Steve Sherlock of nerd punk band Nerf Herder has an erudite personality, making him both lighthearted and sincere, but in a geeky sort of way. That’s definitely the best way to describe the drummer, who phoned in to chat with Punknews while on lunch break from the art department of the Southern California skateboard company he works at.
Punknews' Rose Eden spoke with the founding member about the re-issuing of American Cheese, the difference between Nerd Core and Nard Core, how Mark Hamill ended up in one of their videos, and what’s been keeping the band going after nearly twenty five years.
With a brand new song entitled “We All Got COVID! (Except For Linus)”, Nerf Herder’s second new single of 2022 out now on Fat WreckChords has vocals that were recorded at home while in isolation after the entire band (except for Linus) tested positive for the virus.
“The pros were, most of the songs had already been recorded. So we’d been working on this elusive new album for a couple of years now, and um we’ve had a lot of basic tracks just sitting around unfinished and um, that song… I’m trying to remember the original name of it… We had uh, we had tracked this, it was a different song altogether and while we were home sick with COVID Parry went into his home studio and he said:
‘You know what? I’m going to change this song up and I’m going to rewrite the lyrics.’ He had to track the vocals while he was sick - the rest of us didn’t even know he was doing it because we’d already done our parts.”
Never ones to miss out on a good pop culture moment, bandwagons have become one of Nerf Herder’s specialties over the years:
“It was one of those things where it had to be done and we were just laughing like you know, why not? A lot of people are saying: ‘It’s been two years, you’re still singing about COVID?’ But why not?”
On the day we spoke, Nerf Herder had just dropped their 2002 album American Cheese again through Fat Wreck Chords earlier in the afternoon. Courted by the label to be a part of their recent archival re-release series, the band not only jumped onboard to partner with Fat, but also the opportunity to reissue the vinyl on it’s original “cheese” colored yellow vinyl, one that cult record collectors lose their minds over:
“The 20th Anniversary of American Cheese and um, I don’t know why we hadn’t done the previous one on Fat, I guess we’ll have to wait until the 25th for How To Meet Girls but yeah American Cheese and Fat Records has been doing um these anniversary re releases for several years now and they hit us up and said hey would you want to re release it so we (said) absolutely that would be great… but we insisted that it be on yellow vinyl. It has to be on American Cheese colored vinyl and yeah it was one of those records that um is highly sought after on Ebay and I think originally we only pressed upwards of less than a thousand copies, so everyone says ‘I can’t find copies of American Cheese on vinyl anywhere!’ so that was good.”
When I asked if the band had intended on creating such a hot commodity of an album back in 2002, Sherlock explained that it was more the band’s common interest in being record collectors themselves that inspired the idea for the American Cheese concept:
“It’s not so much of a money making thing as it is just having something cool. When the vinyl shows up at our house, we’re like ‘Yeah!’ we get to open it up… and just stare at it. It’s really fun to stare at, like the cover for the “Born Weird” single we did, it was done by an artist called Luke Mc Gary he does a lot of cool, cartoon-y art, and you know the covers are filled with all sorts of different cool figures and characters, and you know you’ve gotta look closely, um, it’s sort of like a magazine style cover.”
“So yeah it’s really fun to… and we were kind of hesitant at first like alright, do we really want to release two songs on a vinyl and sell it for $20? Is that… because it’s going to cost us $10 to make it so we have to at least make some money on it and yeah sure enough people go for it. They love the collectability of it and yeah it’s fun. I mean all of us in the band we’re all like, we all collect vinyl, we all collect things, we’re all obsessed with one thing or another and, you know… we just want them in our own collection, really.” he said with a laugh.
Complete with several bonus tracks on the digital only version of the album, the American Cheese re-issuing has appeal for Nerf Herder fans beyond it’s collectability:
“Only on the digital, we decided to keep the vinyl as is on A and B, if we split it up… I don’t think we had enough tracks to do vinyl, the gatefold, so we decided just digital for those bonus tracks and um yeah… it’s quite a um, quite a collection and Parry had to um, dig deep into his um, casm, his… it’s hard to find some of these old demos. He did some demos that are just amazing and um yeah it was “Welcome To My World”, “I Have Anxiety” and “New Wave Girl” and those were all demos he’d done at home with a drum machine, and you know in this raw format. The lyrics are different and there’s a couple of little melody changes but uh, yeah I love hearing those demos they’re really fun. You know I just picture us sitting there in his room and um you know, with his little set up.”
I mentioned at this point that I had been a Nerf Herder fan since I was middle school age in the late 90’s. I had to capitalize on the moment and ask about my favorite song of theirs, “Sorry”, one I used to watch the coordinating music video for on TRL after school and absolutely loved because it was so over the top.
“Well the story behind the song itself um, Parry had written that, you know. He said in the past that when you were in a relationship you find yourself having to say “I’m sorry” a lot. And uh… “Oh sorry I screwed up, sorry I did this or I did that you know… no one’s perfect so we did a… so there’s not a whole lot behind it um…” he trails off for a moment before exclaiming:
“Oh! There is a line, “Sorry I crashed through your window on acid” it was a, it was a semi true story of a local punk rock legend who at a young age crashed through a window on acid in Santa Barbara. His name is Rich uh… well he was in a band called Penis Brigade. His name was Rich Penis and um, so yeah that’s - that’s really the only line that has any like hardcore reality to it, but um, but yeah no one ever really jerked off outside anyone’s windows or anything like that. It’s all that self deprecating humor.”
