbals.
Dave: Synthesizers, guitar pedals, and guitars… whatever works. I have a lot of toys. I have a large credit card debt… so there’s no easy answer to that question.
Swaan: I play a Fender Jazz bass and an SVTpro VII
Dave: She had an SVTPro IV. It was a great amp but it kept breaking down. After the last tour, we had to buy an amp in like an afternoon and we ended up buying a pro VII.
Swaan: It’s pretty light.
Dave: They sound like rock-n-roll!
What’s next for Nightmare Air?
Dave: We are finishing this record within a month… hopefully we will be done with the mixing of the record. It’s going pretty well. There’s still some work to do because we are mixing between Toronto and Los Angeles. It’s not happening as quickly as we’d hoped but it’s happening. So, hopefully we put that out and then tour the shit out of it. I mean, hopefully we put it out and people like it and that warrants us touring the shit out it. Well, even if people don’t like it, we are still going to tour the shit out of it.
If the tease [Who’s Your Lover] is any indication, I don’t think you are going to have a problem.
Yeah, I think we are pretty proud of the new record. It’s a similar sound but a little more developed. Touring almost non-stop for four years gives you different insights on what makes us happy and the crossing the barrier of the stage vs. the audience and how reactions go. That’s really reflected in this record.
Thanks so much for talking with me and enduring the cold in spite of it!