While we’re all in lockdown, QRO talked to many-band musician Jason Narducy. In the conversation, Narducy discussed his new, catered ‘lawn concerts’, parenting in the pandemic, his “Home Shows”, his coming-when-it-can new Split Single record, the based-on-his-junior-high-band musical Verböten, playing bass for Bob Mould, playing bass in Superchunk, playing EBow on Fallon, between song banter, Cheap Trick, eblows, and more…
QRO: How are you doing, with everything that is going on?
Jason Narducy: Okay. Obviously a lot of adjustments being made every day, but trying to think of creative ways to get through this.
QRO: What is it like, being a parent during a pandemic?
JN: Well, I’m sure it’s different for lots of people.
For me, my oldest is an adult and married, and living around. My two youngest are fifteen and ten, which are pretty good ages, because they’re somewhat independent. I can’t imagine what it would be like with a three-year-old or something.
And I’m fortunate that my wife and my kids and I all get along really well. They are all comfortable being at home a lot more than I am. [laughs] That sounded awful – I’m very comfortable being with them.
I’m not built for staying in one place, for a long period of time. Probably because of my upbringing, with having divorced parents, and living in many, many different apartments growing up, just constantly moving, and then becoming an adult and touring. I’m just sort of used to being on the move, and this sort of goes against that.
But I’m not in despair or anything. It’s challenging.
QRO: Have you been homeschooling?
JN: No, our public schools in Evanston are great. They’re calling it ‘elearning’, where there’s programming in the morning, and then they have assignments.
But it’s also not super-regimented, which I think is the smart approach to it. I hear about friends in California, and other states – and, actually, even some schools in Illinois – it’s 9:00 A.M. to 2:00 P.M., you’re engaged in computer schooling, and I just think that’s not helpful, at all. So I’m glad that our kids’ schools are not doing that.
Everybody’s trying to figure out the new way to do this. So there are changes weekly, at least, but I think they’re doing a good job.
We try to get the kids outside when we can. We have routines; we have certain nights we do one thing, and certain nights we do another thing. Just try to figure out what’s comfortable for everybody.
Everybody’s trying to figure out the new way to do this.
QRO: How have the lawn concerts been going?
JN: I just did my first one. It was great.
I was nervous before it, because, I think, if it didn’t go well, then I’m not going to have work… [laughs] I haven’t really played a gig with that much riding on it in a long time. So I just wanted it to go well really badly, and it did go well.
That was strange, being nervous – I’m not usually nervous before a show.
It was sort of like, I would imagine what it would be like for someone who’s an accountant, and they get hired by a new company, and you get into that new office, and you know how to do accounting, but everything that this company does it completely different from your last company.
It kind of felt like that. Because it’s like, ‘I know how to do this, but, wait a minute: no one can come within six feet of me. No, you can’t help me with my gear, thank you very much for offering. No, I can’t shake your hand after this.’ You have to be thinking all the time.
It went great, but everybody’s adjusting, still, to these new rules.
It was cool. People were riding their bikes by and stopping. Even people driving were stopping and rolling down the window. And people across the street would stop and sit on the curb.
It was joyous. For thirty minutes, a community just sort of stopped and joined in, and tried to remember what it was like to do something like that. [laughs]
We were constantly getting offers to do this, so I think people are hungry to do it.
And I’m thankful to Space, here in Evanston, that they want to do it. And they’re providing the system.
Just trying to figure out a way forward. I’m a musician, and a painter, and it’s really difficult to do either right now. I’m getting little exterior paint jobs. But if it’s cold, or if it rains, which unfortunately in Chicago is quite often – unseasonably, just the worst timing. My paint work is probably at 25%? And then music is way down.
Although, there’s been a lot of support with buying things online. I started to put together a thing I call “Home Show”, which is just me playing songs, hanging out with my kids, telling stories. People have really rallied behind those. I just basically put out a tip jar, and people have been really generous with that.
I haven’t really played a gig with that much riding on it in a long time.
QRO: For the lawn concerts, how is it set up?
