Now/It's: An Interview with The Pressure Kids

In an effort to maintain a modicum of anonymity on the site in service of those who are featured on it, I am seldom one to speak toward my own experience. That being said, there is a long standing want to have some sort of discourse around the fact that Nashville (and the industries within it) tends to subjugate most on account of the superficial concept of age. It’s frustrating to spend an interview when someone is patronizing and constantly joking about “you wouldn’t remember this” (luckily, that wasn’t an interview for this site). The opportunities to commiserate are few and far between, but every once and a while, there’s a conversation that’s on the level. Such was the case with my conversation with The Pressure Kids. Call it an unconscious coupling, universal congruence, or good old fashioned coincidence. Whatever manner of which you accept it as, The Pressure Kids have gone through a similar gauntlet. They’ve been (highly) active in and around Nashville’s indie rock scene for the better part of six years, and they’re only now finding themselves in a position of which those who weren’t privy (or unwilling to accept, due to age) to their efforts prior are finally taking the time to get to know them. Admittedly, this might sound like a rail against the older establishment style rambling, but rest assured, it’s a common theme for many more around town. While The Pressure Kids are far from “green” yet not quite at “veteran” status in Nashville, the next year or so has them primed to “graduate” into the career band realm that many so willingly accept only through something as trivial as age. If anything, the only “age” that matters is that this next year is the beginning of the “Age of The Pressure Kids” ascent. And they’re primed to make that an age that’s hard to forget.

Now/It’s met with The Pressure Kids at Embers Ski Lodge in the 12 South neighborhood of Nashville. Their drummer - Zach Bodman - was in Austin, Texas during the time of the interview.

N/I - So how have things been for you guys tonight?

Katy - Good! Not too bad.

N/I - So how long have you guys known each other?

Allan - Most of us met freshman year. It’s kind of tricky, because Nick and I first met, started the band with some other people and then a few weeks into it, we met Katy. So we did that for pretty much all of freshman year. Then the next year, we met Justin. Justin came along in the party - into the mix. And then it was…. Was it two and a half years til we met Zach?

Katy - Zach joined in the late summer, early fall of 2016, which was the beginning of our senior year. Zach was a year older than us.

Justin - Because I joined at the beginning of my junior year, so it would have been about a year after me.

Katy - So our freshman year started - it was fall of 2015. We all moved here, went to Belmont. Allan and Nick were on the same floor of Pembroke, if you’re familiar.

N/I - Yes, I am.

Katy - That was how they first met, just through luck of proximity.

N/I - Okay. So how did that connection happen? The typical Belmont way? “Hey you play in a band?” or “Do you want to make a band?”

Allan - It was complete luck. I think I was just looking for people to jam with and play with. I remember going into his dorm room and being like “What’s up dude? Do you want some almonds?” That was my introduction [laughs].

Justin - Really?

Allan - I’m pretty sure I was like “Hey man, you want some of these Blue Diamond almonds?”

Nick - Are you talking about the nuts?

Allan - We’re talking about when talking about the first time I came into your room!

N/I - The origin story.

Nick - The origin story is literally some jalapeno almonds.

Allan - But it was kind of like an invitation…. Actually, I was probably just casually wearing my guitar already. So it was clear what I was trying to do.

Nick - It might be the fog of memory here, but I distinctly remember you knocking on my door and being like “Do you want these almonds?” And I was like “No.” And then you were like “Well do you want to jam?” So I was like “We can jam. But I’m not ready for some nuts just yet.”

Allan - I’ll take that. One out of two.

Justin - That’s not bad.

Nick - That’s literally the origin though.

Allan - That’s how I remember it.

N/I - Well it seems like a lot of times, the origin stories of bands or projects start out pretty innocuous. Granted, a can of nuts is a little different. That’s awesome. So we’ve laid out the timeline when everyone else got involved, but when did things start to materialize as the most realized version of The Pressure Kids, in your guys’ minds?

Nick - Probably about the last two years that we’ve been playing in the lineup that we’re playing with now.

Katy - Yeah. Once Zach joined.

Nick - We were playing pretty consistently the first couple years of school….

Katy - For sure.

Nick - And doing a ton of shows and we all had separate side projects, but The Pressure Kids was kind of our big after school project. We went through a drummer and a few bass players, but pretty much once Justin and Zach on-boarded a few years ago, that’s when things went full steam ahead.

N/I - So did that involve reworking older songs? Because things are staggered when it comes to everyone joining, so I’d imagine there might be a learning curve. Similar to this EP, those songs are two old and four new?

Katy - There’s one really old one….

Allan - Five or six years old.

