Earlier this year, Nightmare Air, the Los Angeles-based three-piece atmospheric guitar band, dropped their sophomore album Fade Out courtesy of Nevado Records. Fade Out marks a shift from their 2013 debut High In The Lasers with the new songs focused on more of a pop sensibility and less of a wall-of-sound approach to their material. Fade Out is the kind of album you pop on for friends who are interested in cool esoteric indie music, the end result being one of approval more often than not.
Nightmare Air just wrapped up their third round of dates opening for Gary Numan in North America. The band’s guitarist Dave Dupuis is also Numan’s tour manager, a title he has held for the past five or six years. Before things got rolling at the recent Gary Numan performance in Toronto, Dupuis took 20 minutes to talk about Nightmare Air with PureGrainAudio in a little office backstage at the Phoenix Concert Theatre.
So, I know you from Film School, which is where I first saw you perform. Online, I’ve seen people repeatedly describe Nightmare Air as a shoegazer band. Do you feel that’s an accurate description of your material?
Dave Dupuis: I feel like the first record was a little more shoegazer. The whole term ‘shoegazer’ was kind of broad. But it kind of fits, I guess. The super shoegazer heads will say bands like My Bloody Valentine and Ride are shoegazer. I was always into bands like Swervedriver, who were really more of an alternative rock band, but they kind of got attached to that shoegazer descriptor because they were on Creation Records. And that’s kind of where I think we fall. For years, even with Film School, there’s some interview that we did at the Mercury Lounge in like 2006-2007 where they were calling us a shoegaze band and I got all mad and said it was a derogatory term because back in the late 1990s and early 2000s it was kind of a derogatory term. It meant some band that just made a fucking wall of sound and built upon their feedback. So we were kind of pushing it away. I was pushing it away at the time. But then it just became this genre – even when you’d apply for festivals you could choose ‘indie rock,’ ‘alternative rock,’ or ‘shoegazer rock.’ So we just kind of accepted it.
“Who’s Your Lover?” This song and accompanying music video comes from Fade Out.
Can you talk a little bit about Swaan and Jimmy? How you guys met and how Nightmare Air became a band?
Dupuis: Swaan I met in Oakland 20 years ago. No wait, I just counted back from her age, maybe fifteen years ago now. We’ve just been friends for a long time. The whole Nightmare thing kind of started after my mom passed away. This was 2008. I was kind of like assessing my life. I was with Film School, and it was fun but I just kind of wanted to break off and do something for myself, and there was Swaan and I was starting to make some tunes. We just started making tunes for fun. It got to be not fun, to be honest, in Film School. Five dudes driving around in a van together don’t always get along. It wasn’t fighting, but it just didn’t feel great all the time. I wanted to move towards something that felt great. Hence, Nightmare Air. That’s even how the name came about, the name is from that old skateboarding film from the late ’80s that just makes me fucking feel good. I was like, that’s a fun name, it’s going to be a fun project. There weren’t really any expectations whatsoever. I was still in Film School when we started Nightmare Air for the first year or so. But then once Nightmare Air kind of got rolling, we came here actually, for CMW (Canadian Music Week). Our first few shows were here in Toronto. And I was like “Heck with it – I’m not going to go out with Film School anymore. This is my new thing.”
That’s a big decision. You were jumping from something that at least had a bit of notoriety to something brand new.
Dupuis: Yeah. The band was kind of imploding at the time. It wasn’t a hard decision at all for me to be honest. It made perfect sense.
Can you talk a bit about your creative process working with Swaan and Jimmy? How you like to write?
Dupuis: Yeah. Both records kind of came out in a similar way. I’ll come up with a bunch of bullshit. And then Swaan would sing over some of it, and some of it would be good. I would sing over some of it, and we’d pick the best parts. The new record Fade Out was slightly different, Jimmy was more involved in the process of putting these songs together. It kind of starts off with me doing some ideas and then they kind of go through the blender with the band and then we all pick what’s best. Most of this record was written in Amsterdam. When we came back from Amsterdam, we had around 20 songs, and we narrowed it down to about ten or eleven. The record has nine songs, so it became an editing process from there.
