The Nursery is riding high. They just wrapped a cross-Canada summer tour and released their debut album, Life After Wartime to praise from critics and fans alike. We caught up with frontman Alex Pulec to chat about the album release party, the record’s deep, dark themes, and the bust of Elvis.
Raz Mataz Magazine (RMM): How was the release party last week? It must feel great to finally get the album out there.
Alex Pulec (AP): You know, it reminded me yet again that when you get a room full of people on their feet, spirits in sync and feeding off what’s coming live from the stage—there’s nothing quite like it. No movie, TV show, musical or stand-up gig gets close to the exhilaration of becoming part of the performance when both sides of the stage are exchanging that energy back and forth all night. It really feels alive and it seems to be rare these days. We felt incredibly privileged to have helped create a taste of it that night. Now the album and the songs—which are such a big part of us—are living and finding their way in the real world. It feels good.
RMM: It’s been a few years since Digital Ashes; how was the making of this record different from the EP? And how has your sound changed?
AP: We came into it a lot more focused with what we are looking to create. Instead of trying to do “everything” we stuck to a few of the best things that really excited us. Writing songs with much more directness and urgency came out during this time. We learned a lot about recording with more elaborate equipment and gear too. The mixing of a lot of older vintage gear with new digital toys dictated the sonic aesthetic of the record. In a lot of ways it’s very much identifiably Nursery, but a little sharper, and a lot less restrained.
RMM: Some of the tracks on Life After Wartime are pretty deep. Why did you want to go down that road for this one?
AP: Most of the songs are about dealing with having your life stripped away and the journey of gaining it back while discovering your true identity. However, the main theme of Life After Wartime is finding love after chaos and destruction of any nature. When all social constructs have fallen and you’re facing death, what do you see? Are you happy or are you horrified? The concept of looking on the bright side of chaos fascinated me.
Songs like “Timeless Eye,” “Empty Suitcases,” “Human Race,” “First Year of Summer” and “Friend Without a Name” reference the theme the most clearly. I became inspired with the idea of bringing beauty and freedom into the isolation of a post-apocalyptic world. A metaphor, of course, since we all experience chaos within our own insular lives and not a global scale. The songs are never fully about doom and gloom. They’re full of melodies and vivid colours meant to inspire all the positive and beautiful things that may come from a complete life purge. The juxtaposition of dark lyrics and sentiments is what gives it its character. Ultimately this record is meant to be optimistic, it’s expecting you to enjoy this chaos and thrive from it not having it destroy you.
RMM: Your sound is also a little darker on this album. Was that intentional? What inspired that shift?
AP: A big part of that shift was gaining the confidence to explore these darker topics. Especially since I’m referencing a lot of my personal life in the songs. Music has saved me so many times from the darkest times in my life and I know I’m not alone in feeling that. Music is still one of the most powerful expressions we have today. I’m totally reverent towards the artists and songs that go to these deeper places to lift humanity up. This is why we share painful and cautionary stories with each other. It’s to inspire ourselves to rise above it. I’d hope that each person brings their own experience into these songs as they would any other darker story.
It’s always harder to speak about pain and darkness than how you’re killing it or how great you are. I don’t want to hold anything back and want everyone to know who I am, flaws and all. Today it seems totally acceptable to brag on record. It’s kind of weird. I always felt music should challenge and soothe at the same time. Having the kind of stage and amplification of being an artist shouldn’t be a medium for one to simply brag. I’m just not interested in that at all. We’re all suffering from something and I don’t want to pay someone to tell me how many cars, sexual partners, money and good times they have. It’s boring as hell. Share something real with me, or else I can’t connect.
RMM: It also seems the theme of the album is pain below a cheery glossy facade… If I’m not misreading that, how did that come about?
AP: You’re on the right track for sure. I can’t help but see this juxtaposition projected everywhere in our lives. I see it in our hyper-curated social media profiles. I see it when younger kids are dressed up nice and forced to smile for the world while living in problematic and abusive families. I see it when politicians say everything is great when you know that there are major issues under the surface. Why are we becoming more and more okay with façades? How did this become so acceptable? There seems to be a real fear of opening up in today’s world. Showing weakness is a trait that only truly confident and strong people have, and it’s few and far between.
RMM: You yourself (and I’m sure everyone in the band) have also been a mainstay in the indie scene for a long time. How have you changed as a musician/performer and how has your history shaped the band?