JN: Well, I’ve only done one… [laughs]
For this one, it was a pretty big house. They had a driveway, so I set up in the driveway.
Space, they’re just such a thoughtful crew over there. Basically, the whole thing is called “Space To Go”. And what they did is, they brought the rug from the stage, and I stood on the rug from the stage. They brought a little lamp, a table, a globe, an old radio.
They brought one of the tables from Space, and the chairs, wiped them down with disinfectant wipes. Two of the people got to sit in the chairs that you would sit in, if you went to Space to see a show.
Couple of the hosts sat on the stairs. Couple of their friends sat further up on their deck. They had neighbors on their front decks, on either side of me. And then there was at least two or three lawns full down the street, where people set up lawn chairs and just sat, with social distancing.
And then there was congregation of people on the sidewalk and the street, across the street, at varying times. They obviously weren’t paying for it, and they didn’t have a great view, wouldn’t be able to hear it as well, but we’re not going to be weird about that.
Space brought pizza, and drinks, and cookies. They’re doing the best they can to create that concept, and that experience, in the only way we can think of how to do that right now… [laughs]
QRO: Are you the first person during this pandemic to do these?
JN: I’ve seen pictures of people setting up in their yard. I don’t know if there are other people that are doing Space’s concept of selling shows. I don’t know.
We are getting a lot of interest from press, so maybe, as far as Chicago is concerned, it’s a newer concept, but I don’t know if we were first.
CBS Chicago’s news pieces on the Evanston lawn concerts:
Jason Narducy’s “Home Show” (Episode One):
QRO: I love your “Home Shows”. How do your kids feel about being in them?
JN: They love it. I wouldn’t make my kids do something they don’t want to do.
QRO: Which is tougher to do: the musical performances or the comedy bits?
JN: When the pandemic started, I started seeing a big rush of singer/songwriters going to the livestream thing, and some of them are very, very good at it.
I just thought, for me, I’d rather switch guitars, or have a different camera angle, or try during a different time of the day.
There’s one where I do a song from Verböten, the musical, and it’s a pretty dark song. I don’t mention it in “The Home Show”, but it’s pretty early in the morning, and I’m looking groggy, and I’ve got bedhead – it sort of fits the tone of the song, you know?
I just like a little bit more variety, I guess, in that. And then my kids & I always have fun, thinking of silly ideas, and things to do.
It’s a nice outlet for them. It’s something to look forward to. Their friends watch it, and they get feedback from it. It’s a way of giving us all an activity, a project to work on, to keep our mind off of the mundane reality. [laughs]
If you hang around, and you’re not a jerk, then you’re welcome to come back.
QRO: How did you get Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick to appear?
JN: I’m a huge fan. Like I said in that story, they were my first concert.
I didn’t meet them until… Well, it was all around Dave Grohl’s HBO show [Sonic Highways] that he did in 2014. He interviewed me for the Chicago show, and he interviewed Rick. Rick just really liked my interview.
I think we did a benefit show at Metro for The Cubs. We just happened to both be on the same show. I approached him and said, “I’m a huge fan, and I think we’re both going to be in this thing that Dave Grohl has coming out in a few months.”
And then I would run into him at shows. I became friends with his son Daxx, who’s closer to my age. As with I guess some situations like that, if you hang around, and you’re not a jerk, then you’re welcome to come back. [laughs]
Rick was in one of the “Sexiest Elbows” videos that I did. We just stayed in touch, and he’s still just one of my absolute favorites.
QRO: You did basically advertise both the Cheap Trick hoodie and Cheap Trick t-shirt…
JN: Oh, they don’t need advertising… [laughs]
Jason Narducy’s “Home Show” (Episode Three), with Rick Nielsen:
Split Single’s third album crowd funding video:
QRO: Before all of this happened, were you working on a new Split Single record?
JN: Yeah. I wish I could work on it now, because it’s within reach. The rhythm tracks are done, the bass & drums, and maybe like 90% of the guitars are done. So I don’t know when I’m going to be able to finish that.
And then, with the success of Verböten, we’re gonna make a soundtrack album of that. Again, we had studio time booked for that.
