April 22, 2004
by BOB DORAN
NUCLEUS [photo at left] IS BACK. BACK FROM WHERE? you might ask. Or even, who? If you've been paying any attention to the Arcata music scene over the last few years, you've undoubtedly heard of Nucleus.
The guys in the band first arrived here some time towards the end of the last century, with guitarist Pieter "Piet" Dalmolen coming to HSU from Elmira, a town near Ithaca, New York, followed quickly by Pete Ciotti and Steve Webb, who both came from a town near Elmira called Horseheads. Pete and Steve would soon take up drums and five-string bass, respectively, and, with Piet, create the short-lived All in the Family.
"Nucleus formed in the summer of 2000," Pete recalled when we talked earlier this week. The band began as a quartet with the three New Yorkers joined by saxophonist Matt Dixon, a Cali native from Lodi. For about three years they played an ever-evolving mix of funk, jazz, rock and your basic jammishness at numerous Humboldt clubs, most notably Café Tomo. Then a year and a half ago they decided it was time to take it back to Ithaca, "a cool college town," from which they could work the club circuit up and down the East Coast with occasional jaunts west and intermittent visits to Arcata.
"But even after living in Ithaca for a year and half, we still saw this as home," said Pete. "People would be like, `Oh, Nucleus, you're from Humboldt, right?' And we'd go, `Yeah, yes we are.' We always knew we'd come back to Humboldt; we didn't know it would be this soon. Our attitude changed once we were in New York -- we wanted to be here," said Pete.
One thing they found was that a lot of bands were working the jam/funk angle back east, which was one thing that spurred them to evolve more towards a less jazz/groove oriented sound, moving towards something they call "improv rock."
"We were trying to do something different to stand out, but in a lot of ways New York was a humbling experience. It's a tough place to be a band. It's a struggle economically, dealing with harsh weather conditions and everything. We had to move on -- and move back."
But before the geographic shift, the band would shift from quartet to trio. "When it came down to it, we got rid of Matt (the sax player) and it was a whole new chapter. We had drifted apart musically. We wanted to create a new sound."
Nucleus 3.0 developed a leaner guitar-driven sound, leaving the funky sax behind. "The three of us took the winter off last winter and hid away in a basement in Ithaca creating a new record, The Vibe, Vol. 1. That should be out by summer. We recorded tons of improvisational music and pieced it together, going for a sound with less peaks and valleys, more like a wave of music, like a Tortoise thing."
Guitarist Piet also mentions the Chicago-based band, Tortoise, whose minimalist, instrumental rock soundscapes have been highly influential in the "post-rock" era.
"I love the move towards rock," he said enthusiastically. "I was starting to write more rock `n' roll type material and wanting to rock more in [our live] shows."
Despite the fact that it's improv music, he doesn't see it as jazz. "It's just the pure music coming out. It didn't come from jazz specifically. A lot of the jazz/funk stuff tries so hard to be advanced in its compositions and changes that it becomes more of a question of whether you can pull it off. That seems to be the point sometimes. Playing in a dark old East Coast bar, there comes a time where hitting the quirky change doesn't do the trick. That's where rock `n' roll comes in."
What's next? "I think the music is going to move forward, even if we stay put. I don't think we need to work so hard at trying to figure out who we are and what we're doing -- and wondering if we can exist as a band.
"That's what a lot of the last few years has been about, going out there to find out what's real. We know more about the business now and about what we want out of it. Now it's time to take our time, to settle in and do everything we want to do. We like being here. We like playing for these people, you know. We like this spot.
"It's not like we won't travel; we've always wanted to do our thing everywhere, so there's no point in living in some rush-hour place when you're just going to go on tour anyway. So we're back. This is home again. And it feels real good."
The Nucleus return party takes place Friday, April 23, at Mazzotti's on the Arcata Plaza (despite what you might have read in an Arcata paper). Showtime is 10:30 p.m. Tickets $6. For more on the band, go to www.nucleusmusic.com.
© Copyright 2003, North Coast Journal, Inc.