It’s Really Confusing!
Nots Never Stop Changing
For a band that’s only three years in, Memphis-based Nots has seen enough lineup changes to make your head spin. When you hear the frantic filter they’ve put on the bulk of their crude punk tunes, though, the nutty number of shifts seems kind of appropriate.
Still, music outlets are retelling their formation in all sorts of wrong ways – claiming they began as a duo and listing long-gone members as if they’re still active. Fact-checking is part of a journalist’s job, of course, but when a group’s current setup’s still relatively new and the old just a quick glance behind, someone’s bound to report erroneously.
“We’ve always had three people in Nots,” founder Natalie Hoffman clarifies. “Whenever we first started, we actually played with a girl named Carly [Greenwell]. She’s one of our good friends. She actually lives in New Orleans now. She played bass – she played really melodic bass parts, so we kind of wrote in a more melodic fashion. And she was a really good singer, so we’d even try harmonizing and stuff.”
When Greenwell left Tennessee, however, drummer Charlotte Watson took on the role of bassist.
“Then we got our friend Laurel [Ferndon] to play drums, and she’s on both of the singles,” Hoffman explains.
Greenwell’s tuneful gifts had steered Nots into a safer-on-the-ears territory. When Ferndon came into play and Watson changed roles, though, they got more “aggressive,” Hoffman says. Goner handled their debut single last October, another in July and is also doing the honors on their first full-length, We Are Nots.
But by the time they were beginning to assemble songs for that record, Ferndon was already gone, and Madison Farmer was in.
“It’s confusing and it’s funny. A lot of people are asking about it. People are like so, wait, what? But it’s cool,” Hoffman laughs.
Out this month, their inaugural LP is a couple steps higher on the ladder of Raincoats and Slits-inspired punk. It’s hasty but complex with pummeling drums, Hoffman’s nearly grating shouts and loads and loads of dizzying synth. Nots walk a fine line between erratic and energetic, like on the assaulting opener, “Insect Eyes.” For anyone uninitiated, expecting polite and head-bop inducing choruses is sorely mistaken. This is a noisy, gritty bunch that makes sticky, likeable tunes, then shoves them into a blender with whatever rotten ingredients they feel like.
Nots had never included synth before, and this spastic variety really does the trick. Strangely, the player they enlisted, Alexandra Eastburn, was entirely new to keys. She and Hoffman met as students at the Memphis College of Art.
“We’d always talk about getting together and making weird music,” she says. “We’d talk about making sound collages and stuff, but it never really materialized. It was just kind of hanging out and having fun. But whenever Nots was working on the album, it kind of struck me that it would be really cool to add another element to the band. I knew that Allie didn’t know how to play synth but it felt right to add her,” she laughs. “And she luckily got it!”
You’d never know Eastburn was so green after hearing her expertly employ what sounds like slowed-down level-ups from a deadstock video game on “Strange Rage.” Her skillful squeals through the eerie “Black Mold” don’t give her away, either.
“She listens to a bunch of really kickass synth music. She’s always showing me new darkwave stuff, so I kind of had a feeling that she’d have a really good feel for it, and I was totally right,” Hoffman says.
Eastburn’s pretty impressive for other reasons, too. Schooled in visual arts, she constructed the set for a Memphis theater troupe’s recent production – entirely out of papier-mâché.
“She’s been involved with this community theater group called Our Own Voice. She was in a play, like, she acted in the last play that they put on. And then she got to know all them better and I guess showed them a bunch of her art, and they wanted her to do the whole set design. It was a play inspired by Alice in Wonderland,” she says. “We actually used some of the props she made for our music video because they looked so good. And we filmed the video in her studio, so it was badass.”
The clip Hoffman’s referencing is one for “Decadence,” which she hopes will be out soon. It’s an aptly titled number for its heavy, spontaneous layering – the synth in particular.
Back in those art school days, Hoffman was initially angling for an education in photography.
“Then my camera got stolen,” she says, but little to no audible lament. “I think was a sophomore or junior, I can’t remember. My camera got stolen, then I switched over to doing more collage and mixed media-based stuff.”
Hoffman does mainly design these days, though she seems to prefer collaging. But at least both she and Eastburn make use of their skills with Nots.
“I designed a lot of the flyers, or most of them. Allie did a couple too. I designed the album, it’s like a collaboration between me and Allie. The collages on the album are hers. It’s kind of confusing, and I designed them, and the back of the album is a bunch of cut up stuff, so I cut up a bunch of her collages and re-collaged them, so it’s a crazy collaboration,” she says. “And we’re working on a tour zine so hopefully we’ll have a bunch of those for this upcoming tour. We’re super stoked about it.”
Not long before Nots went to work on the LP, Hoffman was playing bass in fellow Memphis act Ex-Cult. That’s one fact the press never fails to mention accurately. The two overlapped though – it wasn’t one starting after the other, as some have misunderstood.
“I’ve always been in Nots doing Ex-Cult. I actually started playing in Ex-Cult when I was in another band with Charlotte that doesn’t exist anymore. So I’ve always been playing with Charlotte whenever I was in Ex-Cult. But it got to the point when we realized Nots were going to have an album come out, I had to be honest about how much time it was going to take for me to really do it. Because I didn’t want to half-ass anything, I wanted to really, really do the Nots stuff. So I decided to quit the band just to make it easier on everyone. Which is a bummer because I really loved playing with Ex-Cult,” she says.
Hoffman is quick to gush about Ex-Cult, even the bassist who replaced her, whose handiwork she describes as “kickass.” The group she mentioned in passing – the one she and Watson were part of – is a taboo topic, apparently for personal reasons. We’ll leave it at that. Almost.
“Sometimes I think about all the things I’ve done and I’m like, ‘Man, I feel like a different person now,’’” she says.
All things considered, that personal reflection is no shocker. Who knows who’ll join Nots next? Or what they’ll sound like on their sophomore release? For now, at least, we can celebrate their latest first impression.