Katy - At the first practice I ever went to, when they had only been a band for three weeks, they played that song in its earliest version. That’s one of the one’s on [the EP], and then I guess it’s three newer ones from the “new era” and then two brand new ones from the last four months, if that makes sense [laughs].

Nick Johnston

Nick Johnston

Nick - The idea when we set out to make the record and the EP as a collection of songs from that was to really do a thesis statement of our band at the time. We had such a back catalog of stuff and then we had all this new stuff that we have been working on as this unit - we really wanted to showcase all sides of that. So it was stuff like the first jams that we did up into that middle period. “Mint” is the closer on the EP, and we basically wrote right before we came in to record. So that’s as new as can be.

N/I - So in that writing process, what is that process like? Because you guys have a lot-ish members….

Justin - That’s fair.

Nick - That’s such a great way to put it - “A lot-ish.”

N/I - But so it’s not out of the question for there to be five band members, but as far as playing and bringing in new stuff and new ideas, is Nick coming in as the “mouth of the band?”

Nick - Sort of. I think every song materializes a different way, but I would say the vast majority of the songs, especially with this group we’re playing with now - we’ve been playing together for so long that we’ve developed such an artistic and creative trust that we know the set up now that usually what happens now is we’ll be jamming out on something, either Allen will start playing some riff, or I’ll play something and then we’ll build the song from there. Very rarely do I come in with something that’s fully formed where I’ll say “You play this and you play that.” Most of that is due to the fact that we’ve been playing together for so long, everyone knows what the other does best, so we can invite the others into that space. And I think it’s all far more interesting for us with everyone being such a capable songwriter in their own right, that it’s better to see the five of us develop together outside of “Here’s a song I wrote in my bedroom, play a part.” Would you guys say that’s fair?

Allan - It’s highly collaborative. I much prefer it that way.

Nick - It’ll start with a nugget and then….

Allan - [Laughs] A little nugget….

Nick - And then it’ll just Lego on top of each other.

Katy - I would say Allan and Nick spearhead it and then it’s a full collaboration from there. Is that fair?

Justin - Yeah. Totally.

N/I - So you mentioned you guys playing together for a while now and having the benefit of going to school here - I would imagine you’ve seen a lot of other bands come and go - how do you interact with the changes that come with being a more tenured band, but also being young?

Nick - A very interesting question.

Katy - That’s a very good question.

N/I - Because I’ll say for myself, not playing music, but being around it, I run into a lot of “Oh man, just wait until fifteen years go by, then you’ll get it.” Or something to that effect, and it’s tiring. I figure you guys run into a similar version of that, despite being a band for as long as you have. Has your perspective on that changed at all?

Katy - I think one of the most interesting things is the perception of that. There are groups of people in town who see us as a more tenured band and having done this for a while, but I guess that’s more so people in our age group, our peers, people a little older, people a little younger. They’ve just seen our name on so many posters since 2013, so they’re like “Yeah. The Pressure Kids have been doing this awhile.” Maybe even their thing is “Why aren’t they huge yet!? They’ve been here for a minute.” But the same time, as we grow and start talking to more people on the industry side and talking to older bands, it’s definitely more “Oh you’re so young! Such a baby band! You have your whole lives ahead of you!” It’s a lot of “That’s a cool debut record, but you’re so young!”

Nick - And it’s like “Dude, we’ve been doing this for a while now!”

Katy - It’s just interesting. I don’t think of that dichotomy often, but I love that you bring it up, because it’s true - there’s a lot of people only treating it as either extreme. I guess my relationship to how I feel about that is that neither is one hundred percent true. I feel like we are young and we are tenured, and it’s nuanced. Sometimes you just want to shake people and get them to recognize the nuance of that.

Katy Carmichael

Katy Carmichael

Allan - I feel like we’ve strengthened in ways that only come with the time, like any relationship. We’ve strengthened in those ways, and at the same time we’re all very excited and very aware about the fact that we have so much to offer in a very “newbie” sense. We want to play our first festival and give it our all. We want to put out our first record. We really feel like we’re ready to do these things, but it’s all firsts that we’re talking about here. So we feel very prepared having done all this work on the back end.

Nick - Solidifying that core.

Allan - So to me, it feels like we’re on the cusp of presenting our intro to the rest of the country.

N/I - I kind of equate that scenario to - not that the Grammys are necessarily important one way or another, but the whole “Best New Artist” scenario….

Nick - Yes!

Katy - Oh my god, it’s ridiculous.

N/I - It kills me, going all the way back 2012. I think Bon Iver won Best New Artist….

