Words by David C. Obenour
For eight years and four albums, Canada’s Nap Eyes has been unspooling their unique blend of lofi music and highbrow art. Maybe not highbrow in the traditionally understood manner, but songwriter Nigel Chapman’s lyrics have a way of nonchalantly expressing deceptively deep thoughts.
On first listen the songs from the band’s latest album, Snapshot of a Beginner could be heard as merely funny, off-the-cuff explorations of wandering thoughts and pop culture. But a more careful consideration of Nigel Chapman’s lyrics about Link and prison and pop music and Mark Zuckerberg reveal a depth of thought and intent. In a similar matter to Jad Fair, Daniel Johnston and King Kong, the limit of meaning is more set by your desire to engage.
Musically, Snapshot of a Beginner has Nap Eyes sounding their most composed and purposeful. Recorded at The National’s Long Pond Studio, the songs are fully realized with an instinctual understanding of the sound the band has cultivated over their decade of playing together. Maybe an ironic bent on the album’s title. Maybe not. That’s really for you to decide.
Off Shelf: Snapshot of a Beginner was recorded at Long Pond Studio, what prompted that move?
Nigel Chapman: Eric at Jagjaguwar first proposed the idea of working with Jon Low there at Long Pond Studio. From the description of the space and Jon’s credentials, we had a good feeling that it would be great place to put this record together.
OS: Transitioning from a lofi to a hifi sound can be a tricky proposition for a band and their fanbase. What role do you think production had to your previous albums and how does that carry through or evolve for the new album?
NC: I would say our first three records had very little in the way of formal production. Whine of the Mystic and Thought Rock Fish Scale in particular were fully DIY studio recorded. For I’m Bad Now we were in a high-tech studio, but the process of capturing mostly live performances was much the same. For Snapshot…, it was a completely different process. Following Jon’s production and engineering expertise, we did much more layering and step-by-step building of detailed and rich hi-fi creations. In addition, our producer James Elkington helped shape and arrange the songs from square one going into the process, and his own excellent playing features on many of the tracks. So yes, across the board, a very different beast than in the past.
OS: The music for Snapshot of a Beginner is incredibly tight and well mixed. Did you go into the studio with a vision of the sound you wanted or was that something that more evolved as you got comfortable with the new space?
NC: Yeah I would say in my case, vision is almost always intuitive and amorphous, and I’ll rarely know how a song is going to turn out in the studio until we begin to hear the results take shape. Essentially, we all just gave the best performances we could, and tried to remain open and responsive to the many creative opportunities that arose during the recording process, trying to make the work as good as it could possibly be.
OS: Now that you’ve made this record, do you think you’ll continue working within this new higher fidelity production style?
NC: I think it’s too early to answer this definitively. We’re definitely satisfied with how this record came together and enjoyed the process. However each batch of songs will call for different treatments, so it’s possible that whatever comes next could turn out very differently from anything we’ve recorded to date.
OS: “Dark Link” had me thinking a lot about the relationship that an artist has to their art as opposed to the relationship that the consumer has to the same art. How do you balance the value of an artist’s intent verse individual interpretation?
NC: My own bias is that there’s not a great deal of value in trying to figure out how listeners are going to interpret the songs. For one, any guesses on my part would be unreliable, and secondly, even if I knew interpretations were widely different from what I had been trying to get across, there’d be no way to correct the miscommunication, without potentially messing up the song aesthetically. That being said, none of my songs are perfect, and there are probably ways each of them could be improved. But I see this as more of a long term project to be worked out in the newer material I create.
OS: You’ve obviously thought about the game Ocarina of Time quite a bit. Are these thoughts that you’ve always had or are they ones that you’ve developed from going back to play it?
NC: “Dark Link” is an old song, probably written back in 2013. It took me some finagling to make sure it could finally get on a Nap Eyes record, but I’m glad it has. Some of this I think has to do with the fact that at surface level you might think it’s a joke, but it’s actually more or less dead serious. Not pessimistic, mind you, but serious for sure.
Anyway, yeah I suppose the ideas it articulates are ones that had been brewing over the years. I think it’s something like, contemplating the meaning of the myth over the decades of your life, from childhood to old age—the story stays the same, but your ability to see into its archetypal depth should increase over time, so long as you still hold respect for the story as a mirror to life, and the primordial forces of nature.
OS: It’s also interesting to me in that valuing video games as a legitimate art and music is more of a modern concept, a stigma that I still think the industry is having to push back against. Do you see any parallels to the way pop music is valued?
NC: I definitely do see parallels, with respect to the underestimation of the potential depth of these media—actually across all media forms that have a popular element—but yes, especially in music. I do think it’s an unfortunate reality of the culture, that due to the superficial economic incentives of advertising, people’s interest is funneled towards cash cow products that are in most cases totally empty of spiritual value. An unfortunate corollary of this is that people get so used to being shown vacuous-ness, that the idea of there being pockets of rejuvenating depth throughout the otherwise aridly superficial plain becomes more or less unknown to them. Even if it’s known in theory, the advertisers have such a head start on suctioning people’s attention, and the media forms are so new, that most of the time people are not sufficiently versed in the techniques of media literacy to avoid the apathy of experiencing popular culture, which should be helping to free people’s minds, more or less as a superficial wasteland. Sorry for the rant.
OS: “Though I Wish I Could” also seems to talk about some of your own thoughts on pop music. Can you talk about that more?
NC: Oh I must have said it all in the above eh? Yeah that song’s at least one part culture reproach and three parts sardonic self-reproach, I would have to estimate.
OS: Did you think at all about the undeniable earworm you created with “Mark Zuckerberg” and how you’ll have all of your fans singing the line “Is Mark Zuckerberg a ghost?” out in public?
NC: Hey, that would definitely be all right by us! But I guess it’ll be a little while before the lot of us can get together again.