(Photo: Sam San Román)

It’s been a few years since we’ve heard from Now, Now, the Minnesota indie rock band that released the subdued and atmospheric Threads in 2012 and spent time opening the Motion City Soundtrack/Jukebox the Ghost tour.

Founding members KC Dalager and Brad Hale recently told me that while they weren’t in the public eye, behind the scenes they’ve been doing nothing but writing and recording with just a few breaks here and there for video games and bowling. Jess Abbott, who joined the band in 2009 as a guitarist, officially left the band earlier this year to put her full attention into her solo project, Tancred.

After a long public silence, Now, Now returned earlier this year and released two decidedly pop-sounding singles, “Yours” and “SGL”. While the new sound might catch long-time fans off guard, KC and Brad indicated that they feel like they are making music that sounds like artists that they love. Along with the new songs, Now, Now hit the road for the first time in 5 years and the current tour includes a stop at the A&R Music Bar on Thursday night. Tickets will be available at the box office for $15 with doors opening at 7pm.

I spoke with KC and Brad last week on the same night that they were going to be featured on Last Call with Carson Daly, which we talked about as we wrapped things up.

2017 has found Now, Now waking up – new music, new shows. Does it feel good to be out there in the public eye again or do you feel like there’s still so much more to do?

KC – I feel like we were so stressed about playing shows. And then once we started playing the first show, we were like, “Oh, this is really fun, actually.” And it’s the kind of thing that has always stressed us out. Playing live has been my least favorite part about being in a band. “I like writing”, is usually what I say to people when they ask if I like touring.

This is the first time when I feel like we’re all having fun playing shows. Leading up to some big show, there’s obviously some nerves and some sort of anxiety, but it’s mostly just like, “Okay, here we go.”

Brad – And I think people watching can more easily get into it because we’re not all stressed out. We’re just having fun and everyone else is having fun. I think that’s been a major part of this whole getting back out there thing and making it really positive. Every show so far has been so fun.

KC – Even if we have a show where everything is going wrong on our end, either technically or just we’re all messing up, it’s the kind of things where the people we’re playing with now, we’re really good friends with them. Having their energy … any direction I look on stage, even if I do something that would generally mortify me, if I look over and see one of them laughing, it’s like, “Oh, it’s fine.”

From an outsider’s perspective, Now, Now’s sound has changed, leans a bit more in the pop direction. But, I’m sure this just feels like you’re writing the types of songs that you want to write. 

KC – I think it was more that, for us, it was a natural evolution of how we expressed ourselves more than anything. There was never a decision of “And now, we switch genres.” It was like, “What do we like listening to? What excites us? What do we want to listen to?”

I feel like with our old material, not that I was emotionally disconnected from it, but I felt like I was muting myself to an extent. I felt like I couldn’t ever say what I was trying to say so I was just super insecure about my delivery and my words. The fear of people taking it apart made me want to disguise that more. So when I look back to those songs, for me, I know what I was saying because I was feeling the emotions but I don’t know what I sang. I look back and I’m like, “What? Why would I ever say it in that way instead of just saying what I was feeling?”

I think that has been the biggest thing for us in this direction – being able to express how we’re feeling without feeling like it needs to be a certain thing. Like, “Oh, we can’t have too crazy of an electronic beat here because everyone’s going to be like ‘Oh, where’s this?’ and “Where’s that?'” And it kind of got to a point where we’re like this is what is exciting to us, this is what we like, this is what we feel proud of. Whether people like it or not, this is what we like.

I saw somebody reference Carly Rae Jepsen in maybe a review. What a fascinating case study she is. A little older than your typical Disney-actress-turned-pop-star and came out of the gate with a huge pop hit. The tide turned, it seems, and now indie rock kids seem to love her new stuff. Her last record was amazing.

KC – I think “Call Me Maybe” was an amazing pop song. It took over the radio, it took over everything. It was an incredibly smart, well put together song. The new album she put out was a little more emotional, I guess, to some extent. It’s hard to compare “Call Me Maybe” to her new stuff, people just change.