As soon as we can get back to work, those two things, I’ll be working on.
QRO: How does making your own Split Single music compare to all the times you’ve worked in other people’s bands?
JN: Well, I’m the singer/songwriter with Split Single. It’s sort of my project.
Split Single is really rewarding for me, on so many levels. Not only to have a vision, and create it, and get it to people.
As a musician, it’s really educational to work intimately with musicians of the caliber that I’ve been fortunate to work with. Whether it’s Tim Remus, here in Chicago – he’s just an incredible musician, singer, and drummer. The second Split Single record [Metal Frames – QRO review], the bass was John Stirratt [Wilco, The Autumn Defense] – it’s like taking a college course, watching him play bass. Obviously, Jon Wurster is just a master at power-pop, and rock, and punk rock. I’m very fortunate to be in a couple of bands with him already, but this is a different way to work together. Britt Daniel [Spoon], on the first record [Fragmented World – QRO review], his bass playing is amazing. Nora O’Connor’s vocals on the second record.
It’s just a joy. I’ve been fortunate that, either through crowd-sourcing, or, on the first record, when I just got credit cards out, that it at least recouped; it didn’t make money, but at least enough people are interested that it paid for itself.
As a musician, [Split Single is] really educational to work intimately with musicians of the caliber that I’ve been fortunate to work with.
QRO: Being a bassist in other acts, are you extra-critical on your own bassists?
JN: Well, not the bassists I’ve been playing with… [laughs]
I’m not difficult to work with that way. When Split Single plays live, it’s a changing cast. I’ve had a lot of different people play with me – basically just what friends are available.
There are certain things, where I’m like, ‘This part has to come here.’ There’s certain parts where I just hear it. But mostly, people kinda get it. It’s on the records, and they can embellish on that if they want. I’ve never had a difficult time with that.
QRO: How do you get the likes of them all for your upcoming record?
JN: I’ve never asked anybody I didn’t already know. Just long relationships, I guess.
QRO: But also that they would have the time, and be able to show up.
JN: Oh, it’s so cool that they would do that. I also make it really easy.
Mike Mills [R.E.M.] was in Chicago for three days. We got a lot done in three long days in the studio. Not that there wasn’t plenty of hang out time too, some really fun dinners, and hangouts afterwards.
With Jon Wurster, and Britt Daniel, and John Stirratt, and Mike Mills, I’m not asking them to go tour. They might do a little bit of press, but I never really asked people to do that. I want it to be easy & fun, and so far, that’s what it’s been.
QRO: You & Jon Wurster [Superchunk, Bob Mould Band] are two of the funniest musicians on Twitter & the like. Are you similarly funny in the studio, or on tour?
JN: Well, the working comes first, for sure. It’s not like a goofy thing.
When I’m playing with Jon, touring with Jon, I’m either with Bob, also, or with [Superchunk’s] Mac [McCaughan] and Jim [Wilbur], and all three of those guys are hilarious!
Jon is just the funniest. He earns part of his living as a comedian. He was a character on The Simpsons, so you’re talking about a whole ‘nother level.
All of those guys are funny. There isn’t one specific dynamic; it’s not just me & Jon cracking lines or anything.
Bob Mould is absolutely hilarious. It’s a different kind of humor; he can be very cutting. He’s just so witty, and smart, and quick. He has Jon & I doubled over a lot during tours.
When I’m playing with Jon [Wurster], touring with Jon, I’m either with Bob [Mould], also, or with [Superchunk’s] Mac [McCaughan] and Jim [Wilbur], and all three of those guys are hilarious!
QRO: How did you become such an in-demand bassist for others?
JN: I think I was just fortunate, and at times lucky. You try to put yourself in certain situations. You try to be professional, and not mess up, and not have drug issues. Just be pro, and be pleasant to be around. That really is like 80% of it.
‘Cause you play for an hour, right, or ninety minutes? But then there’s another 22-and-a-half hours, you know? [laughs]
Somebody could be an amazing musician, but do you want to spend time with them? So I try to work at that. I try to not be overbearing, or too opinionated. You try to just be a good buddy. I’m fortunate to get along with all those guys really well.
