The rock n roll duo of Mike Nestor and Jamaal Turner, known as Underlined Passages, released a new album, Tandi My Dicafi, on Mint 400 Records last month and have been gigging across the north east to promote it. Luckily for me (and by association for you), I was able to catch up with Mike on during their shows in Pittsburgh and Brooklyn and talk to them about the album and everything that’s lead them to this point in their careers. See what he has to say, give Tandi My Dicafi a spin, and make a point to catch them on November 17 at The Grape Room in Philly.
Talk about the popularity achieved by Underlined Passages and how the scene in Baltimore and up through NYC and NJ has changed over the course of the last 10 to 15 years?
The band has gained fans person by person, conversation by conversation and record by reco – the old fashioned way. We definitely use social media like everyone else, but we put in the hard work to connect with people and that has really helped us develop a really cool online base of folks who get us, what we are trying to do, and enjoy the music. Lot of lost sleep, long car rides, and tough choices went into that. We are most proud of that. What we love is that most of the times that we show up to play, people think we are the roadies for the other bands. Then we get up there and they are like, really? These dudes? We love that reaction, and we don’t take ourselves to seriously. We just love making music and we bring other people, the audience, into that fold and I think they appreciate us for that and our authenticity about it. We like to think that we are making emotionally intense music that connects with people because that is what we are experiencing on stage ourselves. Pretty simple really…no gimmicks.
The music scene over the last 10 to 15 years has become less and less authentic. Not that it was hugely authentic “back in the day” (get off my lawn kids!) but the advent of promoters and clubs who are much more driven by bands who have “online presence” and or can convince their third cousins and grandmas to come out to one big show that can sell a lot of tickets for one night-combined with more pay to play venues-have driven bands to give up on creating community. Mostly the bands just Tweet about community, or give likes on Facebook, but having real communities of like-minded bands who want to play on each other’s bills just because they love each other’s music is mostly gone. It is a shame because although online streaming and stuff like that “has democratized music” or whatever catchphrase of the week they use now to convince you, the truth is a ll that has happened is that the gatekeepers have gotten more powerful and payola has come back into style. In a way this gives the bands with deep pockets or trust fund money an advantage-because they can pay for all the promotion, videos, pictures, recordings etc. that is the bedrock of putting out music in today’s environment. Sounds pretty un-democratic to me. At the ground level this pits bands against each other for fewer and fewer opportunities, and it is not good for music. Don’t get us wrong however, it is not all doom and gloom-there are awesome people and bands out there and we meet them at every show! They are beacons of light and we try to encourage and support those people in every way we can! In our band we try to be the change we seek, and hopefully, like much, this weird time/phase in independent music will pass. I feel like there is more sexism in the current scene as well, and not for reasons that you might think, but that is a conversation for another time.
How did you and Jamaal meet and what has working together been like? It originally started as more of a solo project so what was it like introducing a new core member to the project and what effect did it have on the music?
Jamaal was brought on to fill in for a few shows when our live drummer (not Frank Corl, see below) quit unexpectedly in the middle of our first string of shows. Jamall came to the bands via our original bassist, Rich. He did his job, mentioned that he was in another band, and thanked me for the opportunity. Then he left. In that time he was gone we both realized that we were musical soulmates. He had the forethought to say, “hold up a minute here, shouldn’t we be exploring this new found connection?” I am glad he did because I was sad, but I had been around music long enough to just put my head down and move on although I realized what a missed opportunity there was. I am glad he is a better man than I and was able to articulate that. And of course I was like “when do we start?!” the second he expressed interest beyond the shows. Jamaal’s influence can be heard all over the writing, and he changed the way I wrote songs. The songs on the first record are great, but sleepy and much more oriented to a singer-songwriter format. Frank Corl’s drumming on the first record (drummer for The Seldon Plan and original member of Underlined Passages) started the framework for taking simple melodic songs and mixing them with interesting beats and percussive elements. Jamaal took that to a whole new level and took the sonic palette from singer songwriter oriented to a Technicolor cacophony, clearly evident when you go to our second record, “The Fantastic Quest”. On our latest record, “Tandi My Dicafi” this is taken to its logical conclusion.
When you first started Underlined Passages how did you find Mint 400 Records and what has been your experience working with them?
I was introduced to Neil Sabatino through Stephen Carradini who runs Independent Clauses. Stephen was a big fan of The Seldon Plan, was bummed when we broke up, and when he heard I had a new project and was looking to put it out recommended Neil right away as someone who shares my ethos. He was completely right. Neil and I have had some pretty long and deep phone conversations (is this where I say, no we are not dating!) and it is evident that we share the same ethics and some of the same perspective on how and why to release records. It is because of that, that I signed with Mint 400, because that was very important to me. I ran my own fairly well known record label in Baltimore (The Beechfields Record Label) from 2002-2011 so I know how wonderful labels can be, but I also know how horrible the people can be too, so when I was looking to trust someone else to put my record out, having a good understanding of their ethos and a good deal of artistic control was important.
How has the recording process changed from the first record to the third record you’ve done under this moniker?
It has not. I have a formula for making records that has not changed since my Seldon Plan days. Step 1: write ¾ of the record. Step 2: pre-record the whole thing and listen in the car incessantly for 2 weeks critiquing and figuring out the missing spots in terms of album flow. Step 3: write and demo the final ¼ of the record the week before going into the studio. Step 4: Record record with Frank Marchand (Bob Mould, The Thermals, Burn To Shine; I have done like 7 records with him). Step 5: Add all kinds of stuff to the songs at the last minute during the sessions and piss of the producer, but later on realize could have only worked when come up with spontaneously. Step 6: Finish record, hate the whole thing, swear off music forever, and don’t listen to it for 6 months. Step 7: 6 months later, listen to it, and say to self, “it’s not perfect, but it is not half-bad if I say so myself” just in time to do the whole thing over again.
Adam gave man-birth to N.J. Racket and is as close to an "editor-in-chief" the site has. He's a god awful photographer.