• Cherry Popper

Now, Now Is Almost Tipping Over

written by: on November 12, 2012

In the middle of a set, Now, Now guitarist Cacie Dalager approaches the mic while adjusting her pedals. “These shirts have our faces on them,” she quips and the band smiles. Just stage left, a few eager audience members let out gleeful yelps. “And cupcakes too!” one of them interjects. Cacie smiles and confirms this before launching into another well-performed cut from the band’s second record, this year’s Threads.

This kind of interaction would make sense on a headlining tour. Dozens of fans, both expressive and eager to show off their appreciation with baked treats and homemade talismans. What’s fascinating about this encounter, though, is that not only are Now, Now not headlining this tour, but the touring bands fall almost completely on the other side of the emo-pop spectrum.

Motion City Soundtrack and Jukebox the Ghost, Now, Now’s tourmates, can both be readily described as cartwheel music, or music for shiny, happy people who smile while crowd-surfing. Threads, by contrast, more readily associates with internal monologue. It’s the way the songs were designed. Thickly laid minor key, barre chords, and ominous synths permeate the band’s live show, which is not exactly the joyous dancy-emo-pop many expect.

“The lyrics are really just about the things that’ve happened to me since [Now, Now’s 2009 debut] Cars,” says Dalager, talking about the dark, ominous and intimate moments of Threads. This kind of slow-burning dark-pop, as the band calls it, might not immediately gel with the cartwheelers in the audience, but Now, Now developed an interesting perspective in order to win them over.

“We’re basically going to freshman orientation every night,” says drummer Bradley Hale.

The acknowledgment of die-hard fans included, the band is nonchalantly chatty on stage, discussing tank tops, the relevancy of calling a song an “old one” when, to an uninitiated crowd, all songs are “new ones,” and the exhaustion that comes after a twenty hour drive from Phoenix to Austin all get a thorough banter workout. While nothing seems rehearsed, it’s clear the band knows the benefit of these asides.

“When we say dumb shit in between our songs, it just warms people up to us and then they’re more ready to listen,” guitarist Jess Abbott says.

With two albums and the stamp of approval from both NPR and Death Cab production guru Chris Walla, who signed the band to his label, Now, Now is hovering dangerously close to rising above those “necessary” icebreakers. 

Threads certainly helps; consistent to the last, the record is a startlingly effective portrait of conversational relationship diagnosis.

Dalager proves that she’s capable of mining personal struggle into actively listenable songs with unifying themes (lack of sleep is a common motif, although Dalager says that’s because she might just be an insomniac). Abbott and Dalager’s guitar melodies echo conversations – one guitar line folds over the other, then fades backwards (clearly heard on Threads’ “Lucie, Too”).

When the band explodes, Hale is quick to keep up, punching snare and cymbal. Peppered amongst the guitar interplay are layers of deep synth, anchoring Dalager’s ghostly croon. Threads is a distinctly winterized album overflowing with icy, emotive dialogue (the title track is a killer), which immediately makes sense, given that the band hails from Minnesota.

Yet even in the crowded Minnesota rock scene, the band members are beginning to feel a notoriety shift. “Cacie and I were in high school when [Minnesota Public Radio Alt-Station] the Current started out, so from there it’s always been a dream to be on it,” Hale says. Now, Dalager mentions, the Current was one of the big supporters that got them to NPR. “We owe a lot of our success to the Current,” she says.

It wasn’t always like this. Once known by the moniker Now, Now Every Children (a joke born out of a typing mishap Dalager made that stuck), the band spent a few years working to define its sound. The debut Cars represents the fruitful culmination of that struggle. After Cars, however, the band found itself at a crossroads.

“We wanted to distance ourselves from that, but not completely divorce from it,” Dalager says.

“It sort of helped that we went through a period of … dismantlement,” quips Hale. “So when we came back we just wanted to have a fresh start,” finishes Dalager. The band members talk about their emotionally fraught period apart with ease – it’s something that no doubt follows the band around, given their introverted songwriting.

But that reboot, so to speak, has done wonders. On the heels of Threads and a self-produced EP, Neighbors, the band is now set to play Jimmy Fallon.

“Oh my god, I forgot about it until just now,” Dalager gasps, more wide-eyed than before. She’s a confessed Saturday Night Live geek, and has been having dreams about meeting Fallon, and what the band will play or even wear.

The band shares the stresses, but tries to laugh it off, swapping jokes about previous guest A$AP Rocky, for whom Dalager has an ardent love. “He’s my cell phone case,” she says, holding up a plastic case emblazoned with Rocky’s greyscale Live, Love, A$AP cover. They rib each other over favorite movies (Abbott is fascinated by The Village), and after a moment Dalager’s stress has almost completely melted away.

One can almost see the band’s growth as a hurdle to becoming comfortable. The shift is most visible with Now, Now’s increasing number of headlining shows. After spending so much time on the Motion City Soundtrack tour, Dalager confesses to feeling uneasy and surprised playing for the increasing number of people who sing along at Now, Now’s shows. “I’m like, ‘You guys know we’re the only band here, right?’”

It’s a struggle many bands must feel when just about to tip, when the headlining tours become more frequent than the opening ones.

For Now, Now, most of the shows where two American Eagle’d girls troll their twitter page with awful puns like, “Get off the stage now, now” are supplanted by gigs where devotees bring them cupcakes and t-shirts.

Hale wears his Now, Now t-shirt while chatting. It’s basic black, a little oversized (all three band members are short, slender folk) and features silhouetted white cutouts of the members’ faces. The only distinguishing mark of the shirt is the small“NOW/NOW” on the bottom right, hardly visible with a casual glance. Hale mentions that it’s kind of lame to wear your own shirt on tour, even if it was made by a fan. Dalager glances down at it. “Well, unless we’re all standing in that perfect line, I don’t think anybody would even know it was us.”

Thanks to their well-executed live show, the new record and the band’s affability in the face of nervousness, that may soon change.