INTERVIEW with NERVE by Greg Allis (3-31-2012 in Syracuse)
Far too often, opening acts on highly popular bills fall by the wayside. You know it’s true… Your favorite band is set to take the stage at 10pm and, instead of checking out the 8 o’clock performers, you go to the bar next door because they have $3 drink specials, no line at the bar, and a cute waitress. Though this interview will probably hit the stands after the 3/31/12 DJ Shadow show at Westcott Theatre, those in the know, or simply in early enough, will undoubtedly be raving about opening act Nerve.
Founded by Swiss drumming legend Jojo Mayer in 1997, the group has included some of the most astonishing players in our generation’s history. The 4-piece, consisting of Jojo, Takuya Nakamura on Keyboards, John Davis on Bass, and Sound Guy Daniel Schlett (original sound guy Roli Musimann is in Poland), perform “Reverse Engineered Electronic Music in REALTIME!”
From a musical standpoint, and in my humble opinion, Nerve is the best instrumental interpretation of electronic music out there. I caught up with Jojo, John, and Takuya prior to their set to discuss musical inspiration, the state of electro-acoustic performance, and the Dubstep Phenomenon. Musicians, Drum and Bass Heads, Junglists, and non-fratboy Dubstep aficionados… Pay attention, and take notes.
G- Good afternoon and thank you for taking the time to speak for ! You are opening for DJ Shadow tonight… How did this booking come about and how many shows are you playing on this run?
John- Well, about a week ago I got an email from Samantha at William Morris (Endeavor) randomly, out of the blue, saying that they were seeking support for Shadow’s upcoming tour, and they thought that we’d be a great fit. It turns out someone in the office is a fan of the band, so it was just sort of a last minute flail.
G- Fell into your lap?
John- Yea totally!
G- That’s awesome! It’s a great break and you deserve it! (I’ll state right now that I am a huge fan of Nerve.)…..Nerve has been active since 1997. How did the group come together? Was your formation a direct result of the “Prohibited Beatz” parties in NYC?
Jojo- That’s 2 questions!
G- That’s true… oops.
John- We can’t work like this!
Jojo- Well, the first question is Nerve came together… Nerve has had different band members, and there were different vocalists, different percussionists, different keyboard players. Eventually, it became some sort of filters… those weekly events… where I discovered people. I did not find the people in Nerve… They found us. Takuya came in very early. Jon came around early 2003.
Prohibited Beatz was an ulterior motive for me because I had the vision of doing this type of music, but I couldn’t find the musicians in my circle. Not a lot of people that I was dealing with had heard of Drum and Bass in, like, 1997… Which is kind of ridiculous because it had already passed its peak! So, it was a very small and selective club of people and when I started Prohibited Beatz, it was to create a pool of people who had interest in this type of culture. Eventually, Prohibited Beatz became the birthplace of Nerve. We didn’t have a name until the NY Times came down to do an interview… I just made it up on the spot and said ‘It’s called Nerve’ (laughs) and it just stuck.
G- Do you have any intention on bringing “Prohibited Beatz” back?
Jojo- I feel the itch of bringing it back just because I like to play in my own city once a week, and I can go home and sleep in my own bed… That’s a lot of fun and it’s good for the music. However, it’s very difficult to find the right logistics… Club promoters, owners… That can share the vision with you about doing something that is not commercially oriented, but culturally oriented. I feel the itch to do it, but the odds are against it… If given the opportunity, I’d do it again.
G- And I would go! In your opinion, what is the current state of Electro-Acoustic music? Have you seen growth and interest from the younger generation looking to further bridge the gap between the two styles?
Tak- After we started, the last 10 years.
John- Yea Roli in Europe and myself in Brooklyn, we both end up working with and producing records for a lot of young bands who are doing something similar to what we’re doing. And it’s interesting because a lot of them are coming up with… the concept of playing this stuff live has already been established… They don’t have to create it, it’s already a genre… Which is kind of weird. It’s a generation that has grown up with electronic music.
Jojo- It’s also, somehow, like… You’re taking it back to the late 90’s when we started. Culturally, things just go in mysterious ways. People are reaching out and grabbing for something that seems to be legitimate, you know?
G- How do you feel about the recent explosion of Dubstep music into the commercial marketplace? How has this influenced your writing and approach towards new material?
John- Yea it’s cool. It’s like any music… Some of it’s great and some of it’s terrible. But it’s good. Of course it’s influenced us because we try and listen to whatever is coming out. It’d be kind of stupid to ignore a huge revolution… A new genre taking over. Like if people dismissed Drum and Bass and Jungle when it came out. In that way, it definitely influences us because we listen to it, we check it out, we take what we like from it, and we filter it through what we do.
