By Nicholas Jason Lopez
As technology continues to evolve, do we as well?
After all, we ourselves cannot be measured by an algorithm.
Through the eyes of realists, Chicago melodic punk quartet Nora Marks take on the digitalization of modern society upon the release of their debut LP ‘Opt Out,’ slated to come out on Oct. 1, 2021 via Take A Hike Records.
Since their 2016 formation, Nora Marks have put out two lo-fi EPs and a bunch of self-recorded singles, but this will be the first time their music goes on a grander scale, with ‘Opt Out’ being their first professionally produced work. Even then, they’ve still had no problem capturing the energy of DIY punk, although this time, there’s a bigger emphasis on songwriting.
Recommended for fans of At The Drive-In, Joyce Manor and Pavement, the band unveiled the music video for the single “I Think You Earned It” this past week and if the enthusiastic earworm – almost reminiscent of ‘Elva’-era Unwritten Law – proves anything, it’s that fans will not ‘Opt Out,’ they’ll buy in.
The Music Bugle had the chance to talk with vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Michael Garrity about ‘Opt Out’ and more.
Music Bugle – How did you guys decide on the band name?
Michael Garrity – We got the name from a journalist and author named Eleanor Stackhouse Atkinson, who lived and worked largely in the late 1800s/early 1900s. She was born and grew up in the hometown that my brother – drummer/vocalist Matthew Garrity – and I are from, but later moved to Chicago, where she spent most of her life and career. “Nora Marks” was her pen name. We’d kicked around a lot of options when we were starting the project, but when Matthew presented this after he learned about her doing a Wikipedia deep dive, it just felt right and clicked pretty immediately. For starters, it seemed interesting to pick up this pseudonym and carry on its legacy – especially considering the really similar geographical ties we shared with Eleanor, kind of the way they do in superhero comics or how luchadors will do sometimes. Plus, it just sounds sick and looks cool and our younger brother’s name is Mark. Maybe that had something to do with it.
Music Bugle – What was your goal for “Opt Out”?
Michael Garrity – Sonically, our goal was pretty straightforwardly to make a really slick album that just sounds undeniably good. We’ve never not been confident as songwriters or as creative people, but we’d pretty much always been handicapped by our inexperience with recording and especially when we added bassist Matt Galante on bass, our sound got a lot heavier and more muscular and we really wanted to make a record that captured that. We’d spent a lot of the first four years of our band trying to establish a vibe that felt unique to us, but we had never been very successful communicating that essence outside of an in-person live music situation, so we definitely wanted to change that with this record. As far as the content of the songs and lyrics go, we all write, so I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, it was about trying to convey the sort of fractured nature of an internal monologue in the modern digital age. It’s maybe kind of “old hat” to say in 2021, but the way that online life breeds insecurity in real life I find to be particularly troublesome and very unhealthy on a massive social scale. I don’t think you have to do much digging around these days to see the negative material ramifications of this lifestyle, but the personal, internal feeling of this phenomenon is so hard to describe or get a hold on. It has something to do with how much I feel like I’m always second-guessing the way that everything I do or say will be perceived to the point where I don’t know what “I” even am sometimes or how to even begin to express myself, let alone understand myself on a deep level.
Music Bugle – How would you describe Chicago to someone who has never been there before?
Michael Garrity – The best part and the appeal of Chicago to me is that it’s genuinely eclectic and diverse and overall, just a really interesting city to spend time in and I don’t mean “diverse” in like a cheesy corporate way. I mean that there are just so many different pockets and neighborhoods within neighborhoods that all have their own vibe and feeling and activities and it’s really great to be able to live in a spot that offers one type of lifestyle, but within the span of about 20 minutes, you can be a couple miles away and experiencing the amenities and features of a totally different kind of place and in the end, it all sort of melds together under this loose unifying idea of “Chicago.” There’s not only truly something for everyone here, but there’s also something for anything you could want to do on a whim. I also think it’s interesting that this patchwork concept of Chicago is also mirrored in our incredibly impressive and fun music scene, which has such a wide range of talented artists that do so many different things, but you can throw a bill together with almost anyone in the city and it always works.
