Nap Eyes chase earnest impartiality on ‘Thought Rock Fish Scale’

Photo by Colin Medley
Photo by Colin Medley

“I’m sorry that the answers are so long.” Nigel Chapman apologizes for his protracted responses several times throughout his conversation with Vancouver Weekly. But along with spacious, oft-rambling guitar-rock, his thoughtfulness and way with words are precisely why his band, Nap Eyes, has received so much praise since debuting with Whine of the Mystic in 2014.

Early last February, the Halifax quartet released their second album, Thought Rock Fish Scale, on You’ve Changed Records in Canada and Paradise of Bachelors in the U.S. The band recorded its new album on the porch of one of Chapman’s seaside family homes near the small town of Pictou, Nova Scotia, a significant contrast to the bustling metropolis of Montréal where they recorded Whine.

“There’s traffic everywhere, people everywhere,” Chapman says of “the big city.” “And we were up later at night, whereas with Thought Rock, we were just kind of on our own and on the shore, and [there’s] so much sunlight, and it’s quiet.” Thought Rock‘s laid back vibe reflects this more elemental backdrop. “That sort of geographical location definitely has influenced me throughout my life,” Chapman says more broadly and sentimentally of the rural Nova Scotian shore.

Like almost all of Whine (with the exception of one song), Nap Eyes recorded Thought Rock completely live with no overdubs and retained as much of the imperfections as possible. Not only is this always a practical decision based on limited recording days that complements Chapman’s aversion towards editing, but leaving in blemishes is also a means for him to keep the band’s’music honest, an exercise in being able to accept flaws and let go. “You listen to the take, and you become more familiar with it,… The first time you hear it, it sounds like a mistake. The second time, third time you it hear it, it starts to sound like [a part of] the song…. I like that, the idea of honesty, like this is the way our band really sounds.… It’s real moments in time.”

A press release for Thought Rock contrasts the two albums by calling Whine “dark” but saying Thought Rock brings “blinding sunlight and blue horizons.” Arguably, however, Whine takes a positive stance in its message that nobody should be damned for a habit like drinking, especially because those who judge usually don’t know the specific details of a person’s situation. And conversely, Thought Rock is darker in its potential to stir personal reflections that listeners may not want to confront, by prompting rumination on how people rely on crutches to “stupefy and medicate themselves into passivity and longevity,” “how people endeavour to… disappear into ease and forgetting” (to borrow a couple of phrases from the release).

Chapman agrees with these assessments insofar as he believes that art should be multifaceted and acknowledge the complexities of life. “You want to have the dark and light represented, or you want to have the pain and relief and joy and sorrow represented because neither exists without the other. It wouldn’t be honest not to.

“If one [side] feels like shining,” he continues, “you shouldn’t repress it. You should let one side of it show up and allow the kernel to be implied or to be present, not try to hide the kernel of the opposite but also not feel the need to over-expound it.” That level of discrimination – the earnest attempt to be impartial – is a good quality, he says, “as long as you don’t let it get out of hand. You still need to function in your life and come to decisions.”

While Whine defends that people aren’t necessarily bad because, for example, they drink too much, and they shouldn’t be damned for their vices, Thought Rock unspools that thread further by asking: to what extent can we indulge in such activities before they become damaging?

Thought Rock certainly finds Chapman balancing on the tipping point between healthy and damaging habits. “I always am finding myself on the brink of correct or incorrect behaviours, to use neutral terms.” But he clarifies that such ambivalence extends beyond himself. “Depending on how you want to dramatize it, anyone’s life does [find them on the tipping point] because there’s always something that you’re supposed to be doing, and how much are you supposed to be doing it?”

Chapman isn’t just referring to drinking or some other binary morality. “There is some right amount of living that corresponds with your Dharma, that is the right thing for you, that is like the natural thing for you, which can sometimes be something which is, in black and white terms, considered sinful or intoxicating.” If you were to go against that right thing, Chapman believes, you would be “repressing your natural inclination in a harmful way.”

He cites self-flagellation, “the extreme of Christian guilt, [a] self-hurting kind of guilt because you’re so attached to your conceptual morality,” as an example of this repression. A good spirituality or doctrine, he says, should acknowledge one’s humanity. “You should have a sense of personal equilibrium so that even when these weird feelings come up, you accept them, and you don’t try to crush them out. But also, you also don’t let them take you over and sail you right into the middle of the ocean…” Letting those feelings be, contemplating them, and then re-channeling them in constructive, character- and strength-building ways instead of allowing them to grow stronger under repression are, to him, the correct steps.

Unsurprisingly, given Chapman’s weighty, sometimes tangential philosophical thoughts, the band’s music is lyrically dense. Although, unlike Chapman’s tangents, not a word seems wasted in song. Hence, Nap Eyes are overwhelming referred to as “hyper-literate” or “literary” indie rock.

Similarly, L.A. songwriter Julia Holter attracts a very specific, recurrent adjective. Because of her background in music composition and the plethora of literary allusions in her music, commentators favour the term “academic” when describing her work. But she largely dismisses that term as not entirely accurate or worse, lazy.

Asked about Holter’s thought on the word “academic,” Chapman acknowledges that repeating specific terms can potentially pigeonhole artists, turning away audiences who are quick to judge without hearing the music. He also points out the inadequacy of words like “literate” to convey how the music sounds. “All kinds of things get overlooked because you can’t express those things very easily in words.” Among those details are the sound quality and the way everyone – the rhythm section, the bassist, the vocalists – plays together.

“For sure” music criticism can be lazy, Chapman says, but “just like anything can be lazy.” He doesn’t completely dismiss the form, though. “It can also be highly incisive and astute.” He also recognizes the value of highlighting the non-aural aspects of music: words like “literate” encourage people to seek connection between artists who sound nothing alike, between artists who emphasize their lyrics or the connection between the music – be it the chords, cadence, or harmonies – and the words. “These are the things that connect me to bands that I love.”

Connect with Nap Eyes at the Media Club on Sunday, March 26. Tickets are $12 at Red Cat and online. Thought Rock Fish Scale is out now on You‘ve Changed Records and iTunes.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu

Contributor