2012 WAS GOING to be the year Nucular Aminals built on their already prolific recording output and touring regimen with a new album of sideways, weirdo rock. A big piece of that puzzle was planned studio time with Steve Albini in Chicago at Electrical Audio—a milestone experience for any band. But following the release of a self-titled album on K Records last year, the Portland quartet decided to self-release their new LP, Start from an End, and shelved a nationwide tour scheduled around the Albini session, citing mounting expenses.
"With how much it costs just to put the record out yourself, it would have been ridiculous to spend that much money on your own and then add recording with [Albini]," says organist Erin Schmith.
To generate the funds to record with Albini, Nucular Aminals had launched a Kickstarter-style fundraiser via Bandcamp, sweetening the pot with demo versions of the songs and the final copy of their new album when it was done. As fortune would have it, everyone who backed the project is still getting all of that. And serendipity being what it is, Nucular Aminals' alternative solution to the Albini session—recording at Type Foundry in Portland with Jason Powers—was one of the best experiences they've shared as a band.
"[Recording Start from an End] went way above my expectations," says Schmith. "I'm really jazzed on how the whole project worked."
Foregoing the comforts of vocalist/guitarist Robert Comitz's basement studio, Frawg Pound, the band found a kindred spirit in Powers while also expanding their grungy panorama of punkish noise. Start from an End benefits from a liberal host of instrumentation, guitar effects, melodic tension, and moody psychedelics. The album's opener, "Family Barber," sets an ominous tone with huge timpani strikes and a jarring minor-note guitar progression. Drummer Wiley Hickson's fill-heavy drumming on the new album indicates a less poppy aesthetic for the band, with bassist Jheremy Grigsby's meandering bass and Schmith's creepy organ tickles unfurling a darker, heavier Nucular Aminals than on previous recordings.
"I guess I'm just not personally into really reserved music right now," says Comitz. "I like stuff to get a little dirtier or discordant. Playing major and minor chords was getting boring; now I'm just trying to see which notes sound cool."
A prime example of this leaf-turning approach is the bass-heavy, single-note progression of "Downstairs Children," which provides a compelling vivisection of Nucular Aminals' playful, quirky boldness, and a snapshot of their emerging technical prowess. The band has audibly grown together, as well as individually—if nothing else, Start from an End ought to pole vault the band past being a mere blip on the radar screen of Northwest punk and into the larger consciousness of anyone with an eclectic musical palate.
Following a West Coast tour through November, the band heads to Europe for three weeks in March—their first time overseas. With two US tours and two West Coast tours already under their belts, the band seems confident about keeping their sanity in such close quarters so far away from home.
"We all stay pretty friendly on tour. We have a couple fist fights here and there," says Hickson.
"You just gotta get it out of your system, and then we're fine just not even talking about it again," adds Comitz. "It's like, 'Sorry I gave you a bloody nose.'"