It’s been a hectic time for Nashville rockers The Nearly Deads, having released their second LP, We Are The Nearly Deads last Friday (see our review here). The band enlisted Brian Craddock as producer and worked with several local artists along the way, speaking to their ethos of immersing themselves into their city’s bustling music scene. The four-piece played most of the album live at a hometown release party this week.
Vocalist Theresa Jeane (aka “TJ”) had just woken up on album release day when we sat down for our chat, expressing that while things hadn’t sunk in yet, she was very excited. We dived into the record-making process, Craddock’s ability to unlock guitarist Steven Tobi’s potential and her journey as a vocalist (that came with plenty of unlearning along the way).
Your drummer Josh (Perrone) has described the album-making process as a rollercoaster ride. Does that resonate with you?
Yeah totally! The whole process took us a really long time, so I feel like that’s pretty accurate. You speed up and slow down, then speed up and slow down… Making it has been a completely fun, easy process, but we’ve just had to wait in between stuff. It’s crazy that it’s out finally.
What was the initial catalyst for the record?
I think just taking that step back and parting ways with our bassist, which had happened a few years ago and we had released music without him. I think the initial idea behind We Are The Nearly Deads was us wanting to show who we are as this four-piece. It’s been the four of us for a really long time, even though there had been other band members prior.
This is an interesting story… I was listening to some interview or podcast with Matt Damon, and he was talking about him and Ben Affleck making Good Will Hunting, and trying to get production companies to pick it up. He didn’t care if anyone saw it, he wanted it to be something that he could look at on his shelf and be proud of, and that’s something that I thought we should do [with We Are The Nearly Deads].
I just think with us growing older, that’s more important to us – Making art that we’re really proud of, versus trying to chase something that other people think we should be doing with our music. I don’t think we could’ve gotten there without taking a few years to step back and reflect on why we’re still doing this.
There were also some personal things going on [in the band members’ lives]. Javier (Garza Jr., rhythm guitar) had a kid, who I think is three now (chuckles). So we’re all just living normal lives for a minute after years of DIY living in a van together. It was a blast and I can’t wait to do it again, but we needed a break for sure.
Now with the new release, it’s awesome that you got to work with producer Brian Craddock. How would you reflect on what he brought to the record?
He’s incredible. He was somebody that Steve met. In Nashville, there are very few degrees of separation between people. I really love Brian’s process. He gets us and that we don’t want to overwork the music, and he’s an amazing guitar player. So I feel he unlocks Steve’s real capabilities as a lead guitarist. The creativity is beyond some of our other albums. Not that he hasn’t ever written great solos and stuff, but I think Brian broke him out of his shell, because he’s a guitar player and thinks about things in a totally different way.
I love recording vocals with Brian, because I don’t have to overwork it. If it’s good, it’s good and we move on (laughs). The guys all say the same thing about their instruments.
When Josh was doing a drum take or something, we recorded in this really cool drum room at this place down in Berry Hill, Nashville called The Brown Owl (we did some vocals there too). You can get all the drums on the album done in a couple of days, versus painstakingly trying to make every single hit perfect. We never thought that added to the music, it makes it sound less natural. So that’s definitely a big part of what Brian brings to the table. He really compliments our punk rock, DIY style.
That’s awesome! Which songs do you most personally connect to on the album?
I mean, that’s like choosing a favourite child. I primarily write the lyrics so the songs are mostly self-reflective; I really pushed to open with ‘Suffocating’, because I think we were all feeling suffocated in 2020. I couldn’t get my expressions or thoughts across, being literally stuck at home. So I relate a lot to that one.
I also really like ‘Faith’ and Wild’. They’re the two that I’m most proud of lyrically, where I was finally able to put into words exactly what I was feeling at exactly the right time. That doesn’t always happen.
Whenever I hear ‘Wild’, I just get that campfire sort of vibe and it has a storytelling, country feel to it.
