Find out which band Memphis' NOTS will never cover.
There are a lot of different genres you can pin to the Memphis-based foursome NOTS. At the beginning of their existence back in 2012, you could call them "fast, fuzzy lo-fi punk." Their 2014 standout release, We Are Nots, could be described as "extremely amped up synthy post-punk." But to describe their most recent release, Cosmetic, the band coined the very specific genre of "aggressively patient weird punk." On Cosmetic, the band's evolution is evident on songs such as opener "Blank Reflection" and the built up album closer "Entertain Me." Vocalist Natalie Hoffmann is every bit as tough and dynamic as before, but the band has become more meticulous with their songwriting. Shouts are punctuated and guitars slide and wind as Hoffmann and the band vent out their frustrations with the state of the world, drawing inspiration from a handful of literature. NOTS stopped in New York a few weeks ago and I had the chance to ask them about the new album, who they would (and would not) cover, and their favorite baseball team (or lack of one).
The Le Sigh: You’ve been in NYC for a few days now – what have you been up to and what do you look forward to doing when you come here?
Natalie Hoffmann: I’ve just been running around and exploring, that’s what I like to do when I come here because we actually don’t have very good public transit in Memphis at all, so you end up staying in one little area, so I always like to explore. So it’s been good, and fun.
TLS: Going back to the beginning, how did NOTS come about – how did you all start playing together and what was the evolution of the band?
NH: Well, Charlotte and I have played together for awhile, Charlotte plays drums, and NOTS has had a couple of different line ups but we added Allie on synth before our first album. Then the bass player who played with us moved to New Orleans to study, so Meredith joined us on bass, so now here we are.
Charlotte Watson: And we’ve been touring very heavily since Meredith joined the band, and that’s been a huge part of our evolution of the band, being on the road and playing a lot of shows.
TLS: Your first 7" came out in 2014 right?
CW: Our first single actually came out before then, like 2012? And then the NOTS self-titled four song EP came out, and then we had another single on Goner Records, and then We Are Nots came out summer 2014 and we did some touring behind that for quite some time, and then Cosmetic came out this past September.
TLS: Have you spent most of 2016 touring in preparation for the new record?
NH: We did some on and off, we did a lot of weekend touring, which is nice since living in Memphis is pretty good for that since we’re close to a lot of different things. We recorded Cosmetic in winter of 2016, so we spent a lot of time recording and writing. So that’s how we started the year, then we toured and went to Europe and toured some more.
TLS: Do you have any best and worst moments from touring this year?
NH: It’s all been generally pretty good, it’s hard to like...so much kind of blurs together. Europe was really cool because we actually got to go for three weeks this time instead of just ten days, which was what it was like the first time we went to Europe. So it was cool to see how they received everything, it was really fun.
TLS: Did you get a good response there?
NH: Yeah! They just have a whole different approach to music, people are very…it’s just very different. They don’t get on their phones, they just watch the bands, and sometimes they give you detailed critique, like the Germans actually gave us some pretty detailed critiques which I thought was fun.
Allie Eastburn: They’re more stoic, they don’t like bop around as much…but they’re like paying more attention so you might think like, "Oh they don’t like us, they’re not moving," but then after they say the most detailed things.
NH: It wasn’t just the Germans actually, it kind of happened all over.
AE: Actually, Germany was more bop-y, and everyone said that Germany would be the coldest audience, but I think they received us well…they were definitely the most bop-y.
TLS: Is playing in Europe a lot different than touring across America?
NH: You just get taken care of so much better. You get fed, and a place to stay, and that’s just normal, that’s not special.
AE: They’ll just have these amazing spaces that contain the venue, where people who work there actually live, spaces where bands who come to play can stay, all in one place!
CW: Well they have government funding for the arts, so there’s an infrastructure, so that certainly helps pay for cultures from other countries to be like, supported so they can flourish. It depends on which country, but there’s just actual federal funding for the arts.
TLS: So back to the album…what inspired you musically when you were writing and recording Cosmetic?
