Interview: Appomattox

By on Monday, 21st September 2009 at 12:00 pm

Before their show at the Red and Black Bar in Washington last week, I sat down with the blokes of Appomattox – Nick Gaynier (vocals/guitar), Dave Nurmi (bass), and James Mello (drums) – for an interview. They’re very thoughtful, funny guys. Check it out.

I’m sitting down with Appomattox. Hi guys, thanks for taking the time to sit down with me for this interview and welcome back to Washington.
James: Thank you.
Nick: Thanks for having us.

Okay, for starters, let’s go back to the defining moment in your lives when you said to yourself, “yes, I want to be in a band, making music“. Did each of you have that turning point in your life?
Nick: Mine happened when I was about 13 years old. I was really into comic books and drawing comics. And I drew an Incredible Hulk comic book when I was about 11 that was about 100 pages long…
Oh wow!
Nick: I still have it. So I was always obsessively into doing things. I had really musical parents in terms of them playing a lot of music, my stepdad was a little younger than my mom, and he listened to a lot of punk rock and ’80s music. So yeah, I just started to get obsessed with music. My best friend’s dad had an acoustic guitar that he sold to me for $30 when I was 13. (laughs) And pretty much right away I started writing songs. It was never, like, about wanting to play the guitar to be good at guitar. I wanted to be R.E.M. Or the Sex Pistols.
James: I was, like, 15 when I started playing drums. I played a bunch of instruments when I was younger, and I grew up with a piano in the house. But I’d pound the piano more than play. I could play it but I would hit the piano pretty hard. I also played trumpet and guitar. Eventually I got to a snare drum and that was boring…until I sat down at a drum set, and that changed everything. I didn’t really have to think too much to play it, it just was a lot of fun. And I decided that was what I wanted to do. I’d spend hours and hours a day doing that instead of going out with my friends in high school, driving around aimlessly. (laughs)
Dave: I was about 13 or 14 when I got into playing bass. I always wanted to play in a band and I went to college for music, but that was for recording and stuff. It wasn’t until the end of college that I really didn’t want to do that so much and just really wanted to play in a band.
Where did you go to school?
Dave: I went to Northeastern [University].

So Appomattox was a defining moment – or location rather – in the American Civil War that our British readers might not be familiar with. Can you shed some light on how you chose your band name?
Nick: Yeah, the choice of the name didn’t initially have anything to do with the history behind the name. A lot of bands…people start to suggest names to the guys in a band. with the band, and this was a case like that. My friend Kristina who used to be in a band called Roh Delikat and the band Ho-Ag in Boston, she suggested the name and we liked the way it sounded. And as we’ve gone along as a band, we’ve grown into the meaning a bit more, Appomattox being a place where this great conflict was resolved and definitely, this band…there is a lot of tension and conflict/resolution in the music and the workings of a band. So now it sort of makes sense to have a name that has that connotation.

So I’ve read you guys are from the Boston area originally, is that correct? How did you guys get together, were you friends first? Did you find each other via the music scene?
Nick: (points to Dave and James) These guys went to Northeastern together.
James: Yeah, we went to school together, and we studied music together. And then all three of us…me and Nick played in a band called Araby in Boston. Well, me and Nick played in Araby first, and then the founding bass player didn’t work out, so Dave came in and played with us in Boston. And then Araby disbanded but the three of us kept playing together after the singer moved to New York. And it’s kinda weird…we broke up, and then became Appomattox.
Nick: I’d been playing with this dude that lived near me for a while. James got introduced to us by another friend. My friend Jonah who’s quite an extrovert and is always meeting strange people on the street…he said James was a top guy and he played drums and that I should call him to jam or whatever, probably because he wanted James to be around. (everyone laughs) I never did that because at the time I wasn’t the kind of person to just call someone up to jam, “hey, do you want to play?” It so happened that James knew someone that lived upstairs from me as well, so at a party one night we got to talking. The three of us started playing with this guy Cliff that James mentioned, and like James said, Dave came in. This was back in ’99- 2000. And Appomattox started in about 2003-2004.

