Hometown: Portland, Ore.?
Album: Apple’s Acre?
Band Members: Aaron Chapman (vocals, guitar), John Bowers (vocals, keyboards, programming, guitar), James Mitchell (percussion)
For Fans Of: The Beach Boys, Animal Collective, Neutral Milk Hotel
On one of the last idyllic evenings of an Indian summer, I’m parked at an outdoor table in front of the Night Light Lounge in a leafy southeast Portland neighborhood, awaiting the arrival of of Aaron Chapman and John Bowers, the core duo behind indie-rock surrealists Nurses. Finally, the pair rolls up in a giant white van that’s equal parts school bus and moving truck. It’s an amusingly incongruous sight to see the makers of such delicate music hauling around in such a brawny boat—but in some ways, it’s an apt metaphor for the band itself.
“It looks like an optical illusion, sometimes,” Chapman laughs, sitting down for a beer after parking the beast. “There’s a certain point at which the van looks like it should hold itself up, but then goes back another five or six feet.”
“That’s the surprise back-end,” says the bearded Bowers, not missing a beat. “Where the party is.”
Aside from its inadvertent hilarity factor, the van also serves as a reminder of Nurses’ constant motion. After releasing Apple’s Acre, its second album of imaginative, small-scale psychedelia, in September, the band hit the road with The Brunettes and Throw Me The Statue. And though a November tour with fellow experimentalists Le Loup was cancelled, Chapman and Bowers have long led an itinerant lifestyle. The duo met in elementary school in Idaho Falls, and as adults moved to San Diego, where they recorded and released their first Nurses album, Hangin’ Nothin’ but Our Hands Down; later, they relocated to Chicago before returning to Idaho last winter, where they promptly got snowed in but used the shut-in time wisely.
“We started making records not even considering it a record, or that it would be heard,” Bowers says of Apple’s Acre. “We had these song ideas, talked about them all the time anyway, were snowed in, and that’s what we wanted to do with our time. We didn’t record it in a studio—we did it with GarageBand on a MacBook and didn’t even listen to it on speakers until it was going through final mixing and tweaking. Headphones might be the best way to hear it.”
“We were interested in making a headphone album, actually,” adds Chapman. “Previously, we’d crammed more into the space we were working with. This time we did something different than we’d done before—we exhaled, found ways to do something with white space.”
The result is a whimsical collision of memorable melodies (such as the eminently hummable “Caterpillar Playground” and “Lita”) and eccentric, cut-and-paste arrangements dominated by a whistled bridges, treated pianos and rattletrap percussion. Along with Chapman’s decidedly Brian Wilsonesque vocals and guitar work, it’s a charming combination that—again, like the band’s hulking white van—doesn’t seem much concerned with where it’s headed next.
“Our move to Portland was decidedly on a whim, like all the other places we’ve lived,” Chapman laughs. “It isn’t like we were under the impression that it had an incredibly cool music scene or whatever. We went into it pretty blindly. As mystical as it sounds, we pay a lot of attention to how things feel.”
“James, who plays [drums] with us now, we knew him once from touring California, and were like ‘Hey, man, you’re the only guy in [Portland] we know!’” Bowers says. “He was letting us stay on his couch, and we told him, ‘We have this show offer, do you know anyone that plays drums?’He thought about it a while, and then casually threw it out there, ‘You guys know I play drums, right?’” Bowers laughs at the sheer goofiness of the memory. “It was super serendipitous. That’s a major theme in everything we do.”