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Back in Naam

NYC trio puts a fine finish on sludge

Naam burns a few.

By Michaelangelo Matos | Posted 8/19/2009

Naam

The Ottobar, Aug. 24.

For more information visit theottobar.com.

Death by Audio is a small, aptly named venue on the industrial outskirts of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and on a recent Thursday night, about 60 people showed up hoping to get killed. They were in luck, because the bill featured local trio Naam--guitarist Ryan Lugar, 28; bassist John Bundy, 30; and drummer Eli Pizzuto, 25--who recently signed to heavy-psych/stoner-metal powerhouse Tee Pee Records.

It was an impressive show, which isn't to say the band is all that happy about it. "We haven't practiced in two months," says Bundy on the phone the next afternoon by way of unnecessary apology. "We finally got back in the band room a couple days ago. After we played, we were sitting around and talking about what we could have done better. One of his inputs kept shorting out--little shit like that. I'm sure you could tell that we were a little worn out by the end. I'm hurting all over--my back hurts, I have a blister on my finger. It's great, but we're definitely out of practice."

Not that a bystander could tell. Between songs, the group smiled and chatted with friends in the crowd, but once a song kicked in things were all business. Bundy and Lugar's echo-drenched vocals give the music some of its otherworldly flavor, but the playing stays up front and grew more intense as the set progressed; by the end, Bundy was alternating between hard-snapping string plucks and mike-stand clutches, shaking a fist as he screams into the air before a song comes to a sudden halt. The result was a sludgy swarm that still retained plenty of color and detail.

Naam began two years after Bundy arrived in New York from his hometown, Wilmington, NC, in 2005, when he moved with his previous band, a "psychedelic instrumental prog band" called Healing Feeling. "We just made a decision," he says. "We recorded a record and moved up to Brooklyn to see what happened. We broke up immediately, which is always the case."

Bundy began playing in a group called Owl, where he met Lugar. "We had similar ideas about how psychedelic music and heavy music should go together," Bundy says. "We were looking at what our peers were doing. You've got bands like Dead Meadow, but it leaves me wanting more.

"When Ryan and I first started working on this project, a lot of it was heavy, deep grooves," he continues. "That to me was appealing because it gave me a chance to work with a guitar player who wasn't just trying to do shitty, shreddy solos. It lets the songs breathe more. At times they're chaotic, but there's a natural feel."

Originally a quartet with an organist/theremin player, Naam found its ideal drummer a year and a half ago via Craigslist. "That's usually a nightmare, but we got really lucky," Bundy says. He's right: At Death by Audio, Pizzuto is a monster, using every part of his kit with fluid efficiency, playing parts that might stymie a lesser technician, but never seeming to simply show off.

That's simpatico with Bundy and Lugar's approaches as well. Bundy's lines can be hyperactive, but he never ignores the groove, and neither does Lugar. "Ryan's got this incredibly lazy, soulful style," Bundy says. "He adds this kind of boogie-ish feel while Eli and I are doing these 100-mile-an-hour thunderstorm progression things."

That collision is precisely Naam's goal. Take "Skyling Slip," the opening number on the band's April-released, three-song Kingdom EP, which clips along like classic Hawkwind, only to break down into a Black Sabbath-y dirge on the bridge. All the while, Lugar's guitar alternates between spearing the air and erupting in wah-wah colors. The song also appears on the band's full self-titled debut, which Tee Pee releases Oct. 20, and like the rest, it's drenched in heavy psych and stoner boogie. "A lot of it is derived from classic records," Bundy says. "Not consciously, but if you listen to Sabbath six days a week, that's what you're going to sound like."

Still, he says, "Skyling" was modeled foremost on vintage King Crimson, and that ambition fuels the rest of Naam as well, particularly the 16-and-a-half-minute opener, "Kingdom." The EP version is closer to 12; Bundy wrote a new, "noisy ambient" intro that gives the album a sense of epic sweep. "Trust me, we've tried to write short songs and it really doesn't work," Bundy says. "We don't really follow the verse-chorus [format]. It's always been a very natural thing." That's how it sounds, too: Even the under-rehearsed Death by Audio show made it clear that if one player shifted the beat the others were likely to follow, even if it weren't scripted in advance. "We never go into a song going, we need to stop on a dime here, go into an offbeat rhythm there, half time there," Bundy says. "It just seems like a logical conclusion."

It's also refreshing to hear a prog-rock element in a band that isn't a sit-down proposition, such as Tortoise. "I wanted to make [prog-influenced music] in a much more loud, droning, drug-induced sense," Bundy says. "Prog's cool, but prog doesn't have much soul, and I wanted to mesh these prog-ish elements with more soul, more volume, and a little more intensity. I love playing loud as shit, I love my Big Muff pedal, and incorporating that with prog is what we do."

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