The latest album from San Francisco-based duo Niteppl started with one song. One song that broke away from the 70s electro grit of their freshman album, Cults, and set them on a sonic path that would eventually become Nuflesh, their sophomore offering. The track in reference, “My Friends (That Idle Period),” was the basis for the entire album. Mastermind behind the project Alton San Giovanni recalls, “Everything before that song was more dance-y and electro. Then I wrote “My Friends,” and I thought ‘how am I gonna release this? I need to write an entire album to justify this track being in my catalog.’” Thus began the two-year process that culminated in the release of the new album one month ago.
Alton is a Humboldt native who studied classical guitar in college. Two years ago he brought on Sawyer James to the project as a vocalist and collaborator. Their laid back California vibes abound, but their passion for their craft is quite ambitious. Sawyer played oboe in a touring youth orchestra until he found his voice. Alton started producing on Fruity Loops as a young teen, and almost took a turn for theater until the allure of music production steered him towards Niteppl. With their respective musical backgrounds, it’s no wonder their tracks feel so instrumental and chord-driven.
“The way that we work best is starting with chords and building everything around that. We consider ourselves songwriters more than producers, kind of like a singer-songwriter type of thing. We just happen to be making music that has fat basslines.”
Nuflesh leads with dark, 80s-inspired sounds that hum along an ambling tempo. Deep synth stabs permeate the tracks giving form to floating basslines and emotive melodies. Sawyer’s vocals are raw and pitchy at times but transmit gritty, melancholy emotions that compliment the dark instrumentals. On the fixation with the 80s soundscape, Sawyer notes, “We honestly pull a lot from those 80s synthesizers that we know and love, contemporizing those old sounds and reaching back to childhood music to bring it up to date.”
While the music feels distinctly intimate, it also thrives in a live setting. “It’s funny too because it was originally written as something to listen to on your own, but the more that we perform the more we realize the power of them album live.” Their live setup consists of Sawyer’s resonant, filtered vocals and Alton’s live electric guitar supplemented with thick backing tracks. What the performance lacks in instrumentation it makes up for in fervor. The duo bring an intensity to live shows that leaves them drenched in sweat after dancing, swaying, singing and playing their hearts out.
Alton sums it up well. “We’re not trying to struggle on stage to trigger a million little different samples. We want to be able to jump around on stage and have a really good time and be sweating, shredding on the guitar, singing our balls off.”
Nuflesh is the culmination of not only a musical endeavor but a narrative one as well. “Nuflesh is really about the space between people physically, emotionally, and digitally…You have all these people saying really mean and fucked up things to one another on the internet under the cloak of anonymity, where it doesn’t matter what you say as long as no one knows who you really are.”
“To me,” Alton continues, “that is the aesthetic of what is happening in Nuflesh and the story of ‘X.’” X is a character who is down on his luck and turns to “The Church of Nuflesh,” an online community that believes that the only way to truly live is to leave as much of a digital trace of yourself on the internet, in as many places as possible. The ultimate goal is that once you die, the only record of you existing becomes your digital imprint, or your “new flesh.” “It’s an allegory for how we are as a society,” Sawyer confirms. Spawning from a love of sci-fi, the narrative fleshes out a sick mentality the internet has bred, one the artists hope music can help overcome.
Tracks like “Barbarism” stand for the depths of depravity and darkness of X’s journey down the virtual rabbit hole, while the closing track, “Young and Restless,” tops off the album with a dose of hope and epiphany: “We are the young the reckless / No one to tell us no / We leave our troubles behind us / So everyone needs to know.” Conveyed with airy vocals, classic 80s drum kits, and dreamy synths, the final track rounds out the album giving pace and balance to an otherwise lingering body of work.
Niteppl fit into the landscape of passionate up and comers with day jobs who pursue their passion every waking second they have outside of a nine to five. They are happy to see some of their contemporaries and friends like Hot Flash Heat Wave and MPHD making waves in the Bay Area, but “can’t ignore the ramifications of so many SF clubs closing or artists having to move out of the city.” They ride the ebb and flow of the changing tides with unwavering drive and optimism. At the end of the day, “We play these shows because it’s a blast, because it’s what we live for.” They call SF more of a DIY music scene, and with some help from their label Popgang they are paving their own way.
You can catch them on a live stream on pressuredrop.tv on October 7 and at the Ocean Beach Music Festival on October 10. There’s a well of creativity behind Niteppl and unlike California it won’t dry up anytime soon.