Na Na Nonchalant
One point of view is that rock music stopped being fun, or even stopped being good, when it strayed too far from its roots as dance music. Rock shows are often populated by the glum and the sullen, standing with arms crossed, glaring ahead, unimpressed, afraid to dance.
Local dance rock band Na Na Nonchalant seeks to change that.
“If you come to a show, and they’re just standing there, it’s boring,” says drummer Dustin Burns. “When you go to a show, you want them to put on a show.”
“I like to get people moving,” says vocalist Jeff Ribas.
The dance-punk sound first emerged in the mid ’80s as a spinoff from post-punk—think early New Order—and then remerged in full force, bolder and more accessible, about 10 years ago with bands like Bloc Party and The Rapture.
The key to the sound is the right drummer—it has to be a drummer who can maintain a syncopated disco bounce without getting too repetitive, and fire the propulsion jets of the rock band without zooming too far off. And, as in any genre, a band won’t sound tight without a good drummer. Burns does a great job fulfilling this tall work order. And he does it with style. For example, the beat at the end of the song “Vibrant” is really strange—but still danceable.
In addition to Burns and Ribas, the group’s sound is rounded out by bouncy bassist Jessica Nichols and two guitarists: Sean Conley, who provides the classic rock crunch sound of Gibson SG—it’s the guitar most commonly associated with Angus Young of AC/DC; and Louie Quiroz, who plays a high, crisp and clean Fender Telecaster—the guitar favored by many country music guitarists. The Na Na Nonchalant guitarists don’t play traditional lead or rhythm roles, but rather divide the sound up vertically: Bass on the bottom, the SG in the middle, and the Tele up top. It makes for a thick, full sound.
Ribas was the last member to join the band, and he signed up for an audition on Craigslist. The group already had songs mostly written, and auditioned a number of vocalists. The other vocalists all wanted to sing cover songs during the audition, but Ribas said, “Play one of your songs, and I’ll improvise lyrics.” For both vocalist and band, it was immediately a perfect fit.
“I was amazed at the songs when I first heard them,” says Ribas.
The songs don’t really have traditional verse-chorus structures, but rather work as arcs, building up to emotional catharses.
Ribas follows suit. His voice is essentially melodic—he sounds a lot like The Cure’s Robert Smith—but he builds up to emotional screams, charged with something more like angst than anger.
And though he seems like a shy, understated guy in conversation, during live performances, he brings the crazy, flailing his body around and occasionally attacking his bandmates.
Ribas says his antics first began at an uncomfortable show in tiny Kingston, Nev., just south of Austin, at a cowboy barbecue where the audience didn’t seem sure what to make of the band.
“Something just snapped in me at that show, and I just wanted to freak out the crowd,” he says. “I kind of get possessed and want to put on a show and make people weirded out. … When else do you get to go nuts like that? I can’t just run out into the street and go crazy.”