What can you tell me about the Boston music scene?
Nick: I don’t know. I could tell you a few bands that we know and love and whatever…
When you were there, were there good venues? Are the clubs good?
Nick: It seems like it’s shrinking. I mean, that’s the whole perception.
James: It’s a small city to begin with. So for bands, you have limited places to play. There are maybe like three to five decent places you can play, and you have to space them out… the Boston music community, all the bands know each other, and it’s a smaller group of people, whereas New York…I always think it’s weird about the New York scene, it’s almost too huge. Boston is like the opposite.

How long were you guys together there before you decided to make the move to New York?
Nick: We moved to New York in ’06? (James and Dave agree) So we’d been playing in Boston for 6 years or so, and I guess Appomattox had only been around for 2 and a half? Something like that. There was a period where Araby ended and Appomattox started that I don’t really consider as Appomattox because we didn’t have a musical identity. You know, when you first start, you start throwing songs out. And stylistically, the readers of this blog don’t know the other band, but the old band was more prog rock, a different theme and style. So compared to what we do now, a more frantic, punkier sound, it definitely took a while to come to that. So now I think we’ve go this down to the Appomattox sound for 3 or 4 years now.

Did it take a long time to get used to your new surroundings and the new scene in New York City?

Nick: Yeah…!
James: I think it’s a mixture of everything. (laughs)
Nick: It was cool because we’d wanted to do it really badly. Dave’s from New York but from outside the city, so for him it was getting closer to home. James has been in Massachusetts all his life. I had lived there for 10 years and really liked it. But obviously New York is a highly romanticised city, and if you a musician, you want to be there. And once you get there, it’s no really like they say! (grins) But it’s awesome in different ways. It’s just not like the way New York was in the ’80s and ’90s. There are a lot of neighbourhoods in Brooklyn that really have that, what I imagine that old vibe.
James: New York is the kind of city where it’s like, it can be overwhelming for some people, it throws everything at you. You need to take what you want out of it and put all the other crap aside. It has everything you want, and you can get distracted very easily, things get in your way or annoy you or make you very happy but they’re not necessarily good for you.
Nick: Like if you were taking dance lessons every night…
James: Or doing karaoke or waiting tables…and then have to go on two dates…
Nick: …growing a mustache…
James: In all seriousness, you do need to know what the heck you want to do. It forces you to stay focused because you can get distracted so easily.
Nick: There’s a common community there because, you know, there’s definitely attitude that a lot of things you need to do in New York are frustrating. Everyone knows that and there’s a shared respect that people have for each other because of that.
James: When you travel in New York, everyone walking on the street or on the subway wants to get to where they’re going, and I have a place to be, there are things I have to do, “stay out of your way please and I’ll stay out of yours, but I’ve got stuff I have to do”. So that’s the way it is. Once you get to where you’re going, things are usually pretty all right and what you wanted.
Nick: So you’re out in New York and yeah, staying out until 4 every night, it’s pretty intense, it’s not good.

New York City has so many clubs, bars, and venues, do you have a favourite to play at? Or to see other bands at?
James: I like the Mercury Lounge.
It’s owned the Bowery [Ballroom] people, right?
James: Yeah, the Bowery Presents. Bands usually sound good there. When we played there, we sounded good. I’ve always had really cool experiences there. The Cake Shop on the Lower East Side…good club, yeah.
Interesting name for a club. Does it have a bakery attached to it?
Nick: The Cake Shop? It’s a bakery over a show space. Actually, there’s a DIY place near my house called the Silent Barn that Dave and I went for the first time, and I’ve been there a couple times since then. It’s cool, it’s like a dirty loft.
Dave: The shows are in the basement, and you bring your own beers and just kinda hang out.
Nick: I like that place because they put on really good bills. You pay $5 and you can see three really good bands. Frankly, sometimes the sound in a DIY space, it can be worse, but a lot of times, it’s almost better in a small club because all the vocals are done through a little PA, so the PA is very warm, the performers have good amps, so you get the great sound. Sometimes it’s a really nice, natural practise stage for our town. You can really tell if a band is good or not.
Yeah, like in a really unpretentious setting. I was at the le poisson rouge last month [for Friendly Fires and the Phenomenal Handclap Band]. Kinda of strange shape for a club.
James: That place is cool.
Dave: Yeah, they have a configurable stage; they have a ramp and then can do stuff in a round. It’s built on a diagonal, at least when I was there. Yeah, it is kinda oddly-shaped…
Nick: Hey, you know what else is a really good room in New York? The Brooklyn Bowl. It’s a really nice bowling alley and an about 600 capacity venue.
Art Brut is playing there in November.
Nick: Oh yeah?
(nods) So this venue, people can bowl in there?
James: You can bowl and watch the show. And there is also a semi-fancy restaurant in the room too. And they have a very pretty good bar with all Brooklyn beers on tap.

