An Interview with David Nance While His Dog Was Shitting
The Omaha songwriter makes freewheeling records meant for crackin' beers and opens for Jack White at baseball stadiums. Is that what success looks like in rock these days? Who knows, who cares.
Photo by Anna Dewey Nance
David Nance has to call me back. Twice. It’s not his fault. The low-key guitar god is out taking his Chow-Corgi mix, Wildman, for a walk, and in Nance’s words, “He had to take a really big shit.” When we eventually connect, Nance comes across as a Lebowski-esque figure: infinitely chill, likely to lace his thoughts with profanity, and unrelentingly hysterical. The Nebraska-born musician has a lot to be cheerful about these days, as his band, the aptly titled David Nance Group, has had a tremendous year. Their latest record, Peaced and Slightly Pulverized, was one of 2018’s finest performances and a swift kick to the stale crust of rock ‘n’ roll’s staid and waning relevance.
Success for a rock band isn’t easily definable these days. Yes, Nance’s band shared a stage with Jack White at a minor league baseball stadium in Tulsa, but he’s is still working two jobs and begging his dog to do his business before his next shift starts. The band’s 2017 release, Negative Boogie (released under Nance’s own name, sans “Group”), was recorded in a professional studio. Peaced and Slightly Pulverized was done in a basement. This has been Nance’s best year, more people know his work than ever before, but sold out dates at 500-cap clubs are still a mirage in the distance.
Nance hasn’t thought much about the acclaim his new record has received, and if his life has changed at all, he doesn’t show it. Success means different things to different people, and the most enchanting thing about Nance is that he’s simply stoked to be playing his music in front of people; no matter how many actually show up. This is a workingman’s band, and the music reflects it. Nance has two full-time jobs just to be able to hit the road every once in a while. “In Her Kingdom,” the album’s pinnacle, moves with a patience that slowly jumps towards a release only hinted at over the early course of the instrumentation. The track is awash with cymbals and chunky guitar chords as Nance sings, “Cigarette butts and McDonald’s cups illuminate her space.” That doesn’t sound like Jack White money to me.
The band recalls Crazy Horse, The Grateful Dead, and a steroided iteration of Van Morrison circa Astral Weeks, but Nance’s voice reaches a primal yodel consistently enough for the project to be infected with a true originality. The variety on Peaced… is what stands out most thoroughly. The group goes from shred fests to folk-lite and pulls the switch off without a sweat. There are a lot of different variants of rock being toyed with here, and Nance is more than competent handling them all.
Despite the near impossible slog of being a rock musician in the modern era, Nance is unmistakably thrilled. He notes how his band is at its best when they’re playing for ten people. His expectations are basicallynon-existent, so the fact that record sales and tour dates are even in the foreground is multiple exits past his wildest dreams.
Nance is perhaps a bit more modest than his music deserves. This is unabashed rock music that quite simply doesn’t get made to this affect that often anymore. David Nance should act like a nut-swinging rock hero, but then again, that’s just like, my opinion, man.
Noisey: Does Wildman like your music?
David Nance: No, not at all. I don’t think so.
What would his favorite band be?
I bet he would like Enya or Yanni. His name is Wildman but he’s not anything like his namesake. He’s a very thoughtful and introspective dog.
This new album rocks extremely hard. How do you rock so hard?
I don’t know. I’m just trying to play music. That’s all.
Can you outline the difference between David Nance and the David Nance Group?
This is the most live band record that we’ve done. I’ve always wanted to do a band name and all that shit but I’m horrible with band names. I’m also extremely vain and all that stuff so I just had to have my name in it [laughs]. The record is just most like how we sound live.
Is this the same band you made your previous records with?
Yeah, all of them. The guy that recorded the record, Jim [Schroeder], sat in at the studio and just did some incidental shit. He played synthesizers, treated cowbells, and just clapped his hands. He’s a full fixture. He’s a great guitar player too.
Are you based out of Omaha full time?
Yeah, the whole band is here. We’re all Omaha people.
How did growing up in central Nebraska inform your music if it did at all?
I liked music but I didn’t know anything until I was 16 or so. Before that, I would just listen to whatever was on the radio. I eventually started making trips up to the record store in Omaha and started finding out about real music.
What do you think changed and made you want to start seeking out more adventurous music?
I’ve always been interested in music and always wanted to play music. I was in the marching band in the choir and all that shit through high school. Finding out about home recording artists and people doing it themselves became really inspiring. I got my first 4-track when I was 18. I played in bands and stuff but I never felt like it’d get anywhere. That’s still the case. It’s crazy to be talking to you right now. I never thought I’d get to this level.
This record also seems to be the band’s best received by a decent margin. Have you had time to reflect on this new level of success?
