Interview: Nick Villars (Superdivorce)

 

Over the course of modern music’s ever-evolving and continuing history, we have borne witness time and time again to a deeper delve into fusionsitic expression, with genres blending in ways we had never originally expected across developing platforms we had previously never dreamed of. Streamlined accessibility begat both a boom in market diversity and easier production services, which begat wider and wider arrays of diverse music tastes, culminating in artists- new and old- comfortably pulling an unfathomably large amount of influence omnidirectionally across genres. This cross-genre omnidirectionality envelops not only current and newer genres, such as EDM, the concept of “indie” as a genre, or Future Garage, but also encompasses cross-spatial planes of TIME, as well. In summation, “everything old is new again.” Resurgences in subjects such as 50s pop styling and renewed interest in 70s-80s recording tech has found thenselves forcibly intertwined with modernistic songwriting and production services, creating cataclysmic clashes of genres that, rather seamlessly, blend with ease into one-another. It seems that more and more music acts are incorporating this sort of audio-specific upcycling, in which that of which is “dated” is molded over to bring new life to a rapidly-increasing amount of new acts, from Bowie to Gaga to Disclosure. To attempt to count the influx of fusionistic genres, or fusion/experimental bands that utilize fusion efforts, would be utterly laughable; to list them all would be inscrutable.

However, we can highlight particular successes in this area of sonoric upcycling. Meet Superdivorce- a burgeoning electro-pop/synth-pop duo that utilizes equal parts funk, groove, and relentless passion. 80s stylizations meets modernistic songwriting qualities in their works, harkening to retro-fitted variations and explorations the likes of Kavinsky, Tears For Fears, Depeche Mode, and Wham! With such a combination of skillsets, plus the additional sweeping hooks and high-flying, carefully-crafted melodies, the human ear has no choice but to marry themselves to the supple, sweet sonic sensibilities of Superdivorce.

We had the utmost pleasure in sitting down with the mastermind behind Superdivorce, Nick Villars, and talk at length about the decline of Nick’s post-hardcore days, giving way to the championing rise of Superdivorce; our early electropop idols, a bit about Soundcloud and podcasting, and much, much more!

 

Ouch That Hertz!: Hey, Nick! How’s it going?

Nick Villars: Very swell, thank you for asking!

OTH!: So, Nick, let’s dive right into the heart of Superdivorce. To say I’m intrigued by your musical background would be an understatement- I’m genuinely floored by it! The band started out as an earnest, Midwest post-hardcore outfit and- within a year’s time- has utterly transformed into a budding, dancey electro-pop duo. I’ve heard and seen that Superdivorce’s post-hardcore days were “on the brink of [a] fiery death.” I have to ask, where did Superdivorce’s initial beginnings go wrong? How did it toe the line of extinction?

Nick: Well! Our initial run began to go south when our bassist at the time, Dale Hupke, decided to leave the band shortly after we released our first album in 2016. He was, and still is, a fantastic tattoo artist at Studio 85 Tattoo, which just so happens to be the studio my wife opened back in 2013!

Anyhow, as the band and Dale’s budding career as a tattooist both began requiring more and more of his time, he realized one of the two had to go. Understandably, he chose to devote himself fully to body art. Make no mistake, he is an incredible bass player, but his tattoo skills are just as impressive. By the time he had to make the decision between music and slingin’ that ink, he’d already become quite successful as an artist. Given how much time and energy he’d invested into his personal career at the point, I couldn’t blame him for his decision to leave.

He was up front about the whole thing and spared us the commonly drawn out exit of so many artistic flakes, so there were no hard feelings.

So then it was down to Bender, Bob, and me in the early summer of 2016.

Some issues that had been simmering for some time came to light one evening.

There was a war of a words.

And then Superdivorce was a two-piece band. A drummer and a vocalist with a quite uncertain future.

OTH!: Furthermore, would you change anything about that? As in, do you wish that you could’ve continued in heavier music, or was the rebirth of Superdivorce as an electro band a blessing in disguise and, thusly, a welcomed change?