Music Bugle – What is the biggest challenge that comes with being a local act?
Michael Garrity – I mean for us, the biggest thing is just making this project financially viable – or at least not a tremendous financial burden – that would allow us to grow maybe more consistently or reduce the stress of it. I do think that’s changing and it’s great when a venue like the Golden Dagger takes a really artist-first approach to their business model by offering performers 100 percent of ticket sales. I have a family and we all work and so, while we’re definitely interested in touring to some degree at some point, it’s not something that I necessarily can or want to jump into headfirst and so, trying to keep the momentum going means we have to be creative and keep making connections within the local scene that can open up new opportunities, but ultimately, that just means going to more local shows and meeting more cool people, so it’s not like a huge hassle or anything. In some ways, it’s the best part of this whole thing.
Music Bugle – What excites you the most about your style of music?
Michael Garrity – The thing that I’m most proud of is that we always try new stuff and because of that, we have a really robust and eclectic catalog that we can pull from that allows us to put together different types of shows depending on where we’re playing or who we’re playing with. The most exciting bands, to me, are the ones who are most comfortable stretching the limits of what they’re willing to do in the name of their art. However, that being said, at the end of the day, I think we all love just being loud and aggressive and making people feel something and move their bodies. That’s the point and that’s why our live shows have always been sort of the crux of what we do and we’re only getting heavier and louder and sometimes faster from here.
Music Bugle – Does social media help or hurt musicians?
Michael Garrity – I think it’s hard to argue it does anything but help. I’m by no means an advocate for social media, but I use it for the band and for my day job and it’s an undeniably great resource for promoting your work, connecting directly with an audience that is primed to be interested in what you’re offering and measuring how you’re growing and what people are responding to. I know this is maybe a bit unrelated to the question, but I think a lot of the problems with the way social media has influenced our current culture stems from the fact that many people can’t acknowledge or see – probably by design – that they’re specifically made to be marketing platforms. They’re billboards and sometimes, that’s for an album and sometimes, it’s for shoes and sometimes, it’s for a political ideology, but at the end of the day, it’s all just someone trying to sell you something. I think letting what you see on these sites influence or affect you too much – and I’m certainly guilty of that – can give you a really skewed version of reality or what people think or how human interaction actually is when you’re actually interacting with humans.
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Michael Garrity – Well, we didn’t get to play any shows, which sucked, quite frankly. I mean, it’s my favorite thing in the world to do and having that taken away took some time to adjust to, but we’re all industrious “young” lads and took the opportunity to slow down and finish writing and then eventually recording this album and I think the songs turned out all the better for it. There are aspects of the lockdown that I actually am grateful for in some ways – like getting to spend a lot of quality time with my son during a really interesting and important stage in his life, but at this point I think, like most of the world, I’m ready to move on.
Music Bugle – Where do you go when you need a break?
Michael Garrity – Right now, it’s my garage, only because having one is still so novel to me. Back when I had less or no kids, I would always try to take a few days during the Summer to head to the beach by myself and drink some beers and swim in peace for a couple hours. Plus, visiting my family in Indiana a few times during the Summer is always a nice retreat from the city.
Music Bugle – What’s a quote that motivates you to keep doing what you do?
Michael Garrity – “It ain’t no sin to take off your skin and dance around in your bones,” by Tom Waits.
Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?
Michael Garrity – Well, I tend to be kind of weird and obsessive about listening to music, so I’m always in the middle of doing some deep dive of a specific artist or artists’ discography. Right now, I’m doing Weezer – again – and Tyler, the Creator, but as far as new stuff goes, I’ve been really into this Nashville artist named Heaven Honey. She’s been dropping a new single every few months and they’ve all been bangers. I’ve also basically haven’t stopped regularly listening to Drug Church since they started dropping singles for ‘Cheer’ in 2019. I’m also very into whatever Turnstile is doing right now.
*Photo Credit – Sam Porter*