Download: Spectre Folk, “Burning Bridge”


Yes In My Backyard is a semiweekly column showcasing MP3s from new and emerging local talent.

Spectre Folk is the long-percolating solo guise of Magik Markers drummer Pete Nolan, a black sea of noise guitar, psych-jams, no-fi experiments, and other interplanetary gunk released on a never-ending waterfall of tapes, CD-Rs, vinyl, and the occasional CD. Nolan’s latest, Compass, Blanket, Lantern, Mojo (released via his label, Arbitrary Signs), is the most mellow, soothing, and ethereal of his sounds that these ears have heard, channeling the dusty desert vibe of Ennio Morricone, exploring a little Six Organs churn, and finding lusher new secrets in his home-recorded murk. He recently turned the band into an all-star line-up that includes Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley and New York Times food writer Peter Meehan, but for now, grab the solo turn and album highlight “Burned Bridges,” which Nolan describes as “kind of Les Rallizes Denudes by way of Laurel Canyon–there’s probably some of Tim Buckley’s spirit in there too.” In short, it’s dreamy, dreary, and a warm place to curl up. Nolan says he wrote the track to deal with his feelings of isolation, desperation, and sleep deprivation after becoming a new parent. He explains, “In this altered state of consciousness I interpreted my daughter’s cries–being as she was, a total newcomer to the planet earth, incapable of putting personal attachment to her thoughts and feelings–as the pure sound of the universal consciousness heralding both her entry into the world and my passage into the next level of the game. That’s the idea anyway. Can you dig it?”

Download: [audio-1]

Q&A: Spectre Folk’s Pete Nolan

What is “Burning Bridge” about?

This tune is about me dealing with the maelstrom of feelings I had welling up at the three-month stage of being a dad to my newborn daughter, Violet Ray. After going through life taking things as they came, I suddenly had the awesome responsibility of parenthood thrust upon me. My wife and I had gone through a tremendously violent birth experience and we came out the other end with this perfectly formed, incredibly beautiful alien creature that neither of us had the slightest idea how to care for. I was terrified that if I didn’t watch her literally every waking second she’d stop breathing, or her tiny shrimp-like fingers would break off, or she’d choke on some kind of bubbly vomit like the baby in Eraserhead. And I had no idea how to get her to go to sleep. Lots and lots of bouncing on a yoga ball. At least three hours a day, till my spinal chord was throbbing with pain. I’d gone from being, to quote Bret Michaels, a “rock dude,” to being the primary caretaker of a newborn human. Suddenly every minute of my life was devoted to keeping this kid alive and making sure she was growing and burping and pooping and comfortable and happy and I wasn’t getting much sleep. It’s incredibly alienating, because there’s no way any of my friends could understand what was happening to me, unless they’d had kids–none of them had. I was adrift on an island all alone with my new family, trying to make ends meet and keep everyone alive and happy and floating along.

But the other side of the alienation was this feeling of having been through an incredible rite of passage. Like I’d just made myself a link in the chain of the history of the human race. I dove with a resigned fatalism into a game of chance with the collective memory of DNA and, to quote a line from Master Shake’s “Spirit Journey Formation Anniversary” song, “the creature thus be born.” We couldn’t have been more blessed. Our kid is so much cooler and better-looking than either me or my wife. Watching her grow and learn at the stage of the game I was at when I wrote this song was like watching one of those time-lapse movies of a plant sprouting out of the ground.

What inspired it musically?

Somewhere along the way I figured out that songs in 3/4 are more likely to induce that “floaty” feeling that some people cherish so dearly. Earlier that year the Magik Markers had toured with Ghost. I really wanted a song that could showcase the kind of soaring epic guitar soloing that I saw Michio Kurihara pull off so effortlessly night after night on that tour, so there’s that element too.

How did this latest lineup of the band come to be?

About a year before Compass came out I got to be pretty good friends with Peter Meehan. My lady was learning how to make jewelry working in his lady’s shop, and we got to be buddies. He’s a head, and he knows his way around psych records, so he got tuned into my jams. He encouraged me to stop wasting my time pouring my psych-spew music into CD-Rs as they’re ultimately ignored dead-end landfill media. After one sweltering solo gig I did at the Market Hotel in Bushwick he offered to lend me some bread so I could start self releasing my stuff on vinyl via my Arbitrary Signs label. Compass is the product of that. When I started playing gigs to promote the record he offered his services on his Japanese Fakenbacher guitar and I was more than pleased to have him, seeding the ground for a heavy new band.

