Cold, impenetrable and unapologetically stark, the noise tinted post-punk yob USA Nails are essentially the natural product of the perpetually decaying Austerity-era Britain. Through their work the quartet narrate the mundane misery that is life through sardonic, satirical and borderline misanthropic wordplay, earning pundits and acclaim far and wide in thanks to their cathartically relatable ruminations. Showcasing this in both wonderfully and blistering fashion is their latest record Character Stop, out now via Bigout Records and Hex Records.
Across the 11 tracks that compose the record, the band narrate and breakdown topics such as toxic social media, chasing escapism in attempts of distraction, delusions of grandeur, juggling roles exhaustingly, the joys of creativity and more through a cracked glass lens and warped jittery noise rock. However, amongst the dissonance, danceable melodies and snaring hooks animate the narration and acid tongued wordplay, making the record as unforgettable as it is poignant.
With Character Stop out now, Steven Hodson (Guitar, Vocals), Thomas Brewins (Drums), Gareth Thomas (Guitar) and Daniel Holloway (Bass) got in touch to break down Character Stop, track by track.
Gareth: "This was the last song that was written for the album. Steven brought it to our last practice before recording but we all instantly loved it. It was pretty clear it should be the album opener from the off."
Steven: "Lyrically it’s about juggling being a father, husband, playing in two bands, working and everything else there is. The line about capsizing from bed refers to not really knowing which metaphorical hat I should be wearing on any given day. At times it can feel like one thing is more important than the other but in the end I think all facets of my life are needed to make me; me. Towards the end of the song I’m more musing on how long I have left. My Dad died at 49 and I am 40 next year. The thought that I might die young comes to me often, so I am trying to be healthier and look after myself a bit more."
I Don’t Own Anything
Dan: "This song for some reason reminds me of Parklife. I have no idea why."
Gareth: "Well, this one is about a generation of young people who've been shafted by baby boomers and the culture and distractions we consume to give our lives meaning, or make our lives bearable at least. In other words, it's about anti-depressants, streaming media and the Adobe creative cloud – so exactly like Parklife. Maybe it’s also about me being really immature. The character in the verse is played for laughs to some extent and is a semi-autobiographical parody because existential despair can be funny (don’t worry I’m fine). Mostly I was just really pleased that I managed to rhyme “heart-ache” with “club-mate”."
Steven: "This one is about Twitter and was largely influenced by Jon Ronson’s 'So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed'. I have tried with Twitter, I really have but I just don’t get it. I don’t get social media at large but I’m of the generation that find it a bit of a novelty. I don’t understand how it seems completely acceptable to say offensive things online or to group together to tear someone apart with hashtags. I’m looking at my Macbook from 2007, yes it still works, and can’t see a hashtag on here and that is probably a very good thing. How much context can you give to an argument in 280 characters?"
"I like the idea of the dual meanings to the word character too. Do we play characters online? Yes, most definitely."
How Was Your Weekend?
Gareth: "We’ve started to see some reviews come through and a few people highlighted this number as favourite, which surprised me, as it was one of the tracks I was a bit unsure of to start with. I’m glad we stuck with it.
Lyrically I was trying to get across how absurd it can feel to be in a DIY band where you are half artist and half administrator. Dan is a lighting designer in real life so the opening line about “solid white light” is a reference to his usual instructions to lighting folk when we’re on tour. Also there’s a line about wanting the bass cab mic’ed up and not DI’ed into the PA, which is literally on our technical spec (the thing we send to venues before we play there advising them of our set-up). I guess using this as subject matter has resulted in the creative and the administrative aspects of this band intersecting more neatly in this tune than they do the rest of the time. Does that make it more clever or less clever?"
"The line about there being “nothing I regret” is of course, ironic. The Eminem reference has no context at all, but Steven has made fun of me more than once for taking on too much coffee at service stations and having to pull over because I’m getting the shakes."
"The chorus was an attempt to encapsulate the feeling of returning to reality. Going back into work on a Monday morning and being normal again."
I Am Posable
Steven: "A kind of stream of consciousness, written in the studio just before recording the vocal take, hence the unsure delivery and looseness to the lines. More waffle about social media but more from the voyeur’s perspective. I found myself becoming quite addicted to Instagram. The first thing I would do when I switch my phone on or have any sort of downtime was to scroll through pictures of people I didn’t know and had nothing in common with. Why did I do this? There was no connection or conversation… just looking. I try to avoid the ‘gram now as I don’t think it is very good for me. Are we going to evolve to have oversized or tapered thumbs for more efficient scrolling?"
Dan: "Also, Tom’s drumming is off the hook."
Gareth: "Yeah Tom slays this one. There are a bunch of songs on this record where we experimented with adding percussion. I remember Steven looking at me in the eye at one point during the overdubs and asking me “what are we doing? Are we ruining our record?” You don’t get many woodblocks in noise-rock or punk, but I’m happy we bucked the trend. Anyway on this number the drums are so super cray-cray and that there is definitely no space for that sort of thing."
