Words by Jonathan Stout
Although it isn’t normally mentioned in the same breath as other musical and cultural hubs like Portland, Nashville or even Cleveland, Dayton, Ohio has earned its place in the history of American rock n’ roll. From the 70s funk of the Ohio Players and Slave to the 90s indie rock of The Amps, Swearing at Motorists and Brainiac, it’s proven itself through the ages to be a town of interest for music fans far and wide.
Enter El No, the new project featuring Dayton expats Nate Farley and Craig Nichols. Each member offers well-honed experience from working with some of the biggest names in indie rock, including Guided by Voices, The Breeders, Bellringer, Fur Coats and more. Having been friends and collaborators for years, the duo decided the time was now to begin a new project together.
Their new album, “Nothing Is Possible,” sounds inspired and confident, revealing that even though this is the first album from a new band, these are musicians who are already very comfortable performing and creating with one another.
Off Shelf: Both you and your bandmate, Nate Farley, originate from the Dayton, Ohio area, though you’ve since relocated. Nate went somewhat nearby to Columbus, what took you all the way to Austin, Texas?
Craig Nichols: My wife and I just had an itch. We both wanted to live somewhere warm. She came for training in San Antonio for the job she held at the time. She went to a job interview in Austin while she was there. We both liked Austin and the interview went well. She came home and we packed our shit and rolled out within a month!
OS: How different are the Ohio and Texas music scenes from one another?
CN: The Ohio music scene is way better in my opinion. Smaller city music scenes in general. Austin is saturated with terrible bands and it’s hard to cut through it. There is not that much of old Austin left. They are bulldozing it all for condos and shit. All the clubs have been closing, even before COVID. I remember Austin being where all the weirdos were, making the weirdest music, doing the weirdest shit. I must have missed that train unfortunately. I feel like a lot of the music my friends and I have made through the years in Dayton would terrify these ‘weirdos’. There is a bar called Lost Well here that I really like and it’s the last holdout, I feel, before Austin just becomes Skynet with a cowboy hat.
OS: You both have known each other for years, but what motivated you to start a new project together now?
CN: Nate and I have been in a few bands together over the years and also lifelong friends. No matter what we are doing musically or otherwise we share it with each other. Being unable to play because of the lockdown, I just started writing a bunch and demoing them at my house and Nate was doing the same. So we started trying to figure out how we could do it with us being so far apart. We decided to find a place in the middle to meet where we could set up and record.
OS: Where in Tennessee did you record the album?
CN: We found a house in Memphis that would allow us to set up and get loud. I rented an Airbnb and talked to the people about our plans. They were totally cool with it and said we would be fine as long as we stopped at a decent hour. We just took a laptop, an interface and a few good mics – as well as our instruments. Some of the stuff we added later at our home studios, percussion tracks and things like that. But, we wanted most of the songs to feel as live as possible.We recorded about 20-25 songs and that’s what became ‘Nothing is Possible’
OS: Why did you name the album “Nothing is Possible?”
CN: It’s a play on the saying ‘Nothing is Impossible.’ I thought, that’s not true, nothing is possible. We were like, that’s it. Seemed kinda fitting for the state of things.
OS: The new album is being released by Overthought Musik. Can you tell us about that label and why you chose to work with them?
CN: Our good friend Daryl owns Overthought Musik. He is another Dayton O.G. and gets what we are doing. He also recorded the Robthebank record for Nate and I when we where doing that band. I love that record and all the stuff that Daryl has been doing – Motel Beds, Peopleperson, TV Queens. So it was a good fit.
OS: You both have a long history of playing in different projects. Are there any other music projects that you are currently involved with, apart from El No?
CN: I think we both have been pretty focused on this for the last year. We wanna make the best records possible and not spread ourselves too thin. We both are always writing and bouncing ideas back and forth. This is a really good union. We are like a rock n roll hive mind. We’ve played together for years and we have a great feel for each other and what each song is trying to become.
OS: Have you found the pandemic to be a good opportunity for writing and creating?
CN: As bad as things are, I’d have to say creatively it’s been good. I’ve written more songs this year than I have in the last 10. I think Nate feels the same. We joke about how much more we’ve written now than in the past. I guess it’s easier without all the distractions. I’ve made a lot of paintings and other art too. If it wasn’t for COVID, I don’t know if El No would have happened.
OS: Do you plan on doing any touring with this project once live shows return safely again?
CN: We definitely wanna take this show on the road. I’m looking forward to playing live again. I miss getting out and seeing our friends in different places and just the energy of playing live.
OS: Can fans expect more from this project or is it a one off experiment?
CN: We are working on a new batch of songs now that are turning out great. We are building and ‘Nothing is Possible’ is our cornerstone.