Montreal based rockers NOBRO are energy personified. No more so is this evident than on their second EP Live Your Truth Shred Some Gnar that was released earlier this week via Dine Alone Records. The seven tracks show the band in top form with outstanding musicianship, infectious hooks, excellent songwriting, and a whole lot of fun. Punknews editor Em Moore spoke with vocalist and bassist Kathryn McCaughey over Zoom about the stellar new EP, Betty Davis, touring, hockey, and much, much more. Read the interview below.
NOBRO’s new EP is called Live Your Truth Shred Some Gnar and you’ve mentioned making that phrase your mantra. What does “shredding some gnar” mean to you?
I feel like it means doing what you do and doing it authentically. I think that in life you get caught in these loops like you go to work, you wake up, you go to work…it just constantly feels like you can’t do it - like you can’t take those steps forward. And you have to shred some gnar to prove that you can, you know. Does that make sense?
Yeah, I think so. So if you have a day where you’re not feeling it, what motivates you? What’s your number one confidence booster?
You know it’s really us as a band that motivates me. It's just all of us together trying to pursue this. I get a lot of motivation from that. And also you know for me personally I have a philosophy degree. I’m a bartender. [laughs] I need something to work or else I’ll be stuck working for minimum wage with an education but totally useless, so yeah that’s what motivates me too.
Just keep going.
Live Your Truth Shred Some Gnar was produced by Thomas D’Arcy who you worked with on your 2020 EP Sick Hustle and was mixed by Dave Schiffman. How did you decide who to work with this time around?
Well because we’d worked with Tom previously we thought it would be a good idea to have the continuity between the two EPs happen. We experienced for the first time with Tom D’Arcy on the first EP what it was like to really have a producer come and help shape the EP and so it was a journey on the first one. And on the second one it kinda came together very smoothly because we had worked together. It really felt natural to work with him again.
Nice! So what was different from recording your previous EP on the new one?
There was a lot less crying.
That’s always good.
I don’t know. That was the first time that we had a producer come in and really work with us. Personally I just wasn’t used to it. So Tom and I really butted heads a lot of the time - not a lot of the time but sometimes it really got heated. You know, to the point where we got into a fight. I was trainwreck drunk and he called me irrational and he was like going to the bathroom and I kicked down the door and I got into his face and started screaming at him. I was like “No you’re fucking wrong!” And then I ran and cried home. But anyways he ended up being right, I was wrong. But it was just one of those things where he really had the best intentions for us and I think he could see something that we didn’t quite understand yet. And so going into the second EP there was a lot more trust established you know.
No screaming and crying this time.
No, there was no screaming and crying.
You’ve said that “Better Each Day” was born out of writer’s block and takes inspiration from a jingle that your producer wrote previously. I think that’s like the punkest thing, just like take a jingle and make it into this massive song. What helps you with writer’s block?
Songwriting is such an elusive thing you know? It’s like sometimes it happens and then sometimes I sit down and I’m like maybe it’s gone forever. [laughs] I don’t even know how to describe it because it feels so indescribable. Like when it’s happening it feels like things are just so easy and when it’s not happening it just feels like it’s impossible. So if there’s a moment where it comes to you and it’s just happening you have to just grab onto it and not overthink it and just go, you know?
Right, once inspiration hits, just run.
Yes, yes as fast as you can.
Is your songwriting process more individualistic like you will write your own parts and bring them all together or do you all write together in a more collaborative environment?
It’s super collaborative and like we’re also not at the same time. It’s really hard to explain. We kind of don’t have a particular method, it’s kind of just however it comes together which is really nice. Like we’re extremely open-minded about songwriting, you know. So yeah, however it happens that day is how it happens that day. [laughs]
Do you find that you have to tweak a lot of stuff or is it like you have it together, you bring it together and then it’s kind of more or less complete?
Yeah, I mean we figure a lot of it out as we’re recording it I think. Sometimes we have loose demos and they’re cool but the magic really happens when we go to actually record it. When we’re recording it I feel like that’s when we take the most chances and that’s when we don’t overthink things. We just have a lot of fun and it’s really us amping each other up like “Oh my god can we do this?” “Alright let's do that!” and then it’s like this negative no - positive feedback. [laughs] I just like being excited and I think that’s really what drives the music and makes it kind of congeal at the same time. It’s just like this really overpowering sense of excitement.
You can really hear it. That’s captured so well on both of your EPs. So would you say that you have ideal songwriting conditions or would it be how it flows?
It’s just how it flows. A lot of it has to do with your mood too. I think at the end of the day the concepts for the songs or how the songs are actually birthed into reality has so much to do with what’s going on personally in my life. Right now I’m working doubles and I'm super tired and there’s just like no inspiration at all. It just depends. Also the pandemic didn’t really help with that, it just felt like everything was happening in a vacuum and you need experiences. You need to run into life and you need to make mistakes and you need all these things to happen for a good idea to present itself. So I would say an ideal setting for songwriting is that you’re just out living life and you’re trying to absorb as many experiences as possible. That’s what I would say.