Last month you were touring on the West Coast with tonight’s other band, Low Red Land. How did you set up a tour with them?

Nick: We were at South by Southwest and saw them. And they said, “we’re doing a national tour, you gonna wanna do what you did before and come out west?” And after 4 or 5 months of debating, deciding what we were going to do, then going through a bunch of crazy outside of the band stuff and forgetting, we realized, “oh my god! We’re going on tour!” This is all true. But the West Coast was awesome.
So what were the shows out there like, compared to the ones you’re used to doing in New York?
James: Up and down.
Nick: I’ll tell you an example of a really good show out there. We originally had a day off in Oakland, and a friend called up, Jonah, the same guy that knew James originally, he said, “I have the day off, I’m going to arrange for you guys to play somewhere,” and then he gets back to us and says, “I’ve rented out a park. There’s an amphitheatre and you guys are going to play, and there’ll be four other bands, and we’re going to have a barbecue and beer and there’ll be a ton of people“. And we were like, “okay, that sounds great“, and then the day comes around. And okay, we have to take the PA down and a bunch of people helped us. Lo and behold there is a barbecue, five bands play, there were probably 150 people when we were played, at least it looked that way. You know, it was really chill. The cops didn’t bother us, because our friend had a permit.
James: He even had a generator for the show.
Nick: …that we didn’t even use! We found an outlet…yeah, but it was great, that sort of thing, I’ve certainly heard about that kind of thing happening in New York, but it was the first time for us, it was great, a great air about that show. Something fun happening.
James: Oakland, good place.
Nick: Yeah, we’re big fans of Oakland and the San Francisco Bay area. Not all the shows were great, another show in a town that shall remain nameless, the local band went on first, and that was kinda weird. I don’t want to throw the place under the bus, but you know, that happens on the East Coast too. With touring, there’s definitely up and down moments. The main difference between the East Coast and the West Coast is that the weather is better. It was just beautiful, not humid, lots of nice beaches. I never knew there were beaches in Seattle.
James: Puget Sound. Yeah, that was nice.

When you guys aren’t gigging, writing, and rehearsing, what do you guys do to chill? Engage in any unusual hobbies?
James. Sleep.
Dave: Yeah, I think you mentioned everything that I do!
James: I do some martial arts stuff to keep in shape a little bit. I do a daily routine so that I can forget about everything while I get thrown around.
Nick: No, we do the nightlife with all the famous actresses and stuff.
James: Yeah, exactly. (all laugh)
Nick: Yeah, it’s all wine and roses. I guess you got to live in the moment. For me, in the last couple of months, when I had that “oh shit!” moment when we realized we were going on tour, I had to take multiple shifts at my day job so I could make enough money so I could afford to have a good time. We were looking forward to getting it done and then getting back to relax and see friends and stuff.
When does this tour end?
Nick: Sunday night, in Baltimore.
Oh, where are you playing there?
Nick: The Talking Head.
James: It’s attached to Sonar, the bigger venue. Which for the record, Gwar is playing the night we’re there.
Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
James: Think about it, how could it be a bad thing?

In reference to a quote on your MySpace, what happens when all the Sparx runs out?

James: We drink juice!
Nick: We can’t endorse that yet because we haven’t actually tried it yet.
James: I have had it. James Mello the drummer can endorse it. It is a malt liquor, sugary beverage that keeps you going all night.
It’s alcoholic?
James: Oh yeah. (laughs)

Well, that’s all the questions I have. Anything you’d like to say to the good people of Britain?

Nick: We’re going to come and see you soon.
James: Yes, invite us over, please, so we can go over and party and hang out.
Nick: Have your people call our people!
Thank you so much guys.
All: Thank you!

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