Hello, Sean McTiernan is my name. I’m a freelance journalist from Ireland who has written for a pile of websites including The Awl and Passion of the Weiss. I also co-host a weekly podcast called Them’s The Vagaries, a mostly-outdoor music and pop culture discussion show that ends up being mainly about rap, wrestling and conspiracy theories. Despite how that sounds, I do try to mostly be a good person.
This week, after Ian’s intimidatingly-excellent exploration of 90s Bowie, Hendrik has graciously allowed me to talk about Nomeansno, a punk three piece from British Columbia, Canada who have been active for around 32 years.
My aim this week is to attract people to the band who’ve never heard them before or who may have seen the words “Jazz Punk” associated with them and, understandably, ran far away, clutching their faces and screaming for their loved ones. If you were one of these people, I am sorry for this and, I promise, Nomeansno are so much better than that. To allay any fears you may have about pretentiousness or wankery, here is Nomeansno playing one of their songs really well:
What Nomeansno have done is refine their approach over the last three decades, stretching their stentorian, propulsive, punk sound in all manner of directions. Few bands can sound impossibly brutal and funky (lay down your weapons, there is no slap bass involved) in one song and incredibly mournful and austere in the next. The have written hook-laden punk hits, distortion-driven dark-nights-of-the-soul and stuff that lies somewhere inbetween that also somehow incorporates sea shantys. Their lyrics are about evil or conflicted characters and mostly focus on how dark and fucked-up life can be and how despite, or maybe Because, of this, it’s worth living anyway. Thankfully, these songs are often really funny.
Nomeasno are a rare gift, a band who emerged with a unique vision and evolved that vision over thirty years, unmolested by commercial success, widespread recognition (something that is definitely partly their fault) or any desire to either keep up with musical trends or make the same album over and over.
They don’t make videos. They do make a conscious effort to disseminate entirely false and contradictory information about themselves. They routinely encourage people to download their music as much as they want. Nothing about any of this strikes them as a big deal.
During their entire career, they’ve made their living doing an insane amount of touring. They also don’t make a big deal of this and, although they’ve said it can be a hard life to which not everyone is suited, they still regard this life as something of a privilege. This is probably why they’ve lampooned Henry Rollins (who has based his entire career on how difficult it is to be in a punk band) so well on several occasions.
Nomeansno are also a second band. This band is their answer to the probably-unasked question: “What if the infamously-dumb, notoriously-violent, hockey-playing Hanson Brothers from the movie Slapshot formed a band that sounded like the Ramones?”
This band plays old-school punk songs about brewing beer and hockey. The Hanson Brothers could be the best joke in music and Nomeanso have been telling it excellently for around 25 years. I’ll be covering them in depth on Wednesday. Expect a lot of aggressive counting to four.
I intend to expand on the above and telling you much more about Nomeansno over the next five days. The format will involve focusing on a member a day rather than soldiering through their discography chronologically (a mid-period line-up change gives me four dudes to discuss). In this way I can talk about each member’s contribution to Nomeansno’s sound, their outlook on life and their respective, excellent, side projects.
Some of these side projects, especially Tom Holliston’s hilarious, biting, genre-spanning Show Business Giants, deserve their own weeks but I hope I’ll be able to at least put you on the right path to discovering some of their wonderful music.
The fifth day I’ll dedicate to various ephemera and possibly long screeds about how this enterprise has driven me insane (let’s hope not though, right?).
Nomeansno is my favourite band. I believe four of the most-underrated musicians in punk history have played in it and that it’s produced some of the best songs about love, alienation, brutality and the nature of existence ever written. I also believed they’ve managed to make all that far more fun to listen to than anyone could have hoped. They’re an endlessly interesting collection of classically Canadian fellows and I expect they’re going to be a blast to write about.
Hopefully they’ll be fun to read about too.