Certain opportunities have happened, and then sometimes you go a long spell… I think, in 2007, I played like two shows. When you’re s side-person, you’re at the behest of the demands of the artist. [laughs]
And that’s the nice thing about Split Single, is that, if it’s slow, I can pick up that.
QRO: Did Jon recommend you for the Superchunk job? ‘Cause you had already been working together with Bob Mould.
JN: He did, but I think Laura brought my name up, too.
And I knew all those guys. Seen at a lot of shows.
But I’m sure, at some point when they were talking – I don’t know all the details – I’m sure at some point, Jon was like, ‘Yeah, he’s gonna show up, and he’s gonna know everything.’
QRO: Is it especially tough to fill in for Laura [Ballance] on tour, given that she’s still here?… [Ballance no longer tours with Superchunk, due to hyperacusis, but still records & manages their label, Merge Records]
JN: She’s iconic. When people think of Superchunk, she’s a big part of that concept, in people’s minds. And mine too.
I’ve been in the band… it’s a month away from being seven years. On the first tour I did with them, occasionally someone will yell out, “Where’s Laura?” And then Mac would go up to the mike and say, “She’s at home.” And that was it. [laughs]
What’s funny about it is, when I finish a tour with them, I invoice Laura. She’s in charge of the band. But every single time I do that, she thanks me, profusely. And she means it. She’s like, “Thank you for doing this! I’m so glad you’re doing this!” So, it helps to have that.
We don’t really talk about it a lot, but I feel like, the four guys that go play Superchunk shows are basically, this isn’t the Superchunk people that think of, but it’s a great way to celebrate the songs, and promote records that they still make. Kind of carry on with what I think of as an amazing career of output. There’s no let-up; I think the last record (What a Time To Be Alive – QRO review) is as good as anything they’ve released.
Honestly, the only thing – and this isn’t even a bad thing – but the only thing that sometimes gets awkward, is when someone comes up to me with a record to sign, and I have to say, “You know, I’m not on that record…”
But listen, that’s fine. [laughs] I really, really enjoy playing with them.
Superchunk, with Narducy, playing “FOH” at Bowery Ballroom in New York, NY on September 29th, 2013:
QRO: Speaking of seven years, when Superchunk was on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon in 2013, she played bass on the TV show, but you were playing at the Bowery Ballroom shows…
JN: So they got the Fallon thing, and how cool was it that they invited me to still play?
What happened with that is that, we started talking about it, and they invited me to play guitar, and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s really sweet of you. What do you want me to play?’ We just never talked about it, and we never practiced it.
We got to the soundcheck, and I could tell that Mac was kind of distracted. It’s really easy for someone like me to play on a late night show like that, ‘cause I’m just on the side. But when you’re singing, I’m sure it’s a lot of pressure. He’s thinking about it.
I didn’t want to bother him, but I found one moment where I kinda walked up to him and say, ‘Hey, what do you want me to play on this?’ And then he said, ‘Just start off with feedback in the intro, and then just come in with the basic chords.’ And I was like, ‘Okay.’
I put on his guitar. I used his Marauder, which is his main guitar, because he was using a Telecaster for the song, ‘cause it has a capo on it. Mac’s a little bit shorter than I am, so the strap was pretty high – I felt like Bill Wyman from The Stones, putting it on. I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll just adjust it for this performance,’ and the whole strap is duct-taped. There’s no adjusting it.
It’s way up high, and I try to get feedback out of the amp, and I realized I’d really have to crank this thing to get feedback. And there’s Laura, and she’s not doing the tours because of this hearing thing – I can’t crank this up.
I went into my gear bag, and I found an EBow. So I used that to get the feedback sound.
If you look at that performance, I’m playing an EBow at the beginning, and then I put the EBow down on the amp, and look up at Jon, and we just start laughing, because it’s like ‘What are we doing here?’
I did kind of feel like the fifth wheel. Did Superchunk need three guitarists? Probably not.