Nick: I’m not at all regretful about leaving the heavier side behind for now. I’ve played heavier music for nearly my entire time as a musician, so it’s not like I haven’t explored that realm to my own satisfaction (for now at least).

And though I’ve spent a lot of time screaming and yelling on stage, I prefer listening to poppier music. 80s pop, new wave, 90s alt/power pop, late 90s/early 2000s emo and the like as opposed to heavy music. I like stuff I can have fun singing along to. My favorite band ever is Weezer. So it’s fun to be able to draw from those influences without having to sneak the influences in so subtly.

OTH!: Do you have any interest in ever returning to heavy music, be it a fused take with Superdivorce, or, perhaps, a future side project?

Nick: I’d like to release another album with The Great American Beast someday. The way that band ended is a super-duper bummer, so a little redemption would be nice. However, out of all the former members of that group, I’m the last one still grinding away in earnest at this business of music, so I don’t anticipate an immediate reunion. Nor do I pine for it. I just think it would be fun to do. There’s something great about getting wasted and rolling around on stage while screaming obnoxiously. I’m a father and I’m over 30 years old, but that part of me isn’t totally dead.

OTH!: Also, how did you get Zach Bender on board with this? I only ever knew him as the drummer for Sleep Star Ignition; I’m surprised to see him working in synthpop now. Not that anything about the origins of Superdivorce aren’t surprising or, to an extent, baffling in the slightest, but I’m curious as to how Zach got on board with Superdivorce?

Nick: Superdivorce started because Bender, Bob, and I didn’t want to stop playing music together after SSI ended. We decided to still jam around “whenever”. Pushed aside all expectations. Basically agreed to the musical equivalent of casual sex with an ex.

Well, that kind of thing has a tendency to become less than casual of its own accord. We started finding a bit of a groove. “Oh shit! We just wrote a new song and it’s awesome!”

Sooner rather than later you have a handful of songs. “Well, why don’t we just call our little project something silly?”

I threw out the name Superdivorce and we all cracked up. I don’t even know where the name came from. It was just hilarious for some reason and we never could think of anything that felt better.

To answer your question though, Bender went straight from SSI into Superdivorce. There was never any question as to whether or not he’d be the drummer. He was there when the “band” formed, though it wasn’t quite a band in the traditional sense when we kicked things off, and when we found ourselves as a two-piece, we decided to continue on as a team… Somehow.

“The discipline to keep going isn’t a given. It takes real effort. I think if you apply that to other areas of life it has more benefit than can be put into words.”

 

OTH!: So, here you are,  once an emerging prominent figure in post-hardcore with a long history in the scene, playing in bands like The Great American Beast and Sleep Star Ignition, now an emerging (and climbing) synthpop rookie. What led you to electro and synthpop?

Nick: I love 80s music. I was born in 1985, so my first real memories start around age four. My mom used to have MTV or VH1 on a lot back then, so I’m sure I was absorbing all of those classic tunes with my super-spongey kid brain. I think the first person I ever looked at and thought “that guy is the coolest” was George Michael in the ‘Faith’ video. Just awesome.

But the vibes, the danciness, the colors, the entire 80s aesthetic just resonates with me. It takes me back to the earliest part of my childhood that I can actually recall.

Many moons later when I was managing a store called Buybacks, I discovered a Sirius radio station called First Wave and it totally reconnected me to that time musically. I’d always enjoyed a good song from Huey Lewis, Talking Heads, or The Cure, but I really fell in love with that entire era in a conscious way as an adult by listening to that station everyday.

So I’d say my more mature exploration of that classic, synth-heavy 80s style pop and rock probably started in 2009 or so. Since then bands from that era have been dominating my leisure listening time. Strangely enough, however, it wasn’t a nagging thought I’d wrestled with: play 80s inspired synthpop. The idea just manifested and was digested almost immediately after Bob was out of the picture. There wasn’t much deliberation.

Me: “What if we became a synthpop group?”

Bender: “Yes!”

OTH!: Do you ever sit and reflect on your time spent in entertainment- from dynamic post-hardcore to grooving, funky synthpop- and ever feel like it’s been one utterly surreal whirlwind?