AP: I think my history in the punk/alternative indie scene in Toronto has always led me to be a bit on the defiant side. When I was starting out, I got to play with a lot of my early hometown heroes like The Viletones and Carole Pope while growing up under the mentorship of people like Tony Malone and Gary Topp who inspired me to stick to, and believe in your vision even if it’s not trendy or in vogue.
I also didn’t used to sing much and had always mostly been songwriter and guitar player. In my previous band, we had a singer with an amazing voice who’d sing all the songs I wrote. Myself, on the other hand, didn’t sound so hot. Once that band broke up the biggest change and challenge for me was learning how to actually deliver the songs I was writing with my own voice instead of having to rely on somebody else to do it. It was nerve-wracking at first, but gaining that control now has been incredibly satisfying. Once I could finally perform every idea in my mind, I felt like a totally new artist.
RMM: You wrapped up a pretty extensive tour this summer; How did that go? How does touring influence your sound?
AP: It makes us sharper and more efficient as a unit. You learn to deal with pretty much every unexpected situation. Venue issues, van breakdowns, hotel/Airbnb mix-ups, broken or lost equipment, you name it. It’s actually a great education in thinking on your toes. No matter how well you seem to plan—something always happens. For the long Canadian Prairie drives, we usually keep ourselves occupied with ridiculous amounts of music, podcasts and outlandish conversations.
RMM: I also read that you recently shot a VR video; How did that idea come up? What was that experience like? When will you release it? And will you do more in the future?
AP: We were approached with the idea and, of course, we ran with it cause it sounded so unique. We just played as we usually do and had a bunch of little GoPros attached to this stick pointing in all different directions to catch 360 degrees of footage that were stitched together. It was a great experiment that we’ll be releasing soon. We’re looking into how to build upon it and make a VR video that’s a little bit more interactive where you can actually move forward and backwards within the space. With this one your vantage point is in the centre, but still fun to move around and check out the live performance.
RMM: How has technology influenced how you (and other bands) get your music out there? Or get creative in your you promote yourself?
AP: The internet and new tech has morphed music’s role into a DIY-driven culture. With the sheer amount of tools out there to create, distribute and sell your work, artists can’t resist getting involved in every nook and cranny of their project. I’m totally into it because it reminds me a lot of my punk background when you’d be doing everything from screen printing the T-shirts to gluing together the albums. This new technology has allowed us to create our own little record shop (Bandcamp), curate own visual theatre (YouTube) and even have our own digital media outlet (Facebook/Instagram/Twitter). I’m sure many independent artists and record labels have been inspired as well by these tools in reshaping how they can curate and distribute their art. I couldn’t imagine us connecting or expressing ourselves in the same way without a YouTube or our other social channels.
RMM: We have to talk about the “Everybody’s Famous” video—it is stunning, chilling; I laughed, I cried… Why did you want to tell that story?
AP: I wanted to make the video a absurdist dark comedy. I knew “Everybody’s Famous” would end up being the first single so I took the chance to satirize and poke fun at these unrealistic fame ideals and flip the conventions on their head. While songs about fame get broadcasted by Kanye West and his ilk singing to us from the top-down in their gilded cages, I felt it was necessary to give a perspective on fame from the bottom-up. In a world where everybody seems to be carefully curating their image to appear more sensational than they are, I took a satirical (and vulnerable) shot by saying the opposite. I wanted to illuminate how sad it really can be and how endless the search for validation is. Now more than ever we really need to keep our realities and virtual realities in check. We’ve never cared so much as humans about what other people think. Remember that Warhol famously said “In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes”? Today, I think its much more appropriate to say… Today, everyone will be famous to 15 people.
RMM: Finally, the Elvis bust. It appears EVERYWHERE and I LOVE it (my dad had an identical one; he sold it at a garage sale, but we still talk about it). Is there any significance to it, other than it being awesome?
AP: It’s partly a fascination of how humanity reveres dead icons and brings them to a God-like status. That bust always reminded me of a rock n roll version of those old greco-roman statues. They seem like an artifact and sacred in their semi-religious nature, yet you mostly find them at oddball convenience shops and, like you said, garage sales. We obscure its identity with tape over the eyes and I bet you most people all over the world could still tell you who it is. Isn’t it fascinating how we create god-like icons this this? This ties back to the theme of this album, by talking about what is relevant and what isn’t relevant and how that’s defined by significant changes in our lives.
Life After Wartime is out now. Get the album and more from The Nursery online.