So we finished, and I just thought, ‘Well, that’s really sweet of them, and I’m really glad I got to do that with them, but man, I can’t imagine that you’re gonna be able to hear me at all.’ But sure enough, they mixed me super loud! [laughs]
I watched it with friends that night, and they were like, “Damn! What did you pay the sound guy?…”
That’s just another example of them being very inclusive and sweet to me.
QRO: How does playing bass in Superchunk compare to playing for Bob Mould?
JN: I don’t know how to answer that. They’re just completely different.
It’s the same in that it’s rock music, but completely different songs, and different approach.
And different volume. [laughs] And Superchunk’s not quiet, but Bob is a whole other level…
Bob Mould, with Narducy & Wurster, playing “The Final Years” at Brooklyn Steel in Brooklyn, NY on February 21st, 2019:
Split Single’s video for “Untry Love”:
QRO: How was making the video for “Untry Love” (QRO review)? I loved it…
JN: Thank you. I’m really happy with how it came out.
It was not easy, because it was the morning Trump was elected. The day after he was elected.
QRO: Oh god…
JN: We were in New York City, and people were just crying, on the streets. We all felt gut-punched.
I remember, some of the crew were like, ‘Should we do this today?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna do this today.’ [laughs] I was like, ‘I, for one, don’t want to go back to go sit in a room and be sad. I wanna work with friends, and not think about this for ten hours.’
That was a lot of fun. Anya Marina and Dave Hill are so funny in that.
Anya is actually not a drummer. I remember, it was the director or somebody, was like, ‘You gotta get somebody who looks like they can play the drums.’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t think we do. I think we need somebody who can land a joke.’ And she can certainly do that – she’s really funny.
But when we’re shooting the band stuff, if you watch, she’s just randomly hitting cymbals.
QRO: I was also a little surprised that Jon Wurster wasn’t in it. If you’re gonna have a drummer who can land a joke…
JN: Well, yeah, but then you’ve gotta fly Jon to New York. With Anya and Dave, they were there.
With Split Single, it’s all, ‘Who’s a mile away?’
QRO: And how are your between song skills?
JN: Pretty bad…
QRO: When you do the lawn concerts, I imagine your between song stuff, that’s gotta be tough…
JN: You just tell stories.
Like, I played a song from the Verböten musical. It was kind of cool, because I was like, ‘We’re sitting here in Greenwood Avenue, and just five blocks away, this band I was in when I was eleven years old used to practice. Now there’s a musical about us, and here’s one of the songs from that.’ It’s a good tie-in.
I mean, I’m exaggerating. I think I’m okay at telling stories. That premise that I came up with for the “Untry Love” thing was just a gag to give us a bunch of different things to do.
Jason Narducy’s “The Sexiest Elbows in Rock Music” video:
QRO: And how are your model-quality elbows?…
JN: They’re doing great. Thank you very much for asking.
QRO: If this was on Zoom, I’d be completely distracted…
JN: Oh, they’re covered. That’s a whole other ticket price to see them.
QRO: You’ve done a number of funny videos, but the one for “Leave My Mind” is straightforward.
JN: Oh yeah, I just needed a video, so I just shot that in Evanston. I literally shot that on my phone, and sent that to a friend who edits videos.
I think we had a tour coming up. I think that was right before the R. Ring/Kelley Deal tour. And, you know, you’ve gotta have something…
Split Single’s video for “Leave My Mind”:
House Theatre’s promotional video for Verböten:
QRO: How did the musical based on your childhood band Verböten come about?
JN: A guy named Brett Neveu, who’s a professor at Northwestern here in Evanston, saw the Sonic Highways (QRO album review), the Dave Grohl thing. His daughter went to the same school as my daughter, and so he either asked a mutual friend, or he might’ve asked my wife, because I think they were both on the PTA or something, some kind of connection to the school. He asked if he could pitch me on this idea, and so we went out for beers.
He’s written thirty original plays that have been produced. In Chicago, the version of the Tonys, Jeff Awards, he’s won a number of Jeff Awards. So he’s highly respected. He found a theater company to produce it.
