Contrary to how it's often seemed the last six years, Nurses never broke up. But they did slow down.
To hear them talk about it, they had to. The Portland avant-pop duo toured extensively in support of their impressive third album, 2011's Dracula. Meanwhile, "life was happening," as frontman Aaron Chapman puts it, and there was no longer room for creativity on the side. On top of the day-to-day grind of being in a moderately successful indie band, Chapman was increasingly absorbed by a serious relationship, and his bandmate moved out of town.
But still, there was never any question that another Nurses album was going to come eventually. It may have taken six years for the band to complete its latest record, Naughtland, but it had been in their sights from the onset.
"John and I were just locked in the janitor's closet for a really long time and we couldn't get anyone to come to help us out," Chapman says, referring to his musical partner John Bowers. "We were maniacally-single minded about pursuing things before. You write music, you play a bunch of shows, tour, repeat. We needed to step off the treadmill and get some perspective and live for a minute."
Chapman and Bowers first met as teenagers while growing up in the small town of Idaho Falls, Idaho. After stints sleeping on bunk beds in Southern California and living out of a van in Chicago, the duo settled in Portland in 2008. Over the next few years, they established a strong footing locally, acting as Portland's response to the twisted pop being made by the likes of Animal Collective, Tune-Yards and Yeasayer, and signed to rising indie label Dead Oceans.
But the treadmill routine proved exhausting, and Nurses opted to slow the pace. They walked away from their label when the contract was up, and in 2014 Bowers moved to Astoria and then Los Angeles. Chapman stayed in Portland, but the two maintained close contact, talking daily and co-writing lyrics via Skype or Facetime. Living apart after a decade of sharing a room (or a car) ended up inspiring the pair creatively. Bowers says they've written hundreds of songs since 2011, on top of solo efforts from each member.
"Fully entering adulthood and having separate lives is cool, because we're interested in each other's separate lives," he says.
Deciding to self-release their new album allowed them the luxury to work at their own pace—which is good, because they certainly needed the time. The duo enlisted Unknown Mortal Orchestra bassist Jacob Portrait, Chapman's former neighbor, to engineer the album, and working at Portrait's Brooklyn studio headquarters added another 3,000 miles to an already long-distance relationship. "We were all living in different places," Bowers says. "Navigating three people was hard. Only every few months could we get shit done."
As it turns out, Naughtland was worth the wait. Sonically, it is expectedly rich and layered, while balancing a duality that Chapman refers to as "beauty and terror." There are big, wonky, hip-hop-style beats so head-nodding that A$AP Rocky may again sample the band, as he did back in 2011. There are glitchy yet emotional numbers like the title track, which feel like hyper-modern classical sonatas. As on previous Nurses records, there's a pronounced pop sensibility at the album's core, but one that's made unsettling by Chapman's pinched, nasally vocals and Bowers' primal rhythms.
The album concludes with one of its catchiest numbers, "Yours to Keep," about Chapman's recent marriage. It's the kind of candid jam that could only come from an extended stretch away from music—even if that stretch involved twice-daily calls with his long-standing bandmate.
"We're lifers, we'll always be making records," Bowers says. "Everybody is expected to be creating content all of the time, and that's not how we want to live. We ended up just following our gut and taking the time to make the record we wanted to make."
SEE IT: Nurses play Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., with Golden Retriever and Strange Babes, on Tuesday, Oct. 31. 9 pm. $8 advance, $10 day of show. 21+.