Thursday, January 15, 2009

More NPK

Posted By on Thu, Jan 15, 2009 at 8:55 PM


This week's North Coast Journal includes a portion of  a conversation with NPK guitarist Tanner Speas in The Hum . Our chat covered much more territory, touching on issues like diesel dope, and some of you may want to read more. Here's the rest of the story in Q&A form:

I understand you're about to release your third album, The Current .

The album I gave you a long time ago, we kind of consider that our first demo. We didn't record it ourselves, the other three we did, and they have a consistency between them, and they're all full-length albums. So, yeah this it the third.

And you have the new disc in hand?

We do. The official release is Jan. 22 [at the Mateel ].

I only ask that because a lot of bands plan a CD release then find that the factory doesn't come through on time.

We actually had to postpone, in part because we made vinyl this time too. That takes longer and I didn't plan that into the manufacturing process. It was a learning process, but it's all good now. We have the CDs and the vinyl alums and the vinyl albums have digital download cards in them. It's cool: You buy a vinyl album but you still get to put it into your digital library for your iPod or whatever media source you use. The download is a pretty high bit-rate, and we put an extra song on that.

The band has expanded since your first recordings, grown from a trio to a five-piece.

It's true, we did those first recordings as the trio, then pretty soon after, Dave joined on sax. He helped us write the next set of songs, and the following year we recorded the second album as a quartet. When we finished that album we met Galen Davis; he's a percussionist. He joined up and he's on this album, so now we're a quintet.

What do you think NPK is?

The closest I can come to put it under a genre, we're calling it a high-energy dance band. That's what we say on our bio. The new version might be something like Humboldt independent high-energy dance-rock quintet.

You're singing about life in Southern Humboldt...

Pretty much. It's definitely part of who we are and we're proud of our culture, but we're real careful not to make that our whole identity, what we're trying to sell to people or whatever. You know what I'm saying?

You want to be more universal...

It seems like there's this tendency for bands in Humboldt, since Humboldt County has this name, you should always sell that. I don't think you need to.

But you are singing about what's happening in your lives, and you live here.

Definitely. Definitely.

Do you think NPK has some message to deliver?

We're working on it. When we did the second album, Attraction/Reaction, we put together the 'Southern Humboldt World Tour.' We played two or three times a week for about a month and a half, played all the little rural neighborhoods in the area organizing benefit shows for volunteer fire departments, schools, environmental and civil liberty organizations, youth groups, all the nonprofits we could help.

So you played places like White Thorn and Alderpoint.

That's right. For example, Whale Gulch has a school and a community center and a fire department and all that, so we did a show working with the fire department and the school. It helped bring the community together and all the proceeds went to them. We did that there, in Salmon Creek, Palo Verde, all over, and we did shows in Garberville and Redway. In the end, we raised about $50 grand. That established a reputation for us and it also gave what we do more meaning. If all you are is a band trying to get people to come watch what you do, that's not much. What we try to do is connect with bigger purposes.

Does that carry over to your lyrics?

In some ways. There are definitely a few main categories we touch on. And I try to write about serious issues that are on my mind, things that are happening in the local community or in the world.

For example?

We have a song on the new album called 'Frog in the Pot.' It's basically talking about the climate crisis and my emotional reactions to that. We had a song about the same subject, 'Drive to More,' on our last album. I used the analogy of this thing in our culture where people step on the gas to try to get there faster, do more, achieve more, that kind of motivation, when it really all ties back to fossil fuel consumption. And where does that really lead us? Nowhere in a hurry.

The first time I talked to you guys, you told me NPK stands for Natural Pain Killer; since then I've learned that there's another meaning: I saw the letters on a bag of fertilizer outside someone's greenhouse. It's a ratio, right?

Nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus.

So it's part of the greenhouse culture you live in, which lately has become more and more fossil fuel driven. Is that something you address in your music? I've heard you talk about the subject on the radio.

