Ex Nuns: Fast and furious
Ex Nuns frontman Ian Littleson just earned himself a punk-rock badge of honor. It was on the last night of the south Minneapolis four-piece's month-long residency at the downtown Grumpy's Bar — the highest-profile shows the ferocious young group has played to date.
"Someone knocked a microphone into my mouth last night and chipped my tooth," he says, flashing a grin as he, drummer Jeff Truckenmiller, guitarist Joel Eckerson, and bassist Joram Livengood sit at the CC Club for a Sunday-afternoon drink.
At the very same show, an audience member kicked an adapter and cut the power. "Jeff just kept going, and the mic was still on, so [Littleson] just kept singing," Livengood says, with clear relish. "It was sweet."
Verily, Ex Nuns play fast, furious noise-rock that cuts away as much fat as possible and channels everything into raw energy. That attitude even carries over into the one-two punch of their debut 7-inch, "Dead of Zero," which says all that needs to be said in under eight minutes.
However, when Littleson and Truckenmiller started up Ex Nuns early last year, they expected it to be a shoegaze band. After disbanding their dream-pop outfit Heirloom, the Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine fans envisioned a sound in that vein, but that's not how things worked out.
"It didn't last very long, because we kind of sucked at doing that," recalls Littleson, stretching his arms out along the top of a booth, and sliding into a half-slouch. "It was pretty painful coming to that realization. Like, 'Shit, we just can't do that.'"
Truckenmiller puts things more bluntly: "We spent three months writing bullshit," he says, arms crossed, sitting on the opposite side of the table. "We had these songs that built up, and the most intense parts were the best parts. We wound up keeping that, and everything else was gone."
The big change came when Littleson moved to guitar, Truckenmiller took the drums, and then they added Eckerson and Livengood, both of whose backgrounds were in punk and hardcore.
"[Truckenmiller] is a better drummer than me, and arguably a better guitar player than me. [But] he doesn't know how to play drums softly," teases Littleson. "And Joram," Truckenmiller adds, "he just plays really aggressive bass. There's no way around that."
Indeed, the sheer power of Ex Nuns stands out, particularly the relentless snare shots and bass lines that seem hell-bent on tearing everything apart. But the songs take time to develop. The spiraling guitars often bleed into more expansive territory, and deep beneath the feedback, there are some distinct, almost poppy, melodies. "That's all Ian," says Truckenmiller. "If I had a choice, it would be all noise."
On Memorial Day 2012, the band recorded the songs that make up the 7-inch, which is being released via local label 25 Diamonds. The reason for the delay in releasing the songs, says Eckerson, is simple: "We didn't think anyone would give a shit," he says with a laugh. In the time since, Ex Nuns' sound has continued to evolve, and as Littleson sees it, it's only gotten more aggressive. On "Dead of Zero" and its B-side, "Crash Meditation," his voice is a low sneer, reminiscent at times of the Strokes' Julian Casablancas, circa Is This It? As he explains it, "It just doesn't make any sense for me to be doing these low, growly things with all this thrashing."
So far, it makes sense for Ex Nuns to keep their shows short. Part of that, they say, is because they simply don't have enough songs. But it's also a matter of principle. "I hate it when new bands play forever. It's one of my biggest pet peeves," says Truckenmiller. He gives a matter-of-fact shrug. "You have to earn that 45-minute, hour slot. I don't think we've earned that yet."
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