The obstacles to doing a Pucker Up interview are three-fold:
One: Nate will probably lose or break his phone.
Two: If he does, he can only talk on his satellite phone for thirty minutes before his solar battery dies.
Three: Pucker Up doesn’t do interviews.
This isn’t because they’re a couple of rock stars that don’t have time for petty questions from nerdy journalists, but rather because they’d rather let the music speak for them.. but it’s not really that cliché, either.
“It’s not exactly intentional,” Pucker Up guitarist/vocalist Nate tells me. “It’s because we’re not interested in doing those types of things with the people that approach us about it. Either they’re blogs or organizations that we don’t want to associate with or don’t trust or something. We don’t care too much about it. It’s nice to have that presence on the internet or whatever, but if we don’t think that they’re gonna represent what we do in the right way, we’ll just say no.”
So no pressure or anything; I just have to get this right or Pucker Up’s first interview will also be their last.
Originally a Boston band, Pucker Up started “probably about 3 ½ years ago,” according to Nate. Kind of an experimental noise/ (post)punk duo, their live show is intense and engaging and terrifying and beautiful. The first time I saw them perform (in a Mexican restaurant, I believe) I was transfixed as Nate’s highly dissonant guitars, which swirled up and lingered around his dense, impassioned vocals. The band’s drummer, Lee, literally climbed the walls without missing a beat. Maybe that was the second time I saw them because I definitely saw Pucker Up twice in a row – there was no way I was missing any chance I got to see these guys.
“I tried doing the same kind of guitar stuff that I do in Pucker Up with other drummers,” Nate says, “but nothing really worked out. I started playing with Lee and it just kind of clicked a lot better. We played a couple of shows, went through a couple of band names and have kind of been going hard at it ever since.”
In that process of going hard, Lee moved to Richmond, VA, but that hasn’t slowed down the band’s work ethic at all.
“So Lee lives far away and I also work really remote jobs over the summer – I’m working as a back country ranger for about 6 months,” Nate explains. “In my off-season last year we went on a full US tour. We’ve become mostly a touring band because we’ll just practice for a week before we tour and that’s about it. It’s been working fine since he left.”
It’s been working fine enough that Pucker Up was also able to record a new album, a smoldering and fervent collection of songs that hasn’t stopped playing in my earbuds since it appeared in my inbox.
“We basically planned a tour and planned a couple of days in Boston to record at the end,” Nate tells me. “We’re a live band and recording is very hard because if we just record what we’re doing live it doesn’t always transfer that well. We do have a difficult time of doing that whole side of being a band.”
Now, look, I’m fond of Nate and I don’t want to accuse him of telling me stories so maybe he was just trying to be humble, but there is no way, after hearing this album, that I believe this recording process was either rushed or difficult. The songs are just too opaque and solid to suggest anything besides studio professionals.
“It’s very lyric heavy music,” Nate admits. “I grew up listening to 80s punk and very structured post punk. I modified that guitar almost—”
Okay, quick sidebar for the gear heads that may be reading this: I’m sorry that I neglected to ask Nate about his guitar modifications, pedal preferences, etc. I wouldn’t have known what he was talking about anyway, but I’m sure it’s interesting.
“I modified that guitar almost ten years ago and had been using it in different recordings, mostly as background music. Then I slowly developed the idea of creating a band with that kind of guitar and sound in mind. The songwriting process is basically just messing around with this thing that just can NOT sound like a traditional guitar, even if I try. My lyrical songwriting process is similar to any pop song, but the music is just some totally different, chaotic, dissonant kind of… thing that’s going on.”
“Then [Lee and I] kind of sit down and talk about the performance element of a song. Sometimes we even write songs around that performance element. I heavily utilize a loop pedal and that gives us both some moving around time so the kind of ‘antics’ aspect of the show can flourish. We intentionally make room for that kind of stuff – Lee pacing back and forth and getting really crazy and weird like he does. But it’s about performance and music so it’s been a process of finding that happy medium.”
And Pucker Up has made it a point to bring that happy medium to Norfolk on this one week only tour.
“It was a very unexpected scene that we found there,” Nate says of Norfolk. “A bunch of really cool, interesting people in a place we never would have expected to find them, really. There’s no jaded element. Everyone seems very genuinely interested and just genuine in general.”
And while Nate promises Pucker Up will deliver the kind of performance we’ve grown to expect in Norfolk (except he promises there will be clarinet this time), he’s also bringing his other musical endeavor, Haag. While Haag was admittedly formed to fill the void Nate felt after Lee relocated to VA, they have already developed a reputation for bringing the ass-shaking chaotic dance punk that will get everyone moving.
“It’s just a fun band to be in,” Nate says. “We just go hard and try to make people dance. With Pucker Up, I always feel terrible and find a place to hide after a set.”
Sounds like the best of both worlds to me.
Pucker Up with HAAG, COQ and Glass Pennies is Thursday at 7pm at Charlie’s. For more info, click here.