That’s good to hear! That was definitely where my mind space was. We were the campfire band on tour. We would go to camping spaces, do the fire, whip out the acoustic guitars… I was like, ‘Okay. We need something that matches that energy, because that’s the kind of band we are. We’re also from Nashville, so what’s wrong with throwing a little country leaning in there? Why haven’t we done it yet?’.
Everyone in Nashville is super professional (like Brian). We had a violinist (Nate Leath) come in for ‘Wild’, who nailed it and just spent the day with us. It’s been such a blessing choosing all those years ago to move to Nashville and put ourselves in that community.
That’s awesome! So going back to the album, I feel like the tracklisting in terms of how it’s been constructed really works.
I’m glad you said that, because we had such a back-and-forth about it! That was a rough couple of days (chuckles), everyone had their opinion on what should go where. Some people were like, ‘It doesn’t matter’ and I’m here like, ‘There’s a storyline, it needs to make sense!’ The guys will chuckle about that. In the end though, I think we got the best order and it was not the one that I wanted. So I conceded (laughs).
I guess you’ve got to make compromises with your bandmates. Now let’s delve into your music video for ‘Wild’. Did you have a strong vision going into it?
It definitely came together in a collaborative way. We worked with Josh Lovett, he did our ‘Freakshow’ video and killed it. We knew we didn’t want to do just a performance video for ‘Wild’. I had this idea that we were going to be the band at a wedding and it was over, and we were going to just pick up the acoustic and play. Then everyone was like, ‘We need something else going on’.
They had known this dancer Bianca (Rocha) and she did such an incredible job at choreographing this beautiful movement. Then we had the violinist popping in and this guy sweeping the floor to really make it look like, ‘Okay after everybody else is gone, there’s this one girl that just doesn’t want to leave the party and we’re the musicians that have theoretically played this special event’. We all just wanted to dress up too (chuckles).
So we just wanted it to feel like an organic moment in time and then everyone just walks away.
I really love how all the components came together! Final question. It can be difficult striking a balance between maintaining a healthy voice while on the road and finding your own vocal style. How would you reflect on your journey as a vocalist?
That’s a great question! No-one’s really asked me that and I appreciate it. I studied classical voice in college, so I had a really good foundation of years of vocal training and did operatic-type stuff. I also loved musical theatre. So I had this prim-and-proper operatic voice, but I was always into punk rock and doing things I wasn’t supposed to do with my voice (according to my teachers).
After college and when I joined all of these bands, they would’ve been mortified to see me singing this kind of music, but I had such a good breath work foundation from all of that [training]. I probably would’ve been fine just taking voice lessons, but I didn’t know that this was what I wanted to do. When I started discovering that I had a vocal talent, I was doing musical theatre, so that was my goal.
So I go into the studio for the first record – 10 or 11 years ago at this point – and I’m still in that mentality of pristine vocals and perfect consonance. Our first producer Jon King is like, ‘Shoot some whiskey or something. You have to stop singing so prettily and perfectly.’ He was always trying to shake me up and make me do something funny, like dance around the room.
I think I’m still working on that, but over the years it became so much less important. On the road there’s not a lot you can do and you lose a little control, and that’s what I needed. I would listen to the record and be like, ‘My voice doesn’t sound the way that I think it sounds. It sounds too perfect’, and when we do live I’m like, ‘That sounds like what I think I sound like’, if that makes sense (chuckles).
I think overtime my voice has become way more how I wanted it to sound the whole time. I had to unlearn all of those techniques and added a little more grittiness to my voice. If I’m live and get a little raspy, that makes it better now. I have a different mindset about it, and I think the grittiness works better with our music.
I loved working with Brian [on We Are The Nearly Deads] and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been with how my voice sounds on a record.
Interview by Genevieve Fellmoser
Stream We Are The Nearly Deads here
The Nearly Deads – We Are The Nearly Deads tracklisting