It’s seems like Unqualified Nurse Band have been around for ever. As they prepare to release their second album Trashland it’s hard to grasp they are less than two years old!
Emerging from a batch of exceptional Derby bands like Crushing Blows, Ghost Twins and Goddesses UNB performed their debut gig in February 2016. Since then they have given the world an EP, a stunning debut album and are now on a second long-player. UNB is an entity so brimming with ideas that their output equals bands who have been around double the time.
They also kick started the trend for bands signed to local label Reckless Yes to chart with a Too Pure Singles Club release. Death Surf A52 reached number 74 in the physical singles chart.
The band, Chris Jones, Andrew Foster and Mark Jones, are sat in crowded Standing Order trying to talk over the noise of the Wetherspoon’s cheapest day of the year about how their jam-packed history has led to this new record. The trio are no strangers to making music drawing on more than 15 years experience producing some of the best and most inventive music that has emerged from our city.
Unqualified Nurse Band started life as a solo-project for Chris before bringing in the other members to pad out the sound and take it forward. This new music came with a definite plan to deliver something more simple and direct than the work of their previous bands.
Chris explains, “The Nurse stuff, by design, was made to be able to be played in any room. So the gear wasn’t an issue or the set-up – we could set up in the corner of the pub and it would sound like the record and if you go to a great venue it’s going to sound like the record.”
Mark adds, “When we formed Chris and Foster had just come out of doing Ghost Twins and were working with all this equipment and how to do it live and I was doing my solo stuff with weird guitar tunings and we came to do Nurse which is three guys playing loud rock n roll.”
That formula meant they emerged as a fully-formed entity. Seeing their early gigs was like seeing a very established band and this ethos soon birthed their debut album Debasement Tapes. “Most of those songs are like a sledgehammer. That’s why it was called Debasement Tapes because it was a ‘debasement’ of rock n roll; it was noisy and relentless,” explains Chris.
But through the full-on noise there was much for listeners to explore, many hidden depths that nodded to the ‘massive departure’ of new record Trashland which expands on the band’s sonic template with more ambitious songs and adds pop-sensibilities to their pilfering of rock’s past. Chris continues, “We always say we are part looking into the past, we love ’60s pop and all that, and part is to the future if you’re looking for innovation. All the bands we love from the ’60s, they changed the face of music after five years. When you’re a band like us who plays all the time and writes all the time, new eras come around really quickly.”
Trashland certainly marks something new for the band whilst retaining a lot of the directness of the debut. Take, for example, opening track Transplosion which opens with an ambient keyboard drone before lurching through ’60s girl group melodies into big riff classic rock territory – the ideas fall thick and fast but all work as a whole.
This again seems very much by design as Foster explains, “It’s quite cinematic actually. That sounds quite pretentious but if you were to listen to it in one sitting, how it comes in with the first track and how it ends on the last it is a bit like opening credits and closing credits to a film. I just hope people stick with it because the last track is a twelve-minute song, it’s a hard sell.”
In reality every song fits to form part of the bigger picture completing an album in the classic sense. But this ‘pretentious’ approach hasn’t removed the pure rock n roll ambitions at the heart of Unqualified Nurse Band, this music is still accessible.
“For me it’s not an album for the modern way of releasing songs. But it’s not a 70-minute prog-rock beast, it’s a 35-minute record and you want to go from beginning to end.”
The concept of producing albums as a complete work of art is not the only “modern way” Unqualified Nurse Band are side-stepping. The polish and shine of modern rock production is of no interest to this band. Classic rock records have rough edges and realism, and that is what Trashland aims to retain.
Foster has some things to say about mainstream modern rock, “If you listen to the Radio One Rock Show all those records sound like pop music, I can’t quite put my finger on it. They have polished off the rough edges, it’s a bit unnatural and you need a bit of that in there.
