Night Manager is one of those bands that kind of throws you off the first time you hear them. With Caitlin Seager’s clear-as-a-bell vocals sitting atop a fuzzy guitar canopy of noise produced by Ezana Edwards, Chris Clarke and David Tassy, you’d be forgiven for imagining that this was another 60’s throwback surf rock band. The backbeat provided by Jordyn Blakely helps to reinforce that impression when the sound first hits your eardrums. However, anyone who listens to them for longer than ten seconds soon realizes that there’s a lot more going on than that. Complex riffs, progressions and time signatures combine to produce a layered psychedelic effect that still contains non-stop earworms for the listener. I sat down with the voluble David Tassy at Cameo Bar in Williamsburg just before they were slated to play to talk about their upcoming tour and whatever else was on his mind.
So what is Night Manager up to right now?
Alright, well right now we just finished our EP. We also just finished our single, self-released. We’re going to record another single for Marshall Teller Records, and we’re going on tour with Total Slacker.
Cool. So where are you guys going to go on your tour?
We’re heading out to the Midwest then the south, going to Virginia, and then up to Boston and then back to New York.
So what do you like about touring with Total Slacker?
Well I’m actually roommates with Emily and Tucker in Bed-Stuy, so we’re just going to be hanging out outside of the house. It’s going to be really fucking fun. Plus I just love their band, they’re really fun to play with.
So is there a similarity between both bands? Because they said there’s a similarity and if you don’t know what it is then you’re a bad friend.
I think all in all it’s our sense of humor.
Good answer, you guys would make a good team on Family Feud. So let’s talk about some of the songs. Who does a lot of the song writing?
Ezana does a lot of the song writing; I do some of it as well. It’s basically between him and me. But it’s very collaborative, he’ll write something and I’ll put a guitar tune to it, or I’ll write something and he’ll come up with the guitar for it.
But you guys have a female vocalist, so what’s it like writing a song for a girl to sing?
That’s funny because a lot of the songs I write are in the key that I sing in, but Caitlin can’t sing that low, so I have to pretend like my voice is in a helium tank.
So do you find it interesting when you’re writing a song for a woman to sing? Does it affect the themes or does it change anything you’re trying to communicate?
For me no, because everything I write is about the human experience in general. So it could apply to anyone really. Ezana’s songs are a bit more masculine. I have songs that are a bit more male as well, but I generally don’t write that way.
So let’s talk about the songs. What’s going on in the song “Broke Haircut”?
It’s a story of a guy getting a really cheap haircut and not being able to afford a good haircut. We’re cheap bastards.
So you’re doing social realism!
The song “Ghost” is about a famous rock star that’s no longer around, and it’s about someone waiting for their ghost to come back.
Heavy. So when you write a more narrative song like that, do you have any inspiration from novels, movies, plays?
I think we all have different influences. I draw a lot from novels. I like telling things through pseudo-dialogues. Some of my verses are in different times and run from past to present, I throw it all around. It’s definitely storytelling. Like “Platonic Lovers,” that song is first person and third person.
Yeah, I really dig that song, so tell me about that.
It’s about having a mutual understanding and relationship with death. Becoming lovers with death. The first verse is first person, saying “I’m not scared of dying.” The second verse is also first person. The chorus is third person so we’re looking at that from different angles.
Ok, so this sounds kind of existentialist. It kind of reminds me of that story “Le Mur” by Sartre, the one where the protagonist is a prisoner of war who’s coming to terms with the fact that he’s going to be killed.
Yeah, exactly, quite a few of our songs are about coming to terms with something serious.
But they’re so pretty and upbeat!
We like balancing happy and light music with heavier concepts.
So what are you guys reading right now?
The last thing I read was Tender is the Night, and before that I was reading Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, which is kind of intense.
Do you feel like Thomas Pynchon fits in with the psychedelic vibe in your music?
Oh yeah, totally!
It’s interesting how when you’re reading a Thomas Pynchon novel, it’s almost like the world is too big to be described by the author . . .
Yeah, exactly . . .
