Nallo: We've been turning into a kraut rock band
It's mid-afternoon as the members of Nallo (prounounced Nah-low) stand huddled in their practice space in the basement of guitarist Ronnie Lee's house. The sun sneaks through a window in the upper corner of the room, which is mostly dark save for a single light bulb overhead. The band are busy hashing out the recording of a bonus track for their new 7-inch, Drugs for the Kids, but they decide to take a break and venture upstairs for a cigarette. Outside, it's bright and warm, and everyone sits down on the couches inside the screened-in front porch.
"It doesn't make sense in traditional terms," says Nallo's singer, Andrew Ranallo, of the decision to release the new single. "But it does for us, because we're getting it out there." It was only last summer, after all, that the band released their first full-length, Mechano and the Trees.
Ranallo shrugs, bundled up in his dark brown winter jacket, a beer held between his legs. "We just want to mark an occasion that we're moving in a different direction."
The past couple of years have seen plenty of changes for the south Minneapolis four-piece. It was in 2011 that Lee first met Ranallo, who was playing a solo set at the Fine Line, and offered to play drums for him. Ranallo, who has curly brown hair and a thick beard, had already been playing around town for a while under the Nallo moniker (so named for an old nickname of his), performing what he describes as "weirdo folk." "I was getting kind of bored," he admits. "The structure could only go so far."
With Lee on board, things shifted gears and headed toward more of a rock 'n' roll -- and, particularly, psychedelic -- direction.
"It was a major shift right away," Ranallo recalls. That became all the more true as Ranallo's roommate, Blake Pederson, joined as bassist and Pat McCabe took over drum duties, with Lee shifting over to lead guitar. "Maybe the structures of the songs remain somewhat similar," Ranallo adds, "but we stretch them out and have much more room to play because there's more people. I couldn't just stand there alone and play a long droney part by myself; it'd be kind of boring."
It's not too difficult to trace the band's evolution in the way their music has taken shape. On Mechano, the band's jangly, loose-strummed melodies had clear roots in Ranallo's folk background, but with a hypnotic quality that owed much to the repetitive structures and Lee's fuzzy, droning guitar work. The lyrics, too, added to the music's vaguely ominous tone: Songs like "Different" and "Marian," in particular, build narratives about death with a hint of black humor.
"The goal was always to write as straightforward as possible, which is hard," Ranallo says of his lyrics. Through the band's recordings, his approach has become noticeably more abstract, which is perhaps appropriate for the music. "You get the urge to try to be clever, but it's not something that I want to do. Working with these guys has brought that out even more."
Drugs for the Kids' two songs build on that, but they mark a change in direction, as well -- one toward sludgier, more insistent riffs. Or, as Pedersen jokes, "We've definitely been turning into more of a kraut rock band -- which is totally okay with me." In the case of the B-side, "Kids," the record also builds on Nallo's tendency to veer off into new, experimental territory midway through a song.
"The full-length was pretty much Andrew's songs that he had," explains Lee, who wears a corduroy cap and jean jacket, and has tattoos across his fingers. "We changed them a lot by by adding our parts, but these we all wrote together." As a result, the group dynamic is pushed more to the fore, and the overall effect is one of a band that's fallen more tightly into synch with one another. Ranallo suggests that the songwriting is a matter of trying to keep things accessible, but also interesting for the members themselves. "I just always want more feedback," Lee replies with a smirk, as he flicks the ash of his cigarette.
It helps that the recording of the new material was a much easier process than recording Mechano. The band actually recorded the full-length three separate times: once while McCabe was living in Arizona, again after he returned to Minnesota and rejoined the band, and then again a third time because they weren't happy with the results. "It was a huge endeavor, and kind of exhausting," says Ranallo. "Then when we released it, it was one song at a time every week. That was mostly impatience, because we were sick of waiting."
This time, the songs were cut in one weekend while they stayed on Lee's father's property in Wisconsin. It helped, too, that Ranallo had a new 8-channel interface that allowed the band to record all at once, rather than piece by piece. That quicker process clearly also kept things fresh for the group, but they also point out that they've drawn inspiration from several other bands that they're friends with: Lee's roommates, for instance, are in bands as well, and Lee himself is in six other bands outside of Nallo, including Is/Is and the Miami Dolphins.
"I feel like once you get something done, it's dead," says Pederson, summing up, in a way, the mentality that has kept Nallo moving forward thus far. "Like once it's out, it's over. We just want to keep putting stuff out."
NALLO play a release for Drugs for the Kids at Hexagon Bar this Saturday, April 6, with Prissy Clerks, Web of Sunsets, and Worryers. 9 pm. Free. 21+. 2600 27th Ave S., Minneapolis; 612.722.3454.
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