IT WAS their first time in Europe. When they arrived in London, Nurses were struck by the news that they would be topping the bill. "We were playing festivals and shows with other bands and we only headlined a few times," explains singer Aaron Chapman. "When we found out that we were headlining I was like, 'How can we be headlining? We've never been here before. Is it a mistake or something?'" They became anxious, envisioning an empty room.
Without Nurses knowing, the sunny, kaleidoscopic bedroom pop of their 2009 record, Apple's Acre, had jumped the pond. That night the Brits did more than show up; they knew every word. That was last summer, and shortly thereafter Nurses wrapped their nearly two-year run of touring behind Acre. It is a classic pop recording splattered with paint from modern brushes: wide-smiling hooks, harmony, and expertly crafted chord changes slathered in swirling samples, reverb, and clacking found percussion. As long as the writing remained strong, Acre was an album Nurses could've recreated, likely to equal success and fanfare.
But Acre was a record created under rather extreme circumstances. Chapman and John Bowers lived in a van, parted ways with former bandmates, and neared creative breakdown—with nothing to lose ,they were free to write what they consider to be Nurses' first real record. That was in 2008, when they moved to Portland. Now they're known across the world, and they have fans with expectations. To relieve the pressures and creatively ignite, a few changes were needed.
First, Chapman had to stop reading his own press. It got to a point, he says, where the pressures of criticism and popular music culture were making him physically ill. Secondly, they had to get out of town.
On New Year's Day, Nurses headed to the coast, renting a cabin between Manzanita and Arch Cape. Many of the songs they would track there were in various stages of development, so the relocation was not so much about searching for inspiration or some existential longing, but cultivating the right productive environment. "It's really easy to get in comfort patterns in Portland," says Bowers. "I don't always feel inspired to be progressive just living here."
At the cabin they buried themselves. Each morning they'd wake up early, make coffee, breakfast, and go. "Sometimes we would just get up and say, 'Do you guys remember what we did last night?' And then sit down in our underwear with a cup of coffee and just start being stoked and adding ideas right away," says Bowers.
These coastal recording sessions were Nurses' first with drummer James Mitchell, who came aboard as Bowers and Chapman were finishing Acre. Bowers, who played a smattering of keyboards and samplers on Acre, rediscovered an affinity for bass, and along with Mitchell's kit, the shifts in arrangement blew open Nurses' dynamic universe. Unlike its predecessor, Dracula rumbles the gut, inspiring physicality and bounce alongside the sweet, swirling, sugary watercolors. Nurses' newfound low-end is dub-like at times, especially in the live setting. In recent shows the group have, for the first time, become full inhabitants of the pocket. Grooving earnestly, Dracula turned the pop-minded bedroom tinkers into a full-fledged band.
Despite the aesthetic shifts, Nurses' primary focus remained compositional: songwriting and structure over feel. Here too they succeed marvelously. Tracks like "Eternal Thrills," "You Lookin' Twice," and "So Sweet," traverse over seemingly disparate eras, influences, vibes, and keys, yet dovetail seamlessly. The shift from a blippy, grooving modern verse to the soaring '80s synth-driven chorus in "Eternal Thrills" is simply breathtaking. For most bands, these single ear-burrowing segments would represent the basis for entire songs. Nurses cram three or four into each and every track.
"Completing this record was an insane moment," says Bowers, excitedly. "We pushed ourselves. It was a lot of fucking work. We didn't settle for anything." Indeed, Dracula just might be the best record to come out of Portland all year.