Jojo- In general, I welcome ANYONE that creates an opportunity for people to turn off into a different direction. Skrillex definitely did that. It’s not like he did anything that people haven’t been doing in the UK for the past 5 years, but he’s very good at what he does.
Any person that changes the perception of the general audience… To make them more open… Is positive. It influences us because, you know, it empowers us to go for what we feel, and not what we should do so people will like us.
G- Since you play a style of music most commonly performed using turntables and otherwise non-acoustic instruments, do you feel Nerve will ever be fully appreciated by the commercial music industry? Is that even your goal?
Jojo- I don’t care. The commercial music industry is not what it used to be. The commercial music industry is Toys R Us. I don’t have a problem if I don’t have a part in that.
If I needed to drive a gold plated Bentley, I’d make different decisions than sitting on this couch having this interview with you. I’d be busy doing something else. I’m here because I made a decision to do this, and I’m oriented towards things I think I have to do.
G- Can you speak a bit about the evolution of Nerve’s recorded output and your approach to writing “Prohibited Beatz, EP1, EP2, and EP3?
Tak- Everybody has their idea, or sometimes we do a show and improvise a lot, and we check out what we did. And the 3 of us work together sometimes. It’s always different, but sometimes it depends upon the person’s idea.
It’s not easy, because we are all very strong (headed) sometimes.
Jojo- What has to be said about the musical content… That usually occurs out of negotiation from jamming. It’s just something that happens and we capture them into something recordable.
They way we record is we lock out one week, four times a year. In that one week, we just start on Monday and, no matter what we do, we have to be finished and mix ready the next Monday. It might be just one epic jam, or it might be five little pieces of 3 minutes. It turned out that, more or less, we usually came up with 3 songs, and most of those songs are those EP’s. It’s basically back to the way records were done in the 1950’s.
G- So, you are all successful independently… Can you tell me about some of the other things you are working on? Any other recordings, performances or anything else interesting in the wing for Nerve as a whole?
Tak- I play dub reggae stuff. I play keyboards for Lee “Scratch” Perry and last year I started playing acoustic piano… Super quiet, totally opposite but very powerful. I also produce different people and own a club in NY called BPM. And I just released my album called “Mystery of the Cosmos.”
G- And I have a feeling this is going to be an interesting one, so Jojo… Go ahead!
Jojo- Well, I always have, like, a menu of work I have to do for other people. Some recordings when I’m in NY. I also interact within my industry as a product designer… I design product for companies like Sabian. I just designed a bass drum pedal for Sonor which is being released. And I have been doing quite a bit of educational work in drum culture. I did a drum dvd which is like a tutorial, and I am working on a sequel for that.
I’ve been seeking out a lot of collaborations outside of the music industry. Anything that gives me the ability to work with creative people outside the music industry. I have a project with an architect which is very interesting. I might be doing something with a symphony orchestra… He’s writing music around my things, something that I’ve never done. When this tour is finished, I’m going to Europe to work with tap dancers.
But really, the central focus right now is Nerve… It’s been my pet project for the past, almost 15 years. If you ask me a year from now, hopefully I will tell you that I don’t do anything else.
Jon- I’ve been working on a bunch of records. I just tracked and mixed a record for this band called The London Souls, and mixed the new Lettuce record. Rootscollider, an Upstate band… I’ve done all their EP’s. Umm… Yea just lots of records.
Jojo- John is also an engineer and he runs his own studio called Bunker Studios which is incredible… You have to check it out.
G- Lastly, what advice can you give some of the young, up and coming bands out here in Syracuse, in NYS, and everywhere that listens to Nerve who want to make it in music, on the road, and as a professional musician?
Tak- Quit your day job!
Jon- Be nice to people when you can, and be stern when necessary. I’ve met so many talented assholes who haven’t gone anywhere because they can’t get along with people. There opinionated or stuck up, and there are some amazing players stuck playing $50 gigs in NYC because they’ve turned everyone off. Being positive to be around is hugely important in the music industry.
Jojo- Yea I think attitude is a big one. In the end, talent will buy you a lottery ticket, but if you want to win it… There’s some lucky motherfuckers out there, but usually it’s just hard work. And it is a “People Business”… You play for people and you work for people.
One other thing is be persistant. Don’t be discouraged by failures because there might be an opportunity, or it might be a blessing in disguise. And it’s ok to be different and it’s important… Don’t position yourself too closely to people you idolize. At the end of the day, if you want to be #1, you have to be yourself.
Tak- Keep going and don’t look back!