So if the first album was more in line with being shoegazer, and Fade Out being not so much in that descriptor, can you talk a little bit about making that sound shift?
Dupuis: Yeah, totally. It would have been easy for me to make another messy-ass guitar album, you know? I kind of wanted to try and make something a little more polished. Because I’ve never done that before. I wanted to try and make some two and a half to three-minute pop songs that had a wall of sonic integrity. That was the goal that we set for this album. And I wanted the vocal lines to be more integral with the songs. Not half thought out like they were on the first one.
Fade Out was released this past March through Nevado Records.
You recorded some of the music on Fade Out in Toronto. What brought you up here to do it?
Dupuis: Yeah, quite a bit. Well, we recorded the majority of the record in Ireland. Which is a pretty interesting story. We won a songwriting competition.
Dupuis: In America. Long story short, we won this songwriting competition. Two weeks in the world famous Grouse Lodge residential recording facility, which is in Ireland. We were basically flown to Ireland. It came at the perfect fucking time too. We were literally having discussions about where we were going to record the album. We had all of the songs written and pre-programmed out. We were ready to go. And six months earlier I randomly applied for this thing – “win two weeks in a world famous studio” thinking “Ah, this is never going to happen.” Flash forward six months later, and I get an email saying that I’d won. It was crazy. It was like the last day of the tour I was on too. So we went to Ireland that summer and recorded the majority of the record. And while we were there, we met this other band that was recording, and the producer that was recording with them was this guy named Doug Romanow who was this producer from Toronto. So we’d just met, and we are friendly and we kind of kept in touch.
I continued to work on the record, and then we actually came through here (Toronto), I think I came through with Gary (Numan) and Doug came to the show. We’d been talking about working on some of the tracks for the album at this point, and I stayed in Toronto for a couple of days after and we picked three songs and decided to see what would happen with them. We jibed together, and those three songs came out great. That was two summers ago. And then I flew back a couple more times that summer and worked on a few songs at a time with him. We didn’t really do too much structure-wise, but we really honed in on the mechanics of the wall-of-sound. He has tons of keyboards, so I got to change out some of my soft-synths for real synths. It was really fun, a beautiful experience.
Would you describe Nightmare Air as having an L.A. sound? Do you think that there even is an actual L.A. sound?
Dupuis: I don’t know man. (laughs) I think our last record, everyone was saying it has an L.A. sound to it. It was kind of grimy or something? L.A. is just such a big place. I wouldn’t even know what the L.A. sound is right now. Three years ago it was that kind of wicked lo-fi kind of stuff maybe. But then there is always the strip. The thing with L.A. is this; right now, in Los Angeles on the sunset strip, there is a guy walking down the street with a fucking bandana across his face looking like Axl Rose. But then you go out to Echo Park, and you’ll see something different. L.A is such a spread out place. Everyone just kind of goes there. It’s hard to say there is one single sound.
Check out the video for “18 Days,” off of Nightmare Air’s High In The Lasers record.
Would you say that being in L.A. affects your songwriting and your sound… what you draw out of it living there?
Dupuis: To be honest, no. I spend such little time there, you know? Typically when I am in L.A., I am usually holed up in a house, and I’m working. L.A. is a great place to be in a band. It’s great. It’s kind of a crappy place to play sometimes because nobody goes out to shows there. It’s kind of like New York. People come out, but it’s not like other cities. People will come out, but people don’t really want to drive and fight congested traffic and fight to park. They don’t want to come halfway across town to see a club show. But being there is great because you are surrounded by musicians all the time. That definitely affects the way you write.
From the outside, looking in all of these L.A. venues sound like they are really big, right? But having gone into the Whisky and the Viper Room, I was astounded at how small these places actually are. I was taken aback by that. Certainly the Whisky, in my mind I thought the place was huge.
