Nudity's "White Hot Gold" starts with dripping, scalded noise. A tape reel bends. Drums drop in and drive alongside guitar chords. Then the riff hits and you bust through a wall. You can't help it. Feel the power of your electric-orange V-8 Mustang as it accelerates off a ramp into the motherfucking sky. It's a primal pull. Main Nudist Dave Harvey crafts archetypal riffs that make you want to have sex, launch a rocket, destroy a health spa, and eat meat. And Harvey doesn't even eat meat. He's vegan, with a penchant for psychedelic talk-box breakdowns. The Olympia-based Nudity—Harvey on guitar and vocals, drummer Tanar Stalker, bassist Abigail Ingram, Stephie Crist on guitar, Rachel Carns on synths, and filmmaker Joaquin de la Puente on live visuals—have been getting after it since 2005. On April 7, Iron Lung Records will release Astronomicon, the band's most focused full-length yet. I interviewed Harvey on a crisp Olympia morning.
I've been practicing how to say the name of your album, Astronomicon. But it sounds like I'm saying Dominican. I need more ah sound, like Comicon.
I could go with the Dominican pronunciation. That has more flow than the way I say it. It's less Ameri-CAN, and more Astronomi-CON. The ah in there is not incorrect, nor is Comicon.
How do you dial in guitar sounds when you're recording, to give them that chiseled, let's-have-sex-right-now sound?
In the studio for this album, the guitars were originally mic'd with fancy tube mics. And it sounded good, but I wanted it to be a little edgier, so we switched to cheap mics. I'm into upper-mid-range for guitars. It makes them stand out and feel like they're gonna cut you, man!
How did your song "White Hot Gold" happen? Isn't that slang for whipped cream during a sex binge?
I was hanging out at Chris Pontius's house in LA, from the Jackass crew. I was playing one of his guitars. He has a ton of guitars, and sometimes he makes guitars. He'll take parts of different guitars and put them together and refinish them. I think I was sitting on his back porch overlooking a little creek. It just popped into my head, which is rare, because usually I need to be in motion if I'm going to write a riff. Like walking somewhere or driving somewhere. I was sitting there with his guitar. Sometimes a different guitar can inspire something—it was a semi-hollow body. I was playing high up on the neck, and it had a weird sound.
How do you know Chris Pontius?
We met in high school. We lived a couple towns away from each other. We had some mutual skater friends, and have stayed close since then.
Have you ever gotten into any of the Jackass high jinks? Have you ever rammed your nuts into the corner of a pool table? Or put a Matchbox car up your ass or anything?
Maybe not either of those things specifically. I don't want to back myself into a corner and say I've never rammed my testicles into a pool table, because it's possible it's happened accidentally. It was pretty mind-blowing when Jackass blew up. It was like, oh my God, Chris is getting famous and getting all this money from doing all the same shit we did as kids for free [laughs].
In "White Hot Gold," I think you're singing, "I want to sink into the depths of darkness." What do you mean there? What do you want to sink into?
The line would be, "I want to sink into the depths of your darkness." Which would imply that, yes, whatever person this song is about and whatever darkness I found in them could inspire the song's riffery. But it could also imply, y'know, S-E-X. If you're of such a mind.
You've got a van and have done much touring. What are the keys to staying alert during an all-night drive?
Take the earlier shift and retire just before the sun comes up. That moment of driving all night and seeing the sun come up is the worst. You feel so haggard. You see yourself in the mirror in the light, and you're like, "Oh God, I've been up all night driving and I look and feel like shit." I'm a chocolate-covered-espresso-bean guy. You pee less that way—it's a great trick.
Do Nudity dabble with travel urinals? There's the "Little John" for men, and the "Lady J" for the female members of your band.
A couple weeks ago, our synthesizer player Rachel Carns solved it. She picked up some paper funnels at the gas station. We had a long drive back to Olympia, and she was thinking ahead. Gatorade bottles work well. Also Aquafina bottles have a nice wide mouth [laughs]. It brings to mind the Mike Watt song with Evan Dando singing—"Piss-Bottle Man."
