For aspiring bands and songwriters, the citing of influences is homage and ancestral offering. It may also be political positioning, tribal branding or buzz-glomming. In any case, it is obligatory, a block of core data on the one-sheet and on the webpage. Scenesters and industry folk are swamped by new names and the cases that they make for attention. The influence list is a coarse filter that achieves some preliminary grouping and sorting before a sound ever crosses the earhole.
Some bands get up in arms about such herd-think and categories of convenience, declaring themselves original beyond discernible influence. But, kids, please don’t waste all your good postures on this point. Nobody uses the influence list for more than some vague ballparking; and frankly, no one expects you to sound much like those names you drop. Why? Because no one sounds much like what they wish they sounded like.
Influences come in two kinds: what you wish you were and what you actually are. The first kind of influence is superficial, expedient and non-binding. It’s a hat that you can try on, one that may or may not look natural on you. Claiming this influence may be as easy as buying a certain brand of delay pedal (or even an actual hat). The second kind of influence is deep, permanent and – most important – non-volitional. The damage was done before you had any choice in the matter.
You may not even like your real influences. It might have been an arranged marriage, not one of passion and affinity. Maybe you want to claim, say, the Pixies as your creator (and who wouldn’t?), but everyone in the world except you can hear that it is actually Ratt and Crüe (or, in my case, Kansas). Still, stray from your true influences at your own artistic peril; there’s nothing more transparent or pathetic than rootless glomming. Your way out is through.
The excellent young Kingston band Nightmares for a Week (NFAW) uses the influence list to align itself with the great underground alt/roots tradition, citing such current embodiments as Lucero and such godfathers as Uncle Tupelo and the suddenly-bigger-than-Elvis Townes Van Zandt. And indeed, that is audibly the target. The bow and the arrow, however, are big-beat modern rock and pop-punk, through and through. Much of the delightful stylistic curiosity in NFAW comes from trying to sound like weird old Americana but being unable to suppress the incessant, bright tunefulness and relentless drive of pop-punk bands like Chixdiggit or the Ergs and the crushing arena dynamics of bands like the Killers or Muse.
Nightmares for a Week’s newest release, Civilian War, possesses a huge bottom and expensive, toppy sheen that would not sound one iota misplaced on WRRV, even as the band chases the spirits of old WKZE. These forked roads come to rest at something like a ferocious modern rock reincarnation of the Heartbreakers or the E Street Band: roots rock with pop ears, anthemic tunes and generational ambitions. And the boys are up to it. Track by track, it is a strong, memorable rock record – one that will get this band noticed.
Style, to paraphrase Hemingway, is when you try to sound like something and fail. And the particular ways in which you fail become your style. NFAW will likely not be adopted by the alt/roots crowd. Lucero fans will probably not recognize it as kindred spirits. But alt/rock and punk fans will hear something distant, weird, rustic and cool in NFAW’s take on the modern rock moment. Townes and Tupelo are not so much NFAW’s banner influences as its secret weapons.
Nightmares for a Week celebrates the release of Civilian War at the BSP Lounge in Kingston on Friday, April 12, joined by the Stereo State, Fort Street, Lovesick and Tony Bucci. The show starts at 8:30 p.m. Admission costs $6, for ages 18+ only. BSP Lounge is located at 323 Wall Street in Kingston. For more information, call (845) 481-5158 or visit https://bsplounge.com.