Northern National Set To Release New EP D.A.R.K.
Last fall Northern National was riding high, coming off their first national tour with Blue October and getting ready to head back in the studio to record their next EP. Suddenly their world was rocked when their lead guitarist, a fundamental member to the band’s sound, decided to move to Los Angeles. After taking some time to regroup, the remaining band members of Northern National ultimately decided they would not replace their guitarist and went into the studio to work on their follow up to their 2016 EP The New Age.
This past January, the guys of Northern National premiered “Slow Down”, the first single off their upcoming EP D.A.R.K., showing off a more synth-heavy sound that came out of those recording sessions. Gearing up for what is sure to be a big year, Northern National is headlining a show at Deep Ellum Art Company this Thursday (April 19), playing songs from their new EP and showing off their new look as a four piece. Ahead of their big show, we sat down with our friends from Northern National to talk about their new EP and their big plans for the rest of 2018.
Band members: Michael Rossi — lead vocals and rhythm guitar; Michael Kanne — keyboard and percussionist; Dylan Greene — bassist and background vocals; Anthony Comas — drummer
What influenced your decision to make a more synth-heavy sound on this EP?
Rossi: With Andrew (Supulski) moving to L.A., we didn’t want to move forward trying to find another guitarist. It was the next step for us, and we have always been drawn to that type of music. Also, the producer we worked with, Dwight Baker, he was kind of urging us to as well. He was like, Y’all would kill this, why don’t you just go for it and be a four-piece. Don’t worry about getting yourself another guitarist.
Kanne: And we’ve done that in the past - having to look for another guitarist - and it just made us own who we are as a band more. Obviously we miss and love Supulski to death, but at the same time, with him leaving and moving to L.A., it forced us to figure out who were as a band, as a four-piece, and as songwriters. It ended up being one of the best blessings we could have asked for. Instead of fighting that we owned it.
Can you talk about how you went about replacing the sound of the lead guitar when playing your old material live.
Kanne: A lot of it was taking stuff we did on the last record - that we wrote, played, and recorded - and actually inputting it into the synth. It actually has worked out really well.
Rossi: And we never were able to fully get that sound anyways because there were always so many sounds compressed into those guitar leads on the record. So even as good as all of our guitars have been, they were never able to get that tone that we had on the record. And we had talked about it, Well who’s going to play that part? Are we going to do that? And finally, we were like, screw it, Kanne will just play it.
Kanne: I tried to adding different sounds and changing it up and it just didn’t work. We didn’t like how it was sounding, so we decided, let’s just sample it and play it live. I’m still playing the parts, it’s just via samples. And it just makes everything sound bigger.
What are some things you guys learned from going on tour with Blue October last year?
Anthony: We learned the basics behind tour etiquette. And how to know your place when touring with a popular band. We didn’t want to step on each other’s toes.
Rossi: Blue has been touring for so long that they have their way of doing things and how they like to tour and perform. And you get these young bucks who are on their first tour - they’re bright-eyed, jumping off the stage, and getting too amped. You get slapped on the hand a bit and get told to pull it back a bit, but it makes sense.
Kanne: Another thing we learned was how well we all got along with each other on the road. Rossi and I have been writing together for 6 years and playing music with Dylan and Anthony for two years. And we’ve traveled one to four days at a time and came back - we’ve never done a month or 9,000 miles or so in a van. You learn really quickly little pet peeves and it actually turned out that we got along very well. That’s how we knew this was going to work as us four because we really worked well together.
Anthony: It just became a fun routine.
When were the songs for this new EP written?
Kanne: We started a lot of them outside and sent acoustic ideas to our producer, Dwight, and he was like, This is good, this is not good, I believe this, I think you’re talking bullshit.
Rossi: Kanne and I were actually on the road to L.A. helping Supulski move, and we had already had some ideas together and got with Dylan and started banging out the melodies to them as we were driving. And once we got to the studio, we were showing Dwight some of our stuff that we had come up with. He’s so brutal, which is why we love him, because the dude’s made some hits, he’s written for Kelly Clarkson. We’d show him a song and he’s like, This is like a freaking Hallmark card, go write something better. So we’d go off in a corner and cry (laughs).
Dylan: We rewrote lyrics to two songs at minimum 10 times.
