No Regular Play members Greg Paulus and Nick DeBruyn met as 8-year-olds growing up in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the duo bonded early over a mutual love of hip-hop and jazz legends such as A Tribe Called Quest. No Regular Play became integrated into the Wolf + Lamb family, and since 2008, they’ve had a string of releases on the label, including the Owe Me and Too Dramatic EPs, as well as their debut album, 2012’s Endangered Species.
At the beginning of the month, their second album, Can’t You See, was released via Crew Love Records. Featuring lead single (and my favorite track) “Lake Gilmore,” the album represents a growth in the band’s sound and subject matter. Written during the period following the passing of Greg’s father in 2012, it deals with themes of loss and maturation.
I got a chance to chat with the duo about the new album, genre classifications, and more. Find out what they had to say, and be sure to RSVP now for their free show at Multiply LA on September 6.
With electronic music, it seems there’s always a genre within a genre within an genre (at least with my friends, it can’t just be “house” — it has to be “sub-tropical, above-the-equator house…”). Where do you put your music?
We normally throw “jazz” in there and “house,” but not “jazz house” because I normally equate that with a little cornier type of music. There’s a pretty heavy hip-hop influence, but you can’t say “jazz hip-house.”
Tell me a little more about the Afro-Cuban rhythm sounds you like to explore. Where did that influence come from?
We had a Spanish teacher who we were really close with, and he’s from the eastern part of Cuba. He somehow managed to get a visa to bring kids, like a group of 20 students, down to Havana and a town called Matanzas. I think he was the second person ever to obtain a visa to bring students down there since the embargo started. It was a two-year visa, and I went the first year and just completely fell in love. Nick was able to go the second year, and I persuaded the teacher to let me go, too.
It was basically like a cultural exchange between schools. We worked with the other school to study the music and Afro-Cuban drumming and stayed with them in dorms. We basically spent a week staying in the dorms in Matanzas with a bunch of university students, and every day they would teach us their culture. They would teach us how to salsa dance, they would play music for us and try to get us to play along with them, take us to the beach…
It was a very special trip, and we fell in love with Cuban music after that. I was able to go down the year after and do some more playing in jazz clubs and stuff like that. Pretty awesome place.
What’s the music culture like in Cuba? Do they have clubs? Do they have jazz lounges?
There are a lot of old clubs that have been around for a while. I think the Tropicana is one, and that place typically has a huge band with a bunch of drummers and dancers and beautiful, ornate headdresses and costumes. So there’s that, which is kind of left over from the ’50s casino mobster style, and then there are a bunch of jazz clubs that are more like Afro-Cuban jazz, which is kind of like an American jazz club except it’s focused more on the Cuban style.
Then there’s just a ton of music in the streets pretty much everywhere you go. People playing in the streets, music blasting from apartments all over the place. That kind of atmosphere was really enticing to us, just to see how much their music was a part of their everyday lives. It was a special thing for us to see coming from living in St Paul, Minnesota, where we were into music but you wouldn’t just walk down the street and have these parties going on everywhere.
You play a lot of live instruments like keys, trumpets, and drums, and then combine them with electronic elements. How do you view the difference between someone playing and recording a live instrument and someone who maybe creates the sound of that instrument through their laptop?
I think anything can be an instrument. I guess what qualifies it as being an instrument is learning it, because a drum machine can totally be an instrument even though it’s basically a computer with some sounds in it. You can learn to play that as an instrument. I was watching a friend use a drum machine the same way a classically trained pianist would use a grand piano. He was just going crazy on it, and it reinforced this idea that I think anything can be used as an instrument.
The laptop is kind of weird to think of as an instrument, but you can, and if you use the laptop in conjunction with something where you are pushing buttons or composing, that’s like a modern version of a piano. People used to just write music on the piano back in the day, but now you can compose on the computer with your mouse. The line is pretty effectively blurred at this point.
To learn an instrument like the trumpet or piano, you traditionally start young and there’s a pretty standard progression of learning. There’s a system in place as opposed to how a lot of electronic musicians learn to create, which is generally just kind of learning on their own.
I think both ways can have their advantages and disadvantages. It’s kind of cool to be able to just experiment with computers and drum machines and come up with your own thing without any preconceived notions of what music should sound like. There’s definitely a way to just press play on a mixer, but I think it’s pretty obvious when that’s happening and when it’s not.
Let’s talk about your sophomore album, Can’t You See. Would you say it’s in the same vein as your first album or is it a complete departure?
I don’t think it’s a complete departure, but I think it sounds more mature. We spent a lot more time with this one, so everything is just a little bit more refined and the mood of it is a little bit more consistent than the first album. I don’t think we were concerned about making dance tracks, necessarily. We just put in as many of our influences as we could and experimented with a bunch of different things, so in that respect, it’s similar to the first one.
A lot of the lyrics can be applied to a few different life situations. There are a few different songs where maybe the first set of lyrics is dealing with the loss of my dad and then it would morph into something having to do with a different relationship, which is something that I kind of like. I would say none of them are super direct except for “Gilmore.”
We didn’t want it to be a sad record. We tried pretty hard to keep things moving. Nostalgic but hopeful.
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