Swirlies, Big Bite, Smut
People often wonder why Philadelphia’s NOTHING are so damn loud. In the case of many artists, the volume stems from a preoccupation with negativity, misanthropy and the human condition. But while NOTHING’s attitude lines up with these ideas, their personality isn’t one that the band picked from a list of cliches. Instead, it’s one that’s been molded by the band’s own experiences, from family troubles and personal tragedy to a string of bad luck that Murphy’s Law would balk at. And that volume, rather than a selling point, is the only way the band has been able to translate the difficulty of real-life events into musical form.
NOTHING frontman Domenic Palermo got his start as the brains behind the late 90s/early 2000s hardcore/punk act Horror Show in the crime-riddled neighborhoods of Frankford & Kensington in North Philadelphia. Unfortunately, Horror Show’s existence was cut short In 2002, when Palermo was incarcerated for an aggravated assault charge (to which he pleaded self-defense) and subsequently served a 2-year prison sentence. After getting out of prison and working the next 5 years under watch of Pennsylvania parole board, Palermo took a lengthy hiatus from music, entering a period of personal reflection that led him through a maze of death, negativity and uncertainty. Nicky returned to music in 2010, and founded NOTHING with the release of the demo Poshlost (named for an intense and quintessentially Russian form of spiritual banality). Following the release of Poshlost, Palermo met Brandon Setta, who would bring lush, rich soundscapes and a fresh approach to Palermo’s vision for NOTHING and to the band’s next two EPs, Suns And Lovers (Big Love, 2011) and Downward Years To Come (A389, 2012).
NOTHING then signed to Relapse for their debut 2014 full-length Guilty Of Everything, which was inspired by the events surrounding Palermo’s prison sentence. The album’s genuineness and widespread critical acclaim (from publications such as Rolling Stone, NPR, Stereogum, SPIN,Noisey, The FADER, Vogue and many others) seemed to forecast a new, more positive chapter for NOTHING. The band toured Europe and North America extensively in support of Guilty, and performed at festivals including Osheaga, Roadburn, Firefly, Budweiser Made In America, and SXSW, but this period was unfortunately brief. In summer 2015, while on the eighth consecutive month of a non-stop tour that had seen the band performing with the likes of DIIV, Merchandise, Torche, Failure, Hum and more, Palermo was mugged and badly injured in Oakland, CA. The assault ultimately left Palermo with a fractured skull & orbital, nineteen staples, and a drastically re-shaped perspective about his music and life in a larger sense.
That new mindset, which the band hadn’t been able to realize until Palermo’s injury, forced them to come up for air from the endless touring – “Like when you’re in a car going 100 miles per hour and connect with an oak tree and everything behind you comes smashing forward,” as Palermo put it. That was the basis for the band’s new record Tired Of Tomorrow, which was recorded over the course of a month at Studio 4 with Will Yip (Title Fight, Superheaven, Touche Amore, etc) this past October. Even since the completion of Tired Of Tomorrow, NOTHING have faced new challenges and difficulties that would certainly have sunk a lesser band. As NOTHING were gearing up to release Tired Of Tomorrow via Collect Records, the band discovered that the label had been funded by the now-infamous hedge fund manager Martin Shkreli. After Collect Records and their entire roster eventually dissolved under the weight of the controversy, NOTHING were left adrift. Former partner Relapse Records got on board with releasing the new album, but NOTHING were not finished with their trials – just this past November, Palermo’s father unexpectedly passed away in a tragic accident, heaping the band with further personal difficulties on top of their professional ones.
Yet throughout all this, the band has always maintained a unique stoicism alongside its apathy, one that extends beyond mere riffs and reverb. All the band’s music, especially Tired of Tomorrow and Guilty Of Everything, have managed to meld past, present and future simultaneously into their approach, both musically and thematically. Borrowing from personal memoir and external works alike, NOTHING have worked the deepest influences of their youth & maturation into a package that’s ultimately at its most relevant in the present day. Case in point: Tired Of Tomorrow was written before the Shkreli debacle, but as Palermo sees it, those events only served to strengthen the sentiments and ideas behind Tired Of Tomorrow rather than confuse its message. It’s a mess to think about, but as always, the contradictions and paradoxes of the kind NOTHING harnesses ultimately lead to the greatest revelations, and the band’s personal and tragic path has nonetheless led NOTHING to produce deeply heartfelt and inspiring music. Whichever way you want to look at it, you can’t deny that NOTHING feels good.
