Perfect for the cold, gray winter, Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s is the kind of band that makes you want to stay inside and lounge around the house. With relaxed, folksy melodies and lyrics filled with nostalgia and regret, their music teeters between wistful and downright gloomy. The band’s two new full-length studio albums, Animal! and Not Animal, and their EP of live studio recordings, The Daytrotter Sessions EP, should provide fans with more than enough fresh material to mope to. As the So and So’s wrap up their nationwide tour, coming to Chicago’s Bottom Lounge on Saturday, I e-mailed some questions to guitarist Andy Fry about their year and the recording process for these three albums.
Hayley Lamberson: You probably get this all the time, but what’s with the name?
Andy Fry: I think the act of naming a band is inherently absurd and narcissistic. Ultimately our name speaks to that. It’s so embarrassing to try to be cool and try to brainstorm a sweet band name. Our name is uncool and unwieldy and that’s the point.
HL: Considering both of the albums were released and presumably recorded at the same time, how did you decide what songs would be put on Not Animal and Animal!? I know that you were having some problems with your record label, Epic, concerning what would go on the albums. Ultimately, was it more of the record label’s decision or yours? Would you say that one of the records is more personal or closer to what you wanted artistically than the other?
AF: Animal! is the record we made and turned in to our label. It is our song selection and our order. Our label did not agree with our choices, to put it mildly. Not Animal was the songs we had recorded that our label felt should be on our record, in the order they wanted. It’s like two different playlists made from a 25-song library of new material that we had recorded. As far as partiality, I lean towards Animal!. That is our baby, however difficult it may be to understand at first. Having said that, I’m really pleased the songs on Not Animal got out as well, I’m proud of them too.
HL: What was the motivation behind releasing Animal! on what appears to be vinyl exclusively?
AF: It was a way for us to emphasize that it was indeed an “album” and not just a collection of material.
HL: One song that particularly struck me was “Real Naked Girls,” which sounds like it’s about murder or some sort of crime scene. (“There was dark crimson blood/ It had covered the carpets, the screams were distorted/ And that old Christian judge/ Gave out fifty to life like he was handing out chocolate.)” Is this about some specific occurrence? If not, what inspired you to write a song as morbid as this?
AF: I think it is culled from specific events, but not one in particular. They are all tied together to me, though, by a certain motive—a dark and creepy, vaguely erotic desire to destroy what you desire.
HL: In fact, what was the inspiration for the songs on Animal! and Not Animal? Is there some unifying theme to them?
AF: The unifying theme is more of a mood. It’s a malaise, like becoming aware of an illness. I felt frighteningly passive about all of the ugly and deranged things mankind has done and how absolutely empty a modern life can be. Most of the motifs on the records refer to that distress.
HL: You guys have been some busy bees this year! You also released The Daytrottter Sessions EP earlier this summer. Are there a lot of similarities between it and the Animal albums?
AF: They are all (except one song from The Dust of Retreat) alternate versions of Animal! and Not Animal songs. But they are arranged differently, more acoustically-based. It was recorded and mixed live-to-tape in a single day in a small city in Illinois.
HL: Has 2008 just been a particularly creative year for you?
AF: I suppose it has. But creatively I tend to operate in bursts instead of steadily, so proportionally I have spent way more time executing stuff I’ve thought up versus just thinking and being creative. I feel lucky to be able to do what I’m doing, which makes me work hard.
HL: Spin magazine named you one of the “Who’s Next” bands for 2008. Did this add a lot of pressure to the recording process this year? Do you think it affected you guys in any way?
AF: I wish stuff like that could translate into happiness or better self-esteem, but it doesn’t and we will always be depressed bastards the way one is always an alcoholic. As far as pressure goes, I put more pressure on myself than anyone else ever could. So that sort of external expectation doesn’t affect me.
HL: With there being two years between your first album, The Dust of Retreat, and the ones released this year, has there been a lot of growth (musically, personally, professionally, etc.) as a band? Do you think the Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s of 2006 could have recorded the albums you made in 2008?
AF: No—we have all changed a lot since then. When I think back to the start of this band I realize just how beaten up I’ve been in the past three years. I have seen and experienced a lot, and I hear it all on the records.
HL: Are you all worn out from recording this year or have you guys been working on new material? Can we expect a new album anytime soon?
AF: We are definitely talking about a new record. I love recording, I would make records 24 hours a day if I could.