On an unseasonably warm Super Bowl Sunday, the Boot & Saddle hosted its first all-ages gig—a matinee featuring Nothing and Bay Area post-punks Whirr. Throngs of hung-over natives had made the morning trek to the converted country western bar on South Broad. On record, Nothing employs the subtlety of heavily layered tracks, breathy vocals and distortion built into atmospheric collages, but most of those subtleties are replaced by brute force during their live shows.
Before they began performing, there’s a somber announcement from Nothing singer/guitarist Domenic Palermo: “Apparently, Philip Seymour Hoffman just died.” The room sank in shock, as kids took out their phones to check Twitter for confirmation. For Nothing, the mood set a familiar tone of dread, highlighted by their onslaught of noise, crashing drums and despondent dual vocals from Palermo and fellow guitarist Brandon Setta. Between songs, feedback shrieked at deafening levels amid citations of Richard Brautigan poems blasting from the speakers.
Darkness has been a constant theme throughout Nothing’s four years as a band. Palermo grew up in the Kensington and Frankford neighborhoods, and the despair of the working-class landscape had a profound effect on the Nothing sound. “I was born in Frankford Hospital,” Palermo tells PW, “and share what most things that come out of that place do: tragedy over tragedy.” Formerly the lead singer of the emotionally charged hardcore outfit Horror Show in the early 2000s, Palermo’s roots in the Philly scene are long established. His difficult relationship with the city and its citizens has been a catalyst in his songwriting, he admits: “The type of inspiration Philadelphia has drawn out of me happens to be a more pessimistic one.” Need proof? Look no further than the title of Nothing’s 2012 EP: Downward Years To Come.
With three well-regarded EP releases since their founding in 2010, Nothing is slated to drop its first full-length LP this Tuesday, March 4. Guilty of Everything will be the four-piece’s first recording on Upper Darby’s Relapse Records, which has built a formidable reputation for over 20 years as one of the nation’s most important metal/grindcore indie labels. Nothing’s sound may fall far from the company’s other acts, but Palermo confirms that this is no new phenomenon. “We never fit in anywhere we went, whether it be labels or even shows.” Still, Relapse presented a great opportunity for Guilty of Everything to be completed and released; Setta refers to it as a “supportive and respected,” a team with which the band is excited to be working.
Expanding on the punk-tinged shoegaze sound that they’ve been building through their prior records, Nothing posted two songs from Guilty of Everything online in the last few weeks: “Dig” and “Bent Nail,” the ugliness in Palermo’s life pouring out through the records’ introspective lyrics and distorted guitars. “It’s tough sitting on releases for so long,” but the gap in time represented a honing of their craft, he says. “As reckless as Nothing may all seem, we’re very particular and methodical about our writing and producing.” It’s abrasive, loud—and steadily evolving, says Setta. “We’re constantly changing our set up to try and obtain the sound we want.”
Last year, Nothing completed a full US tour with Bay Area post-punks Whirr. Blowing out eardrums and bumming out audiences across the country—I caught their gig at the Vera Project in Seattle, scoffed at wearing earplugs, then, two days later, contemplated driving to the ER to assess my hearing damage. The tour drew well and solidified deep bonds between members of both bands. In fact, the friendships fostered on that 2013 outing provided a springboard for Whirr lead guitarist Nick Bassett to relocate to Philly and join Nothing. Bassett, who also was previously in Deafheaven, now plays bass in the band and has given it a solid lineup. “He’s been a great addition already,” Palermo confesses, “along with Kyle Kimball on drums. I’m finally completely content.”
Now with its membership roster finalized and a debut about to drop, the hungry Nothing is ready to return to the road, launching its latest tour with a record-release gig at Kungfu Necktie with California shoegazers Weekend before heading south to play a number of dates, including at SXSW in Austin. A split EP with Whirr in the works for Run For Cover Records confirms that Palermo and Co. don’t mind staying busy.
“Eventually, music may not be an option,” says Palermo. “And it’s the only thing stopping me from walking off the platform at the 2nd Street subway station.”
Sun., March 2, 8pm. $10-$12. With Weekend + Cassevetes. Kung Fu Necktie, 1250 N. Front St. 215.291.4919. kungfunecktie.com
PW's Music Issue 2014