Formed from the shell of a Go-Go’s cover band named Raspberry Bang (featuring the inimitable Rusty Nails), SWIRLIES began their life in Boston/Cambridge, MA in the summer of 1990. The original band featured Damon Tutunjian (guitar/vox), Seana Carmody (guitar/vox), Andy Bernick (bass), and Ben Drucker (drums). SWIRLIES played live for the very first time on 25 January 1991 at the Alcove in Allston, MA. In these early years, SWIRLIES wandered the Northeastern Megalopolis with other like-minded folks, releasing 7″ records through the kindness of Slumberland, Pop Narcotic, Cinderblock, and other labels. Billy Ruane was there. And then SWIRLIES signed to the ‘local’ label Taang! Records in 1992. Our first two releases, the ’What to Do About Them’ EP (a collection of previous 7″s and new tracks) and ‘Blondertongue Audiobaton’ LP, were created and recorded by an amalgamation of the original members and other mysterious entities. Our dependence on sacred symbols (embodied by The Ostrich, The One Who Speaks Abstractly On Recordings, and other archetypes) began at approximately this time.
Then the chaos seeped in slowly…with the first of many churnings of personnel. In early 1993, Morgan Andrews (MADBOX, ROCK/PAPER/SCISSORS) took over bass-related duties and infused them with his own blend of irritating noise. It was this SWIRLIES that made a video for ‘Bell’ with Linsey Herman (CAKE AND COMMERCE) and went on their first US tour in a stinking minivan filled with fashion magazines. After school ended for the season, Andy returned to join Morgan and the band. Thus, SWIRLIES explored the sensual realm known exclusively to bands with two bass players. Morgan shortly became spent and disgusted and disappeared into anarchist puppetry oblivion. Ben Drucker was oustered (some say unwisely) and went on to use his mind more productively in other areas. Around the time that ‘Brokedick Car’ EP was released, Anthony Deluca (THE PLANTS) signed on — mainly because Lenny Kravitz found an attractive lady to drum in his nascent band.
After some years with Anthony, and our first small tour of Europe in January 1994, Seana left to form the now defunct SYRUP USA, and guitar/singing duties were taken over by The Otter (a/k/a Christina Files). With this group, ‘They Spent Their Wild Youthful Days In The Glittering World Of The Salons’ LP was conceived/recorded over two years at various studios. Anthony departed with hybrid vigor in late 1995, and Gavin McCarthy (KARATE) took over the drum kit for two US tours and a handful of other shows….during which he went temporarily insane and (smelling like a Bowery bum) drove his fancy white van across the country and out of our lives forever. More chaos. The now Gavin-less SWIRLIES (e.g. Damon, Christina, and Andy) played a few liberating analog/digital shows, before somehow managing to absorb drummer Adam Pierce (IRIS, DYLAN GROUP, MICE PARADE).
In 1997, Christina left for glory (including VICTORY AT SEA, MARY TIMONY, and current recording/sound genius). ‘Strictly East Coast Sneaky Flute Music’ LP (our last for Taang!) was released at about this time. This record featured remixes of ‘Salons’ LP material, and new pieces heavily influenced by Scituate, MA. Free from contractual obligations, SWIRLIES were blessed by Yahweh to find guitarist Rob ‘(The) Doctor Laasoko’ Laakso (WICKED FARLEYS, THE MATHS, DIAMOND NIGHTS, AMAZING BABY).
Since about 2000, SWIRLIES have more or less maintained the “Damon-Rob-Andy-Adam” arrangement, while also taking on: Mike Walker (LILYS), Ken Bernard (WICKED FARLEYS, CERTAINLY, SIR, STRICTLY BUSINESS), Kara Tutunjian, our old comrade Seana Carmody, Deb Warfield (PUELLA), Doro Tachler (IGLOO), Avery Matthews, Kevin Shea (COPTIC LIGHT, SEXY THOUGHTS, PEOPLE), Junko Henmi (CANDYCANE) and so many others. All of the above helped to make and/or perform songs that became ‘Cats of The Wild, Volume 2′, the mini-album, EP, or whatever it was (Bubblecore, released 25 March 2003). Touring with a “Damon-Rob-Adam-Mike-Doro-and-rarely-with-bird-researchin’-Andy” arrangement continued for a few years, and briefly ended when Damon moved to Parts Midwest to find better living through psycholinguistics. A smattering of northeastern US shows (mislabeled “reunions”) happened in 2009 (and will happen in 2011) with a “Damon-Rob-Andy-Adam-Deb-Shep-plus guests” arrangement.
photo of the sirlies in 2003Some examples of recent activity, also known as Grim Death Throes: 1) SNEAKY FLUTE EMPIRE, our special alter-ur-label with cassette and CD releases; 2) THE YES GIRLS, a sneaky-flute-music-playing group featuring Damon and occasionally some combination of Rob Laakso, Andy Bernick, and Ron Rege; 3) RICHMOND COUNTY ARCHIVES, a label with various tangential releases (like NEVAH HAVE I EVAH: A Sneaky Flute Family Album and BUCK WILD!); 4) SWIRLIES’ MAGIC STROP, a series of old SWIRLIES sounds offered as free web releases on this very site.
Stay vigilant always and prepared anytime, and we shall see you at The Spit on the 4th of July.