We worked on it for five years. It was a lot of work, a lot of different versions of the story. I don’t know how many drafts he wrote. I wrote a ton of songs; some did not make it.
It was a highlight of my life, honestly. It was incredible. The reviews were through the roof, selling out shows, we got extended… The cast was incredible; the crew was incredible. There was so much love, and support. It was just so cool to be a part of something like that, that was so different for me, and had such an emotional connection.
I was writing punk rock songs that my band would have loved to have played. [laughs] ‘Cause I’m a better songwriter now…
That was an incredible experience, and I hope that, once people are able to work again, we can get back to work on that, and either relaunch it, or try it somewhere else. There was definitely interest. We want to make a soundtrack album – we’ll see.
QRO: Did you have a say in who played you on stage?
JN: They brought me in for some of the auditions.
Not that I was gonna come in there and try to tell them about acting. House Theatre is very successful; they’ve been successful for twenty years in Chicago. They don’t need me to tell them about the acting part.
But they wanted me there as a consultant for the musician part. Because it’s one thing to find an actor that can play an instrument – it’s another thing to find a good actor who can play an instrument well. And then it’s a whole other thing to find a good actor that can play punk rock. It’s not in everybody’s DNA. It’s just not.
I was there for a lot of that, and they knocked it out of the park. The cast was just spectacular. Just so much heart. And Brett wrote this incredible play.
It was powerful. There were people crying, and screaming, and laughing. It was something else. I really miss it.
[The Verböten musical] was a highlight of my life, honestly.
QRO: Have you at all encouraged your kids to start bands, since they could inspire a musical?…
JN: No, I want my kids to do whatever they want to do.
All of them are musical. All of them are talented.
But I sort of got into it for the wrong reasons, you know? [laughs] Maybe it says something about a little bit better parenting that they aren’t desperate to join a band, and start playing clubs at the age of eleven.
But I’m available. Just the other night, it was really late, and my fifteen-year-old came into the bedroom, and I was already in bed. He’s a very, very good piano player, and he said he was working on a song, and could I come upstairs and help him out with it?
I jump at that opportunity, but it was one in the morning, and I had to be up at 6:45 in the morning to get groceries, because if you’re being safe, and you don’t want to wait in lines, that’s the best time. And he understood.
So we work together on stuff. The second “Home Show”, it starts with me upset, and I don’t know what’s going on with my son, the piano that you hear behind that is an original composition that Shawn wrote & played.
And my youngest is a fantastic singer, and my oldest is a fantastic singer. So they’re musical. But no, I don’t push them to do anything.
Jason Narducy’s “Home Show” (Episode Two):
QRO: Was Verbow [Narducy’s nineties band] named after Verböten?
JN: No, that’s just me being dumb.
QRO: Was that just a coincidence?
JN: It was, yeah.
I mean, you have to understand that Verböten was together for maybe a year-and-a-half, with maybe a hundred cassette tapes out there. No one talked about Verböten before Sonic Highways, you know?… [laughs]
That’s not true – we were in a Chicago punk rock documentary called You Weren’t There that came out in 2009, but for like two minutes.
I mean, Verbow was signed to Sony – we did two records on Sony. Two epic records, toured the country many, many times. That was a way bigger band, you know? [laughs]
QRO: I was just wondering, when it started. The band name comes up at the very beginning of the band.
JN: We were called “Skinny”. Which was a much better name, because Alison [Chesley, cellist] and I, together, probably weighed a hundred-and-forty pounds, wet.
But we couldn’t use it, because there was some guy on BMG in Europe. It wasn’t even Skinny Puppy or something obvious like that. A guy who released something in Europe under the name “Skinny”, so we couldn’t use it.
So we had to come up with a name. “Verbo” is the Spanish word for “verb,” to take action. I just added the “w” as a nod to the cello. Legal hated it, and I was stubborn. [laughs]
It wasn’t until months later that a friend was, ‘Oh, is that like Verböten?’ Didn’t even think of that…