Dupuis: Yeah. It’s like that. There are a lot of new venues popping up downtown. And it’s cool. It’s so spread out that shows do better when you are in Kansas City sometimes because you have people who have nothing else to fucking do. “What do you want to do on Friday? Well, there’s a show – or there’s not a show.” Easy decision, right? You go to the show.
Would you describe Nightmare Air as a band that writes music for lyrics or lyrics for music?
Dupuis: Lyrics for music. Definitely. I kind of get the vibe together before lyrics. With a computer or with drum tracks and guitars sounds, and get some kind of a vibe together and then add in lyrics that accent that vibe. And hopefully, make it more meaningful.
How did you wind up on Nevado Records with Fade Out?
Dupuis: Nick from Nevado Records is actually from Toronto. They call themselves Toronto/L.A. based. I met him through a friend, another Toronto connection, the manager for Dine Alone Records. We just kind of got along. And he was interested in working with us. He put out a friend of ours’ record, Deap Vally, another L.A. band. When push came to shove, when it was time to put the record out, we had this opportunity to start touring with Gary, and we just thought “let’s do it, let’s get this thing done. Nick is a cool guy, so let’s go.” It was really a quick decision that felt really right for us.
Is there something ideally that you hope listeners will take away from the new album Fade Out?
Dupuis: I just hope that they want to play it again. That would be ideal.
Talk a little bit about the video that you put out for “Sign Of the Times.” It looks like it’s culled off of all of your iPhones.
Dupuis: That’s fucking it, you know? Thank God for the ‘Live Photo’ feature on the iPhone.
Where you get the little animation when you look at it?
Dupuis: When you download the Live Photos on your computer, you get a four-second long MPEG. Which I had no idea happened. So when we all said “let’s make a video,” we were hoping to combine all of our photos together, and I started to look at all of these short video clips on my computer and couldn’t believe that I had so many of them. So I basically gave them all of them to another Canadian fella – lots of Canadian action around the Nightmare Air family – Richard Wildeman, who put together this video.
Have a look at the video for “Sign of The Times” from Fade Out.
So did Richard do all of those cool little computer animations which appear throughout the video?
Dupuis: Yeah. He works for a science museum somewhere near Sudbury. For a living, he’s kind of a graphic video type guy. That’s where his strengths lie. So he made those kinds of things up and kind of interspersed them with the pictures and little movies we sent him over. He wound up making a little behind the scenes tour video for us. It’s cool. Some of the footage is kind of corny at times, mostly because it wasn’t ever meant for this type of application. We’ve done behind the scenes video before, but this…
It’s real stuff. It’s not scripted.
Dupuis: Yeah. That’s just us having fun and living life. The next video we have which he actually made for us, and we haven’t released yet, is a live video from the same tour. We had some GoPros, and it’s got more of a real rock live video feel to it.
Can you talk a little bit about your relationship with Gary Numan? Working with him and how you met him?
Dupuis: I met Gary about five or six years ago at a Nick Cave after party. I recognized him from across the room. Going back to the Film School band, we were on Beggars Banquet, and when we were on Beggars, I always thought it was so cool because we were on Gary Numan’s label. I’ve always been kind of a fan of Gary. So I saw him from a distance, and I walked over and said,
“Hey, I’m Dave.” And he said…
“Hey. I’m Gary.” And I said…
“What’s your last name?” And he said…
“Numan.” So I said…
“We were label mates.”
I’ve wanted to say that for fucking ever!! (laughs) So we met that day and kind of got along. And it was very soon after that he had moved to the States, and he needed a tour manager and a front of house guy, and that’s what I do for a living and had been for about a decade before meeting him. So I just kind of jumped on and my first shows with him were in 2013. And it’s been great ever since. He’s a great dude. The whole vibe is like a big family. The entire band has this very family-like vibe. It’s good. It’s hard to find that I think in a lot of touring situations.
I read a lot of music biographies, and it sounds like things can get really toxic really quick for bands.
