Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s are nothing short of amazing

Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s have evolved a bit since the simultaneous release of 2008’s Animal! and Not Animal. They’ve relocated to a new city, lost a few members (while gaining a few new ones), and taken their sound in a bit of a different direction. But despite these changes, it’s safe to say they’re still one of the best bands the Midwest has produced in the past decade or so.

Everything they’ve done – whether it be the string-heavy rock of The Dust of Retreat and Animal!, or the distorted warble of  Buzzard and Rot Gut, Domestic – has been nothing short of amazing. We were lucky enough to get a few minutes with Margot’s lead singer and songwriter, Richard Edwards, prior to the band playing the Summer Music Series on Fountain Square this Friday, July 5th.  We caught him at home, where his daughter had just fallen and split her lip. Despite the mishap, he was still cool enough to answer a few questions about his love for Hot Doug’s, his fascination with Arvydas Sabonis, and the direction of the band’s next album.

First off, besides the split lip how’s it going?
Besides that it’s going ok. 

You’re living in Chicago now, how do you like it compared to Indianapolis?
I actually split my time, been in Chicago for about four or five years. They both have their pluses and minuses. Not too much difference. 

What neighborhoods in Chicago are you spending most of your time in?
Ukrainian Village mostly, when I first moved to Chicago I lived in Lincoln … no, not Lincoln Park … Logan Square for about a year. I’ve spent the rest of the time in Ukrainian Village. 

I read you’re a big Hot Doug’s fan.
Huge Hot Doug’s fan, yeah. 

So what’s your typical order there?
Well it’s hard say, because the sausages change so much. But when I’m getting a lot of Hot Doug’s I just go for whatever. Anything new they put up, basically. 

Do you typically go with the duck fat fries when they’re there?
Oh yeah, I mean duck fat fry Fridays are a little tough because it’s generally a longer wait, so sometimes, if you’re a long-term Hot Doug’s fans, sometimes I think you can stay away on Friday. The lines already pretty gnarly usually on duck fat Friday. It’s pretty insane. 

You’re really into The Royal Tenenbaums – did you get a chance to see Moonrise Kingdom?
I did see it, yeah. I liked it well enough. I liked it better than the last few that I saw I think at least. 

I used to hang out at Schuba’s in Chicago and see shows there every once in a while. I’ve always wondered about “Love Song for a Schuba’s Bartender”. Can you give us the back story on that song?
Yeah, we played a few New Year’s Eve shows there years, and years, and years, and years ago. And I think Schuba’s always then, and I don’t know if now - haven’t been there in a long time - but they sort of had a reputation for hiring these bartenders that were sort of other-worldly. It seemed to be common to the extent that it couldn’t be an accident or random, you know? I think old man Schuba’s has got an eye for talent as it were. 

I think he does too, yeah.
Yeah, so I don’t know, there was just some girl there I think that night that was bartending and, I don’t really know who she was but I just wrote a kind of dumb song about it. But, it was the night smoking got outlawed at bars there. So, actually that was more interesting really, sitting at the bar watching all these people – including myself – taking their last in-bar smokes. So yeah, I should’ve written about that probably. 

Well, last I checked – although it was a couple years ago – Animal! was still on the jukebox there. So you should consider that a small victory.
Well good, yeah. I knew it was at one point. That’s good to know that somewhat recently it was still in there. 

On the subject of songs, does Arvydas Sabonis have any idea you wrote one about him?
I don’t know, you know I tend to doubt that sort of thing. But somebody at some point knew his uncle or something and there was like a weird moment where there was some connection through somebody … and I think he ended up having a heart attack or a stroke. I think he recovered, but this was right after and I can’t remember who knew his uncle or knew someone who knew his uncle, but after that I didn’t really press the issue. But I don’t know if he knows or not. It’d be really cool if he did. Unless he hates it, then it might be better if he doesn’t. 

[Laughs] So why him? Why not some other mid-to-late 90’s big man from the Eastern Hemisphere? Maybe someone closer to home for you, like Rik Smits?
I didn’t like the Pacers really when I was growing up, I know that’s probably unpopular. I never like, then or now, had any allegiance or loyalty towards any place I live. I didn’t like Rik Smits because he was a dickhead. My brother and I played at halftime during a Pacers game through some league we were in and Rik Smits was just a fucking asshole. Just bumping past kids and telling them to get out of his way so I was like, “Man, you know, fuck off,” but Jalen Rose was great. I remember him being really nice. I just have a bad taste in my mouth about Rik Smits. Anyway … and Arvydas Sabonis might have been a jerk too, but I don’t know. I just liked those Blazers teams when I was growing up and for some reason I just really took a shine to him in particular. Even before I could investigate why I liked him, I was just sort of drawn to watching him. 