Do Nudity ever go meta and get nude? Any streaking stories?
No streaking immediately comes to mind. But, you know, I'll be naked in slightly inappropriate situations now and then. A couple years ago, I saw some Jehovah's Witness people were about to come to my door. So I took my clothes off and put on a really sleazy song by Cairo Pythian. They knocked, and I was able to open the door with no clothes on and this sleazy song playing. It absolutely flustered them. They said, "We don't know if we can talk to you like that." And I was like, "Hey, it's cool. We're just talkin'. There's nothing wrong with it. I'm just as God made me." To quote Spinal Tap.
Let's do Dave Harvey Thoughts on the Beauty and Power of a Guitar Riff.
You know, what beats a guitar riff is the right combination of a riff and a chord progression. A great riff is a great riff, anyone can write riffs. But writing chord progressions in a song that blend with riffs is kind of the secret to writing great rock songs.
What kind of guitar are you playing on "White Hot Gold"? Tell me its story.
A 1973 Guild S-100 Nature Boy. I was on tour in Philadelphia, and the headstock of the Les Paul I was playing cracked off. I was like, "Fuuuuuck noooo." Two weeks later, we were in Minneapolis and I saw this guitar on the wall. It was nice, but more than I wanted to pay. I told myself I shouldn't get it, but it kept calling to me from across the room. I picked it up and played it, and damn it felt good. I was born in 1973, and the factory tag listed it as a "Nature Boy." When I saw that, I knew it was for me. So that's the guitar you're hearing.
"Nature Boy" is also what the professional wrestler Ric Flair calls himself, isn't it?
Yes! Totally. One time I was walking through the U-District late at night, and these drunk people were shouting, "Riiiic Fuckin' Flaaaaiiir." They were the type of people you should avoid late at night. I went up to them and stood my ground, and said very calmly, "Rowdy Roddy Piper." They shouted "Ric Flair" some more. It was a pretty good standoff, then they left, so I think I won.
In Nudity, you feature twin guitar leads. Talk twin guitars for us.
I think of twin guitars and I think of MC5. "Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa" is choice. Some other truly impressive two-guitar shit is Ron Wood and Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones. I noticed it so hard in Martin Scorsese's Shine a Light. After Scorsese gets finished talking too much, the Stones open with "Jumpin' Jack Flash."
The interesting thing is that neither Keith nor Ron is really playing the riff. They sort of play a couple notes from it, then a little bit of a licky-poo, then the other one plays it. They don't look at each other, it's not a conscious thing. They have this symbiosis after playing with each other since like 1975. They play like one guitarist. It's all over the place, yet it drives really hard.
Brittany Stallings's cover artwork for Astronomicon is excellent. Wolves are peeling back the skin of a goddess, and is that a galaxy inside?
Yeah, you can say it's the cosmos in there, sure. Brittany sang in a band with me years ago, and she made a flyer for one of our shows, and I was really taken aback by how great it was. Part of her art, that I try to have in Nudity as well, is the thought that the carnal and the earthly are one side of the spectrum, with spiritual stuff on the other side. But there's a point at which something can get so earthly and carnal that it wraps all the way around and becomes spiritual. Where it's more a globe than a spectrum.
How's Olympia? Give me the latest.
Olympia is moving right along as it always does. There's an awesome new venue called Obsidian with a cafe/bar in the front and a show space in the back. I work there and put together the PA, so I'm biased. The sound in there is pretty dang good. There's a new Olympia band called Wulf, pronounced wolf, speaking of wolves. Wulf is the last name of the singer. They're killer Thin Lizzy–ish rock with some pop elements. Vexx aren't new, but they're a raging-ass punk band with the most awesomest guitarist you can imagine and a super dynamic singer. There's always beautiful weirdo-shit popping up here.
You can play guitar and bend completely over backward and still play. How do you do that?
I don't know. A while ago I was doing a yoga class, and a woman said she recognized me doing the back bend while playing the guitar. The curvilinear shape of my body concentrates the guitar tone into a ball of riff [laughs].