Sex, samples, and psychedelia. These are among the themes vacillating through much of the content created by NVDES, a genre-defying artistic collective spearheaded and piloted by unassuming auteur Josh Ocean (no relation to Billy). With influences ranging from Talking Heads to B-52s, the music of NVDES (pronounced “nudes” in case, like your boy here, you weren’t quite sure) sounds like a house party where the punch bowl has been dosed with Ms. Mollie’s magic elixir; encapsulating that moment just before furniture is danced upon, clothing starts being removed, or something gets broken. Alternately, it conveys an uneasy, mellow vibe, like chilling alone or with friends, waiting for your shit to kick in…or perhaps coming down from it.
Based out of Los Angeles, NVDES decided to venture out this summer to stretch their legs and see what the rest of the country is up to, observing the degree to which people outside the west coast might be coping with the decline of civilization as we know it, and providing an upbeat, goodtime soundtrack to the decay of general human decency.
“I studied history,” Ocean shares. “I’m a very political person, so there’s no way I don’t think [this volatile political climate] affects me.” An astute realization in the digital age, considering the muffling effect of personalized newsfeeds and identity politics. Embracing the chaos and channeling it into the music, he says, helps maintain a modicum of sanity in an increasingly mad world. He adds that “it’s about finding a tasteful balance” when infusing the lyrics with potentially controversial messaging, though “a lot of the songs we have are heavily influenced” by current events around the world, where each day we’re presented with some fresh version of hell.
Accompanied by deft percussionist Sean Vanvleet (aka Lemon Girl – don’t ask; inside joke), NVDES debuted in Chicago at Schuba’s on Thursday, August 24th, to a compact reception of animated and appreciative music lovers. Before bouncing through an inexplicably truncated set of dance-party tunes like 8AM, I Wanna Make Out at the Gay Club, and Dancer from New York, we had time to sit and rap with Mr. Ocean backstage, in a greenroom furnished with beer and bottled water (for the bands), and tastefully decorated in hand-drawn penises on literally every poster on every wall.
For those yet unfamiliar with the music (and initially confused about pronunciation), let’s take a clue from the song Don’t Fvck Your Neighbor, a dual-meaning, words-to-live-by admonition that opened the set Thursday night. Had things gone as planned, this reviewer would have inquired as to a potentially heated rivalry between NVDES and the band Chvrches, hinting at a possible bloody battle royal over which outfit came up with the vowel-consonant-swap idea first. Perhaps late-stage appearances by indie group Alvvays and electronic whiz kid Melvv, wielding tridents and refusing to back down, just to keep things interesting. Alas, these rumors can be neither confirmed nor denied, as the question itself was never posed. Nowadays people tend to believe whatever they want anyway, so knock yourselves out.
No shortage of YouTube content for this band, much of which oscillates between the overtly sexual and the bizarrely psychedelic. The vid for I Give Up, I Need Your Love, for instance, is an oddly trippy jaunt through a crazed animated landscape populated by ‘Jelly Gummies,’ the weirdly cute, mildly disturbing creations of visual artist and director Sam Lyon. In an ongoing collaboration for a planned serial about the adventures of “Melon and the Lemon Girl” (inaugurated by a clip for the song Fela), these videos play like a fever dream of somebody who OD’d on Skittles after snorting fat cables of Fun Dip all night. Do not inquire as to how this reviewer has knowledge of such things.
For Sugar, the snappy first single from the new EP (La Nvdite, Vol. 1, out now), expect more warped imagery in the accompanying film clip. Collaborating with “my friend Jenna” as well as “this girl Sine Twist,” the imagery is right on point with the song’s implicit satirical shade-throwing; calling out our vacuous culture of consumption and commercialism, where everything is for sale, and nothing has any value without a price tag (or corporate profits) attached. People now tend to see one another –and even our own selves- as something to be commodified. “I got a face, can I sell it, can I sell it? I got a name, can I sell it, can you use it?” The songsmith explains: “Everyone’s got something to sell and everyone’s a product.” Sadly, in today’s superficial throw-away plastic society, the message is all too true.
Discussing the band’s latest material, Ocean expounds on a common theme running through not just the new stuff, but everything leading up to it. “As [with] all the music I’ve released, it’s [about the] exploration of different experiences that I’ve had.” The songwriting process typically takes place in an organically creative environment. “I make the music by jamming with other people,” during which everything is recorded live, as it happens, in a spirit of free-form spontaneity. Then it becomes a matter of “taking the pieces and putting them all together into songs,” thereby creating an opportunity for the listener to “travel around through all these different experiences.”
“For me, there are parts of [May and June, first track off the new record,] that just really remind me of spending a lot of time in France last year, [but] I don’t necessarily think the lyrics [say that] per se. It’s more like the feeling, y’know? I try to put forward the feelings in the music,” as opposed to always –and only— letting the lyrics do the talking. “That’s the way I try to put the messages across,” he goes on, “how I feel when I’m making [a record], and that’s why I try and capture, like, the feelings as true as possible when I record them…if that makes sense.” Yeah, no, it totally does. “It’s my goal to capture it as raw and as true to the jam as possible…which I think is the most important thing with [making] music, is the intention. It’s not so much the lyrics, or whatever the chords are, as long as the feeling is there.”
This magnetic poetry mode of composition brings the added benefit of total artistic freedom, evidenced by the wildly diverse array of sonics we hear on the tracks, none of which necessarily conform to any single stylistic milieu. “I don’t ever see myself fitting a specific genre,” says Ocean. “I don’t like to put stuff in boxes, y’know?” Asked if he had any advice for up-and-coming bands, Ocean says “Do whatever the fuck you want,” emphasizing his own adaptation of that exact philosophy, which definitely comes across in the music.
“When I was starting this group,” he muses. “I was really influenced by (eclectic Canadian collective) Broken Social Scene,” the troupe of rotating musicians Ocean credits with inspiration for his conceptual motif and vision for NVDES. “There’s, like, two main producer guys [in BSS], and then like a whole bunch of other guest[s] that kind of just come play. It’s kind of like this open collaboration thing with that whole crew. And that’s sort of what I want NVDES to be…this open world of collaboration where I can work with lots of different people,” adding clarification about the thematic meaning behind the band name. “That’s the whole essence of NVDES,” he says, as a commentary on the purity and unbridled freedom of “just being nude.”
Referencing a 2016 sojourn in Europe, during which “Sean and I played our first shows together…in Berlin, London, and Paris,” he says, “that’s where we started the live setup.” Correcting the reviewer’s assumption that the guys have been grinding it out on the road, Ocean admits “NVDES hasn’t really toured that much. This is our first show in Chicago. We play our first show in New York on Saturday. We haven’t really played that much. We play a lot in LA. We’re just starting to tour.” Ocean plugs an upcoming road stint this fall, and six west coast dates with DJ/producer RAC thereafter. “We’re still experimenting…trying to play with our style and [our] sound a little bit.”
For a band yet to accrue a ton of mileage on the domestic touring circuit, NVDES has already achieved a milestone sorely coveted by most upstart bands: the European Tour. Look for the guys in clubs and venues across these United States over the coming weeks and months, and check out their music on Soundcloud, Facebook, and YouTube…maybe just wait until your shit kicks in first.