Louder with Nervus
For many people, the current sense of unease and turmoil, stemming from the government right down through the ranks of the British people, appears unending and impossible to rectify. However, one band who are giving it their best shot are Watford’s Nervus, with their politically-charged third record, ‘Tough Crowd’, which calls the powers that be into account and questions the structure of society as a whole, particularly those it has failed. We sat down with the band before their show at Birmingham’s Sunflower Lounge to discuss the record, their at-times-controversial approach to their lyricism, and the unfortunate eventuality of being trapped in a lift…
You have just released your new album, ‘Tough Crowd’- how have you found the response to that record so far?
Em:It’s been great! It’s been really good to see that people have connected with it, even if it’s not necessarily the same audience. I think our fanbase has changed a lot since the last record [2017’s ‘Everything Dies’], but I think that’s a good thing.
Paul:I’ve definitely noticed the response from the four of us has been the best- we were listening to it on the way here-
Jack:I personally think it feels like the most ‘Nervus’ Nervus album- it definitely brings out a lot of our own personalities.
A lot of this album, especially tracks like ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, are so upbeat and danceable, yet carry this really weighty message behind them- is that balance of light and shade important to you?
Em: No. It just is what it is! That’s the way we work- the lyrics come afterwards, and then I just put the lyrics on to those songs, depending on what I’m thinking about at the time, and there’s absolutely no relevance to the music whatsoever.
Paul: Everything’s shit, so let’s have fun!
Your music has always had a very powerful political message- does having that outlet act as a form of catharsis for you? Is there also a sense of responsibility that comes with having that voice?
Em: I wouldn’t say it’s cathartic, as much as it is necessary. It doesn’t make me feel particularly good to know that there are still people who haven’t been rehoused since the Grenfell Fire, for example- the stuff that I’m singing about on this album is not cathartic, because it’s all shit- as Paul so articulately put it! But I do think it’s important that people do use their platform for something good where they can. There are some people who think that politics doesn’t belong in music- but they’re probably Tories!
Jack: I think it would be weird for us to ignore those issues as well, within the current climate, and just record an album where we don’t acknowledge what is going on around us. You can bury your head in the sand all you want, but these things still happen.
People seem to be afraid of acknowledging that there is so much shit going on.
Em: That’s because so many people in the music scene are middle class dickheads, and they don’t know anyone who isn’t like them- everyone they know is privileged, and so they live in this bubble, this homogenous ‘everyone’s got nice things, and lives in a nice place’ bubble, and that’s not how the majority of people are living, but it is how the majority of the music industry are living. I am middle class, but I think you have a duty to acknowledge shit that is happening. I think class politics has been ignored for far too long, in terms of how people acknowledge what is wrong with the world- people only seem to acknowledge what is wrong based on how they are benefiting from what is going wrong, because they’re a bunch of selfish cunts. I think that’s the reason people get freaked out about it is because they start thinking ‘oh no, what if I have to acknowledge that I have it easier than some people, and I don’t get to horde all of my wealth/social status/power/influence’, or any of that stuff.
In terms of people having that negative reaction to your music and your message - do you ever find that pressure hard to deal with?
Jack: We do tend to just have a laugh about it… we’re lucky enough that Em bears the brunt of it, so the rest of us can just lead fun musician lives!
Em: Whereas I get death threats from Nazis! But that’s fine, it’s part of the fun! If anything, it’s very funny. We have a good laugh about it- we can have a good laugh about the death threats and the bad reviews and the angry emails from editors of magazines- it’s actually part of the fun now!
Jack: Normally our response is to just make a sticker out of it!
You have become very closely entwined with Milk Teeth, now that Em is a permanent member of both bands- do those two projects influence each other at all, or are they two distinct things?
Em:Yeah, I think they do. In terms of Milk Teeth, Cultdreams, and Nervus, we have a very symbiotic relationship with each other, and have done since before Jack joined and before Lucinda joined- it’s community, and the same with bands like Petrol Girls too. I grew up in a scene where you’d go and watch whoever was playing every weekend, and then that kind of disappeared, and the only music scene that seemed to exist was very competitive, people would be very bitter and jaded about what other people were getting, and you’d see other bands coming up and it would be so competitive, and I think that sucks. All of our bands influence each other, either musically or in terms of the way we operate, we can all learn things from each other, and it’s about more than the music I think. In Milk Teeth, Becky writes all the songs, and then Jack and I add what we think sounds cool to them; with Nervus, I’m the lead songwriter; and then Lucinda is the lead songwriter in Cultdreams; so, we all add different things. We influence each other a lot, but not so much musically.
That idea of community feeds into your decision to bring along solely local supports to the dates of this tour- is providing that platform for smaller bands something that is important to you?
Em: Yeah, because when I was younger, if I got to play with a band I liked, that would be the biggest thing that’s happened to me, if I was playing down my local youth club with bands like Five Knuckle, or Captain Everything, who are a Watford band and are our friends now, but before they were people that I looked up to massively. We’ve been on a lot of package tours where the bands that were in our van or the bands that were on that tour were the only bands playing, and while I think that’s cool to showcase certain types of bands or whatever, you’ve got to go for some local supports. I always think it sucks that there are so many opportunities for gigs, but not for local musicians- when you see a tour rolling through, it’s hard not to wonder why there isn’t an opportunity for a local band to play that gig? Bands don’t become touring bands without being local bands first, so that’s how you open your community out- that’s the difference between being a community and a clique.
If you could be trapped in a lift with any one celebrity, alive or dead, who would it be and how would you break the tension?
Jack:Shall we all answer at the same time?
Em:Let’s all answer at the same time, first person that comes into your head- 3… 2… 1…
Em, Jack, and a hesitant Paul:Michael Bolton!
[peals of raucous laughter]
Jack:We need him to produce the next album!
Em:I think if we were trapped in a lift with Michael Bolton, the way we would break the tension would be to say ‘we planned this…’ and grin manically at him!
I think it’s safe to say that Michael Bolton may be avoiding lifts for a while after this! However, the show that followed that night only bore hints of Nervus’ ambushing desires in the fierceness of their lyricism, and their defiant rejection of any and all restrictions, borders and boundaries. Creating a welcoming environment for the oft-overlooked, and a sense of unrivalled joy thanks to Paul’s uninhibited dance moves on the keys, Nervus’ live shows are definitely not to be missed!
'Tough Crowd' is out now via Big Scary Monsters.
Check out the first track from the record, 'Flies' below:
Nervus will be touring the UK this November, alongside Milk Teeth and Cultdreams- dates are below and tickets are available here: