Headed home for a record release party Saturday night at Schubas, I spoke with Evanston native and former Verbow frontman Jason Narducy about his latest project Split Single and the release of the debut album Fragmented World earlier this week…
In 2004, Jason Narducy released an EP (Penny Coliseum) with his then project Rockets Over Sweden. But it’s been almost fifteen years – since the release of the final Verbow album (White Out) in 2000 – since he’s experienced as much anticipation for a new project as there’s been for the new album Fragmented World (recently released on April 1st by Inside Outside Records).
In between, Narducy handled bass briefly for the Seattle indie-pop outfit Telekinesis, as well as bass and backing vocals for both Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices and, most recently, Bob Mould.
Feeling the need to challenge himself again as a writer, Narducy dreamt up Split Single and hit the studio with Britt Daniel of Spoon on bass and his colleague in Bob Mould’s band Jon Wurster (also of Superchunk) rounding out the rhythm section.
And while a veritable indie rock super group on paper, one gets the sense that Narducy is nevertheless calling the shots in Split Single as founder, writer, guitarist and vocalist – actually going so far as to tour an entirely different lineup – not unlike the concept of a split single itself.
“I liked the concept of a split single. It’s a communal thing: two bands have to work together in this handshake commitment… It’s also the name of a two-stroke motorcycle engine invented at the turn of the century to be more efficient and powerful than previous engines. All those things together seemed to really reflect the spirit of what we did” says Narducy in his bio on the band’s website.
A focus on guitar-driven rock with a pop sensibility that’s reflective of his time on the road with Mould also veers at times toward power pop and well-chosen influences like Cheap Trick. Intelligent lyrics that tackle the often overwhelming feelings associated with loss make Fragmented World the increasingly rare full album worth experiencing from start to finish.
I spoke over the phone last week with Jason Narducy about his fond memories of performing over the years in Chicago and getting back out in front with his latest project Split Single as he preps for the Fragmented World release party Saturday night at Schubas…
Q. You’re certainly no stranger to Schubas – what’s it like going back there after some of the bigger venues you’ve played lately with Bob Mould?
Jason Narducy: Oh Schubas is like my home. I played there when I was twenty years old at a Monday night open mic and I don’t know how many times I’ve played there since. I’m just really comfortable there. The people that run that place are just super classy.
I remember in ’95, Allison [Chesley] and I were playing there. The show was sold out. We loaded in and of course it was just the two of us – just acoustic guitar and cello. And Mike Schuba was on the stage building a stage on top of the stage – because we used to sit down. And I was like, “Mike, what are you doing?” And he’s like, “I’m gonna build the stage higher so that the crowd can see you tonight.” I mean, how many people do that? So, as far as a record release show, I thought that would be a good location.
Q. One of your most recent appearances here in Chicago was performing with Bob Mould in support of the twenty-fifth anniversary of his Workbook album. That show put you not only back in Chicago but back onstage alongside your former partner in Verbow (Alison Chesley) too. Plus, Bob produced the first Verbow record. It just seems like that show in particular brought you full circle in a lot of ways…
JN: Well… A lot of people don’t know this but in 1993 – about four years after Workbook came out – I booked two shows in Chicago - One at Morseland, which is no longer open, and one at Beat Kitchen – in which I played Workbook in its entirety on acoustic guitar. So [that should] put in perspective just how much that record means to me.
And then just a year later, I started playing with Alison and we would often cover some of those songs. But yeah, there was a lot of giggling going on between Alison and I like, “Can you believe this?” And then to go on David Letterman [this past March] and play “See a Little Light” with him was… just the two geekiest fans sitting there eating it up.
Q. Well let’s talk about Split Single. You’ve been kind of posting online now about the project for, what, about a year and a half or so? Where did the whole idea for this band really start?
JN: I got asked to open up a show at Schubas for a band called Dolly Varden, who are a fantastic Chicago band. And Steve [Dawson], the singer, just said “Do you want to open the show?” And I just decided to challenge myself to write an entirely new setlist of songs. So I wrote ten new songs, asked a friend to play bass, a friend to play drums and we got up there and did it. And I was perfectly willing to have it crash and burn. I just needed to challenge myself and start writing again. And it went great and three of those songs ended up on the record.
Q. In 2010, you briefly resurrected Verbow for a few shows to support a live album release. Did being out in front again like that, as opposed to the more supporting roles (with Telekinesis, Bob Mould, Robert Pollard, etc.) that you had been taking on at that time, kind of rekindle your interest in fronting your own project?
JN: Yeah… I was in between projects at the time. I was not in Telekinesis at the time and I was playing with Bob and it just wasn’t super active. So I had time and wanted to try it again. And I think what happened was I gave myself that challenge and then I was really happy with some of the songs.
So I thought, “Wait a minute. What if I put a lot of energy into this and started to write a ton of songs?” Which is what I did: I wrote maybe forty songs for this record. And then once I made a couple demos and played it for friends, then Jon [Wurster of Superchunk/Bob Mould’s band] and Britt [Daniel of Spoon] were into making a recording and it came together really quickly. I think seven months after I wrote the first song, we were tracking basic tracks with Jon and Britt.
Q. As you just mentioned, you recorded with Jon Wurster and Britt Daniel… but now the tour itself consists of an entirely different lineup. When it came to writing these songs, was it with those guys in the back of your mind? Was the writing process a departure from the Verbow days?
JN: We just weren’t even thinking about it. Of course, I knew that Britt would be incredibly busy. We’re never ruling out that we might do a show or play a song together or something. But I knew what his commitments were and it was more about just recording the songs and having fun.
Once I found out that it was going to be Jon and Britt that were going to be the recording band, then I started to hone in on some sounds that I thought we could sound good on. Like the songs “Made for Breaking” or “Waiting for the Sun,” those songs, to me, sound like – when I think of Jon and Britt’s music, they’re really good at that sound and that energy.
But I tried not to put any rules on it. I would say the one thing that I did really – as a songwriter from a compositional standpoint – was write from a more simple standpoint than I used to do with Verbow. In Verbow, there were songs that had five or six different parts. It wasn’t like math rock or anything but it got a little complex. So I just tried to break it down a little bit. I just tried to write songs that had a little bit more simple structure to them and try to make them engaging based on the arrangements and the lyrics.
Q. With Verbow, you came up right about the time the major label system hit its peak and started its descent. How is it different now navigating the indie rock landscape with Split Single?
JN: Well, it’s great. I think there’s no rules. There’s no pressure to write a radio song. You’re not thinking about trying to make a really expensive video. For me, it’s very freeing. But I was also in my twenties and put more pressure on myself than was even there.
In the nineties, people bought records. A lot of records. So there were budgets. You could get signed to a label and they’d give you a lot of money. And I’m thankful. Thank you Nirvana. Thank you Husker Du. Thank you to so many bands that set up that level of success for the type of rock music that I listen to. I’m very thankful that I got to experience that.
And it wasn’t really painful. I mean, did [Verbow] get ignored by Epic [Records]? Yeah, we got ignored. But I was touring with Morrissey, Frank Black, Bob Mould, Morphine… It didn’t suck. It was great.
Q. Well, I’m going to put you on the spot here… Being from the Chicago area, you’ve performed here with a number of different projects at just about every venue over the years. Is there any favorite memory that sticks out about performing in Chicago?
JN: Hmmm… God there’s so many. I don’t know if it’s the best one but it’s the one that’s popping into my mind now. Nick Tremulis used to do these shows called “The Last Waltz” at Metro and he’d get a number of different musicians to play and celebrate Rick Danko’s life. And Bob Mould and I were gonna play and it turned out that the drummer that was backing us was Bun E. Carlos from Cheap Trick – and they were my first concert.
So, I’m standing there waiting to go onstage at Metro with Bob and Bun E. and I said to Bun, “You know… You guys were my first concert!” And he said, “Oh, which show was it?” And I said that it was the Grenada Theatre – on Sheridan, not there anymore – But the Grenada Theatre, the “All Shook Up” tour. And I said, “You guys encored with ‘Highway to Hell’ by AC/DC.” And Bun goes, “You know, I’m the archivist for the band. I have all the shows recorded and I post them on our website. I post different songs every day. Today… I posted ‘Highway to Hell’ from that concert.” And so we doubled over laughing.
That’s a nice memory for me. That’s sort of a coming full circle moment.
*** This interview was conducted by Jim Ryan (@RadioJimRyan)
(Details on Saturday's Split Single show after the jump)
(Jim Ryan also hosts "The Rock N' Roll Radio Program" Sundays at 6PM central on WIMS and WHFB - streaming at wimsradio.com and via the free TuneIn Radio app for the smart phone or tablet - Just search "WIMS" to find it on TuneIn)
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Split Single (Fragmented World Record Release Party)
Saturday, April 5, 2014
3159 North Southport Avenue
Chicago, IL 60657
Tickets: $15 ($18 at the door)
Also performing: Bear Claw
Click HERE to purchase tickets