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For most of his life, David Nance has lived in Nebraska. He was born and raised smack dab in the middle of the state, and then as an adult moved east to Omaha. In his 20s, however, the 30-year-old singer-songwriter took a temporary detour, following his wife out to Los Angeles for a few years. It did not go well.
“I met small pockets of musicians, but for the most part what I saw made me embarrassed to be a musician, frankly,” Nance tells me. At the time, he was working 60 hours at a regular job to help pay the couple’s expensive monthly local rent, and recording music by himself in a closet.
“I don’t mean to f*cking judge,” he quickly adds. “What do I know? Those people were just pursuing happiness, and I’m the curmudgeon just working all the time. These people are happy. Like, f*ck me, you know?”
By the way, Nance and his wife ended up moving back to Omaha. So the story, as far as he’s concerned, has a happy ending. But even if he had stayed in California, the Midwestern sensibility inherent in his music and overall personality would’ve likely remained. You can hear it in the contradictory mix of self-deprecation and anti-elitist disdain that comes out when he talks about California. And it definitely also comes across on his latest album, Peaced And Slightly Pulverized, a galvanizing collection of lumbering, guitar solo-heavy numbers that sound like classic-rock radio being pushed deep into the red by recreational drunks wailing away in a basement.
The references points are obvious: Mid-’70s Neil Young, revivalist garage-rock outfits like the Cramps and the Oblivians, and scores of lo-fi Velvet Underground bootlegs that stretch jam-oriented showcases like “Sister Ray” to the breaking point. To Nance’s credit, he approaches this well-trod ground with shrewd irreverence and a prankster’s insouciance. While Nance has been making fitfully distributed records since high school, his initial claim to fame was a series of radically reimagined “covers” of classic albums like The Beatles’ For Sale, The Rolling Stones’ Goat’s Head Soup, Lou Reed’s Berlin, and Doug Sahm’s Doug Sahm and Band, many of which are still available on Bandcamp.
Nance’s versions sound nothing like the originals. If he didn’t like a particular lyric or riff, he simply wrote his own. (He cites Pussy Galore’s provocative 1986 noise-rock redux of The Stones’ Exile On Main St. as inspiration.) On his own albums, Nance similarly drenches sturdy and anthemic songs in layers of screeching feedback and devil-may-care mayhem. For Peaced and Slightly Pulverized, however, Nance more or less plays it straight, allowing his meandering arena-rock tunes to sound as huge as they possibly can. (The record is credited to the David Nance Group, an acknowledgment of its band-oriented sound.)
I spoke with Nance about growing up in Nebraska, the influence of Neil Young and Pussy Galore, and why he embraced sounding like a “cliché” rocker.