An Interview with NOTS
NOTS. Photo: Don Perry
“When the real world is transformed into mere images, mere images become real beings-dynamic figments that provide the direct motivations for hypnotic behavior.” - Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle.
The face presented to the world, the idea of saving face; presentation is the play of the day. It all becomes disingenuous, the whole thing, the betrayals and the truths, all determined as the catalyst and the revolution, the prophecies and the protest. Somehow, in all of this, we are just playing our part, participating in the melee; “You, stand here, now throw a rock.” So, we put on that face, masking the truth, or whatever that means. NOTS is a band from Memphis, a wonderful band, that has made an equally wonderful album called Cosmetic. A great word, “cosmetic.” Masking injury or imbuing performance, a prosthetic limb or a clown’s face, a toupee.
“It’s more about the façade,” informs guitarist, singer, and phone conversationalist Natalie Hoffman. “The title Cosmetic actually comes from a Pablo Neruda poem where he calls government propaganda cosmetic, a band aid to a much larger wound, something that is completely false and it easy to see through if you’re paying attention.”
And at this point, who isn’t paying attention? But what is being attended to? There is no shortage of outrage and discontentment, but how much of it is manufactured. Here is your Che Guverra blend, half off with Frantz Fanon quote. There is a sense that it has all been commodified, rendered clear of relevance or impact. It is only another voice, another sentence on a poster board, we have been pacified by revolt.
“Choreographed discrepancies over hearts and minds tonight.” - “Blank Reflection”
Cosmetic takes shape and form, within that shape emotes color and wonder. It’s like looking at the radar of a storm and then being in the actual storm; those shades of yellow and red are not the trees being blown down the street, and the floods and the lightning, but they are indicators of the chaos, to know you are in it, and then actually be in it.
“A slight of hand, a human face, I lost my way, through a scripted rage / a new structure, a used structure, and unrelenting atmosphere of fear.” - “New Structure”
“It’s certainly a positive thing that people are starting to question the systems around them,” says Hoffman. “We’re still stuck in a system that is just so scripted against those ideas, so as much as I want to fight with them, and I do, it’s it’s hard to see something coming into fruition when our government is so stacked against the positive change that so many people want, so it does keep us sort of stuck.”
CAN had a wonderful album, Monster Movies, which contained the song “You Doo Right.” It reminds me a lot of NOTS’s music. There’s the rhythmic center of Charlotte Watson on drums, outlining the structures and establishing form, Meredith Lones then creates a bassline, hues and temperature, Hoffman and Alexandra Eastburn are the expressions and effects, ricocheting off of each other, flying around and within; it’s a beautiful thing. An attack within defined space, a marked plan of departure, each song seems as if ends and beginnings are coincidental. There is method, the challenge of structure and definition.
“I would say that it’s a challenge that we like to present,” Hoffman notes. “At this point we’ve come to embrace it, for a while, especially with the song ‘New Structures,’ that was one. That song actually turned into three different songs on the album; at one point, ‘Rat King,’ ‘New Structures, and ‘Blank Reflection’ were almost the same, not really, but like a rock opera. For us there was editing. When did go into the studio to record, the songs were complete in a way, but we thrive off of a certain extent of improv in the songs, so the songs can go forever or be short or whatever. We were very comfortable in the studio because we recorded with a friend, and what we would basically do is record three different versions, or four sometimes of the same song, just playing it as we felt it was natural and it would hardly ever be the same and then we would sit down and say ‘I think that one has the best verve or feels the most alive and feels the most like we’re all listening to each other.’ So yeah, it’s a challenge, but at the same time it’s just something we’ve come to accept about ourselves.”
In preparation for writing about someone, it is not always encouraged, but it is a practice: reading what was written before about someone you are about to interview. Well, mainly to get a sense of context before trying to establish and individually, or at least a respectfully derivative version. Well, a phrase that often appeared was “all girl.” I struggle with the term because it is sort of a misnomer by default of possibly being reductive, not intentionally though, but to fetishize something as common as playing music. Is it so weird that there would be some bands primarily be made up of women? But, on the other hand, there is truth in experience; I am sure that it is in some way inspiring and it is significant in a truth to power sense, Black music does inject some semblance of experience of racial identity in relation to “the world,” but at the same time…
“I think it often goes both ways for me,” says Hoffman, “Unfortunately, the press often wants to turn it into a very one sided ordeal, they want to make it like, ‘You’re not a feminist if you don’t like these all female bands,’ and of course I don’t like a bunch of ‘all female’ bands, I mean I like them, too, but that doesn’t define whether I like the music. Someone’s gender, or any defining factor about someone, it’s not that, you know, like you said, it’s a band. There’s a music part, but there is also of course a perspective part, and that is where I say that it is important to think about it both ways, because when you watch someone and you consider where their coming from. People always ask, ‘Who inspired you vocally?’ and plenty of women did, absolutely, but I was also inspired by The Germs and The Stooges, just like anyone else that’s into punk rock. I think it’s important to have a broad viewpoint of this and not let yourself fall into the easy traps, the traps of, ‘Well, they’re women so they play guitar like this,’ or some weird essentializing factor. It’s a very reductive way to be and it’s also silly to put someone on a pedestal of like, ‘You’re all girls and you seem like you think about politics and your place in things and blah blah blah,’ so all your songs have to be about that. I just think it’s important to consider perspective and consider the fact that, [the music] does fit into the larger context and we’re not just our own little sub group. I never sat down and said this has to be an all-female band, it was just how most people get bands together, ‘These are my friends, oh cool they like to play music, let’s try it, we’re all drunk, it sounds like a great idea.’”
NOTS is performing at Rudyard’s (2010 Waugh Dr.) on Thursday, February 2 along Keno Sims. Tickets are $13 and doors are at 8 pm.