Photos by Jhad Francis. Interview By Jon Birondo.
There’s no excuse; not anymore, at least. In this day and age, making music – even alone – is a feat anyone can do. You just need an instrument, the internet, a computer, and a determined mind. But when you have the right people, the right environment, and the right area, great things can come into fruition on a larger. Such is the case for Nakamara, a Denton-based trio composed of college students who describe themselves as “indie junk” (indie rock, jazz, and funk). Beneath the comical demeanor and colloquial banter, lies a trio of passionate musicians whose self-titled debut Nakamara, was one of our favorite albums of 2016.
Denton is famous for its house show scene; in the midst of multiple closures of popular “venues”, Nakamara is struggling to find an audience through the only way they know how: impromptu shows in someone’s living room or backyard, performing on the verge of a noise complaint. But before the numerous shows across North Texas, the three were relatively strangers. Wiley and Sam met in their freshman dorm, Wiley hearing Sam jamming with a friend on the first day of moving in; while Azael met Wiley through mutual friends going to house shows. Azael was a late addition however, being the second bassist Wiley & Sam have gone through.
“I feel we all met because we had something to say musically; and were ready to start ‘yelling’ in terms of music. Just screaming out all our creative shit.”
Sam expressed a deep admiration, and necessity, for collaboration when starting out. Prior to their debut’s release, the trio collaborated with Troy Garrick of fellow Denton act OG Garden, even going as far as creating a music video (below), with the help of the UNT Short Film Club. Decker elaborated on the collaboration saying “we [Garrick & Decker] met at a couple of open mics, and we respected each other hard core as musicians. When I asked him to record the feature, I was like: “I don’t know what you’re going to do, but I know it’s going to be great. It was a dream come true to have him nail it on our song, and have that feature in our back pockets ya know? So when we went to do the music video, I decided to do that song. I was like, let’s bring Troy in. He deserves some credit; and make this music video goofy, and fun you know?” “That’s what real art is,” elaborated Reid, “when you just know and respect someone so much that you just know they’re going to nail it. It felt really good.”
Directed by Decker himself, no one (not even the producers) knew what he had planned. Martinez commented on the ambiguity of the project stating “when people asked Wiley and I, what going to happen in the music video we [had] no idea. If we could tell you, we could”. The ambiguity added to the absurdity of it all, and based off of positive feedback from friends and fans, it paid off.
“Every time I go to a house show, I get really inspired. [Not everyone] in the crowd knows the bands that they’re seeing, they just go to have a good time. It’s great to know that we could be contributing to people having a good time.”
A bulk of Nakamara’s songs were written more than a year ago, but Decker explained that “I knew that these songs could be better, and eventually be really good. Mostly I hear the songs in my head a lot, and that’s what makes me pretty good at songwriting: I constantly hear the way I think the song would be good. When we start jamming, Azael and Wiley add to it, and we find an awesome compromise.” The songs range from topics such as relationships to parties to love. Reid states “I see our music as feeling”; and that clearly shows through the soulful bass lines and equally as youthful themes and ideas peppered throughout the record.
In the middle of a discussion about songwriting, and their techniques to crafting them, Reid interjected saying “When we write a new song totally from scratch we just sit down, and I say [to Sam] just play some chords and stuff. And, the way I like to do music – and we would all give our input – but when it’s kind of on my shoulders, just play some really nice chords; like let’s try to play something jazzy. Once we get [reach] a point where there’s a feeling there, like there’s some emotional content, then we [experiment]: play it double time, or play it half as slow. Or do this rhythm.” In the middle of the riffs and flashy drums lies an emotional core that’s undeniable. “The lyrics are important, but not the most important part,” Sam says; Wiley finishes by saying “The lyrics are just an expression of the feeling; the feeling is what we spend most our time working on.”
“When I first came up to Denton for school, I left my drum set cause I highly doubted that within the first semester I would have a band. But on the first day, I heard drums down the hall in my dorm. A couple days after that we had our first gig.”
As three different musicians and people, I asked about individual inspirations. “The Strokes,” muttered Martinez “Radiohead [too].” Guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. being a big influence for Martinez (whose mind was later blown when informing him of my prior interview with Hammond Jr. back in 2014). Reid’s influences included The Robert Glasper trio, Animals As Leaders, and John Bonham. Reid’s drumming style, in the midst of the band’s funk and jazz influence, manages to be incredibly technical, with little fills and cymbal flourishes scattered throughout – filling any space of silence or monotony. Reid describes it as a “stream of consciousness” expression, drawing parallels between his drumming and his self-described “technical” visual art. “I really like focusing on technique and detail in everything I do. It’s such a beautiful thing when you become invested in every little sixteenth note; I just lose myself. It’s fun; I don’t even know what I’m saying anymore”, Reid jokes.
Decker personally cites Radiohead, Black-sploitation funk, Kendrick Lamar and dance music as his main influences. He says “I just mainly copy artists I really like”; the trio covered Lamar’s “King Kunta” at a house show I attended; when I inquired about it they responded saying “we covered ‘King Kunta’ at a show. When we covered it that was the first time we played it. We never practiced it beforehand. I [Decker] learned the bass, and told Azael to pat on the E minor, and once I started playing the groove the crowd took the mic away.” “It’s not our song, but we’re there to have a good time too.”
Nakamara opens and closes with these beautiful soundscapes, which Decker attributes to Pink Floyd’s landmark record The Wall saying: “in my defense, I wanted something that would hook people into the album”. The pieces showcase a sound that makes the trio seem much bigger than what they are. And for a band beginning in college, they feel that encapsulates not just the college experience but particularly a year in the life – filled with ups, downs, and struggles. While music is crucially fundamental in their lives, they feel that they can provide some “flavor” in the midst of a underground music scene clouded with shoegaze and noise bands. “It’s cool to just have fun. You don’t have to be depressive all the time. You can just go to a show and get lit, and have fun,” says Reid, “we’re like a rare commodity as far as [Denton’s] vibe is concerned with.”
Nakamara is another band in a sea of other bands trying to find their sound and hone their skills as growing musicians and artists in a climate of political turmoil, and a community that really holds the arts very dear to the city’s identity. “There are so many shows I go to and no one is moving because there is nothing really inspiring anyone to move; and that’s my whole thing. I want people to move” says Decker. Playing local creative space 1919 Hemphill, Reid notes the clear distinction between the heavier bands on their roster and their sound: “People were jumping and dancing; and that’s exactly what I want to see.” Decker closed the interview saying “when people go to house shows, they have NO idea who you are. When they go to see you for the first time they may have listened to a demo, or have heard of you – but they have never listened to your music. So they’re not going to be singing along to any of your songs. The whole philosophy for our band, I feel, is: make something that, on the first listen, you’re moving too.”
Make America Jam Again.