Photos courtesy of Adam T. Burke
“I do the same experiment over and over trying to prove my research objectives,” says Nigel Chapman, the singer/songwriter of Halifax-Montreal rock band Nap Eyes. He’s explaining his biochemistry job as we drive through Halifax to a retro diner named The Chicken Burger with Josh Salter (bass) and Seamus Dalton (drums), the two brains behind Monomyth. During his day job, Chapman works on mammalian cells and gene theory. But his careful and patient lab methods play into everything he does, including how he makes music. He’s quiet for a minute then says, “I think I’m making progress.”
Last March, Nap Eyes released the philosophically steeped debut, Whine of the Mystic, on Montreal’s Plastic Factory Records, close to the Drone-zone of the band’s long-distance guitarist Brad Loughead (Each Other, Homeshake). The album is one of the best Halifax rock records in a decade, drawing from an influential indie rock scene that's always prized melodic, structured songs and logical lyricism. In Halifax, it doesn't have to be complicated; it just has to be good. Yet Whine of the Mystic’s surface simplicity comes from complex minds. Nap Eyes moves from psych-riffs to astrophysicists; from Rubaiyatic poetry to punctuated bass, in easy fluid motions. Chapman’s calm, steady voice can be as pained as Bob Dylan’s, and his lyrics can be just as profound. But the initial release slipped by largely unnoticed, so like a science experiment, Chapman tried again. He got the album to Steve Lambke (The Constantines) at You’ve Changed Records, and then to Tamara Lindeman (The Weather Station) who passed it to her U.S. label, who loved it.
On July 10, Whine of the Mystic will be reissued on vinyl by You’ve Changed and North Carolina’s Paradise of Bachelors, a treatment very few recently released albums ever receive. “It seemed like a pretty lucky thing,” says Chapman, who has now brought me to a rock quarry where we are taking pictures and drinking root beer. “It’s somewhat of a special case,” Chapman continues. “Paradise usually reissues old records. And I knew Steve would know where we were coming from. He likes sweet music with a lot of lyrical focus, so both labels seem like a really good fit. And we only had 200 copies made the first time around.” Salter interrupts: “Now they’re making 3,000 of them!” The re-issue also comes with the promise of a new Nap Eyes record that will be released by both labels in January. “In some ways, we’re like two steps ahead of it,” says Dalton, “We made Whine of the Mystic in 2013 and we’ve already got new songs beyond the new album.” The new one will be slower, quieter, more toned down.
Before Nap Eyes, Chapman played solo as The Mighty Northumberland, which he still dips into from time to time. I ask how this band came together. “The usual,” Salter shrugs. In 2011, the three started jamming but Chapman had always wanted to bring in Loughead. “I was sorta nervous to ask him because he's so good,” Chapman says. Since Loughead lives in Montreal, he only plays with Nap Eyes some of the time; he’ll play select dates with the band on their U.S./Canada tour that starts this Thursday with Jacco Gardner at Rough Trade in Brooklyn.
“We're a pretty coherent three-piece. Brad's guitar playing doesn’t just add another layer on top of something,” says Chapman, “He changes the whole dynamic of what we’re doing together. I think that's our ideal form but we're still a sick three-piece. Come see us as a three-piece.” This is the fourth Nap Eyes tour since 2012. They’ll hit 20 cities with Monomyth, Ex Hex and sometimes Loughead. It’s also a vehicle for this year’s Sobey Art Award finalist Lisa Lipton’s drum kit, which Nap Eyes is taking for her art performances at Calgary’s Sled Island Festival.
Nap Eyes make music that is special, with songs that sound so natural, they verge on slacker. Yet Chapman's writing is highly composed and poetic: “I try to write about my struggles but then realize that my struggles are meaningless, or insignificant in comparison to other struggles. But then I realize I’m saying my struggles don’t mean something, so that’s a negative point of view that I’m trying to call myself out for saying. So stuff maybe cycles back on itself to try and be balanced. So, yeah. I work out a lot of inner monologue in a song.” Seamus chimes in: “Me and Josh just chug along. Choo-choo!” Salter explains: “We watch Nigel and listen to what he’s doing and impose our own rules on the song. That’s pretty much it.” We start talking about a show we saw last weekend, Lil Wayne, meeting label managers and The Simpsons. “I see Nigel as a Professor Frink,” I say. “I think I’m more of a Milhouse,” says Chapman. “Yeah, me too,” says Dalton. “You guys are two Milhouses for sure,” Salter says.
If you can go see Nap Eyes over the next eight weeks, do it. Pre-order the album. They plan to play from Whine of the Mystic and some new songs, too. “It’s a career-spanning set,” says Salter. Indebted to Halifax’s 90s rock history, Nap Eyes surpasses any comparisons to it. The band is its own cause and effect, and Chapman's honesty might make you feel something for once.