July 23, 2005

Interview: Namelessnumberheadman

"I have faith in a stupid name. Someday, culture will catch up to us." - Andrew Sallee

Regardless of what you think of their name, Namelessnumberheadman are undoubtedly one of the most innovative acts in indie music today. Their 2004 album, Your Voice Repeating, confirmed their status as staples of the Kansas City, Missouri music scene, and made waves among critics' circles across the country. Members Jason Lewis and Andrew Sallee discuss their roots and musical influences, and give us a glimpse of new recordings.

Describe the Kansas City music scene and your place in it.

Jason: The scene right now is really great. There are a lot of groups from Kansas City and nearby Lawrence, Kansas that are doing some really interesting things. A lot of talented bands we know from here (like The Golden Republic, Doris Henson, Minus Story, Ghosty and others) are signed to good labels and have been touring a lot recently, so hopefully that will bring some attention to what is happening here. It's a good time to be making music in Kansas City. As far as our place in the scene, I think that we've always felt welcome here, even when we first started out about five years ago. With all of the keyboards and everything we were using on stage I think we were obviously a little bit different, but we've always received a lot of support from other bands and people in this area.

Andrew: I agree that the scene is very exciting. The bands have unique sounds, but there seems to be a larger emphasis these days on melody and 'song' songs, as opposed to stuff that rocks. People seem to be doing very classy but interesting things with good old melody and harmony.

Since the three of you have stayed close to home, what is it about KCMO that inspires you?

J: I think that we all really enjoy (and are influenced by) living in the Midwest. It is hard to describe sometimes, but a lot of our sound and the way we try to mix acoustic and electronic elements is a result of growing up in this part of the country. Kansas City is great because there are a lot of interesting musical and artistic events happening around and you can experience these things in a more intimate setting. For example, a band like The Decemberists play a 1000 or 2000 capacity venue in New York, but here you can see them in a smaller place that holds 300. It is a bigger city with a lot to do, but not so big that you feel overwhelmed.

A: All three of us actually grew up in the same small town in Oklahoma and gradually migrated to KCMO several years ago. More and more, I really appreciate Kansas City. It is very close to the geographic center of America and there is a history of all sorts of music, art, philanthropy, and science here. The general attitude in a lot of circles is very open and unpretentious. At the same time, there is some land-locked restlessness that can be oddly inspiring, as well.

Who and what are your musical influences?

J: We all really love The Flaming Lips, and since we are from the same place as them I think it means even more to us to see them do so many good things. Other influences and bands we've been listening to a lot lately are The Beatles, Sparklehorse, Andrew Bird, DJ Shadow, Tortoise, Sufjan Stevens and many more depending on the day.

A: I heartily affirm all of Jason's picks and add Iris Dement (fromKC!), Greg Brown, Bjork, XTC, and Bela Bartok.

I understand you play around KCMO often, and have a cult following there. Do you plan to tour away from home any time soon?

J: We've done a very small amount of touring since our last album was released 9 months ago, but we'd like to do more. At this point we don't have a record label, but once the new album is finished and we get some label support we'd hope to play out of Kansas City as much as possible.

According to your post on the NNHM website in April, you are recording new material. How is the recording process going?

J: It is going well so far. We've got about five songs that are pretty close to being completely done, with another five or so in the "rough demo" stage of the process. Hopefully everything will be done in the next couple of months.

When do you expect to release new material?

J: Good question. That really all depends on the label situation. We want to release the album in a timely manner, but we also want to find a label that is a good fit for us so if we spend a few months shopping around a completed album to people we are ready to do that. Ideally,we'd have everything ready to go this fall, but we realize that with promotion and things the "official release" might not happen until next year. Or maybe we'll just release it ourselves and it could be out very soon. We're wacky that way.

A: For some reason, the other guys have voted down my idea [of] presenting the album as a boxed set of 5 seven inches with handcrafted artwork. We are currently in negotiations and hopefully things will be resolved before we record our fourth album.

How does the new material compare to Your Voice Repeating and the earlier albums?

J: You never really can tell until the album is done, but it seems like this one is a bit more mellow and more focused on melody and has shorter songs. The five songs we've just about completed are only about 16 minutes total length, which was a bit of a shock to us. We'll probably have some longer songs once it is all finished so we don't have to pull a Guided by Voices and have 27 songs on one 37 minute album.

A: We are employing some new sounds, but nothing too crazy. I have been sampling sounds from my house to throw in an occasional percussion track. Jason's favorite is all the slurpy water sounds I got from my leaky sink faucet. But seriously, so far things seem to be a bit more song focused and maybe slightly stripped down. We have done a lot of dense layers in the past and some of what we have so far is pretty stark at times.

Your sound is a very interesting blend of electronic sounds and traditional instruments. Do you use digital or analog equipment to record?

J: Our first demo was recorded on analog, but ever since then we've done digital recording on a computer. When we first made the switch to digital we were a little bit concerned, but these days we are really comfortable and enjoying all 24 tracks of digital recording at our disposal.

Any other big plans/events in the works?

J: Just finishing up the album, getting married (not to each other) and playing shows around Kansas City. We'll also be vigorously working on that whole record label thing.

A: Lots of lobbying and legal wrangling for my Campaign For Vinyl In Namelessnumberheadman.

I enjoyed Chuck's article in McSweeney's, "Bands and Musicians Whose Careers Would Be Quite Different Had They Initially Misspelled Their Own Names." How do you think the name Namelessnumberheadman has affected your career?

J: A lot of reviews about our band only have one criticism and that is the name. It is pretty long and unwieldy, but people around here seem to be used to it by now. We've contemplated changing or shortening it, but so far we've decided to stick with it until the bitter end.

A: I have faith in a stupid name. Someday, culture will catch up to us.

Where did you get the name Namelessnumberheadman?

J: It comes from a character in a rather obscure movie by Steven Soderbergh called Schizopolis. If you are ever in the mood to laugh and be confused and entertained all at once, you should watch it.

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