David Nance's "River With No Color" is sinewy and lean. It sneaks like a jittery stray around a convenience store dumpster, as murky rhythms build over six-minutes of low rumble, jagged distortion and Nance's fatigued vocals that reference garbage and piles of cash.
"Have you ever watched an empty bag of Doritos float down a body of water and know that your existence is the problem even though it isn't your bag of Doritos?", Nance explains over Skype from his home in Omaha, Nebraska. "Well add a Crazy Horse rhythm and you get "River With No Color".
The man is correct. Besides questioning self worth over heavy guitar riffs, his latest album Do the Negative Boogie – a follow up to last year's excellent More Than Enough – contains swaggering boogie rock that's been likened to Canned Heat, damaged noise in the vein of Cleveland's Pere Ubu and more fragile pieces that's been likened to the New Zealand pop of David Kilgour and Peter Jefferies.
Nance was born and raised in Grand Island, a small town two hours west of Omaha, but it was Omaha, with its cheap rent and supportive music scene, where he established a name playing in small bars and house shows alongside Simon Joyner, The Prairies, and Brimstone Howl and over 15 years he's earned a reputation as an instinctive and creative performer and songwriter. A brief period living in Los Angeles was spent recording More Than Enough before he scrapped it and returnned to Omaha with his wife to rerecord the album.
The album was his first full-band full-length, and followed the brilliant but under-heard 2013 Actor's Diary LP, as well as a string of limited-edition, intense and emotionally destructive cassette releases.
For the Negative Boogie sessions Nance upgraded from his usual Tascam 4-track to spend three days in ARC (Another Recording Company), a studio close to home and one that worked within his budget. "We got a great deal. If we paid for studio time, engineer Ben Brodin offered to record for free. We were getting a pretty good rate and the label put up some money. I don't have much money to put into stuff like this".
"I guess we were just trying to get it to sound like drugs."
Recording with Kevin Donahue and Tom May, Nance recorded fifteen songs with live bass, drums and vocals to add to the 'crammed down in the basement feel'. At the time he was obsessed with Grand Funk Railway's 1974 version of "The Loco-Motion" and Todd Rundgren's "coked-out production". "I guess we were just trying to get it to sound like drugs", he tells me.
Perhaps to balance this 'studio time', Nance and Simon Joyner have also recorded an at-home re-creation of the Rolling Stones' 1973 album Goats Head Soup. "It's a stupid album. There are a lot of dumb songs on it," laughs Nance. "When we went to record it we discovered that the lyrics and some of the arrangements were horrible so we just made up our own. But I like self indulgent and bloated rock 'n' roll."
Nance has also has an interest in lo- fi rock, in particular some of the lesser known acts on New Zealand labels Flying Nun and Xpressway.
In Los Angeles Nance got to play with Flying Nun band the Renderers and he and Joyner will play with prolific New Zealand musician Bill Direen on an upcoming record that Joyner is releasing on his label. "One of the things that I love about New Zealand music is that it's made for the community and at times it seems totally removed from the world."
There are similarities between Omaha and Dunedin, the small New Zealand city where Xpressway was founded by musician Bruce Russell in 1988. Relatively small in size, Omaha has built a reputation as a musical city that is home to Joyner, Saddle Creek records and Conor Oberst. I asked Nance if they were people he sees around town. "You definitely rub shoulders as it's a small town and musicians tend to go to the same bars and stuff. We're not buddy buddy or anything - I've been to Conor Oberst's house once - but I guess I'm more drawn to the more punk or people trying to make violent music or something. I'm drawn to the more outrageous stuff."
Nance, who recently turned 29, has musical taste and outlook that belies his age. He jokes that older record collector type guys seem to dig his music "at least if their tastes aren't too far out" and he admits that he is gravitated towards rock 'n' roll wild guys such as Lou Reed, Keith Richards and Peter Laughner, the Cleveland songwriter and guitarist who as well as playing in Rocket From the Tombs, Pere Ubu and Television, wrote for Creem magazine and whose posthumous solo album Take the Guitar Player For a Ride has had a lasting impact on Nance.
"His music is so heart on sleeve and incredibly real. He died when he was 23 so he was writing these songs when he was 21 and 22. That's insane! How do you get that world view at that age? I guess people were just living faster back then."
Negative Boogie's closing track "Ambulance" was written initially to sound like Laughner's song "Amphetamine" but Nance says that it was beginning to sound a bit too like "I had to change the chords so I wasn't ripping it of too much," he laughs.
Like Laughner, Nance's music comes drenched in sweat from ferocious jamming in basements and melodies ten years in the making. "D.L.A.T.U.M.F. Blues" stands for (Don't Look At This Ugly Mother Fucker Blues) and the songs are about real people with real lives.
The jangly "Give It Some Time" is an ode to the work week. "Is it OK to write a song about working if you're not Bruce Springsteen? All bosses be damned, it happened," Nance tells me. While the moody "Trianglehead" tells the tale of a guy going through his service industry work week the only way he knows how; hard drugs. Nance says that before recording, it was the toughest song in the band's set. "Then we gave it a Cabaret treatment. If there's any way for you to facilitate Bette Midler hearing this song, I know she'd love it."
Another song, "5,2 and 4" was written for his wife soon after he moved to L.A. "The first time I played it for her she cried, and not in the "what-a-beautiful-song" kind of way. She got over it and gave her blessing to add it to the old repertoire. At first it had a sad-sacked and whiney arrangement, but we gave it a kick in the mouth and now it really grooves."
'Negative Boogie' is available July 14 through Ba Da Bing records.
David Nance tour:
19 July - Lincoln at The Zoo Bar
20 July - Kansas City at The Mini Bar
21 July - Lafayette at The Spot
22 July - Indianapolis at State Street Pub
23 July - Lexington at Best Friend Bar
24 July - Asheville at The Lazy Diamond
25 July - Raleigh at Neptune's
26 July - Washington at Slash Run
27 July - Philadelphia at Kung-Fu Necktie
29 July - New York at Alphaville
30 July - Jersey City at Montgomery Hall
31 July - New Haven at Cafe 9
1 August - Cleveland at TBD
2 August - Detroit at UFO Club
3 August - Chicago at Cafe Mustache
4 August - Minneapolis at TBD
5 August - Mankato at The Nakato
6 August - Sioux Falls at Total Drag