Nation of Language: KCRW Live from The Village Studios
Intimate performances, fresh sounds, and candid conversations with a view.
Pristinely produced and hyper-intelligent post-punk is a musical style that many have approached, but few have pulled off as seamlessly as Brooklyn’s Nation of Language.
It’s the elegant, cerebral strength of the songs on the trio’s 2020 debut “Introduction, Presence,” and its follow-up (one of last year’s 21 Best) “A Way Forward,” that has turned FREAKS ONLY host Travis Holcombe into one of the band’s fiercest champions. You’ll find him as the resident DJ for nearly all of their Southern California shows (including their forthcoming gig on Friday, Sept. 30 at the Glass House in Pomona). Now, after years in the works, we are thrilled to dive deeper into the group’s sound and story with an intimate performance and candid conversation for KCRW’s Live From series.
The group delivers a dynamic, raw set of songs from both albums, and a chat with Holcombe in which they break down the surreal nature of going from lockdowns to shows packed with new superfans; how core members Aidan Noell (synthesizer, backing vocals) and Ian Devaney (lead vocals, guitar, synthesizer, percussion) turned their wedding registry into production funding for “Introduction, Presence”; and balancing the realities of heavy touring with the desire to start a family.
Grab your headphones and light some incense for this cozy, audio-only experience.
Catch Nation of Language all over SoCal this weekend at the aforementioned Glass House Pomona show and Desert Daze at Lake Perris, where they’ll take the Beach Stage at 9:15pm on Saturday, Oct. 1.
The following has been edited for length and clarity.
KCRW: Tell us a bit about the metamorphosis of Nation of Language as a group. Your first album, “Introduction, Presence,” was released at the very beginning of the COVID pandemic in 2020. How did you adjust to realizing that you weren’t going to be able to tour that record?
Ian Devaney: Not being able to tour, I was pretty crushed by that. Because to me, the only way I knew how to find people that might be into the band was playing as many shows as possible. So when that was what was taken away, I was like, that's … that feels like the only tool in my toolbox [Laughs], and I don't know how else to get anyone to listen to this record. We spent so many years writing and trying to get the money together to actually make it, so it was very scary to have that side of things go away. We were so lucky because you started playing it.
Aidan Noell: Yeah, thanks to y'all and some other radio stations that really pumped the songs out for us, we ended up making more fans over the pandemic than we could have ever imagined. And now all the shows that we've been playing since things opened back up have been unbelievable. It’s much different from before the pandemic when we hadn't sold out a show, and now we're having crowds of people sing our lyrics back at us. Everybody is so hyped to be out here again and doing this together. It's really exciting and dreamy.
How did the recording process for “A Way Forward” differ from your first record?
Devaney: With the first record, we started out by just recording everything as a single. Aidan was a nanny, and I was working at a cafe. We would basically work until we could save up enough money to go into the studio and record a song, then we’d repeat that process over and over again. Eventually, when we got married, we decided that instead of having a wedding registry with a KitchenAid and pots and pans and stuff, we’d be like, “maybe just give us your money?” [Laughs] And then we took that money and finished making the album with it. But it was still very much about working around our work schedules. Like, “Ok, I'm off Thursday, so we'll go into the studio, you'll have to leave in the afternoon, but we'll be able to do that morning.”
Noell: Yes, it was very piecemeal in that way [Laughs]. But then with the second record, because everybody was stuck at home, we had a lot more time to just make an album. Ian lost his job during the pandemic because he worked at a restaurant, and I was doing some stints away [as a nanny], but not very often. So every day we would bike up to the studio and work on some songs. There was no pressure of a deadline, and no pressure of knowing even when we would be able to tour and release any more albums. So it was very organic, free flowing, super fun, and we ended up with “A Way Forward.”
What are a few of the benefits and drawbacks to being both bandmates and lifemates?
Noell: I only see benefits, personally. I get to hang out with Ian, like all of the time … at work and at home … which I love. I have a great time with him, I think he's very funny and nice. I also just really like being a part of helping him see his longtime vision [for the band Nation of Language] to fruition. I have always believed in this band, and being a part of it is very fulfilling to me.
Devaney: Having someone that has your best interests in mind, someone who you're always with, looking out for each other, and sharing a vision of what the future looks like … It's what you look for in marriage, and to have that in music, too, is so important. There's so many times where you're filled with so much self doubt or self loathing, and you need someone to be like, “Hey, cool it! You're fine, just keep writing, just keep going.” It's really all about having that solid partnership.
Noell: I'd say the only drawback — and this is so not rock and roll — is that I want to have a baby, but we can't have a kid and be on tour. But I just love when people bring their kids to our shows, and I get to hold a baby and then go on stage... So FYI, everyone bring your babies to my show!
Program Director of Music: Anne Litt
Producer: Ariana Morgenstern
Assistant Producer: Marion Hodges
Engineer: Gabe Burch
Assistant Engineer: JC LeResche
Audio Editor: Myke Dodge Weiskopf
Digital Producer: Andrea Domanick