WITH peculiar, eerie synths, churning guitars, and shout-sung vocals, Memphis’s NOTS have dug clawmarks into the Southeastern scene. The self-described "weird punk" band makes their first 912 appearance this weekend courtesy of MusicFile Productions. The foursome joins Athens noise-punks Muuy Biien and our own Cray Bags for a night of bizarro fuzz and grime.
We talked with guitarist/vocalist Natalie Hoffman about tour snapshots, recording NOTS’ next LP, Cosmetic (coming in September on Goner Records and Heavenly Recordings), and creating art in Trump-era America.
- Don Perry
How did you get involved in the Memphis music scene?
It sort of found me more than anything. I moved here for art school and I would play in really funny, not even real bands; I’d just play with people and play instruments I hadn’t ever played, do shows at a bar at two in the morning and never play again.
It’s pretty rowdy; rock ‘n’ roll bands, weird, one-man electronic projects. All sorts of stuff happens here.
You and [drummer] Charlotte played together before NOTS. Did you have shared tastes, a vision for the band?
We definitely had shared tastes but we never had a blueprint for what we wanted to do. We were both into DIY music. ...When it made more sense to become more aggressive or spacier, we just did it. And [the sound] formed.
You went to art college; does visual art impact the way you write music?
Completely. I think films have a huge influence on how I write. Photography and music go hand-in-hand. There are always great photographers documenting the music scene. On tour, I bring a shitty camera that’s unintrusive—I don’t want to be the person with a huge lens, though I admire those people! For me, it’s documenting the everyday, not just the hour that you have your performance.
Are you using disposable cameras?
Oh, yeah! I upgraded and got a Vivatar—your mom probably has one, my mom has one! This little lens opens up and you point and shoot.
NOTS has had several lineup changes. Do you feel like having rotating players impacted your dynamic or sound?
Anytime you play with someone, they’re going to bring something to the table you don’t expect, even if you have an idea of how they play. Our new bassist, Meredith, has a really lyrical, straightforward way she plays, but a really aggressive way; that affects how I play guitar now. When Allie joined playing synths, that opened up a lot more on guitar, since she was occupying that trebly, mid-space.
It’s nice to play with the same group of people so you can develop your sound, but as far as it’s worked for us, we make the best of situations. It taught us all to be more intuitive...I think I got more creative.
You mentioned you like playing off the drums. How have you developed your guitar tone and style?
I’m trying to become a little more experimental about it, give more space to everything. It’s really fun to have songs where everyone is playing something really intense at the same time, but lately I’ve been trying to step back. One song, I basically play nonsense string noises—not even an actual guitar part. Then I’ll switch to a lead riff, back to nonsense. I’m trying to break it up, make it less predictable, especially for myself.
What was it like recording Cosmetic?
It was great. The first EP, Dustride, was recorded by our friend Keith Cooper—he has this crazy reel-to-reel machine, it sounds like a ghost's living inside it! We loved recording with him, so we approached him about recording Cosmetic at the studio setup in his house to tape.
For three weeks, were consistently in Keith’s house all night long. A lot of the songs are pretty improvised; we wrote them and the main structures were not super-solidified. It’s interesting. We would play the song three times, pick our favorite...and Keith’s input is very valued. He’s a great friend, musician, and sound engineer.
I just recorded an album to tape—it’s scary in its finality. I can’t imagine improvising like that...was it freeing, instead of tracking digitally and being able to fuss over it?
We do pretty well under the gun. We do a lot worse when it’s like, ‘You can record over it, don’t worry!’ Especially me! The one we recorded digitally we did with Doug Easley—he is great at what he does, he worked on Sonic Youth’s Washing Machine—but the digital approach was not for us. In Memphis, not many people record digitally; here, a lot of people we know are doing tape.
Cosmetic single "Entertain Me" explores America and the Trump age. Do politics carry throughout the rest of the album thematically?
It was inevitable! I was watching the news every day, and I think if I wanted to sit down and write a sweet album about my friends, I dunno! I couldn't. It was so overwhelming and fast.
I feel like the things Trump has been saying have been said by Republicans and Democrats without the audaciousness, smoothed over a little more than Trump—he gets thrown in our faces—and now it’s this whole group of angry people who agree. And because he’s not speaking political language, he’s saying what other politicians wish they could say...I guess it was inevitable.
A bunch of the songs reflect that. When I sit down to write, clear my head and go off, there seem to be recurring themes about being an American right now, and one who obviously doesn’t agree with the hate-mongering speech coming off the TV consistently.
I’ve noticed that, whereas many all-female bands get “girl band” thrown on about every description and write-up, NOTS seems to have dodged all that. Is that a conscious choice, or do you think we’re finally seeing less of that?
I try to keep up with that stuff, too. When I read about how writers drop the whole girl band idea, or if they allow them to be compared to everyone, regardless of gender—which, it should be in my opinion—for me, it’s conscious.
I want our music to be spoken of outside of gender. Obviously, we’re all female, and politically, we’re all feminists. If that needs to be the way we discuss it, that’s great! In terms of discussing music as gender, it gets old pretty quick, the ‘all-girl band’ thing. That’s like comparing people instead of comparing music. I think it’s conscious for us, in a way, maybe because it is getting better. I’ll read articles about La Luz or something and there’s no mention of it. Maybe the media’s catching up.
I hope so. It’s not a genre.
Right! So many people compare all-female bands to other all-female bands that aren’t at all alike. It’s frustrating to be on tour, and you can tell that the promoter is like, ‘Ah, shit, a female band’s coming! What’s our only local all-female band?!’ And [the lineup] doesn’t make any sense.
What can Savannah expect from the NOTS live show?
We're really excited to be there! We're pretty rowdy. We love playing the South in general.