Great craftsmanship, regardless of its particular output, is something to be admired. It evokes a sense of devotion to betterment in pursuit of mastery. Truly great craftsmen are not motivated by glory or accolades, but by a sense of a job well done. This explains the sense of awe that accompanies the sonic pummeling one receives when listening to You Will Never Be One of Us, the latest record from Oxnard, California’s NAILS. Since 2009, NAILS have been annihilating audiences with their no-nonsense, weapons-grade onslaught of powerviolence, and the new record sees the band distill their essence into its purest, most lethal form. Think of it as a box of Lucky Charms that is 100% marshmallows, only instead of green clovers and purple horseshoes, you get brass knuckles and Molotov cocktails. I had a chance to speak with NAILS lead singer and guitarist Todd Jones about dedication to music, the importance of a life/road balance, and his deep affection for Record Store Day.
The theme of You Will Never Be One of Us focuses on the concept of the “lifer,” people who have dedicated themselves to the craft of punk and metal. To you, what qualities make someone a lifer?
Someone who can’t walk away from hardcore, punk and metal. Like, even if they tried to walk away, they just couldn’t. There are probably quite a few things that would qualify someone as a lifer, but it’s not something you can necessarily put your finger on. It’s just something you know you are , or you know you aren’t. Actually, you either know you are, or you just don’t know. There were a few times in my life where I thought music was a bad influence, and thought it was something that I should try to move away from and focus on something else. But, to be honest with you, it’s almost like I don’t have any control over it; music is just what I love, and for better or for worse, that’s what I am.
You guys have talked about the title being both inclusive and exclusive, talking about both the brethren of heavy music, and calling out people who co-opt metal for personal gain. Can you talk a bit more about what that means to you? Who are these people who are not “one of us?”
It’s definitely not a specific person or a specific group. Really, the title is just an emotion. It’s an emotion you’ve felt, or that anyone who has dedicated their life to something they love has felt. It’s not really something that can be quantified or put into words. That’s really all it is. You know, there’ve been a lot of times that I’ve felt that someone was involved in the same thing I was, but not necessarily for the same reasons I am, but just for the wrong reasons, you know?
During the release of Abandon All Life, you had spoken publicly about why NAILS would never tour extensively because of your commitment to your work and family. As the accolades for the new record pour in, you guys must get plenty of tour offers – do you find it difficult to maintain that road/home life balance and only tour selectively as the band’s popularity grows?
No. When you’re in a band, you’re either a person who can deal with touring full time, or you’re a person who can’t deal with touring full time. I’m the latter; I don’t want to tour full time, I like the stability of having a house that I know I’m going to be living at for the next couple of years, and getting a pay cheque every two weeks. A band will never provide that sense of stability. So we are getting bigger and getting more popular, we’re getting asked to tour with bands we would really love to tour with, but when you do anything you love you have to make sacrifices and, at this point, our sacrifice is not doing our band full time. It is kind of a bummer, you know, because we would like to take the opportunities to tour with the bands that have asked us to tour with them, but this is just the path we have chosen and we have to look at it like we are lucky to be in the position that we are right now without being a full-time touring band. We get a lot of opportunities that full time touring bands will never get.
You don’t really need to tour a lot to really get an audience or to make something for yourself. A lot of people think the road to success in music is through touring, I personally think it’s through making good music. Actually, I don’t want to say making good music, but just making music that people connect with which, luckily, we’ve somehow been able to do. Think of any of your favorite bands, and the first thing you think of isn’t their touring history. The first thing you think about is the music they made and the songs, and your connection to the songs.
The new album sounds great. While it retains NAILS’ classic attack, it feels like there is a definite progression in sound between all three LPs. Did you go into writing You Will Never Be One of Us thinking you wanted to specifically try some different things from Unsilent Death and Abandon all Life?
We wanted it to be NAILS through and through. We needed it to be NAILS. While we wanted to try something different, it was more about us just being ourselves. I will say that one thing we really wanted to do was make it a little bit heavier, and make it a little more catchy in the vocal and riff departments. When we did Abandon All Life, it sounds like a bludgeoning, but after it ends you don’t really remember a whole lot about it. I think there are definitely memorable parts on that record. I love that record, it serves its purpose in our discography, and we still play a lot of songs off of it live, but it was made for the sake of being aggressive, not necessarily for the sake of being catchy. You Will Never Be One of Us had a bit more focus on being catchier.
NAILS once again chose to record with Kurt Ballou at God City Studio. Besides the fact that Kurt is kind of the master of the HM-2 pedal sound, and has a long list of great records to his name, what prompted you to work with him on You Will Never Be One of Us?
Basically everything you just said, man! He’s kind of helped shape our sound. I think when fans get a new NAILS record, they want to hear it with Kurt Ballou’s production, especially since our last two records had Kurt Ballou production. Plus, Kurt is a legit friend of ours. We’re comfortable with him and we’re comfortable with the studio space. He just makes it real easy for us.
It’s kind of difficult to find a record he’s worked on that isn’t good.
For sure. Even if you don’t like the music, you’re at least going to like the recording quality.
Yeah; in 2007 I joined Blacklisted, and that band is extremely heavy, so I just loved playing heavy music with them. I was still living in California and they were based in Philadelphia, so it came to a point where I couldn’t be in the band because I wasn’t going to move as I needed to stay in California. So it was time to start a new band. I knew I wanted to do something heavy, but I really wanted to do something that harkened back to when I was an early teen and getting into this kind of music. I wanted to make music that displayed the kind of emotions that were being displayed to me by the music I was experiencing back in that time in my life.
Were there particular bands that had a particular influence on you during the writing of this record?
Everything needs more Slayer.
Yeah, I agree. And more Youth of Today.
NAILS are playing Montreal on July 20th, with Full of Hell, God’s Hate, and Eternal Sleep. I’ve read that you and (Full of Hell lead singer) Dylan Walker are buds. Full of Hell seems to be all about the collaboration records as of late (their last two full length records were collaborations with The Body and Merzbow, respectively). Any chance we’ll see a NAILS / Full of Hell record one of these days?
Ah….somebody told you something…..
Oh no, fuck off, for real?
You’re teasing me, man!
Nah, something’s in the works, but I’m not going to mention it because we’re trying to promote our new album.
Okay totally fair, but that’s super exciting. So, because you love Record Store Day so much, would that hypothetical collaboration be coming out on a sweet, multi-colored, limited edition vinyl?
(Laughing) They’ll be some colored vinyl, but there won’t be any of that modern, spattered bullshit, and it certainly won’t cater to some corporate holiday. I go to record stores probably once every two weeks. Record Store Day isn’t something that only happens twice a year for me like it does for most of these posers who go buy records and flip them on Discogs and eBay.
The Bucketlist question: NAILS have shared the stage with a lot of incredible bands, but if you were able to put together a fantasy tour package including any band or musician, active or inactive, alive or dead, who would NAILS want to play a show with?
That’s pretty good! I think that’d make for a pretty fun show!
I think it’d be fun to attend, man. Take each band at the height of their career and it would probably be pretty good. I wouldn’t complain about it.
Written and Compiled by Jesse Gainer
*edited by Kate Erickson