Wayne Flask meets nosnow/noalps ahead of the release of debut album RomantikPolitik (Tune In, 27 March 2011)
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Nick Morales approaches the entrance to the café/restaurant/winebar in Balzan with his usual, unassuming swagger. Hands in his pockets, the air of someone completely at peace with himself, I’m about to ask him if his siesta was that good.
He looks and talks little of what you imagine your average one part punk rocker, one part campaigner to be. He dons the keffiyeh, but he’s not the lad from whom you’d expect abject fashion statements. On the contrary, he is sympathetic enough to the Palestinian cause to get in a spot of bother with police during a protest in front of Castille in June. He is outspoken and disarmingly consistent in his choices: a crusader against the ill treatment of animals at circuses, he refuses to eat meat and sticks to pretty much everything he believes in.
This evening, the eminent nu-folk basher is a reflective punk dreamer who fronts indie-punk hotshots nosnow/noalps, calm and collected in his responses, almost introvert. Sitting opposite, bassist Daniel Cassar is just as eager to talk about the band, fresh out of Temple Studios where they recorded their long awaited debut titled RomantikPolitik.
It’s a silent triumph for the band to have gotten this far. Two years ago, the tension in the nosnow camp was high enough to power the amps. “We were on a bit of a breaking edge. There was a lot of friction, job related stress, and we weren’t doing anything particularly useful. When we got down to write for the album all of us made a big contribution through ideas and lyrics. It brought us a lot more together,” says Daniel, emphasising on the effort his bandmates (Sarah Falzon and Darko Strnisa, keyboards and drums respectively, complete the lineup) put in.
Songwriting sessions started two years ago, shortly after the release of their EP from which the single Taking My Time had emerged. (Morales would also take the centre of attention at the 2010 BMA’s when he surfed the crowd on a real surf board, with mixed results and a twisted ankle. Security was not amused at the stunt, nor was part of the audience.)
“The first year was rather lazy, or rather we tried hard but nothing meaningful was coming out of our sessions. In the second year we started working at full throttle and to be honest we never thought it would be such hard work,” says Daniel.
The two year hiatus worked for the band as they set on improving their melodies, developing older songs but adding more variety to what was a quintessentially ska act. “It’s different to find a category for our sound,” says Daniel. “People who listened to our demos told us it’s ecletic, maybe a bit disjointed, but all in all it still sounds like us.” The bassist himself found himself writing the odd Motown bassline, while Nick claims there’s a “bit of Foo Fighters” in their music.
The wild streak in Nick Morales could be cooling down to acceptable temperatures too. The singer himself, inexplicably lolling and slurring onstage during their support slot for Beangrowers’ album launch in 2007, claims a newly found discipline helped him gain more focus. “I changed my approach to the vocals, I did all the annoying exercises, no more punk rock now. I quit smoking. Now we’ve new rules, no smoking in the rehearsal room,” he says, while his bandmate, intent on rolling a fat one, smirks in mischief.
Due for its baptism of fire in mid-April, RomantikPolitik is a mix of “classic love songs done our way” and a different way of approaching politics, away from the anger of the legendary days in Dripht.
“It’s a bit influenced by conspiracy theories, maybe the paranoia is a bit watered down, don’t really know how to explain it,” says Nick with a bit of judder.
“Things are changing, everyone knows what’s happening in North Africa with all the protests and revolutions going on right now. I’ve been listening to bands like Muse talking about change. We tried to see the positives. Well we haven’t really thought about the lyrics,” blushes Nick, casting Daniel another glance, expecting an intervention of sorts.
“Dan’s girlfriend calls them new age hippie. There is a bit of that but again, well, I’m not a hippie, somehow that feel comes out. I won’t say it’s naive though, hopeful is the proper word. The songs seem to travel from a social theme to the relationship with someone, living together through all of this.”
Those familiar with the nosnow/noalps’s music are in for a pleasant surprise. The album’s fourteen tracks seem to deliver a more relaxed band, focused on their harmonies instead of the race to the chorus, allowing new instruments to creep not so secretly into their tracks, dispelling their early punk offerings to the closet and throwing the key away too. From opener Lumerino you’ll notice how the tracks are built with less urgency without losing the ska infusions. Cherry Tree, a decent candidate for a single, sees them introduce horns that lend a completely different atmosphere, a glossy sound that finds another root in the widespread use of Sarah’s backing vocals. Nick himself sounds different too, less nasal and frail. All in all, the band sounds incredibly mature for its age.
Recording a full scale album, admits Nick, took a toll. “This was my first full blown recording. Daniel had recorded Brikkuni already, and we had already recorded together when we played for Dripht. Here, I would say the main difference is the intensity of the recording.”
Work commenced under the watchful eyes (and ears) of that mighty rearranger, David Vella.
“Recording was a great experience. I was already tired of playing the songs over and over again. Once I entered the studio I was happy to leave it in David’s hands. He took over our songs and now they sound a lot better than what we would have ever done. They sort of blossomed,” says Nick.
“He somehow managed to make sense out of this mish-mesh of things. He had listened to our earlier material and told us we had a northern soul feel. I don’t see it that much, but the whole idea was there somehow, like the use of the organs. Not that I ever listened to mod or to Style Council.”
“David is like our fifth member, y’know? He adds things to our music without killing our identity. He brought a fresh perspective and sifted through all the material, rearranged it.”
We draw our brief meeting to a close. Nick’s hot chocolate has gone cold but no, he will not exchange it for a lager, not now at least. Coming of age, does he still see himself as being the agitator? “There’s a difference in lifestyles between me and the others, Darko and Daniel in particular,” he says. “I wouldn’t say it’s down to age. Now, if what you’re asking is if I’ll still go to protests, the answer is yes, and it doesn’t affect the band.”
“Actually we all agree about those issues. If there are demonstrations I agree with I would participate too,” says Daniel.
They overcame internal edginess, creative blocks and motivational hurdles: at one point, it seemed nosnow/noalps could have become a promise forgotten in the box of Could Have Been’s. Now, new-age hippie happiness intact, RomantikPolitik could be the birth of something great.
RomantikPolitik will be launched at the Orpheum Theatre in Gzira, on Saturday 16th April.