[posted 07.12.2001]


You might know Bob Nanna from a band called Braid. He’s now in a little band called Hey Mercedes that is gonna bring the b.o.o.g.i.e. back to the USA. Their debut album, Everynight Fire Works, comes out next month courtesy of Vagrant Records (also responsible for records by bands such as The Alkaline Trio, The Get-Up Kids, and Rocket From the Crypt), and Hey Mercedes hits the road shortly thereafter. Mr. Nanna recently sat down in the luxurious ShinyGun offices for an extensive interrogation, the highlights of which follow here.


Subject: Robert Nanna, singer/guitarist

Interviewed by: Michael Solita

[Email exchange conducted 07.11.01]

1.) As an avid indie-rock dorky boy, I only know the rock show experience from the perspective of the attendee, standing amid a crowd. Or small circle. I watch, I sidestep, I sometimes cross my arms, I sometimes whisper something crude to a friend or cute to a girl, but my only purpose there, essentially, is to judge and to dance. When you’re standing on stage, what do you think of people like us — all of us standing there, staring, waiting, drinking, jumping around?

I try not to think of everyone as a whole and concentrate more on individuals. I just try and make people feel as comfortable as possible, because I know exactly how it feels to be in a crowd of people watching a show. It’s a shame that dancing in general has become sort of a faux pas at shows, but with the aid of bands like Dismemberment Plan, I think we can bring back the boogie.

2.) One of my favorite memories of Braid shows (and the source of my excitement for upcoming Hey Mercedes shows) is how viscerally you and Todd (and Chris in Braid) throw yourselves into the music. It might register as one small click on the how-great-is-a-band barometer, but the simple sight of four guys on-stage actually having fun with the experience of playing live and physically wrapping themselves up in the movements of the sound … the shaking and convulsing and spinning and falling … I think it really inspires the audience to pay more attention and to let the music affect them physically as well. But seriously, how much of that is just showin’ off for the ladyfolk?

Hot. I’d say about 1 percent of it. The other 99 percent we would do even if we were playing to a group of nuns. I’m not sure if that’s the best example, but you get the idea. As cheesy as it sounds, we write songs that we enjoy and that we can’t help but move around to. And you’re right, it is very exciting to go to a show and actually be able to see and feel the energy of the band, as opposed to just closing your eyes and hearing it. That works if you’re at home meditating or mopping the floor, but it’s just not right for this kind of music, know what I mean? It demands attention.

3.) Tell me: Your favorite thing about playing in a rock band. (This is supposed to be a tough question. It might not be.)

Traveling and meeting new people. Well, maybe that’s actually two things, so we’ll just say it’s a tie. I’ve just met so many amazing people from around the world and, thankfully, I’m able to develop friendships with many of them. It’s not a band-fan thing; it’s a common love of music in general. That’s how I view it and that’s how it really should be.

4.) And: Your top five influences of the past year. (Be it art, music, family, friends, drugs, memories, jobs, whatever….)

5 – Chicago. (It’s the greatest city. And now that I have a rooftop deck, you can expect more skyline references!)

4 – Yellow Curry Soup. (Or food in general. I am in love with good food. I cook a mean beer-battered eggplant fritter.)

3 – Touring. (In the van, waiting for shows to start, before bed — there’s always thoughts to be recorded.)

2 – Friends. (Not the TV show, but the real thing. They’re the best.)

1 – Job. (As odd as that may seem, I get tons of inspiration from sitting around all day on the Internet wishing I was somewhere — ANYWHERE — else).

5.) You have the best singing voice in indie rock. You know that, right? My ex-gfriend would make grimace expressions and close her eyes tight whenever Braid was on the stereo or on a mix tape. How many women are in love with you? Like, seriously? You have this mysterious-but-earnest, intense-but-fun aura that’s not dissimilar to Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein. And every girl I know — straight or gay — wants to sleep with Carrie Brownstein. So, do you have a harem of women like an Arabian duke? (...Arabian duke???? Sorry.)

Best singing voice in indie rock? Thanks. I don’t necessarily agree, but I can say that I have gotten a little better since my sixth grade talent show. How many women are in love with me? I know of one for sure. A harem of women like an Arabian Duke?! No, there are no harems as of yet, but we’ll be distributing forms and organizing physicals on the next tour. (That’s a joke derived from one of my favorite movies: The Cannonball Run. I should have mentioned that as an influence. Darn, too late.)

7.) What’s the difference between playing in a rock band as a teen-ager and playing in a band while in your mid-twenties?

You care a little bit more about actually writing good songs. My first band was so terrible, but I don’t think we ever realized it. We would play hourlong sets of useless junk (like covers of Louie Louie and the classic Blatz ditty Fuck Shit Up) and I’m sure everyone hated it, but, like I said, we just didn’t notice. Awful. We also had a song called I Like Salad.