That makes sense. How did the decision to use bongos in your music come about?
It was spontaneous. It was one of those things, it was just after Marianna’s departure and we had this really big show happening and Lisandre [Bourdages, percussion] was going to come in and play keyboards. And then when we were practicing she was like “Oh I studied Latin percussion, I know bongos” and then I was like “Holy shit!” Then she just busted out the bongos during a practice and it just made so much sense. It was just like wow this is amazing. That was it.
I can’t imagine the band without bongos. That’s so cool!
Yeah, yeah it is. It was like the circle just got connected, you know what I mean?
Yeah, everything fell into place right then.
Yeah, it's true.
You mentioned in previous interviews that you played violin when you were growing up. Would the violin ever make an appearance on a NOBRO song?
Oh my god, my mom and dad would love that. [laughs] But I don’t think so. [laughs] My mom and dad would be like “Oh wow you’re making such great music” but I don’t think it’s gonna happen. No.
Funk legend Betty Davis recently passed away and you’ve cited her as an influence and you guys covered her song “Game Is My Middle Name” in 2020. What drew you to her music? What impact has her music had on you personally and on you as a band?
Well, what drew me to her music initially and it’s so funny I feel like so much of the music that I was exposed to was because of the guy I was dating at the time. [laughs] I was really young when I first listened to Betty Davis and the person who I was dating was older and loved music, so we would stay up all night and we would party and listen to records and he showed me Betty Davis. And anyways I was totally taken in - particularly with that song “Game is My Middle Name”. I would listen to it over and over and over again. Her style, her confidence, everything is so infectious. For me anyways I was super drawn to her whole aura I guess. And when starting this band just trying to capture some of that energy, some of that confidence and just trying to channel it as much as possible in your own music.
Yeah. Would you do more covers of her music or focus more on originals?
Oh my gosh, she’s just a one and only and doing that one cover it took - I feel like we almost did her - I mean for me personally vocally I don’t feel like I really did her justice. [laughs]. I think we’re going to just let it be.
Well the cover’s great, you sounded awesome. [laughs] So you mentioned a little bit earlier the impact that COVID has had on not being able to get out and have experiences. How has the COVID-19 pandemic as a whole affected NOBRO?
Well it’s funny, I didn’t really realize it when it was happening, the greater implications and the impacts that it would have on the music industry as a whole. Now looking back and seeing two years just kind of evaporate it’s been hard, I guess. But I mean the silver lining in all of it is that we were able to record an EP and play some shows. So yeah, I just think that everyone has had it so rough but hopefully we’re turning a corner. Hopefully.
Knock on wood. You opened for Tokyo Police Club last year and you’re going to tour with Billy Talent in the spring. What has changed and what has stayed the same about playing shows during this time - during the pandemic?
Well it’s weird. It’s like pre-pandemic we were on tour with The Distillers and Alexisonfire and those shows were fucking crazy. They were so big, there were so many people and then the pandemic happened and we started looking at human interaction completely different. There was a complete paradigm shift. It was like we breathe each other’s air, we depend on each other for our own existence and that’s a really terrifying thought. And so just being in the general public in a pandemic you’re so acutely aware that if you get too close or if the environment is too moist - things travel so fast like transmission is so fast so you’re very cautious. Playing shows in that environment you’re like “Oh I just want to be safe” you know what I mean? And just having that in your mind isn’t really conducive to like party rock n roll time. So yeah, hopefully we can just somehow get back to where we were.
Do you find that it changes your energy on stage?
No, I don’t think it does for us. But I think that in our minds it’s present.
Right. So you’ve played stadiums and arenas and you’re going to play more with Billy Talent. How does that experience compare to playing smaller venues? Do you have a preference? If you could play only arenas or only smaller venues which one would you pick?
Oh my gosh. It’s funny the arena shows…our first arena show we showed up and were like [gasps] “Oh my god, everyone will know I’m a fake, I don’t deserve to be here”. It’s a really big confidence booster but at the same time it feels so emotionally crippling because it is such a bigger venue and the environment just seems so much bigger but I don’t know. It would be so hard, I love the sweaty underground punk shows and that’s kinda how this band was birthed was in those environments so I don’t know. It would be so hard to choose because at the same time you want to make it, like I don’t want to be a bartender forever. [laughs] I don’t know, that’d be hard.
Do you have a favourite venue to play, in general?
There’s one in Montreal, I don’t know if it exists anymore. It’s called The Bog. Yeah and that was my favourite, it’s my favourite.
Nice! What’s it like?