You kind of just blew my mind with the whole “Rik Smits is a dick” and “Jalen Rose isn’t a dick” comment. I would think the exact opposite.
Oh yeah, Jalen Rose was really nice to me I guess just sort of in passing. He seemed like a dude that went way out of his way to say “hi” to kids and he was sort of notorious around Indianapolis for being pretty cool when he played here. My friends had a prom, and they went to eat afterwards, and he was there by himself and he sort of just asked if he could hang out and sit at their table. That was just sort of the vibe I got from him, that he was actually a pretty cool guy. 

Yeah, you definitely changed my whole viewpoint there.
Yeah, maybe Rik Smits was just having a bad day … but he just didn’t seem like too nice of a guy. 

I read somewhere that Animal! was at one point supposed to be a concept album based on the Heaven’s Gate cult. The song “Hello Vagina” obviously references it, but why did you initially want to focus on Heaven’s Gate?
I really don’t remember, I’m sure that’s true but it’s been so long since I did any of that stuff. I think at that period, all I can really remember was I stayed up really late and I had read a lot of things like that. It wasn’t just that cult. I think I was just interested in making, not a concept record, but a really heavily-themed record and I played with a bunch of options. That was maybe the last one that I messed around with and maybe it was one that I mentioned while we were doing press for that record but I don’t totally remember too much about it. 

Buzzard is one of those few albums I could listen to over and over again – top to bottom it’s pretty damn amazing. But were you worried about how it would be received considering it was a bit of a departure from the sound fans were used to hearing from you?
No, I should’ve probably, but at that point I gave less of a fuck than I’ve ever given in my life. That year or two years I was interested in my own shit. I was living in Chicago for the first year and just drinking beer with my friends and making music I liked. Yeah, for once in my life … and you know the opposites true, I think if it had become the biggest thing in the world it wouldn’t have affected me during that year. I was just too busy with other stuff to be worried about it. But I’m glad that was the year I was feeling that way because I like that record a lot. I’m glad that I wasn’t self-conscious about it. 

Well good, I’m a big fan as well … great record.
Thanks, man. 

In your progression as a band, you’ve gone from playing this ornate, instrumental rock on the first two releases, to shifting towards a heavier, more distortion-driven guitar sound on Buzzard and Rot Gut, Domestic … What type of sound should we expect on the next album?
It’s very different from the last two, but it’s also … I think with the layering and stuff there will probably be some people who think it’s more like the first two but I think it’s pretty far from it. I hope that’s not the take-away from it. But I don’t know, it’s definitely not wall-to-wall distorted stuff like the last couple have been. But it’s also not … I don’t think it’s as meandering or indulgent as the first two. I think it’s pretty focused and … the orchestration on it feels organic and still pretty relatable compared to some of the bombast of the first two albums. 

We’re midway through 2013, do you have a favorite album so far?
Oh man [laughs], I don’t really listen to music that’s out … I probably should, but when I buy records I’m buying older records, I guess. I’m trying to think … oh, yeah I mean the only thing I’ve really heard this year is that Kanye record. It’s great. 

It’s awesome actually.
Yeah, I love that record. But I honestly can’t think of another record from this year that I’ve heard. I get a lot of old blues records that I like. I just got one called Please Warm My Weiner that’s a compilation that I really like, but that’s old music. I’ve just always been that way. I’m not that smooth with keeping up, I get very exhausted. I listen to the same stuff I’ve been listening to for the past ten years. But I always feel a bit crappy when I can’t even think of a record that came out this year. 

I feel like I should’ve sent this question ahead of time and given you a bit to think about it. I’m not a fan of getting put on the spot, either.
I shouldn’t need that much time … I like Kurt Vile a lot. He’s the one exception to the “I don’t hear a lot of new music” rule. When I heard him a few years ago it sort of catapulted him to someone who I actively seek out, and his new record is really cool … but not as good as Kanye’s. 

Yeah, I think Kanye will be on a lot of top ten lists this year.
Yeah, for sure. 

You’re coming to Cincinnati July 5th – your second time playing the Summer Music Series on Fountain Square – are there any spots you make sure to stop at while in Cincy?
I don’t know … our Cincinnati experiences have always been pretty limited to … we used to play Southgate House all the time so we used to be right across the street from Barnes and Noble and those fish restaurants. 

Yeah, Newport.
Yeah, forgot what it was called. So that’s what we used to do really when we went to Cincinnati. I sort of always knew I was gonna spend a few days looking at some books and I was gonna have to space out a few days to go eat at that fish restaurant. 

The aquarium is right there, too.
Right, but I feel like that would always cost money. I think some people went over there but the rest of us were like, “If I’m gonna spend $20 I might as well just go buy a book,” so I’d go eat the fish instead. And I’m sure there are other great restaurants, but that’s a city where we’ve just always been in one little area every time we’ve been there. We haven’t been able to stretch our legs very much. 

Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s
10pm on Friday, July 5th, 2013
PNC Summer Music Series on Fountain Square