Nick - That’s the one I was thinking about too…

N/I - And that was one where I couldn’t help but be like “Man, this guy has been in twenty bands for the past decade and a half, and he’s the “best new artist.” The album that I would imagine affected all of us was probably For Emma, Forever Ago, and then Bon Iver, Bon Iver comes out and that’s just like “Whoa man, what an unexpected, but great progression,” which is like what you were saying, Allen, that was the presentation of Bon Iver to the rest of the world….

Allan - To your mom!

N/I - To the Starbucks world, exactly. It can be sold at the checkout of a Target.

Nick - That’s an interesting point. I would love to see the statistics of the artist who wins that particular Grammy and see how long they were active prior to winning the award.

N/I - Well recently, Margo Price was nominated, I know James Blake….

Nick - Is that who won this year?

N/I - I don’t think so. I think this year was Dua Lipa. Pop artist.

Katy - I don’t remember.

N/I - Anyway. The point to all of that is that a lot of times, I’m not necessarily able to commiserate with someone I am interviewing about that fact, and I think it’s interesting with regard to your guys’ journey. It might not be to you guys, I don’t know. You could be exhausted talking about it.

Nick - Not at all! First of all, I want to tell you how much I appreciate a question like that, because so many times it’s like “What does this song mean?” and it’s like “Dude. Come on.” And not that that isn’t a fine question - it is - but your question seems way more appropriate and interesting, because it is such a particular part of our experience. If anything, personally, to navigate from our period of time in college where you’d play a packed out show at The High Watt and wake up the next day to go to history class. You feel like the fucking man, because I’m playing shows and wake up at eight and go to class. It’s like “Wow!” But then you graduate, and even though you’ve been doing it for so long, you’re thrust into this new space that’s like now you’re just like every other - no offense to anyone that does it - but every bartender, barista, and server. Everyone’s got a band. So we really noticed amongst our peers - Belmont being such a hotbed of creative talent, there was a definitive marker where it drops off in terms of the people who are still trying to do it. And it seems like the people who are still doing it are either really strong band wise, or they have a music or system that spent that time solidifying that you don’t have that mental safety net of “Well, I’m in a band and a student.”

N/I - Right. You could always fall back on the idea of being in school…

Nick - “I’ve got to go do homework.”

N/I - “And we couldn’t practice as long, which is why our last show wasn’t quite where we’d liked it to have been.”

Katy - Totally.

Nick - So I would say it’s our peers who we came up with that are still doing it, like Katy Kirby, who’s at SXSW right now. There’s plenty of them. Or like our friends in this band called Sawyer, they’re really great too.

N/I - Yeah! I’ve interviewed them! Emma and Kel.

Nick - So those contemporaries that made that jump with us after school, are the ones who have found the success and contentment. They found their base first.

N/I - Sure. It can be tough to escape that idea of “Well they were a band in college, so this probably won’t last” that most people tend to prescribe to. Because when people are out in the world and the world is rough. But again, I’m fascinated by you guys and your position. It seems like you have solidified yourselves further to the point of understanding that there is no safety net at all.

Allan - I think it’s important to acknowledge that not everyone who has been a part of it has always wanted to do it one hundred percent. We all obviously do, but there have been a couple of times where other people have decided that they want to spend their time elsewhere with other passions in their life. And Nick has always done a great job at sort of confronting that conflict and telling them “If this is not what your heart is into completely and you can’t see yourself doing it in the future, please don’t waste your time.” Life is too short, and people deserve to just follow their own thing.

N/I - Well in turn, it’s also not wasting your guys’ time, either.

Nick - Exactly.

Katy - Totally. That’s absolutely right.

N/I - Respectfully, though.

Nick - I think respectfully is the right word for it. You’ve got to respect your life, and we’re trying to do this - it’s got to be a happy decision for everybody. Even though, at the time, you lose a drummer and you’re like….

Allan - Yeah! We were like “Fuck! What do we do!” But I really respected when you said that. Everyone really does have to want to be a part of it, because it really is so much work, and everyone has to be able to work in different capacities.

N/I - So with this EP and subsequent album, is there a goal to eliminate that last little bit of whatever remains from the whole “we met at school” band? How do you approach busting that conception without outwardly saying it? Full disclosure, I do realize I’m setting you up to say just that, so I apologize.

Nick - [Laughs] Not at all. It’s such a fine line. As we’ve been working on putting this thing out, I think we all understand the fact that every great album needs a narrative. You brought up For Emma, Forever Ago - it’s a strong record. Incredibly strong. And I think one of the reasons it became what it was, was that it’s the guy in the cabin.

