Artists to watch: Nation of Language

Rising band speaks to The Badger Herald about their music

· Nov 1, 2021 Tweet

Derek Smith achieved blood-pumping drops, riffs and rhythms in his set Thursday night at the Alliant Energy Center, quenching UW-Madison students' apparent for music that is electronically-based.

Nation of Language, a seasoned young trio out of Brooklyn, New York, is set to release their second album following a year without tours. With Ian Richard Devaney on vocals, Aidan Noelle on synthesizer and Michael Sue-Poi on bass, the band has a unique sound that is a menage of the electronic, rock and roll and pop music your parents might have enjoyed long before you were even a thought in their heads.

It offers a refreshingly nostalgic feel with a few twenty-first-century additives.

Now, emerging from the dark tunnel that was 2020, Nation of Language is fully prepared to take the world by storm with the release of their sophomore album. “A Way Forward,” carries over the melancholy, but hints toward an invigorating sense of triumph and joy. More upbeat, it is geared towards the band’s collective early influences of the 70s and 80s.

The Badger Herald was able to sit down with the band and talk over their new album.

BH: What is the biggest shift from your debut album, “Introduction, Presence?” And what were the motivations for changing up your sound?

Ian: I felt it was nice and also very necessary to expand our emotional range while still keeping one foot firmly in the sad, gloomy column. I was fueled by a desire to expand things sonically and lyrically. It gets its change from the [increased] presence of guitar, which allows for a more free and soaring sound. If the first record is early 80s new wave indebted, then with this record we were looking at those influences’ influences — Kraftwerk, Cluster, Neu!, Laurie Spiegel.

BH: For someone of my generation who maybe didn’t raid their parent’s music collection, or who might not have grown up with or listened to the trailblazers of the 70s and 80s, how would you describe your overall influences and your sound that feels hazily familiar?

Ian: Humanly and [in terms of] craftwork, Talking Heads, with the more modern synth music of Future Islands, LCD Sound System, Neon Indians, Beach House.

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BH: In the past, you guys have ever-so-slowly released singles sporadically before releasing the whole album and I’ve noticed that sort of pattern happening again with “A Way Forward.” Is that your overall approach to the process, or is there a more methodical explanation?

Aidan: Actually, the first time we released the album, we had a lot more singles come out than we had originally planned because the pandemic changed the release date. It turned out to be a great idea because it enabled us to keep feeding songs to the people while we were all sitting at home with nothing to do.

Ian: Particularly, in the age of the internet with people writing and posting about things and trying to get songs on playlists at Spotify, being able to hit [audiences] with as many things as possible to talk about, to share, or listen to ended up working out in our favor. We knew that the album wouldn’t be able to be released until November and I’ve been itching to start letting people hear [the] new music as soon as possible.

BH: Any songs from the new record that haven’t been released yet that you feel a special attachment to?

Ian: It depends on my mood, but there are a few. Aside from “The Grey Commute,” which [was] our last single to come out, I am really excited about “In Manhattan” and “Whatever You Want.” Those are both ones where I am excited to see people find them and how they are drawn to them. Whenever something is not a single but it is dear to your heart, your fingers are crossed and I’m hoping people see what I see.

Penina, their manager: I’m not sure if I count, but I love the song called “Miranda.” It is the most beautiful, beautiful song.

Aidan: It is a beautiful one. Ian plays piano live, like an actual piano, which is unusual for our recording process. We were recording in an unfinished studio someone was building in their home, so we had to run it through into the living room from across the hall and mic it up. We weren’t sure if the cords were even going to make it — it was so nervewracking. But we played it and it brought tears to my eyes. Sounds pretentious but I mean it.

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BH: As far as songwriting and instrumentals go, what is the production process like?

Ian: It usually starts with rhythms, whether it’s drums or some sort of rhythmic synthesizer. Once there is a basic shape for the song, that is typically when I’ll go into trying to improvise melodies. You are able to procure things that you might not normally think to say because your brain is just on this roll. Typically, it’s going as far down my own wormhole as possible because part of having previously played in bands that were very collaborative, it’s nice to sort of zero in and explore any idea that may seem crazy without trying to describe it.

Aidan: Ian writes all the songs, we’re his instruments — his puppets — but we’re happy to be them.

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BH: I understand that you guys have a European leg of the tour as well, do you have any shows or specific cities you are most excited to perform in?

Aidan: We haven’t been to Europe in a while, we went to Italy about two years ago and Berlin about four or five years ago to perform, but I am excited to get back and sort of touch base. See what it’s like since we’ve almost sold out the London show and we sold out our Manchester show really early that we had to get a bigger venue — it’s exciting! The vibe this time is going to be much different. It’s nice to be in that kind of environment knowing that all you have to do is convince people and they’ll be there, ready to be convinced.

Ian: Germany, Spain and the UK are the big countries for us after the U.S. and Canada, but really it is an equal excitement because most people who started listening to us, started listening to us during a pandemic. We haven’t met any of our fans and so just getting to be out there and playing rooms that would have seemed so large before the pandemic.

Keep a lookout for A Way Forward, to be released on Nov. 5, 2021.

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This article was published Nov 1, 2021 at 9:12 pm and last updated Mar 31, 2022 at 10:22 pm

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