!!!'s Nic Offer on Going Out, Social Media, and Keeping It Real

!!!'s Nic Offer on Going Out, Social Media, and Keeping It Real
Photo by Chris Egan
Photo by Chris Egan

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I first got in touch with Nic Offer of !!! while doing their bio for the band's most recent album, 2019's Wallop (which, despite my professional involvement, I do believe is actually one of their best albums). I had a great time talking with him about music during that process, and we've intermittently kept in touch since, especially through his subscribing to this very newsletter.

I thought it would be great to talk with him for the newsletter itself because he very clearly loves music as well as talking about music (not a guarantee for all musicians, as ridiculous as that sounds), and because !!! are something of an NYC institution to me, so I figured it'd be great fun to pick his brain about the passage of time as well as what he's been up to in the last two years. Sounds like there's a new !!! album on the way soon too, which is always exciting.

What's life been like for you over the last 18 months?

I'm a studio guy, so when shit went down, I was like, "OK, I guess I'm just gonna be in the studio." I felt like people were falling on two sides of things, but I was thriving. When everything started changing, I was just finishing up a solo electronic dark and scary instrumental-type record—a whole different sonic personality that was great to find for myself. But I had to put it away when everything went bad, because it made me realize how much horror is a luxury. I can work on this dark and scary music, but once it seemed like the world was actually scary, it was too real. I couldn't fucking do it.

There was definitely a moment where I was like, "What am I supposed to write about?" Dance music is always about a brighter day and how things are getting better, and that isn't necessarily the lyrical angle that !!! has always take, but it's what we do for people. Whether or not people pay attention to the lyrics, musicians give hope in some ways. I didn't know where the fucking hope was. [Laughs]

But it worked itself out after day after day of nothing else to do but be down here in the studio. As soon as I started writing about other things, everything was inadvertently about everything that was happening. I didn't sit down to write, "I hate the President!" But you're writing a love song, and then it turns out to be about how you're dissatisfied with the government.

Everything had to change for the band. We worked on each others' Ableton sessions, which we'd never done before. It became a very different record for us, which is great. We're always looking for ways to switch things up with the band, so that was really exciting. We lean into our limitations.

What does going out look like for you now versus pre-pandemic?

My age group was already getting old for nightlife, and the pandemic drew a line. A lot of the people I used to party with were of the age where they suddenly moved upstate or back home. They all have kids, maybe they don't want to go out that much. I drank less last year than I did since I was 20, because if I'm not going out I'm not drinking at all. So what partying for me was changed.

Everyone was saying, "When it opens back up, it'll be like the roaring twenties." But it wasn't like that in New York. There wasn't freak shit on the streets. I was spending a lot of time in the Lower East Side last summer, which seems like it's happening in a weird way, but split in weird dynamics. So it's already strange for me.

I'm always the oldest guy in the club, and I still do like to go out. But I don't have my finger on the pulse of the club scene, so I haven't been out there the way I would like to, because I don't know what's happening. I have been to live shows, though—a lot of them, I guess, five or six since this started happening. But all the bands I saw had big albums last year, when you were like, "Man, I gotta see this band next year."

How important is it to you, to have your finger on the pulse? I sense some fatigue these days regarding that aspect, even from people whose job it is to do so. But it's not necessarily your job to do so.

You and I have different reasons—you need to know to join the conversation, I need the stimulae. I don't have that sensation where I need to see everyone and have an opinion on it. I can just pick and choose and see somebody good, so everything I've been to is a good show. No bullshit. I fucking love to see a band play the song that everyone loves that they wanted to see. I love that. That's great.

I went and saw—who I noticed you wrote about, and I disagreed with you—that band Dehd. I really liked that last record, and I understand why you like the one before it, but it seems like it sticks in that genre that I like whereas the most recent record...the songwriting is elevated, a cut above those indie-pop bands. So they played the first song from that record, which I kept playing for people before. It got to this point towards the end, 3/4 in, where they took it to a higher level, and I literally said "Goddamn" out loud.

I need to be out seeing bands and feeling that. I don't like seeing a band ten years after when they're playing the songs that they're not excited about—I like seeing them play when they're excited about it. In that sense, I care about having my finger on the pulse. I want to see a band when they're good.

Have you been to any dance stuff? I've heard mixed things about what that scene is like right now.

A lot of the stuff I was doing was disco parties on the street. Those were fun. We played Elsewhere, and I wanted to check out what I thought was gonna be AceMo outside for free, and when I showed up it was $30 inside, and I just wasn't ready to be back inside for $30. I've been listening to club music more than usual, but I haven't been back in the actual club.

