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Q+A With Nic Offer of !!! on Age, Ego and iPod Shuffle

Photographer Lane Coder
August 18, 2010

Sounds like he's being modest, but pretty sure Nic Offer (back row, second from the right) thinks !!!'s new album, Strange Weather, Isn't It?, is their best. They have been a band for 14 years. 14 years! Almost old enough to drive. That's a lot of responsibility, but also a lot of accumulated knowledge. And they've used it wisely. !!! are a band who are reliable but never dull, sine wave-ing in and out of trends as dance music has found myriad different ways to infiltrate indie rock. To glean some of those smarts, we talked with !!!'s ever effervescent frontman Nic Offer who filled us in on how to stay fresh. Dude's an inspiration! Jam the record/soak the vibes.

I was listening to the last song on your record, “Hammer,” and the chorus was just such a !!! chorus. On the album there are moments that are new and fresh for the band but also feel like they could have come at any point in your career. Does that seem fair?
I think it feels like us. It feels like our fourth record. You can definitely tell that this isn't our first time. It feels mature and kind of rich and has the depth. By this time you get to the point where you're just like, this sounds too much like us so you kind of need to push it somewhere else. But, no matter how hard you push it it always ends up sounding like you. You just keep pretending that it is going to sound different even when it ends up sounding the same. And it hopefully gets far enough out there.

I remember when the “Me and Guiliani” single came out, hearing it at Hollertronix along with Justin Timberlake and it still sounded perfect. It belonged in a club. As much as you are a live band, so many of your songs are for DJs, deserve Kompakt remixes to get played in Berlin.

That's the thing I like too about the records that became garage classics or loft classics—it's like it's totally eclectic and those DJ's formed that sound of like... put a Cat Stevens record next to a ESG record like, all those records are on the same terms because those DJs were hearing it that way. When we used to have our parties it was the exact same type of thing. It was like, disco and dancehall and hip-hop and it was just anything that worked. I just get kind of bored when it's just like, a DJ who just stays the same the whole time. I loved iPod Shuffle style. Whenever I make my mixes, it's almost about putting things that sound the most different next to each other.

Is it a bummer or is it awesome to have access to almost everything?
I think it's awesome. I think people who say it's a bummer, man, they're complaining. They're like spoiled brats because we're all spoiled brats at this point because we all can do it. To me, it's like people say they miss buying the records and it's like, yeah that was great, that was fun, but to me, it was really relaxing to sit around downloading things and hunting for them. For me, I'm going to miss that when the new way has gone too. It's all just a ritual in finding music and at the core of it is the music and that's what's ultimately exiting about it. The rituals and how they change, that does matter to me at all. And as far as saying, "Now everyone can get everything." It's like, yeah, but it's not like we're running out of music. Even the way international music has now become big, like now it's hip to listen to music from all over the world. We're not running out. There's still gunna be those weird little gems that we're gunna be uncovering. That's fantastic to me. I would never complain about that.

You can hear snippets of thing on the record, high life guitar in one song. Maybe pop is a prism to view all different kinds of music, to blend all these things together. In the same way that Timbaland sounds futuristic because he uses Indian drums or the way Lady Gaga sounds futuristic using techno shit, or I don't know, wearing funny dresses. Maybe funny dresses are the same thing as African guitar.
Haha, yeah. Well, I always think of that Cindy Lauper song, "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." What is that? You know? It's like, half kind of disco-y reggae. It's got like a kind of reggae-ish guitar, disco synths, and total ’80s pop production but really, when you listen to it, it sounds like nothing. It really is the perfect example of a prism. It's probably very New York to me too, you know? It's like reflecting all the world and club sounds of New York in '84, or whenever that was.

Right, and I always thought of !!! as that same kind of melting pot. In a way, you've stayed consistently inconsistent.
I think maybe that comes from so much jamming. Like, when you're jamming, anything can come out and it's so uncontrived. With the highlife guitar, it was never like, "let's do an African thing!" It kind of just came out in the jam room and it was like, Bam, that's it.

You sound like you love music more than a lot of musicians.
You know, they say all rock journalists are frustrated rock musicians, I think that a great many rock musicians are really frustrated journalists. And I’m definitely one of those. But I also feel like by the time you’re my age, it’s very common to stop listening to new music and I think that’s kind of why it’s harder to keep making good records as you get older. There’s certain things that have happened with music where I’m like, no, no, no, I’m going to get this, I’m not going to turn into, like, fuck these kids they don’t understand. There have been things where I didn’t get it the first time and had to push myself a bit. I mean, some things you get right away. M.I.A. was like ah! it was like the sound that I’d been looking for. That—I didn’t have to question it or try to get myself into it. But certain indie things that come down the line, it’s like, is this good? And I used to be bagging on it, I’d be, like, I’m going to keep listening. And I get it. I do get it.

So how do you stay fresh as a musician, not as a fan?
It just gets wrapped up in ego. The minute you’re not in the magazines and someone else instead of you, it’s like, What the fuck is this group? Who are they? That’s what I see. And I definitely remember when we were first starting to get our attention, getting kind of sniff or snobbery from the indie bands that were in control at that point, about us. It was a changing of the guard, you know? Dance rock very much became the sound of indie rock and a lot of those guys just didn’t like it. So I always vowed not to end up like that ‘cause all those guys are finished now. Maybe my theory has worked, because we’ve been doing this for fourteen years and have done what some are saying is our best record.

That must just feel good.
It does feel good. It does feel good. It just hurts the whole time—kind of like with that song “Don’t Stop,” it’s the most simplistic message, there are maybe four words in the whole fucking song, but to me it is like a mantra. That song always comes late in the set and it’s like you just have to push it and push it out. It’s a motherfucker live. It really takes it all out of me and it feels good to say don’t stop and be pushing myself harder than I’ve ever pushed. That’s what I feel like it is when you get older as a creative person, you need to push harder than ever.

I wonder how much of your excited engagement comes from being such a frontman. I have to imagine it’s still exciting to get out there with a million kids who are pumped to see you play, even if they stay the same age as you continue to get older.
It hasn’t lost its luster. What you see old reunion acts , it hinges on, is the drummers are the first to go. That would really hold a reunion band back. You have a better chance of seeing a good reunion band if they have some new kid on the drums. You couldn’t talk fucking Gary out and doing a tour again. But with singers, you see Mick Jagger and Grace Jones, and they’re still fucking great because they’ve got an ego to feed. They don’t want to let it go. And I probably still have that a bit because I can’t let it go and I still want to drive that crowd crazy.

I think what’s exciting is that they want to be driven crazy when they go to your show. It’s a good little yin-yang.
I don’t complain about it. Somehow I have to keep this or walk away. If I’m going to be there, it’s going to be good. I love that they expect that and we have to give that to them. It’s good for me.

Q+A With Nic Offer of !!! on Age, Ego and iPod Shuffle