8.) I’ve read that much of the early songwriting in Hey Mercedes was in response to the months following the breakup of Braid. Can you tell me what it was, exactly, that filled your head those days?

A whole lot of intense frustration. I foolishly believed that after all of the stress surrounding the end of Braid, taking a long break would be like a wonderful vacation. But it wasn’t. It was rather hellish. Adding fuel to the fire, it coincided almost exactly with my deciding to live alone. So I spent a lot of time staying indoors, writing, moaning and generally hating everything in general. Lucky for me the landlord decided to sell the building to an agency that wanted to tear it down.

9.) Where do you find your motivation and energy? Who inspires you? Who are you most thankful for having in your life?

I find motivation and energy from the people around me. From the new people I meet everyday and everyone who writes or emails to lifelong friends. I do everything I can to try and help people enjoy themselves and enjoy life in general. I am extremely thankful for having Damon, Mark, and Todd in my life, because finally I have found three other people who have as much will and drive to make this music as I do.

10.) Vagrant Records: Good, honest peeps? Or industry butt-wipers?

You have lost your mind. They are good honest peeps. If they were industry butt-wipers, we would have lured them to wine and dine us at every occasion while casually putting off ever signing anything.

11.) Ex-Braid guitarist Chris Broach: Good peeps? Or industry butt-wiper? And what’s with the eyeliner, anyway? I mean, great singer and guitar player and all, but seriously … makeup? C’mon … we all can’t be as pretty as Dave Navarro.

He’s a good guy. Misunderstood, I think. He’s definitely no industry butt-wiper. Eyeliner? Well, you have to give the guy credit for trying something different. You can get tired of a certain scene over and over again, and sometimes you need to do something drastic to get out of it.

12.) In which of the cities that you’ve traveled through have you felt most at home?

San Francisco. I love being in big cities — learning all of their streets’ twists and turns. My most recent trip to San Fran was amazing. I’d like to spend more time there.

13.) Prioritize the following ten desires/needs:

[xx] Food

[xx] Shelter

[xx] Sex

[xx] Katie Holmes

[xx] Julia Stiles

[xx] Angelina Jolie

[xx] Halle Berry

[xx] Michelle Yeoh

[xx] Tina Fey (_SNL_ news anchor)

[xx] Sarah Michelle Gellar

10 – Sarah Michelle Gellar

09 – Shelter

08 – Katie Holmes

07 – Steely Dan

06 – Julia Stiles

05 – Sex

04 – Halle Berry

03 – Steely Dan

02 – Tina Fey

01 – Food

14.) Three things you’re most proud of accomplishing:

I love that we were able to play in Japan and Hawaii and actually spend quailty time there! I’m grateful that we were able to make Everynight Fire Works in the studio we wanted with the people we wanted. I’m very proud of it. I saw 365 movies in 1999, but that’s not really something to be proud of. It’s sort of pathetic.

15.) Three things you’ve yet to accomplish but strive to:

I would love to play in Australia, Iceland and Madagascar. I’m working on learning/recording covers of my 100 favorite songs. I’d like to write a book.

16.) Three things you’d rather just forget ever happened.

Braid opening for two metal bands in Normal, Illinois. Braid opening for Guttermouth and Lag Wagon in Seattle. George W. Bush being elected president.

17.) How much does playing in a popular band become part of your identity — how you see yourself each day in, each day out? Is it a welcome part of your self-image … or would you rather keep a very clear distinction between Hi, I’m Bob Nanna, you might remember me from such bands as Braid and Hey Mercedes and Hi, I’m Bob Nanna, I live in Chicago? ... This is sort of a nosy, psychological question. Sorry.

Being in a band sure does help initiate conversations sometimes, but I always try to shift the focus away from me being the band guy. I think we successfully portray ourselves as four distinct individuals as opposed to some unnamed cogs in a big machine. It’s a major part of our identities, but we’re still just four guys on a couch.

18.) What/who do you find exciting in music right now? Your top five all-time dream tourmates?

I like Alkaline Trio, The Weakerthans, Ron Sexsmith, Aphex Twin. I’ve been trying to mix it up. All-time dream tourmates: 5. Built to Spill 4. 30 Odd Foot of Grunts 3. Nelly 2. Fugazi 1. Steely Dan

19.) What did you think of High Fidelity? That movie somehow captures everything I love about Chicago. I can’t watch it anymore. I do love life here in New York, but I miss Chicago. I don’t know if I’ll ever really miss New York, y’know?

I really enjoyed High Fidelity. They shot some scenes right by my old apartment, so I was able to watch a little. I also met John Cusack! Woohoo! It is a very Chicago-esque movie, but I guess I wouldn’t really get that nostalgic, because I’m here every day, you know?

20.) What do you dream about at night?

Michael Bolton, missing classes in school and interviews with Mike Solita.

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michael solita lives and works and listens to braid much too much in new york city.