I think there are new bands expressing themselves that way, like Fickle Friends. They have this sort of ’80s synth-pop sound. It’s all that same genre that Carly Rae is in, it’s really good. It’s oddly nostalgic and relevant at the same time.

KC – I feel like the person who sort of paved the way for everyone to do this was Katy Perry’s Prism. I feel like that pop album started to throwback to way more classic … I don’t know that it was even ’80s … but it was way more timeless pop, not so contemporary. And then Taylor Swift’s 1989 came out and did that same sort of thing, it had the same sort of classic pop elements. I credit this all to Katy Perry.

You mentioned a few artists I was going to ask you about. If you put together a Spotify “Ultimate Pop” playlist, what would be on it?

KC – Oh my god. Britney. We love Britney. Obviously there’s classics like the boy bands – N’Sync, The Backstreet Boys. New Order?

I will say that I never did get the boy band thing. I think I was too old when that phenomenon was taking place. But if a song comes on, I know the song and the words.

KC – It was everywhere. I feel like Max Martin just dominated. There’s so many of those Swedish pop producers and writers who just do things that get you so amped and make you feel a specific thing. I don’t know why or how or what it specifically is but they all just do a thing where everyone is like, “Oh, shit, this song!” It’s just undeniable the power of those songs. Who else would we put on there, Brad? Grimes?

Brad – Shania?

KC – Shania! Shania and Sheryl Crow! This has nothing to do with anything but just speaking of Carly Rae Jepsen, we’ve been getting some comparisons which I do understand but I feel like Carly Rae Jepsen is drawing influences from the original and I feel like what I was listening to was Shania, Michael Jackson, those things. It feels like when people are like, “Oh, that song sounds like Harry Styles” and I’m like, “No, Harry Styles sounds like the Beatles.” I love that Carly Rae Jepsen album but when we get compared to a more contemporary thing – I don’t know why, but it freaks me out.

Brad – That Carly Rae record is important because it’s a pop record that isn’t relying on as many gimmicks, it’s just really good songs. I think the thing about the ’80s influences is that it somehow always feels really timeless. I think that’s what we were also being influenced by when we were writing this stuff.

KC – Whenever we were writing, we didn’t want anything sounding too like any specific time period. We didn’t want to copy-and-paste the ’80s or copy-and-paste the ’90s or copy-and-paste now. We try intentionally to not be too pinholed to one specific copy-and-paste kind of thing.

Who were the artists that you remember growing up listening to, maybe before knowing any better, that you still like? Was there a particular band or song or album that made you go from music listener to music fan?

Brad – I think for me, it’s not a thing where I don’t think it’s cool but in the time, when I was in middle school, it probably wasn’t cool but I liked all the pop stuff back then. My first CD that I ever got was Spice Girls and I loved that. I loved Hanson and The Backstreet Boys and N’Sync and all that stuff. I guess before that I liked The Beatles but when I heard The Spice Girls, that was the moment where I was like, “Oh, I want to know how to write songs and I want to know how to produce stuff.”

KC – For me, I listened to music … Michael Jackson was really the only thing I listened to for a long time of my life – probably from when I was 5 until I was maybe 12 and I started to be able to buy my own CDs and stuff. And then I listened to a lot of Destiny’s Child and all the boy bands. And then when I got into my later teens, as well as those other pop bands, I started listening to Avril Lavigne which was probably my gateway. That made me feel like “Oh, I can do this too. This girl is like 16 and she’s just running around. I don’t know what she’s doing, I don’t know what this is but I feel like I can do that too.”

After that, I always tell this story about my uncle. When I think I was 15 – he has a huge music collection; he collects vinyl and CDs – he was like, “So, what are you listening to these days?” And I said, “Avril Lavigne.” He goes, “We’re going to change that” and he burned me a bunch of CDs of like Sleater-Kinney and Death Cab for Cutie and Postal Service and those types of bands.