Nick: Not very often. I don’t spend much time thinking about past epochs in my life. I keep a journal and try to write down the important stuff, so I kind of do my reflecting as I go. Once we’re in the midst of a new adventure, I try to stay focused.

I don’t disregard the past, however. If something comes to mind and it seems like there’s a lesson I’m supposed to mine from it, game on.

But I’ll admit, it has been a whirlwind. Especially from 2008 to the present. I don’t think I’m special in that regard, though. Life in general is very whirlwindy for most people. That’s why it’s absolutely necessary to consciously and consistently work on improving onself. The gusts life sends one’s way will destroy a person who isn’t sufficiently put together. That fact plays a great role in why I’ve persisted in music. The discipline to keep going isn’t a given. It takes real effort. I think if you apply that to other areas of life it has more benefit than can be put into words.

OTH!: At any rate, I’m more than glad that you’ve continued on in music- and with this particular iteration of Superdivorce! Unbeknownst to most, I’m a MAJOR synthpop and electronic nerd, with an overarching shrine to Yellow Magic Orchestra, Erasure, and Kraftwerk standing prominently in my closet. And who do you find you draw influence from- be they renowned greats or modern contemporaries?

Nick: I have too many influences to name all of them, but for this album in particular we were inspired by Gary Numan, Tears for Fears, The System, Talking Heads, Midge Ure, Alphaville, and Depeche Mode. Not saying that exhausts the list, but those are the ones coming immediately to mind right now.

OTH!: I’ve taken a listen to your freshly-released single “The Predator.” I can hear the funk and groove in that, with these soaring pop-melodies that remind me a bit of Tears for Fears. Would you say that the rest of your upcoming album, Action Figures, takes this sort of retro-fitted electronic style?

Nick: The entire album is definitely tinged with that classic electropop vibe. The songs are all unqiue and have their own stories, but the album has a flow that makes sense. I think it’s quite a buffet. People won’t get bored listening to it. They might not like it, but I don’t see them getting bored.

OTH!: And while we’ve broached the subject, tell me about the writing process for this album. I hear you basically had the whole thing- an entire full length- completed in less than a year? What’s the story behind the title Action Figures? What’s the overarching theme(s) of this album, aside from your reintroduction to this particular facet of the industry?

Nick: It started with tinkering around on a cheap Casio and it wound up being the most fun I’ve ever had recording an album.

The first demo was written and recorded in my office in October of 2016. That demo was for the song ‘Holding Hands’. Then I just kept doing these little demos at home and eventually there were ten. They were very rough going into the studio, but I had the utmost faith in our producer, Josh Schroeder, to help us figure out how to put it all together in a way that made sense. He didn’t let us down.

It was truly a collaborative effort. We would go into the studio around noon, talk about wrestling, watch YouTube videos, and generally dick off for an hour and a half or so. Then we’d flip the switch and get to work. Start working on a song. Someone has an idea. We’d try it. Maybe it worked. Maybe not. No one got pissy. No egos. It was a blast.

As far as a theme goes, I’d say it’s really just about following the creative instinct and telling a story. Each song has a bit of a narrative to it, but it’s not a concept album or anything. And there’s not really an explicit message running through the entirety of the record. There are messages within each song, but overall I hope people just walk away feeling like it’s an album they want to listen to over and over again.

OTH!: So, you’ve breezed through the stages of reorienting yourself from post-hardcore to electro/synthpop, you’ve got this upcoming album underway, and you’ve already got a single out with some clear directionality. My next question for you is where does Superdivorce go from here? Are you already scheming another future release, perhaps with some drabbles of Brian Eno’s or Bowie’s electro-clash/fusion intersparsing? 

Nick: We haven’t even begun talking about what’s next musically. At the moment we’re preparing to play our first live show as a two-piece. I believe we’re going to start off doing live vocals over the backing track instrumentals. It’s going to basically be a pop show. Uncharted waters for us, but we’re kind of goofy, so we’re going to make sure it comes across as entertaining first and foremost.

80s Bowie is incredible, though. I wouldn’t mind bringing some of that to the table for the next go-round.

