Nancy Plays Nurse
There’s a local legend that deep-sea diver Jacques Cousteau once dove to the bottom of Lake Tahoe, and there he discovered such grisly sights—an underwater graveyard full of murdered gangsters like Fredo Corleone and possibly lorded over by a prehistoric sea monster—that when he emerged, he proclaimed, “The world isn’t ready to know what’s at the bottom of Lake Tahoe.”
What history, if any, this legend is rooted in is irrelevant to the fact that it’s irresistible fodder for a songwriter.
“I just imagine there’s a garden of dead bodies from different eras down there,” says Miles Davis Ricketts, the singer-guitarist-songwriter of the Carson City-based band Nancy Plays Nurse. (Fortunately, Ricketts is as unmistakably musical as his first and middle names would imply.)
Nancy Plays Nurse’s song “Bodies at the Bottom of Tahoe” details the carnage Cousteau supposedly discovered. The song is based around some swampy, bluesy guitar riffs, but fleshed out with the textural sounds of 21st century technology—multi-instrumentalist Carson Cessna counts the Apple iPad among his most important tools. He also supplies hand percussion and keyboards.
Northern Nevadan musical veteran Jen Scaffidi plays bass, and she and Cessna add some male and female backing harmonies to Ricketts’ elegant tenor. Quick-limbed, no-nonsense drummer Daylan Rhea plays with bounce and precision. The group is rounded out with versatile guitarist Jimmy Gustafson, and the band is joined semi-regularly by teenage trumpeters Connor Farrell and Jessica Calderon.
The overall sound of the band hits a nice middle ground between a Canadian-style indie rock collective and a classic Southern rock jam band—the latter impression amplified because Cessna and Ricketts both kind of look like Allman Brothers. The songs are longish and feel organic—this is a band that discovered their sound through playing, rather than picking a genre, dressing the part, and aping the style. Ricketts says he didn’t listen to much classic rock until others started pointing out the similarities between what he was writing and the sounds of blues-based ’70s rock bands like Free. It’s just what came out.
The band name might seem vaguely naughty, but it actually comes from something totally innocuous.
“It kind of sounds like a porno, but it’s actually a children book,” says Ricketts.
The band’s hometown plays a role in its unpretentious sound and in the lyrical content.
“All of Miles’ lyrics are tied to specific memories, and many of them are memories that we share, from a shared place,” says Cessna. “The songs are 100 percent influenced by Carson City. The songs are personal and rooted in our lives. If we were from a different city, it would sound different.”
“What I love about Carson is there’s just one scene here, and everybody’s into different stuff,” says Scaffidi, who also books shows at Comma Coffee in Carson City. “We have a lot of fun with zero budget.”
The Carson City connection is most prominent in the song “De Los Muertos”: “When we’re bored we get fucked up, because that’s all right with me. When we’re bored we get fucked up, because we’re from Carson City.”