Kanne: We’d get done and go back to where we were crashing and write until 2 a.m. and then go back in the studio and record again.
Rossi: It’s funny cause we started knowing what we actually liked towards the end of it, as far as writing as a four-piece. So we would write something and be like, This is really good and we know it. And we’d go in and show Dwight and he’d be like, There you go. But there would be times where he’d be like, You gotta argue why this makes sense. And we’d explain it and he’d be like, Alright that makes sense.
Kanne: We’re actually planning on going back into the studio in July to get more music done, and we’ve been talking to Dwight and he’s been very real with letting us know we need to have everything ready lyrically way more than last time because we can dive in even deeper. We spent a lot of time writing - and a lot on the music too - just this time we can dive in even deeper and get more stuff out. It’s a process, but it was a lot of fun. This is the first record we’ve written as a four-piece, music and lyrically. All of us wrote on different stuff. Rossi took the lead lyrically, where in the past I’ve taken the lead. And Dylan and Anthony took the lead musically this time, where in the past Rossi had the lead on that. So we kind of switched that up. And Anthony wrote a synth part. Dylan wrote a melody for “Never Easy”.
Dylan: It’s a total mix. Really any idea can be put on the table, and it’s just a matter of do we all think it sounds good enough, fits well enough, things like that.
Rossi: It was reassuring that there were more good ideas than bad honestly. Cause most of the time we normally have a million terrible ideas and everyone’s like, Dude that sounds like shit. Why’d you even come up with that. But like Dylan said on “Never Easy”, Kanne was messing around on the keys and Dylan just came up with the melody of it on the spot.
Kanne: We actually wrote that song in the studio and recorded it on the spot. Originally it was just going to be keys and vocals and kept pushing it. That song is one of those songs where the more you listen to it, the more it grows on you - at least to me - and it just means a lot to all of us because it’s about being on the road.
With this EP being a true four-piece collaboration, was that reasoning you named it D.A.R.K., after all your initials?
Rossi: The whole record kind of has a dark undertone to it, yet it’s bright at the same time. That’s why the album cover, kind of an oxymoron, is a bright album cover and says “dark”. It is our initials, but I would say it’s more of a reflection of how the record actually is. It has a lot of more deeper, darker meanings to us then our past stuff did. We have a song called “Chemical” and it’s all about dealing with depression and anxiety. It is a chemical imbalance in your brain and so that’s what it’s all about. And then it’s an upbeat dance song.
Tell us about the new single you are releasing?
Rossi: “C.H.A.R.L.I.” is coming out on April 20th and it’s obviously my kid’s name. And it’s an acronym - Changing How A Rebel Lies Inside. I actually started writing “C.H.A.R.L.I.” two years ago. I was driving to work one day just tired of being at my job and kept thinking about my kid. You’re always told, You have to do this for your kids, you have to work your ass off for your kid and stuff - and it’s true. But I also wanted my kid to realize that you have to fight for whatever you want in life. And she was changing how I thought about different things in life. Especially my rebellious nature. And so that’s where it came from. I was driving to work realizing that she’s changing how I feel and think inside and I thought Charli...I can make that something. I call Kanne, we’re writing this song next record — it’s happening. And then we tabled it for a while. I was at the office Kanne and I work at, and singing Da-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na. I went over to his desk and were messing with it over and over and it just took flight from there.
Kanne: We sang that melody the entire tour with Blue, didn’t write anything else to it other than the first part and then we saved it.
Rossi: And we don’t want people thinking the song’s about my kid, ‘cause it’s not. It’s about figuring out what you want to do with your life and changing the bad stuff you’re doing to become this new person, this person that can reach those goals.
Dylan: It has a lot of meanings. It can be about love or be about your journey and chasing your dream.
What are your plans for the rest of the year as far as supporting the EP?
Kanne: So we’ll be doing a lot of regional shows. We’re setting up dates in New York, Nashville, and L.A. for one-off shows. Our goal over May and June is to play a lot of out-of-state shows. We played a lot locally over past two years - we might still have local gigs that we’ll still be doing. We’ve got offered some stuff that might allow you to see us on a regular basis that we’re talking about. Our goal is to just get the music out there some more. We spent six to seven months working on this new music, getting the live show how we want it to be, and ultimately being a whole new band live. That’s been our main focus, getting our live show to the level we want it to be so people want to come back.