!!! were grouped into the dance-punk conversation for a time in the 2000s. How did you perceive that moment in time?

I try to keep it at a distance. We've passed several 20th anniversaries for ourselves. We're climbing at the mountain, I don't want to look down until we get to the top. I'm just not comfortable looking back. There's so many things we do wrong in terms of how you're supposed to maintain the Instagram thing. People will be like, "There's the anniversary of our single!" And I feel like there'll be a point where we have to play that game, because the checks are different for a band like us.

The '60s hippie movement, to me, was about saying "Yes." Punk was about saying "No." Post-punk, to me, was about saying, "No, but what could be?" That's what we attached to as a band when we were starting. We liked the possibilities of what Gang of Four suggested, but we didn't want to stay in that box—we just wanted to ask the questions. So when the whole New York dance-punk thing started to harden into "This is what the sound is," that was not what we wanted to do.

When people are like, "Why don't you make the new records just like the old records?" I'm like, "That was never the fucking point." If that had been our philosophy at the time, we wouldn't have made those records. For us to be the band that has the promise of whatever we had in 2005, we need to keep moving forward and not looking back to say, "Wasn't that a grand old time in New York?" That's not where we're at. It's a lonely road for us, and we get a lot of "Are they still a band?" But take any of our last four records, and it's a band trying to move forward—a band doing something good.

There's a real frustration that musicians feel, I think, with trying to remain visible. It causes some musicians to hang it up completely.

There's a song on our last EP, "Take It Easy," about how I like to literally take it easy in the studio—and in the meantime, my manager's calling me saying, "We need to do something on the Instagram. The show's undersold." That's the reality for a band like us. I wanted to grow up, be in a band, and play shows. I did not want to be a publicity machine for myself. You used to be able to put out the record and let the label do the work, and now when the record comes out the people who do the work is us.

I understand that it works really well for other artists—you know who's good at Twitter and Instagram and who's not—and I'm able to partake in that as a fan, but it's not what I excel at. I excel at being in the studio and working. There's a case to be made that the band could be bigger if I didn't work as hard on the jams and worked harder on the 'Gram, but I'm just not comfortable with it. And as I'm saying this to you, you might see it change! We're always just getting by as a band. When people say they want to hang it up, I understand.

What have you seen personally change in the music industry over the last decade?

It's hard to say. We're in an interesting position where, when the mid-2010s rolled around, the music press weren't like, "What does !!! have to say? What are they doing?" We were more in that category of, "Do you want some press? OK, give us your ten favorite albums." Which is fine, because I want to be a rock journalist anyway, and I also recognize that the person reading the article doesn't realize you've been given a boring assignment—it's about whether they're bored by what you have to say.

Bands are expected to do their own promo now, and a publicist's job is—well, I don't know what their job is, but it's to tell me to Tweet. Labels need to figure out why they exist now, because their whole job now is to tell you to do their job, which is to promo your record. In 2011, you'd Tweet about a funny sandwich and be like, "Hey, I got 12 likes!" Now it has to be more calculated.

!!! have been on Warp for most of your career. They have a specific aesthetic and history.

Our relationship to Warp has always remained the same. "Wait, Warp wants to work with us?" Those early compilations were what changed our views of house music. I don't know why they do what they do right while other labels do what they do wrong, but I know that every year they have some records that I care about. They kind of just don't fuck it up. They never swing for the fences in a way that looks like garbage, which is a huge difference between them and other labels.

Weirdo musicians are always like, "You guys are more pop," while more poppy musicians are like, "Why don't you try and be more accessible?" We're always just trying to be good, and they fit well for us in that way. They allow us to do what we want to do, and they're supportive.

Have there been any opportunities in your career that you've turned down and have reflected on?

We turned down a Jaguar ad. Now you'd be crazy to turn down a Jaguar ad—that's how you're supposed to stay alive—but I don't regret that. That would've been weird. They wanted to use "Me and Giuliani Down by the Schoolyard," and at that point that was the apex of our set. I was like, "We can't turn the apex of our set into a commercial." But that was the moment that bands were going fucking nuclear through commercials, and you were supposed to do that. But I'm glad we didn't.

That was our big celebrity moment, when people would be backstage and I'd be like, "Who the fuck are you?" Now I'd be a little nicer. We were probably 30 when that was all happening—able to be young and excited about those things, but wise enough not to do anything too stupid. By the time the 2010s rolled around, the chances to screw ourselves weren't coming at us. Now, screwing ourselves would be a whole different ball game—I don't know how we'd do that. The artists that we like have held to a creative spark as a guiding light, and that's been our ideal. To trade it at this point would be very foolish.

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Jamie Larson