I don’t even know if it’s a level of success. We’re getting exposure and shit, which is tight. It’s really cool to be talked about and stuff, but I’m still working both of my jobs. I mean, it is cool though being noticed. We’re getting a bunch of opportunities that are really cool. I’m still booking everything myself, though.
You just played a stadium show with Jack White. Were you the one in contact with his team?Yeah, I just reached out to them [laughs]. No, Ben Swank from Third Man is into our shit and I don’t know how Jack found out about us, but I assume it was through Ben. We just got an email that said, ‘Yo, can you play these two shows?’ The funniest part about it was that we had to say no to one of the shows because we already had one booked. The one we did was fucking crazy. It was insane. We played to 5,000 people at a minor league baseball stadium. I tripped the fuck out. Before that, I thought the pinnacle of my life would be playing a show for 500 people—maybe. It was just a total mindfuck to do something like this.
Did you have to adjust your live show or did it translate fairly naturally?
That was the craziest part. We change the set every day—we never play the same set—but it was wild that the songs sounded alright when they were really loud in a stadium. It’s sick playing to that many people, but it’s super fun to be really fucking loud and hear the sound bouncing off of buildings. That’s fucking cool. I wanna do more of that.
Before the stadium show, had that level of fame—or audience, really—even crossed your mind as a potential goal?
I just never thought it’d be a possibility so I just never thought about it.
Do you still have goals you want to achieve with the band?
I just want to be able to do it. I just want to be able to continue doing in. It’s been pretty great so far that we’re able to go out on the road. We can play in front of 40 people and that’s fucking awesome. We fucking kick ass at playing for ten people. We’re really good at that. Even when ten people show up, I’m stoked as shit. It’s amazing.
Is it hard navigating two jobs and being a touring musician?
We’ve all gotten it pretty worked out at this point. We all have flexible jobs where we can take off. I work at a wine bar downtown and then I bartend at a spot close to my house. I get along with my bosses, which really helps a lot when I gotta split and do this shit.
What’s your favorite drink to make as a bartender?
I like crackin’ beers. That’s my favorite. And pouring shots. I like those.
Do you drink?
Yeah. I try not to make it the centerpiece of my life. I also wouldn’t consider myself a bartender by any means. I’m a crap mixologist and all of that shit.
I don’t have you pegged as a mixologist, believe it or not.
I definitely give off that vibe [laughs]. I just like cracking beers. It’s great.
A lot of reviews compare your band to Crazy Horse, which is....awesome. Can you speculate on what in your music draws out that parallel?
I love Neil Young, so that seeps in. We’ve got a lot of beats that sound like it, too. We write that way sometimes. I’m happy to take that comparison. Like, ‘This kinda sounds like Crazy Horse…’ My response is, ‘Fuck yeah!’ It’s not like complete emulation, obviously, but there’s definitely that vibe on this record.
Have you considered doing another cover record and taking on Crazy Horse?
I don’t think I ever could. I love that shit too much. The stuff I cover is stuff I like a lot but I have no problem fucking with because I don’t consider it sacred. I can’t make a record better than Crazy Horse. I’m not gonna do a better version of Zuma. I don’t want to embarrass myself.
Was there anything that you wanted to do markedly differently on this record from the last few?
The last few haven’t sounded like what we sound like live. We just wanted to get it where we were playing off each other as much as possible because that’s where the good shit comes from.
Has that made the current live show better, too?
We only really play four songs off the record now. We’re playing new shit and doing different versions of past songs. It’s just always changing.
Is that all worked out before you hit the road or is there an improvisatory element to the live show too?
Oh, very much so. We try to stretch things out and I’ll try to bring a song into soundcheck that no one’s ever played and we’ll try to figure it out. That’s the fun shit of playing.
Does that spirit come from any particular influence or have you always gravitated to experimentation?
I listen to jazz and stuff. I guess in a really half-assed way we’re trying to be a jazz band.
I know you spent some time in LA. When did you decide to move back to Omaha?
I moved out there for my wife. She was doing her thing and I was just working, not playing music or anything. We realized we weren’t gonna start a life there and just moved back to Omaha. Things are good here.
How fully formed are your songs when the band heads to the studio to record an album like Peaced and Slightly Pulverized ?
We’ll try songs different ways. I’ll have an idea and we’ll try to record it, but if it doesn’t work we can mess around with it. There are also a lot of songs we’ve been playing for a long time that we were really solid on, which gives us more room to fuck around in the studio.
If people take one thing away from this record and understand one thing about this project, what would you want it to be?
We’re just present humans trying to do the best we possibly can and make soulful, vulnerable music. We’re trying to help rock music out because it’s in a really dark place right now.
You think so?
There are a shit ton of great underground rock bands but there are also piles of crap that aren’t helping anything out. We’re just trying the best we can.
Will Schube is a writer based in Austin, Texas. Follow him on Twitter.