“But um, man the video, the video was a blast”, he reminisces. When we were on Arista (Records) they um, they were looking for certain actors to play and they got Miguel Herder who just happened to be best friends with Mark Hamill. And uh, so that’s how Mark Hamill ended up being in the video. It was really fun to shoot and that was like… we were looking at each other like, wow we have like craft services and like lots over here and we had people doing our makeup and we’re all looking at each other going, “We really made it didn’t we?” and it’s just like, I don’t know. It was a lot of fun.”
“It was almost like a mini movie”, I added.
“Yeah yeah exactly you know… it was two days, there was stunt people, you know like stunt drivers, and there’s a separate stunt man who actually crashed through the window that tried to dress like Parry, it was just wild.”
Nerf Herder is well known for being a pioneering band in the Nerd Core movement, while also simultaneously being a “Nard Core” band. I asked Sherlock what the difference was between the two subcultural terms:
“Oh Nerd Core well, you know, there’s a funny little discrepancy with Nerd Core um… are you familiar with Nerd Core hip hop?” he asked me, rather offhandedly. “It’s um, it’s basically like a hip hop rap but uh, sung by nerds. Like MC Frontalot, MC Lars, are you familiar with any of them at all?”
“Not at all.” - I was intrigued.
“Yeah, it’s interesting… NerdCore hip hop um, they claim to have… I think it was MC Lars? They claimed to have coined the phrase. But in reality, it came when our band first started, and it was um, a play on words of a certain era of punk rock called Nard Core - and that comes out of Oxnard, CA which is just about an hour south of Santa Barbara.”
“And so yeah, Nard Core basically turned into… our rendition of it turned into NerdCore and I forget who it was? I think it may have been DeSantis from Sugar Cult and Bad Astronaut, I think he may have come up with that term. So yeah Nard Core, Nerd Core, just a funny play on words really.”
Pivoting in my line of questioning for a moment, I caught Sherlock off guard when I asked what he thought made SoCal punk so special.
“Oh boy… I’m going to have to think about this one.” (He stops because the dog is audibly whining) “Sorry, you don’t get fed until later”, he resigns himself, breaking the news to his buddy.
“I don’t know um… lighthearted liberals” he said with a laugh, “You’ve stumped me on that one.”
I go on to wax poetic about the eternally youthful PMA of the LA lifer punk scene band members, which lead the drummer to some conclusions:
“You know we were just having fun. You know, keep it going and we’ll take a break and we’ll get the itch like, yeah let’s do something like, releasing a single or going on a like weekend tour or something like that. Um, you know you’re always paying for it when you get back, you’re sore but it’s… it’s so fun I mean it’s you know, our fans age along with us.”
“You know, it used to be like we’d only play all ages shows because if we played a bar no one would be there. And now it’s like we only play bars. We’d really only play all ages shows, and now all our fans are middle aged and they’re down on the floor and they’re dancing and singing along and like I can’t believe these grown ass men and women are out here singing along with us and we’re just… we’re just literally I don’t know.”
“Every show I just, you know…”, he continues. “ I can’t believe that this is still happening and I have to thank everyone when we meet people and sign stuff after the show. I’ll often be like, you’re the only reason why we still do this um… there’s a video we had just posted, it was shot at Reggie’s in Chicago and we were doing um, we were playing “Welcome To My Word” and Parry at one point, he literally says fuck it! and he jumps into the crowd, and then he disappears. You can see this if you look on our Instagram… and then he pops his head up: ‘I broke my hip!’”
“I did see that.”
“Oh you did see it? Oh it’s so funny.”
“I didn’t know if I should take it seriously for a second, or…” I said with a laugh.
“Oh no, he was fine. He was completely fine. But the back of his head just disappeared then pops back up. But a… going back to the fans, he hands the mic off to this guy in the front row and says, ‘You sing it!’ And the guy just like, nailed it and Parry ran back up onstage. We have so many fans like this, that sing along and it gets to a point where we’re like, am I imagining this, or are people actually like singing along… they’re drowning us out! And that’s what keeps us going.”
“Congratulations on your re-release day today, what’s next for Nerf Herder?”
“Well, we need to finish this record that we’ve been working on, we’ve got um, we’ve got pretty much an entire record of backing tracks, and just have to do some vocals. Yeah, other than that we don’t have anything lined up, we’re looking for some more dates, I think we wanna do some more west coast stuff soon, but uh yeah right now we’re just going to kind of kick through summer and uh… I don’t know (laughs) we’re gonna do something. Um, yeah… we don’t have any plans actually besides re-releasing the record.” - At least he was honest.
To me a sign that you’ve “made it” is if you can take a break and your fans are right there waiting for you because they can’t wait to see what you’re going to do next. That sort of unconditional love, is love within its purest and rarest forms. And in this case, Nerf Herder has kept that ethos going for longer than some of their fans have even been alive. Something else Sherlock said that was also a definite truth was the opening line to this interview, which was essentially that Nerf Herder’s fans age along with them.
I personally can provide testimony that this is true. There is a certain kind of lasting charisma to this band, one that paved the way for the enormous wave of pop punk (much of it from SoCal) that completely engulfed the early 2000s. Now flash forward almost a quarter of a century later, and Nerf Herder is still at it year after year: dropping collectable albums, gigging whenever they can, having fun with the entire process, and most importantly, feeling so grateful for it all.