N/I - It’s the urban legend. Absolutely.

Allan - Everybody knew that.

Nick - “Have you heard the album from that guy that was so heartbroken and alone?”

N/I - “And he got super sick and couldn’t move but was somehow able to record all the parts on the record!”

Nick - “It was the last thing he could croak out!”

[All laugh]

Nick - I think we were all very conscious of the fact that to cast that spell, you need a story. So we’ve been conscious of the fact that on this EP and subsequent record, that’s kind of our big narrative for it - “This is what we did in college, and it’s the college thing.” Katy can speak to this way more eloquently - it’s kind of meant to be our graduation in a way.

Allan - Coming of age.

Nick - [To Katy] You should just say it, because it’s fucking awesome.

Katy - That’s definitely - coming of age - is one of our main themes with both of the projects. How we’ve been thinking of all the imagery and visuals that we put into it, all the photo shoots that we’ve designed, all the single art, EP art. They’re all designed to have a very nostalgic feel to them. We want people to feel reminded of youth. Of those times in high school and college when you’re feeling aimless, hopeful, depressed, all these emotions that everyone goes through, but are very much tied to this coming of age energy. Because this EP and this record feel like a graduation to us of one phase of life to the next. A college band to the band, band that’s just an indie rock band making it post-grad, starting an adult career, having an adult career in music. I think that one of the reasons we started thinking of it that way was when we were working on the tracklist for the record. Nick was really spearheading that - the order, which songs were making the cut and everything, and for the EP as well. We were definitely all struck by the fact that there was a song on there that existed almost immediately when the band formed five and a half years ago, as well as songs from various eras in between. I really think there are songs that started every year of college that made it on the record, and then there are a lot of songs that are post-grad. A couple on the EP were finished just before we put it out. I mean, one was finished in January. So in that way, it just feels really complete and definitive in terms of where we’ve been and where we’re going. That’s my spiel.

Nick - The answer to the question is exactly that.

N/I - How so?

Nick - It’s supposed to acknowledge the big narrative that we’re trying to create - college band becoming not-college band and then this record is becoming that thing. So it’s supposed to address that and now we’re us.

Allan Cuva

Allan Cuva

N/I - And I would imagine that at the same time, it would ideally thrust you guys to that next platform where those who have been with you guys for the past five years or so, they can recognize that. But at the same time, it places you on a plane where people have never heard of you and only know of you as that kick ass indie band they just discovered. It might sound perverse to put it in that lens, but you guys obviously have a perspective during all of this. That’s something that I feel most people in your position, my position, and those who came to town yesterday - there does kind of need to be a perspective narrative of some sort, even if it is “Hey, this is different.”

Katy - Definitely.

N/I - So during that, you were talking about the tracklisting for the records - what’s the difference in ordering the EP versus ordering the album? Where’s the point of delineation there? How much crosses over onto the album and how much stays strictly for the EP?

Nick - There’s a little bit of crossover - with the album format, you’re obviously able to tell a lot bigger story. So when we were sequencing the record, that opening track was one of the first ones we ever wrote. It sort of opens the book. And then the story unfolds from there. But we realized that when we were doing the EP, it needs to be more concise….

N/I - More of a snapshot?

Nick - Exactly. As much as you don’t want to, you have to tighten the frame. So those first few songs appear almost exactly as they do on the record. Not that it’s an artier intro, but it starts with “Team” which is a more straightforward thought. But the idea was to set it up where the person who has not been following us for the past five years would hit the Spotify link and understand it’s rock n roll.

Allan - And then also understand the nuanced themes of the record.

Nick - Right. So I think “Team” kind of establishes that. It’s a little bolder, rock…

N/I - Straight ahead….

Nick - Yes. Punchy. And after that, going into “And Another One” is still showcasing the rock think, but with a poppier hook.

Katy - And it’s not as thrash-y? “Team” is a little thrashy. “And Another One” adds a little more nuance, whereas “Team” is a hook-y rock song.

Nick - And then “Fever” - at least on the EP - is the most ambient, feels-y track on the record, which is supposed to sort of showcase that. So the EP was to shine little lights on bigger moments of the record, that we have the straight ahead indie rock stuff, and more of the ambient textural stuff that we were all really excited about making when we recorded them. In terms of the closers - the original idea was…. We’re all obviously big music fans, so we all loved when bands got the EP with the fan tracks. They’re not necessarily on the record, and your average fan might not know.

N/I - Arctic Monkeys would do that a lot.