Dupuis: Oh it goes bad fast. I’ve been in some of those situations. Definitely. You start questioning what you are doing sticking along with it. And as far as a work perspective, it’s a part of your whole life. You are out there 24 hours a fucking day together, and it’s rough. The show itself is two hours. The other 22 hours you are still together as a unit. If it’s bad, it’s BAD. It’s a waste of your life. I don’t feel like I’m wasting my life right now at all. I’ve got a cool job.
Where is the best place for people to find Nightmare Air music? Do you have a Bandcamp page?
Dupuis: Who the hell knows, right? Who’s buying music these days, you know what I mean? Everything is on Spotify, which I feel like most people use. It’s on Apple Music. It’s on all those streaming platforms. On tour, we are selling tons of merch too. It’s great. Gary’s fans are fucking fantastic. This is our third six-week run that we are on right now, so we have no complaints. The other two have just been great as well. We get really good feedback, and they are buying merch like crazy. It’s good.
Watch as Nightmare Air perform “Silver Light” at Portland, OR’s Crystal Ballroom.
Tell me an album you’d put on if you were in a really shitty mood and you wanted to cheer yourself up?
Dupuis: You know, this is weird, but I was in a shitty mood recently, and I put on this band called Archers Of Loaf, from the mid-1990s, and I fucking love them. They are this mid-’90s indie rock band that I know all of the words to and by the end of the second song I was in the house just singing the songs and feeling good. Probably not the best example, but… that is from my recent past. You know why, right? It reminds me of my youth. And that happy kind of no-stress thing that goes with that time.
Can you talk a little bit about the places you frequently visit in L.A.? When you are home those few weeks of the year?
Dupuis: To be perfectly honest, I’ve been home for six weeks since January. And I’m gone for the rest of the year. I’ve sublet my place out, and I’m not going back after this tour. I’m going back to New Hampshire actually and spend some time on the east coast with my dad. In L.A. There’s tons of bars. But you know, not to screw up the question, but when you go away for so long, you kind of feel like a stranger in your own town a lot of the time. And also, being home for only six weeks, I don’t even fucking leave my place. I’ll go for walks up in the hills. I live right at the base of the hills below the reservoir, so I’ll go for walks around the reservoir and see some friends, go to a couple of friend’s bars. There’s a place called Sunset & Vinyl in Hollywood near my home that I’ll go to. I’ll go to some bars and get some drinks with some friends. Maybe El Condor in Echo Park or wherever else, you know? But when I am home, I also try to exercise and NOT drink all the time. So I’ll go to the park and do things like that. And that works five days out of the week. Maybe four.
Last question. What was the first band that you ever saw and what was the impact that it had on you?
Dupuis: Well I grew up in a college town, so there were little college shows. But the first real concert that I saw was the Chili Peppers. The Red Hot Chili Peppers came to UNH, the University of New Hampshire, near my house, and they were there to play a free show outside because I think Flea exposed himself to some girl onstage or some fucked up thing like that. So they were playing this series of free shows. This was the early 1990s. So they were popular but still kind of doing things at the end of their shows, you know? That was the first show and the first real mosh pit that I saw too. I remember I walked into the pit with my friend and he turned around and his face was all bloody and I just went “Oh my God!” But it was fucking awesome. He was ok.
That was the first real rock show. And I think the impact of that was what I always knew, and that is I just love rock n’ roll. And I was soon into that. That whole mosh pit high of the nineties was kind of like where I was, you know? I actually broke my skull, I shattered my skull in a mosh pit when I was 19. A local show and I got kicked in the head with a steel-toed Doc. Shattered my skull right here in the front in thirteen places and cut me from ear to ear. Pulled down my face. They wired my skull back together. I’ve still got wires in there right now. I still can’t feel this (taps the front portion of his head). I’m hoping my fucking hair stays on my head because if it comes off, I’m going to have this massive Frankenstein-like scar that this New Hampshire doctor decided was the best idea at the time to cut my hair that way and stitch me up.