David Nance Group Made The Most Guitar-Shreddiest Indie Rock Record Of The Year

Andy Lachance

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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.

How old were you when you became interested in music?

I was 16. I’m from Grand Island, Nebraska. When I was there, it was like 35,000 or 40,000 people. That’s small, but that’s not that small. But we didn’t have an independent record store. The place I could get music was this chain called Hastings. It’s kind of like a Barnes And Noble — it’s just like the media center of the town. I remember getting Depeche Mode’s Black Celebration on cassette, and then Patsy Cline tapes and The Grateful Dead.

What specifically flipped the switch for you? I’m guessing most kids in your town weren’t into exploring older, more obscure music.

I don’t know. I was probably listening to Destiny’s Child in middle school, Honestly, there were pop-punk — for lack of a better word — bands that would come to Grand Island and play the square-dance hall on Fridays. And there were a couple of local acts that were sweet, too. It was real music. That kind of hooked me in. And then there were the Strokes and that garage-rock shit that was being pushed in the mainstream. That was my field of vision for years, finding out about The Oblivians, The Mummies, the Cramps and all of that seminal revival garage rock.

Did you start playing music soon after that?

I played in one band in high school. We played one show, and it was horrible. It was really, really, really bad. My first real band was called The Forbidden Tigers. We only played five shows, but we put two singles out in Europe.

I played in a band here, when I moved to Omaha, called The Prairie. Basically, we wrote eight songs and played them for three years. And then I started playing with Simon Joyner. I played with him for years. I still play with him on and off, whenever he will have me. He’s kind of got a rotating cast.

The first I heard of you, it was for your irreverent covers of classic albums. How did you get the idea to do these radical reimagining of records like Beatles For Sale and Goats Head Soup?

The first band I heard doing that was Pussy Galore doing Exile On Main St. Have you heard that?

Oh yeah.

Oh my god. It’s incredible. You know, you can do literally anything with songs. Songs are just chords with words. I think it was a great way to just work on something and not have to access my own brain for material. It’s like, the material is there. Now I can just fuck with it.

Do you feel like you were — to use a fancy music critic word — deconstructing those albums in a way?

I mean, it’s not really the intent, to pull them apart and expose them. It’s like, maybe I can’t play that riff, [so] I’ll play my own riff over it. When we were doing the Stones record, there were some lyrics that were just fucking godawful. Like, we’ll just make our own lyrics, you know?

What separates Peaced and Slightly Pulverized from your previous albums is that it’s more straight-forward — instead of doing something noisy and weird, you’re making full-throated rock music now. Was that what you were going for?

Oh, totally. The ones before this, I had the songs and we went into a studio and just f*cked it up. Just throw a bunch of shIt on there. But with this one it’s like, let’s try to get what we actually sound like live, you know? I guess we’re a pretty cliché rock band live.

When I heard the single “Poison,” I likened it to Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young’s Crazy Horse stuff. Do you consider that a compliment?

If anyone puts me in the wheelhouse of Neil Young, I’m f*cking honored. That guy’s my favorite. Bruce … not so much. I mean, I don’t want to hate on him. If there’s a Bruce song that comes on the radio, I’m not changing it. But I don’t own any of his records. He’s not a big influence to me. But Neil, like, fucking ruled my world for such a long time.

What do you think kind of drew you to classic rock? Like you said, you grew up listening to Destiny’s Child.

I love the guitar, and I love expressive guitar. The first Neil Young album I got was Zuma, and it blew me away. It’s like, what the fuck? You never hear any of these songs on the radio. And then going from that and listening to the bootlegs of live shows. Even though there’s some stupid songs with stupid lyrics, they’re still incredible. There’s definitely bands like that that exist today, but I guess maybe I’m lazy or something. With Neil Young, it’s pretty easy to find his shit.

What’s genius about Neil Young is that he’s a great musician and songwriter but he puts himself in situations where nobody is playing his music perfectly, or even well, and it creates this amazing vibe.

Definitely. I mean, that’s Crazy Horse, you know? That band, you can get way better musicians, but no one can play like Crazy Horse.

Peaced And Slightly Pulverized is out now on Trouble In Mind. Buy it here