On our first album we have a secret track, it's delayed on the last song. It's a guitar folky kind of thing where I address that. It's called "True Story" and it basically talks about my personal opinion: I think [ diesel dope ] is a bad destructive thing. I don't support it at all. For me one of the defining features, besides diesel spills and all that, is  the carbon footprint. It's outrageous. People have done studies locally, one of the numbers they came up with is that the average American has four times the footprint of the average world citizen. And the average diesel indoor grower, using a 12-kw three-cycle for a year at 12-hour cycles, has 20 times the footprint of the average U.S. citizen. It's a tricky issue in our area because it's a major part of what a lot of people are doing, so I tried not to be personally judgmental, but still be honest.
You know these days I'm one of the co-hosts on Thank Jah It's Friday ?

I've heard you on there.

So, that stuff comes up.

You're part of the new regime...

Yeah. You know Fred [in the Hills] is my father-in-law.

Really? Are you going to bring him back?

You know what, he's pretty happy being out of it right now.

I think you should go back to the old form and call him up a home to ask if he's seen any good movies.

We did that once. It was classic. And he came in to do the fund drive too, but yeah, we did call him once. It would be cool to have him do the movie review as part of the regular thing. You know we just lost Katherine too.

I think I heard that somewhere, it's a small world down there. Everyone seems to know everything about everyone else.

As I was saying about our lyrics, we have that serious side, but there are other sides. Greg our drummer co-writes some of the songs. We try to keep a fun side too. And it seems like we end up rifting quite a bit about things like sexual relations and parties and dancing too.

Those are classic rock 'n' roll themes: girls, cars and parties. Throw surfing in there and you'll be right in line with the Beach Boys as a California band.

Even though we're also trying do benefits to educate people about important nonprofit organizations, but the show isn't just about that, it's largely about dancing and having a good time. That way it doesn't become too preachy or to immersed in the heavy side of things.

The sound you've developed makes it all sound fun. It's very eclectic with lots of genre jumping.

That's what keeps it interesting and fun for us. We don't like to stick to one format or one type of music.

You were talking about benefits, I understand you have a couple coming up soon.

We actually just finalized one more too, a benefit for EPIC in February [Feb. 12 at the Jambalaya].

And you're doing one this week for the Surfriders . [Jan. 16 at Humboldt Brews] Are you guys surfers?

Our new percussionist is a world class surfer; he surfs major huge waves of this coast. And a couple of us are what I'd call recreational surfers.

Is the CD release thing at the Mateel a benefit too?

The dinner benefits Beginnings and the beer and wine sales benefit the Mateel Community Center. It's also the premier of our first music video, one for "The Current," the title track of the album.

What's that song about?

There's this spiritual idea about the afterlife, that's called recurrence. It's like reincarnation, but instead of being born into a different life, you're born into the same life. The idea is that you have a choice: You can develop that life, or be stuck in eternal recurrence, being always the same, where it become completely mechanical. There's some of that idea mixed with romance. It came from my life, about my wife and me developing our relationship over a lifetime. It's like an ultimate romance song.

Does the current also refer to water, like in a river or a stream?

It's broader than that. In the song it says, "When death is followed by birth, again I'll be with her. The romance is refined by the current we're inside." So it's the current of life, and the [new NPK] logo has air currents and lightning currents and water currents. It's also on the current album cover.
So it was cool, we shot the video at the Garberville Theater and invited the community to come. We did a live show and shot it, edited it together.

Is it up on YouTube ?

Not yet, we're still building the tension. We'll put it up on YouTube and on MySpace and on our website, and we'll use it for our press package.

The rest of the show at the Mateel looks like old friends: You have Sub Sab and This Dying Wish.

They're people we've played with, and basically Southern Humboldt musicians, although not just that. Subliminal Sabotage has Brian Swizlo and other musicians from up there.

I think of them as a NoHum/SoHum band.

It's like what I was saying about dropping the Southern Humboldt reference and becoming just a Humboldt County band. That's what they are. Then there's This Dying Wish , they're like a post-punk screamo band, that's what they call it.

And they're from SoHum?

They were all in high school here when we started playing with them, but now they're all over, a couple went off to college, but they're still playing together.

And so is NPK after five years. That's saying something.

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Bob Doran

Bob Doran

Freelance photographer and writer, Arts and Entertainment editor from 1997 to 2013.

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