The still-short history of Nucular Aminals—the best new indie pop group Portland has seen in some time—has played out in a migratory series of domestic spaces.
Originally a trio, the band formed in 2007 in the San Francisco studio apartment of longtime friends and songwriters Robert Comitz (guitar and vocals) and Erin Schmith (keyboards). Due to typical urban space constraints, Nucular Aminals (or two-thirds of it, anyway) practiced in the apartment's closet, while bassist Jheremy Grigsby was forced to play seated on the toilet in the bathroom, where he was repeatedly subjected to water-meets-electricity shocks. Understandably, the band struck out for Portland and its spacious, band-friendly basements, where they met drummer Wiley Hickson. Until July, they had shared their sun-kissed, shadow-touched, post-Elephant-6 pop confections with audiences almost exclusively at house shows.
With the succession of living spaces marking their path so far, there is a pleasing lexical logic to the fact that Nucular Aminals have taken a step into the world of over-ground venue gigging by way of a residency. For the past four weeks, the foursome have played free shows on the restaurant side of Berbati's every Wednesday night. I spoke to Nucular Aminals as they prepared to wrap up their Berbati's run with one more sanctioned show, a rare opportunity for the general public to catch this surprisingly self-assured band display its talent—in the tradition of Cobain, Mangum, and Pollard—for knowing just when to stop polishing its pop and let some tarnish show.
MERCURY: Your recordings are bathed in a warm, presumably analog distortion that's hard to resist calling "lo-fi." That production aesthetic has seen a highly publicized renaissance in the past couple of years, but Nucular Aminals seem to have a more genuine relationship to it than many other bands. Your songwriting is both exceptionally hooky and unabashedly sophisticated, so you clearly aren't trying to hide a lack of content with stylized presentation. Moreover, your live sound is shockingly similar to your records—delay, vocal fuzz, and all. How did you arrive at that sound, and how central do you think it is?
NUCULAR AMINALS: We're certainly not trying to sound as clean as what you'd hear on mainstream radio, so in that sense it is an aesthetic choice, but it's something we're still trying to work out. The recordings we just finished for an upcoming 7-inch are definitely cleaner. The sound has become richer as we've matured as a band. It's also not our main concern... we try to focus on making fun and interesting songs, and let the overall sound of the band come more naturally. I guess it's safe to say that we're not a crystal clear band... it's not a production value, it's just how we play.
What is the deal with the antique-looking microphone Robert uses for vocals?
The microphone is from a tank (we found out from Jesse Hall, from Experimental Dental School). It has a louder output and a unique sound to it that Robert appreciates. It was acquired from a trade with a friend in Olympia for a speaker cabinet that Robert couldn't bear to look at anymore from a different trade that is a whole other story.
Nucular Aminals performs at Berbati's Restaurant (19 SW 2nd) on Wednesday, July 29.