NH: So some of the songs were written when we were just jamming in between songs and later we turned those into songs. Some of them were written, while playing at a practice spot. I was listening to a lot of Chrome, and we were a listening to a lot of the Band too, a lot of Can and Far East Family Band.
TLS: It seems like this record is still like, aggressive and punk-y, but also a little more psychedelic.
NH: I think we got like, more patient, but still aggressive, you can be aggressively patient. We figured that out. That’s our genre, aggressively patient weird punk.
TLS: That could be your genre tag on bandcamp. Was there anything specifically not music related that helped influence it at all?
NH: I was reading a lot of poetry for the lyrics. I was reading like Neon Vernacular, that’s a really good book, A Coney Island of the Mind…Pablo Neruda, a bunch of short stories as well.
TLS: I know they’re not actually related, but Cosmetic kind of reminded me of the cosmos, do you guys pay attention to astrology at all?
AE: Haha, I don’t at all.
CW: I mean it’s kind of fun in a way, but I wouldn’t say as a band we are very like astrological.
NH: The name Cosmetic actually comes from a Pablo Neruda poem that references a propaganda government, so if that answers any questions about the astrology part of it. I mean I read it, mine is great - it’s just like go organize you room everyday, that’s all I get from mine. It’s pretty comical.
AE: It’s too blurry, you can’t really pin people down! People are shaped by their experiences. It’s fun though?
TLS: So to be honest, I don’t really know a ton about Memphis or Tennessee, so how did you all end up there?
Meredith Lones: I grew up in North West Tennessee, like two hours North West of Memphis in a much smaller of a town, but we’ve all lived in Memphis for like ten years at most, so it feels like home.
TLS: What’s the music scene like in Memphis? Are there a lot of local bands and what kind of community is there?
CW: We've had a really great support system with Goner Records, who put our record. They’ve been a label for twenty years and have had a store for ten…actually longer than that. They’re kind of like a spiritual home for a lot of punk bands, garage bands, weird music, but also we have a lot of local bands that are touring quite a bit and getting out there. So the climate of the local music scene is such that when bands on tour come into town, a lot of bands are gone because people are really busy and putting out records. So it’s an exciting time, for rock and roll in Memphis.
TLS: Since The Le Sigh focuses female and non binary artists, are there any in the South that people should know about?
NH: There’s a really good band from New Orleans called Black Abba, and Trampoline Team, they’re both from New Orleans. Our friend Sam plays in both of them.
TLS: I read that once upon a time you did Shangri-Las covers, is there any band that NOTS would be a cover band of?
NH: We had a different band that did that, so technically it wasn’t NOTS. But we do always talk about being Spinal Tap for Halloween.
ML: I just want to get stuck in that egg.
NH: Yeah totally. No not really, haha. We do cover a Normal song right now.
TLS: Halloween is coming up, it’s like a Halloween-y thing now to play as a cover band.
NH: Oh yeah, we’re getting home from tour super close but we’ll see, maybe we can throw something together. I don’t know who we would be though, I’m not that good at the guitar in that way..I don’t really learn shit very well hah.
AE: She doesn’t like the Beatles! She’s more of a Jimmy girl.
TLS: So never a Beatles cover band?
NH: No, I heard someone cover that "she’s just seventeen…" and it was so bad.
AE: "I Saw Her Standing There!"
CW: There’s nothing wrong with a pop standard but I don’t really need to hear someone else do it.
NH: Especially that one, and it’s creepy! No Beatles cover over here.
AE: You should check out the Better Beatles though. they’re a Beatles cover band but they’re super monotone.
CW: Though, we do have friends from Austin that are in the shitty Beach Boys.
TLS: One last thing, since it’s the end of baseball season, do you have a preferred baseball team?
NH: Man, I go to baseball games and I just drink beer in the grass and am horrible at paying attentions. No idea.
CW: I mean, I like their uniforms. I’m from Florida so I guess I’m a Marlins fan. Every once in awhile they’re just like, the best for no reason.
ML: I like basketball better.
AE: I like the organ.
Listen to NOTS on bandcamp.
Written by Emily Thompson