Dumb of Choice
Steven: "Another stream of consciousness. The song is about getting into music and that idea of being a fan of a band. There is a sense of belonging and a lot of my social life and friendships have been formed through a shared interest of music or specific genres of music. The logical step is to pick up an instrument and have a go yourself. The end of the song is more of a reflection on my experience of being in a band now – borrowing sleeping bags and wondering what food will be on offer, if any. Yes, at times I am dumb of choice. I wouldn’t have it any other way."
Steven: "The title came before the lyrics. The music sounded like something that could’ve been on our second record, No Pleasure. The lyrics are about the need to constantly record your life and make short videos showing what food you’re eating, what trainers you’ve bought, what song you can play along to, where you are on holiday, what your kids are doing, what exercises you like and so on and so on. I have no idea how people find the time. Holiday snaps are one thing but when everything you do is recorded and documented it just strikes me as strange. Kids are going to grow up now with this new way of presenting themselves as a little brand or celebrity."
"Ballard was right – people become fixated with celebrity. Orwell was right – everyone is watching each other. Warhol was right – everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. I am right – I just am."
Dan: "This song has a complete Total Control vibe about it which I love, the posi’ guitar at the end is great."
Steven: "This was originally recorded for Life Cinema but in a completely different style. Not really much to say about this one. It is pretty self-explanatory. See yourself to find yourself. I guess what I am saying here is that we aren’t always as we present ourselves. You might see yourself a certain way or act as a character to fit in. Socialising is hard, or at least I find it hard."
Gareth: "I think there are two other recorded versions of this song somewhere, one which is kind of synth lead, and one with a drum machine, but this version is the best. The other versions might appear on a comp or something one day, if we can remember where they are saved."
Preference For Cold
Steven: "You know that feeling when you say something stupid or walk into something, or drop a glass, and you replay it over and over again in your head and everyone’s reactions become more exaggerated, annoyed, disgusted even? I get that a lot. In the past I drank a fair bit out of social awkwardness and not really knowing what to say. When you’re a bit drunk I think you care less about what you say but then you get to a point where you just talk drivel."
"Anyway, this song sounds like a massive sad robot sent back in time to kill the leader of the resistance but can’t be arsed to do it."
Dan: "I just think about people playing football really badly when I hear this one. It brings a smile to my face, as it reminds me of all the touring we’ve done and naturally, a lot of great memories come flooding back."
Gareth: "We experimented a bit with the vocals for this one, the first set that Steven laid down he was unhappy with, as he thought they were a bit insipid, so he rewrote them. Me and Dan really liked some elements of the original vox though so we ended up compromising and mashing a couple of different takes together. That’s one thing I’ve always liked about this band, we aren’t too precious about anything and will change things around at the last minute if need be."
Steven: "The lyrics in this one are about my love for being in a band. I love carrying my amp. I love the ringing in my ears. I love the crap lager and bags of crisps. I love sleeping on floors in squats. I love sleeping at lovely people’s houses. I love sitting in a van for hours listening to the same songs over and over again. I love the laughs. I love the failed shows. I love shopping in European supermarkets. I love the novelty of it all. I have been touring in bands for over half of my life now and it has become such a large part of my identity that I don’t know who I would be if I stopped. My wife recently said I should never stop being in a band because I wouldn’t be fun anymore and I agree. It is so rewarding and USA Nails has to be the most rewarding band I have had the pleasure of playing in. Hats off to Gareth, Dan, Tom, Matt (ex-drummer), Stu (ex-guitarist) and Wayne (our George Martin) for making this band so easy and fun to be in."
Gareth: "We decided to pan the vocals and drums hard left and right on this number, partly as a homage to that Mogwai track – but also as a way of fully embracing how odd a tune it is compared to the rest of the album."
"The guitar solo was recorded live during the track (i.e. not overdubbed) and it’s the best solo I’ve ever committed to record, probably because there’s no real notes in it."
"The words started out as a one dimensional lament on how boring I’ll be when I’m older but after talking it through with Steven, it ended up becoming a parody of that. So now it’s about embracing change and the beauty of aging.
After a couple of vocal takes Wayne and Steven suggested I try delivering the lyrics in a whisper which seemed to work really well."
"Dave has that song called 'Streatham', which paints a stark picture of growing up in a deprived area of the London. He won the Mercury Music Award eh? Wallington is town on the south edge of the city and is the kind of place I might end up growing down when I get sick of paying a huge premium to live near a tube station - but I don’t think we’re in danger of getting a Mercury off the back of this record."
"I wanted to stick “Wallington” in the middle of the album but conceptually it works quite well as the last track because it’s about not being (or not wanting to be) in a band anymore. If we broke up after this album it could be our “The End”. We are recording again in January though so it probably isn't."