OTH!: I see that you also have a Superdivorce podcast underway- the Superdivorce Supercast. Admittedly, I’ve jumped the gun and have only JUST started to listen to Epidode #79 “That Is Not A Good Kit Kat.” What’s the story behind the origins of that? I understand you’re also on Twitch- admittedly, I don’t know many artists/bands that are utilizing Twitch as a means to connect with fans- have you found much success with Twitch and the podcast? Or is it all just for fun?

Nick: Both the podcast and Twitch are really just things we do for fun. I think there’s a lot of potential in using both platforms to connect with fans and make new ones along the way, but we’ve been so focused on getting the music together and promoting the new album that there hasn’t been much effort put into promoting anything else.

That is definitely going to change, though. Our philosophy with this project is to really give people who support us a steady stream of content all year round. Video shows, the podcast, live game streaming. These are things we already have fun with. So why not organize it a bit and put together a kind of network for the fans?

There are so many artists out there for people to listen to, I think if you toss out one album every few years and go radio silent in between, you’re not only being lazy, you’re also playing yourself. People forget. They need you on the radar. And when you keep yourself on the radar, you deepen that connection to your audience and show them with your actions that you really do care about having them around. You don’t disappear for three years only to return, drop an album, and expect everyone to ante up. That’s quite lame, in my estimation.

OTH!: I have to say, I’m sort of surprised by the Supercast, as I imagined that it was going to be more musically derivative and a larger plug for your artistry, but I see that you rather use it for your other interests and hobbies! How do you make time to focus on all these other facets of your interests and set talking about your artistry on the back-burner in these podcasts? Is that how you keep yourself sane and avoid burning out? Or do you just find that you have your hand dipped into a ton of pots, and this is just one of many?

Nick: The Supercast is really just a way for people to hear what it’s like to hang out with us. We don’t expect it to be everyone’s cup of tea, but I think it’d be cool to listen to some of my favorite bands just shoot the shit with each other, so why not offer that to our fans? That’s the mindset.

We’re nerds who happen to play music. I think that’s an accurate description. I aspire to become better at what I do musically. I’m very interested in old analog synth gear because I love the sounds, but I’ll come right out and tell you I’m an absolute novice. I’m in several Facebook groups for synth producers and I see people nitpicking each other’s creations down to the level of migraine-inducing minutiae. That doesn’t seem fun to me. It probably is for some, but that’s not us. Maybe someday. Not now, though.

We take the music seriously, of course. We set out to make an album we would both listen to and enjoy and we hit the nail on the head and brought the vision to life. But with that done, it’s back to discussing horror movies and the backstage politics of professional wrestling as it relates to the Star Wars universe and so on. That’s just who we are, brother.

We do the work when it’s time. We do the play when it’s time.

OTH!: And, I guess while I have you here, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the bailing out of Soundcloud- I know that you’ve got some personal bias, as the podcast is hosted on Soundcloud- do you feel that, with ALL these other interactive means and platforms- Spotify, Twitch, Steam, Podcasts, Youtube- will Soundcloud still have a stand after all? Or was Chance the Rapper’s generous bail-out for naught? Would his money have been better taken somewhere else?

Nick: If we didn’t have an rss feed through Soundcloud I’d probably never use it. I’m not knocking it, though. It seems like many artists have utilized Soundcloud as an important tool. It’s just never been a platform I’ve focused on for spreading my music nor for listening to other artists. Spotify, Bandcamp, Youtube, absolutely. Soundcloud just hasn’t hooked me.

Why host the podcast through Soundcloud then? I believe it has something to do with ease of use when originally setting it up.

OTH!: And, for one last quick question, while we’re on the subject of podcasts: Do you happen to subscribe to My Brother, My Brother, And Me?

Nick: I do not, but I just looked it up and it sounds like a hoot. I’ll give it a shot!

OTH!: Well, Nick, I’d love to debate with you on Marvel vs. DC and your decision to revert to being a DC fan, but I’m afraid that we’re running out of time. Before I let you go, is there anything else that you’d like to add?

Nick: Just that these were some damn fine questions. I appreciate you taking the time to put together such a wonderful, in-depth interview. Hopefully we can do it again sometime and engage in that Marvel vs. DC debate!

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