Tell me how you met Steve Shelley and when/how you decided to start playing music together?

I met Steve Shelley when I was sixteen years old in Alma, Michigan. It was my birthday and my Mom had driven me from my hometown of Mt. Pleasant to buy my first four-track tape recorder at Cook’s Christian Supply. The store was empty, but in the custom drum shop in the back I noticed a couple of dudes, one of whom looked suspiciously like the drummer of Sonic Youth. I worked up some nerve and finally went back and introduced myself. Sure enough, it was Steve Shelley. I was blown away! I asked him what he was doing here amid this endless sea of cornfields that, from my experience up until now, had proven to be a barren wasteland of culture, devoid of anything even remotely “cool.” He said that he was originally from Midland and that the drum shop here in Alma was one of his favorites. I had my mom take my picture with Steve, as he was the second celebrity I’d ever met–the first being Michael Winslow of Police Academy fame–and took it as an incredibly good omen for all future recordings on my newly acquired four track. Fast forward to six months ago. I’m eating the most insanely delicious cheeseburger I’ve ever had in my life. It was slathered in butter and prepared by Mark Ibold from Pavement. He off-handedly mentions that since Sonic Youth is taking kind of a hiatus for a year, me and Peter should see if Steve Shelley wants to jam with us. After some intense prodding on my wife’s part, I tracked Steve down on Facebook.

Being in a band with a food-nerd like Meehan must mean some pretty amazing culinary adventures…

Oh my god, there are too many to recount. They all kind of blur together into one big mass of memories that exist in some part of my brain that is too primordial to verbalize. When you get to that place where you’re eating something that is the best thing you’ve ever tasted, your eyes kind of glaze over and you’re in the zone of pure sensory experience. I guess I could talk about the duck buns at the Oriental Garden on Elizabeth Street; or seven courses of beef at Ma Peche with $700 bottles of wine enjoyed with Kim and Thurston of Sonic Youth; or learning how to order my In-N-Out Burger “Animal Style.” But the best meals I’ve had with Meehan are the ones that he prepared himself in his own kitchen. Dude is all about finding the best meals in the best restaurants out there and learning how to make them yourself at home. This kind of homemade professional grade aesthetic is something that really lines up with my aesthetic musically too. Homegrown’s the way it should be. So yeah, dude’s been a total inspiration.

What’s the most memorable show you’ve played in New York?

My most far out memory of a show in New York would have to be of one wintry night at the now defunct Tonic about six years ago. The snow was piled up about five feet high outside. Most of New York was shut down. The Magik Markers had driven down from Connecticut and we didn’t know if the show was still happening or if anyone would show up. If you ever have the chance to see a Paul Flaherty/Chris Corsano performance after having the type of tea you might read about in an Allen Ginsberg/William Burroughs correspondence, you too will know that these two are giants among men, literally. They grew before my eyes to a height of well over eight feet. And if you are ever so lucky as to get to take the stage behind a drum kit after them, as I did on this night, you will be driving the Big Rig through space and time. The snow was piled up high enough to block off all travel down Norfolk Street, leaving a silent stillness and eerie calm over the Lower East Side, but inside the concrete bunker of the Tonic the Magik Markers had opened up an ungodly rift in the cosmos. In my curious state of synesthesia, I perceived the sound we created from the stage that night to have long purple suction-cupped arms that could reach all around the room and back again. I may not be remembering the right night, but something like this definitely happened. I was convinced for a long time after that Paul Flaherty was actually Santa Claus.

Are you working on anything else?

Should I plug the kid’s book and record I’m working on? The story is a riff on the kind of magical realism Alan Lomax might have dug up in his quest through the deep South while looking for early American mythology in the form of lullabyes and kid’s songs. My curious toddling daughter is the protagonist and she meets a host of woodland creatures along the way. My sister Meegan is working on some killer illustrations for it and the accompanying soundtrack is a mixture of meditative instrumentals and traditional tunes done in the Spectre Folk style.

What’s your favorite place to eat in Brooklyn?

The Commodore on Metropolitan in Williamsburg has the greatest fried chicken on the planet. The rainbow chard is killer too. I love it. If I’m going to spend money eating out, which I almost never do, you’ll find me there.

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