“I was listening to 6Music today and they were playing the Prophets Of Rage stuff. It’s Rage Against The Machine which is one the best rock bands other last 25 years, Chuck D from Public Enemy who were just awesome but its produced like a modern rock record. It loses that edge. There’s a reason that people hold [Black] Sabbath and Led Zeppelin on an untouchable pedestal and it’s because you can never listen to those records and never get fatigued by listening to them. It’s not that there’s no production on them, they went into world class studios using amazing gear but at the heart it still sounds like those people blasting out those tunes and you just don’t get that from most modern rock music. It’s turgid, just the worst.”
And on Trashland, despite these rough edges, you can hear the ambition of both the songwriting and the production but there is a definite organic ‘band playing in a room’ vibe, that sets it apart from the current rock on the airways – in a good way.
The way Trashland is being released is also a departure for how they release their music with them now setting up their own label Medicine Music to bring their music to the world. As Chris explains, “We wanted to start our own label and put stuff out ourselves and Reckless Yes still wanted to work with us, so we ended up doing a joint release with Medicine Music being our label and this being the second release we have done with Reckless Yes.”
Almost mirroring the rise of the band, Derby-based label Reckless Yes have had a dynamic impact on the local music scene releasing records8, by and bringing prominence to amazing talent like Pet Crow, Dactylion, Panji And The Buffalo, Bivouac and the forthcoming third album from Graw!ix.
“They are doing well, and are really happy to be documenting the scene. Ultimately bands want to have a record out, especially a vinyl out, if you’re not working and can’t afford to do it collectively, this is great. You have to remember recording an album costs a grand, two grand so to then put your hands in your pocket and say here’s eleven hundred pounds for the most basic vinyl package – not heavyweight vinyl, cardboard sleeve, no inlay. Reckless Yes are doing it, you know with nice artwork, nice packaging, barcode added, shrink wrapped – it’s a big thing for local acts. I think they are doing a great job,” says Foster enthusing about the label’s work for the local scene and beyond.
The organic by design element of the band means that everything translates perfectly to the live arena and has made Unqualified Nurse Band one of the most engaging live rock bands to emerge in the last few years. This fact may come to wider recognition when they support Derby ska punk legends Lightyear on their reformation tour with national dates starting on Friday with a sold out show at the Hairy Dog. Chris explains, “We are touring with Lightyear and it’s quite a mismatch, well a complete mismatch, a hardcore/ska band and us. Their fans will probably hate us.”
This is certainly a big thing for the band. Being selected to head out on tour with one of Derby’s biggest bands for their reformation tour will only bring a welcome spotlight to what they do. But they are also a little wary. Anyone who saw Lightyear back in the day, or have had anything to do with the band know their reputation for debauchery – if you need any proof just read the story about them and Ice T!
“We are aware and we are not stopping anywhere with them”, says Foster. “We’ve got a van, we’ve booked our own hotel rooms for the nights we need them. We should be OK!”
Chris adds, “When we were 13 or 14 fast punk stuff was our thing. Maybe less so the ska stuff but for that Lightyear were THE band. When you watched them live you were like ‘yeah, they were as good as that Fat Wreck (legendary US punk label) that I saw’ – they were always up there.”
But they are sure they can hold their own with the punk crowd. “We are as hard as any punk band when we play. But you just don’t know how they are going to take to it, it’s all up for grabs!”
And it certainly is ‘all up for grabs’ for a band who have crammed different eras into two years and have the ambition and skill to keep pushing their sound in new directions. Unqualified Nurse Band are the band keeping rock simple whilst simultaneously throwing out the rulebook and in 2017 they are the kind of contradiction that rock needs.
Trashland is out now digitally and released on 20 October 2017 on limited 12″ vinyl from Medicine Music and Reckless Yes. Get it in both formats from Unqualified Nurse Band‘s Bandcamp.
The band play the sold out Lightyear show at the Hairy Dog on Friday 20 October before heading off on UK tour with the reformed ska-punk band. They will be keeping a tour diary which you can find here.
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