By MIKE SOSNICK
The Sun spoke with David Nutt, why+the+wires’ vocalist and guitarist, about what it’s like to make and perform post-punk grooves in Ithaca.
The Sun: How did why+the+wires come into existence?
David Nutt: Kevin Dossinger (saxophone, accordion) and his wife Haley (violin) had been playing in the scruffy punky acoustic band Idatel in the mid-aughts. Shortly after Idatel fell apart, I moved to the area and the three of us decided to jury-rig something together in the summer of 2008. We roped in Chris Romeis (drums) and eventually bassist Tito Butler. This lineup managed to bang out a couple albums and a few short tours before Haley and Tito both politely excused themselves from the madness and the migraines.
Pat Lonergan joined us on bass and we made two more albums as a four piece, including our new record, Flame Failures. Pat has since moved over to guitar and our pal José Beduya is now playing bass.
Sun: What differentiates Flame Failures from your past records?
D.N.: Our sound has definitely mutated over the years. Our first two albums, Lost Lighthouses and Telegraph Flats, were slow and moody with occasional spazzy explosions. The songs were broken waltzes, stormy marches, generally a lot of clatter and clutter. Our third record, All These Dead Astronauts, stripped away much of the junk; the tempos got faster, the messy threads started to tie together more neatly. Flame Failures is more bombastic and the songs are catchier, more compact. The incendiary post-punk we were all raised on (Drive Like Jehu, Fugazi, Nation of Ulysses) is a lot closer to the surface on this album.
Sun: How did your partnership with Jetsam-Flotsam and One Percent Press come to be?
D.N.: The old-fashioned way: by postal service. When our last record was released we mailed copies to a handful of labels that had a simpatico aesthetic, and we struck up a correspondence with Jetsam-Flotsam and One Percent. Like our band, both labels are run by enthusiastic lunatics who have no conception of market share or popular taste. They put out music because they are obsessed by it; the same reason we make it. We are all vibrating on the same strange frequency.
Sun: What do you see as why+the+wires’ place in the Ithaca music community?
D.N.: In our early days we had the virtue of being total weirdos in a town of weirdos. Stylistically, we didn’t seem to fit anywhere specific, which meant we could play with almost anyone: hardcore and metal bands, freak folk acts, ambient droners, experimental avant-gardists. It was sort of bizarre and absolutely wonderful. I think we have found the coziest fit in the punk/DIY scene. These are the bands with which we feel the most kinship, the same eardrum damage. For the majority of our existence we’ve been playing Ithaca Underground shows and that is the only community we’ve ever really had. Lovely folks.
Sun: What has the reception of Flame Failures been like so far?
D.N.: It’s strange. This is our fourth album in seven years, and it seems like every time we put something out, there is a whole different crowd at our shows. Ithaca is such a transitory place because of Cornell and Ithaca College, the population is always in flux. Most, if not all, of the bands that were our peers when we formed no longer exist. Lately, people seem a bit baffled by us; politely interested, I suppose. Our shows are loud and messy, plus we’re constantly sacking old songs and trotting out new ones, so in a way we’re in a state of perpetual flux too. So I certainly don’t blame anyone for being baffled. We baffle ourselves. There are a handful of folks in town who have been with us since the beginning, and they seem enthusiastic about the new record. What more can we ask for?
Sun: What does the future hold for why+the+wires?
D.N.: It’s hard to say. We’ve written another album’s worth of material since finishing Flame Failures, but it seems like we’re still honing in on the next phase. I don’t think we’re there yet. We’ve been around long enough now that I can’t help but look back and think that we covered a lot of terrain in our time together, and maybe that’s enough. Then again, part of me feels like things are just starting to gel. It sounds absurd, but it’s a lot of work being an obscure band with lofty ambitions and a small following in a small town. And that’s also the fun of it. We’re still a bunch of weirdos, I guess.
Mike Sosnick is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.