Nick - Exactly. Maybe they’ll play it live and you’re there with your buddy who’s a bigger fan, and he’s like “Holy fuck dude! I can’t believe they’re playing it. You’re going to love this!” Meanwhile, everyone else goes to buy beer. So we wanted to slide a couple of those in there too. But that’s what those closers were originally going to do, but then they took on a life of their own too, and through playing them live, it seems like they’ll become a little more mainstay than we originally intended. That was kind of the overall idea - to focus on some of those ideas the record covers more broadly, but with a tighter frame. And some fan tracks.

N/I - Well, we were talking about Bon Iver earlier, I think of the Beach Baby EP….

Nick - Oh dude, totally. If he plays “Blood Bank.” A hundred people lose their minds.

N/I - And live, they’re going into key changes and everything. It’s nuts live. So there’s something to that. That’s adding more dynamism not just to the live set, but to you guys in general. The way you operate and what people could potentially anticipate with future projects without the expectation of anything that is not straight ahead indie rock is a departure. There wouldn’t be the fear of obviously going for sync licensing or whatever. But I’m sure you guys have run into people telling you that in this process of putting out an EP and then and album…. I guess I shouldn’t say “I know you guys have…” But have you guys run into people telling you to float on by with singles?

Katy - Definitely. Single driven market.”

Justin - That was our first approach, when we put out “Catherine” and stuff.

Allan - That was our first approach. It was very encouraged.

Katy - That was just kind of the culture of who we were around - singles and all that.

Nick - And it was Belmont, too. That was the traditional advice from professors.

Katy - It was.

Allan - Because it was a lesser investment of time and resources, so it makes sense, but you’re able to say so much less. And then that’s what people only know you for, and then you’re constantly trying to break out of the mold. We’re putting in place a wide ranging scope of artistry and messages that we want to put forth with this kind of music. So it sets us up really nicely to achieve anything we want to accomplish in the future without anything being so much a statement as much as a means of expression.

N/I - That’s fair. That’s always been my thought with the singles approach. Maybe putting together an album, resources wise, is a little more consuming, but with singles, you really are only offering up on version of yourself. So if you want to talk about truly setting yourself up for the “What the hell, these guys changed their sound!” of it all, putting out a single every quarter makes the highly likely. You really have to knock each of those singles out of the park.

Allan - I think we’ve recognized the importance of knowing when to go away and keep your head down and work hard and suss out your ideas. What are these feelings deep down that you really want to do? And what are the songs you want to make? All without caring about how it’s going to sell, who’s going to buy it right away. Just dig deeper and figure it out personally. That could take months or years, whatever it is, but I feel like we’re now reaping the benefits of being honest with ourselves in that way. We have a lot we want to say and we kind of feel like we always will, so let’s honor that by taking that time and making bigger works of art.

Justin Bavier

Justin Bavier

Nick - More than anything, when we imagine our career, we want to be a records band. We want to be a band with tons of great records, not because we have that one song on a Spotify playlist. We make no bones about it - we’ve got so much music to make and want to be around for a long time…. A record, that format has such a more dramatic, interesting story to tell. Some people will say records are dying, but it’s not true. People will always want the big thing.

N/I - Well look at Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves.

Nick - Exactly. That’s a record that’s so satisfying as a whole. There are great songs on it, but you zoom back and that’s when it becomes really special. We’ve got the next record already written and ready to record. That’s just how we’ve always been. Even before this one, we recorded a whole shitty record. It was bad.

Allan - That’s right! I forgot about that!

Katy - Oh my god.

Nick - We were like twenty, so it sucked. But that process of building a whole thing and recording it…

Allan - We got to do that. We had the luxury of making a shitty thing and no one hearing it, thank gosh.

Nick - But the process of working it out was so important to us. We always thought in terms of records. Not that there’s not value in putting out singles - on this EP we put out three singles. That’s half the EP. So we get that it’s important, but our focus is bigger.

Katy - You’re making sure you’re focused on the long term. Because I think right now, culturally, there’s an instant gratification of putting out a single every month that people seem really enticed by. Of course you want your friends and your followers to tell you every month how much they love that song you put out, but I think it’s so much more worth it to hide away for a bit and make a record that’s a full statement, and it’ll be so much more satisfying to the people who choose to listen to it.

Nick - I think people just don’t give music listeners enough credit.

Katy - Totally.

Nick - Your favorite band can go away for seven years and you’re not going to go “Who are they again?”

Justin - And I think people are so focused these days on putting out singles because they want to get on a playlist. But it’s like “Are we a band because we want to get on playlists? Or are we a band because we want to play music?” And I’d like to think we’re the latter, so we’ve been a little more patient, and will be moving forward.

Katy - It think patience is the name of the game in a lot of ways.