It’s like in the basement of an apartment building and you have to travel really, really, far down three flights of stairs and it’s a small little concrete room. It’s super cool. The energy is always awesome in there and the people who run it are amazing.
That’s great! Hope you can play there soon! How have you felt the punk and rock scenes in Canada and especially in Montreal have changed since you’ve been a band? What has improved? What still needs work?
I find that there’s a lot more women playing and I find there’s a lot more diversity in the scene. When I first came to Montreal, this was like 13 years ago, the guy I was dating was in a rock band and I was at the time listening to Lil’ Wayne’s Tha Carter III and I was like you have to listen to this, this is so good. And he started listening to it and his friends were like “Oh my god, why are you listening to rap music that’s so lame”. It felt like everything was in these little isolated bubbles, you couldn’t really merge any of the worlds. And now I feel like we’re in a setting where there’s no walls between us. Like everything’s blended it’s really, really nice. So many artists and people are just kinda like doing their own thing, expressing themselves how they want and there’s no definitions or genres or yeah. You don’t have to be specifically this or that.
That’s the best. What are you listening to now?
Today I was actually listening to Tha Carter III. [laughs]
It’s a good album! It holds up. You collaborated with Terra Lightfoot on “Not Myself”. How did that collaboration come about?
Our producer, Thomas D’Arcy, is good friends with her and they’ve worked together before. He suggested that we get together and try and write a song together. Then we did and it was awesome. She’s great.
That’s so cool! And you were featured on “Waiting” by Pup. What’s the biggest difference between bringing someone in to collaborate with NOBRO and collaborating with another band?
I don’t know. I kinda feel like it’s the same. They're so cool and Stefan was like “Do you wanna do this?” and I was like “Yeah!” When you’re stepping into these situations it really feels like there’s zero pressure even when you’re collaborating, it’s like whatever feels good. He was just like “If you wanna do this, totally do it” and he was really amping me up and I was like “Ok I’ll do it!” And I did it and they liked it.
That’s how it should be - no pressure, everything can just organically happen. What advice would you give to anybody, especially women who want to pick up an instrument or play in a band?
Just do it! Like you have nothing to lose, you really don’t. I mean I didn’t know how to play bass and then it just happened and it wasn’t very good, let me add that [laughs]. Or even writing songs like I sucked. It was fucking horrible. Listening to the first NOBRO rehearsals it was so bad. It was ok. You could tell that the energy and excitement was there but the songs and how we were doing it, just wasn’t very good. But it didn’t matter. We believed in ourselves so much that over time we just got better and better and better and kept focusing on songwriting. So it doesn’t matter, you have to start somewhere and wherever it is you just have to believe that it’s possible and just pick it up and do it.
Very good advice. You used to play hockey at a high level and you recently posted a video on Instagram showing off your sick stick skills. If you were building a hockey team out of members of bands that you’ve performed with before, who would you put on the team?
All of them! Can I say that?
Yep, that would be a big team.
Have you ever thought about doing a hockey tournament with bands?
Yeah! I mean it would be cool. I gotta say during this last stretch of the pandemic it’s been so nice having the time to go out and play everyday because it really doesn’t happen when you’re in a band and you’re working and all of your time is taken up. But yeah if there was a situation where there was just time when we could go and play then yes.
I hope that happens. What’s next for NOBRO?
Oh my gosh, hopefully we can make some money.
Because we really want to make a full-length record this year and we really want to tour and you know right now, just being on the road with Tokyo Police Club and seeing the way that everything has changed since the pandemic like gas prices are $1.70 it’s insane. How are you supposed to tour with gas prices being $1.70? Everything is going to cost so much more money so hopefully we can make enough money to keep ourselves on the road and make an album. I’m only saying money because things are so expensive right now.
It’s insane, yeah. Have you thought about doing a virtual tour like selling tickets and then playing live streams?
I think that also going back to the pandemic, a lot of artists like folk artists and people who can really scale back their live shows and play in their bedroom and live stream it was such an opportunity for them to reach a wider audience in a situation like this. But for bands like us, you really need to be live and loud and that’s part of the whole experience. So it would be hard for us to translate our shows like that.
Yeah. Do you have a band that you want to tour with like a dream band?
Oh, yeah. There are so many. There’s just so many. I would love to go on tour with Amyl and The Sniffers. I think that would be really fun. And yeah, there’s just too many to name.
Hopefully they read this.
Bring us on tour.
Do you have a song that you’re looking forward to playing live the most?
I don’t know. I hope that one day we can redo “Life Is A Voyage” live but also high on mushrooms at the same time. We recorded that one high on mushrooms so it would be funny to recreate that in a live setting. It would be cool to see if we could actually do it.
I think you could.
Is there anything that I didn’t ask you that you would like to add?
I’m just really excited about this album coming out and hopefully everyone likes it because we had so much fun making it.