So it just bursts through the limited structure of a novelized narrative. Do you feel like that approach shows itself in some of your songs?
“Platonic Lovers” is a good example of that. Also “Blue Jagstang”.
What’s going on in that one?
“Blue Jagstang”? It’s about, uh, doing heroin.
Right. (Laughs) Really Bed-Stuy. Maybe more Bushwick, actually!
(Laughs) Yeah, well it’s one of those stories that’s fragmented at first but then comes together. Sonically, what we do is try to be multi-layered, and make sure everything has a voice, and then lyrically, we try to make sure that there’s more than one perspective.
Yeah, well I was talking to Ezana about your chord progression, and I find them really interesting because there’s something unexpectedly proggy about them. They go in directions that I don’t expect, but it still has a kind of . . .
Do you feel like it sounds inevitable?
It’s got the same 12-bar thing going on, but the melody and the chord progression are not what I would expect for the 12-bar structure, so it’s familiar but also throws you off balance at the same time. It’s a little unsettling!
Well that’s what I love about playing in the band – all of our chord progressions are kind of unsettling. It’s strange because they are kind of difficult, but in a good way. It’s like inevitable, your ear is kind of wanting it to go in a certain direction. At least that’s what we’re thinking when we’re writing the music. That might be kind of pretentious, but . . . (laughs).
That’s okay, this is a pretentious-friendly zone!
(Laughs) I think inevitability is important. I mean everything can be random and kind of unsynchronized but in the end I think your ear should expect to hear something.
So how do you feel about your experience playing in Brooklyn, trying to make it work, watching it change, watching outside attention come in, etc?
It’s definitely a clusterfuck, I mean one minute one style is really hot, and the next minute it’s not. But all in all, I’m a huge fan of artists just coming together and making any kind of art, I mean it could literally be smacking their chests with fucking hot dogs and calling that music.
People get mad when some new style comes in but honestly I just love all forms of music so I never really care what’s getting the most attention, just as long as something’s happening. For most of my life there’s been nothing happening. For most of this generation, there’s been nothing happening!
Do you think that the headspace that the band operates in is going to change as you guys play more and tour more?
I’ve always feared that. Because you can’t write about being broke and being a sucker forever. I mean, things change, but as long as you can reflect on what you were . . . I think you can just concentrate on a moment or even just fifteen minutes and milk that for seven albums.
So you guys are touring this EP. Are you writing songs right now?
Yeah, we’re always writing songs. From my end of the bargain, I like heavier sounds, I like low tones, low bass, darker tones, but we’re still doing the same thing, trying to contrast lighter and heavier sounds. You know, I think if anyone in the future tried to transcribe our generation’s music and literature, it would be really fucked up and fragmented. It would be hard to read!
Yeah, well I think we’re quite a non-hierarchical generation, so the way we consume media is different. We tend not to accept critics’ opinions anymore, especially with music. I mean music publications nowadays don’t even try to convince you anymore; they’re just curating for you.
I think we’re better for it. I mean, the whole thing with art is that the question is always “what’s new?”
But we’re past the point of being able to shock people by saying that anything is art. So what do you do if you can’t shock people?
Well after that, what do you have left? You can comfort them. You can comfort them with nostalgia.
Is that what you guys do?
Maybe we’re trying to keep them sedated!
So when artists nowadays talk about success, it used to mean how much money they made, but now it’s more about social and cultural capital.
I’m not going to disagree with you at all, actually. You’re completely right! (Laughs). That’s how it is, especially with musicians. I would say it all boils down to who has more street cred. I have this theory that it all comes from 90’s and 80’s ads. And I’ll tell you why. Because all the advertising makes the customer feel like they’re worthless and ugly. As if they don’t have anything. So people are always trying to be relevant. They’re always trying to feel as if they “have it.” You look at advertising from the 90’s like Skipper, it’s like “Oh you don’t have one of these?” People are always trying to fit in. And once you have the street cred, you fit in. It’s ridiculous. And you know, after a while you’ll make the most money off of street cred.
Well, what else is there to say?
Night Manager’s EP Ghost is out now on Marshall Teller Records.