When I was in 9th grade, one of the first real bands I listened to was Jimmy Eat World and their Bleed American album. That got me into a new world of music but I didn’t feel like I could do that until I saw Avril Lavigne.

I remember the first album I bought with my own money and the first CD. My kids are making playlists on Spotify, maybe buying songs on iTunes. It’s such a different experience. When you had to use your money – I still own the very first CD I ever bought – Dokken’s Under Lock and Key – because I had to save up for it and it meant something to me then just as it does now.

Brad – It’s such a thing. You go to the store, you hope they have the one you want.You’re so proud of it.

On the flip side, with the internet, it’s great to discover a really obscure band, find out they put out a very limited edition single and hop online and order that single that you never would have run across in a store.

KC – It’s even different from when we started releasing music. Our last album, streaming was just starting. It wasn’t the same thing at all.

How do you approach that as a band? There’s good and bad with streaming.

Brad – I think when it first took over, I was bummed about it as a musician. But I think that it’s, especially with this kind of comeback that we’ve been doing, been very important. Playlisting reaches so many people now. It’s crazy how quickly a song can spread through that. I think that’s the new “Let me burn you a CD” or the new radio.

KC – Yes, that’s right.

Brad – I’m not bummed about it any more.

You’re probably being heard by more people but making less money than you were before.

KC – That is true.

Brad – Well, I don’t know.

KC – We definitely make less money, that’s for sure, because nobody is buying albums. Even if they only like one song, people can pick and choose from your whole catalog and spend $2 compared to what they would have had to do before which is buy a full CD. So, it’s less money in album sales.

Brad – We’re lucky because, regardless of streaming, vinyl records are still a big deal to people. That’s still a place where we see a lot of people still asking for records. If we run out of them, there’s still people that want them.

KC – At shows, we do well in sell physical music – CDs and vinyl.

Brad – That just emphasizes the importance of touring. That’s the Best Buy now – they save up their money and buy your record there.

I’m older than you and have seen a lot of artists that I grew up on starting to pass away and it really makes me keep in mind that nobody is immortal. I don’t want to jinx it by saying any names but there are a couple of artists that I really will be upset about passing away when the time comes. Have you had that much of a connection with any artist like Bowie, Michael Jackson, Prince, etc that really hurt you when they passed away?

KC – David Bowie is obviously important. That was a once in a lifetime … even more than my lifetime … that was a one time thing. I think George Michael, to me, was very upsetting.

Brad – Prince

KC – Definitely Prince.

Brad – It’s upsetting whenever it happens, it makes me think of a lot of stuff.

KC – Not even necessarily musically but when Chester from Linkin Park died … I think that was upsetting in a different way. Nothing is like what you think it is. Linkin Park was part of anyone our ages nostalgia. It’s upsetting.

I’ll be posting this a few days before the show but tonight you’ll be on Last Call with Carson Daly.

Brad – They filmed us at the High and Low Festival.

Oh, right, I forgot that it’s not a show where he has music guests in a studio – they show live clips of bands performing. Does appearing on a show like this help get your name out, help sales?

KC – I’m not sure, this is the first time we’ve been part of a show. We’ve only done one other late night show and that was Jimmy Fallon however many years ago but that wasn’t on as late as the Carson Daly show.

Brad – This seems like so late. I have to set an alarm so I can get up. That’s way best my bed time.

KC – I’ll be up but I have a feeling I’m going to forget to watch it.

(This is unofficial footage from the High and Low Festival, not the video that appeared on Last Call with Carson Daly)

Final quick question – I know you can’t really talk about what you’re working on but when you roll into Columbus, what’s the setlist look like? Will it be all new stuff? Will you be mixing old and new?

KC – It’s a mixture. I feel like a majority is old stuff at this point just because we’ve only released two new songs. We can’t be playing too much unreleased, unannounced things but we do play a few of the newer ones.