The National Rifle: Booking House Concerts, Embracing Synths & Being DIY Out of Necessity

by | Nov 2, 2012 | Interviews and Features

If you were to begin a search online for the NRA and got lazy, you might just stumble upon The National Rifle, and depending on what your idea of a good time is, it might be one of the best mistakes you’ll ever make. Although the name stems more from irony than anything else, Philadelphia’s TNR are a shot of energy that you were more likely to see at a Dead Milkmen show twenty years ago than in today’s “let’s stare at our shoes and bore the audience” indie scene. Their first full-length, a Kickstarter-funded endeavor titled Almost Endless, is the follow up to 2010’s Vanity Press, and is a cocktail of styles mixed with synths and a whole lot of sweat. If heart made for success in the world of music, then The National Rifle would already be selling out arenas.

OK, the new album is Kickstarter funded; why and how did you decide that was the route to go?

Buddy Mazzenga: We decided to use Kickstarter because it was a great way to fund the new album. To us, it’s not much different than working with a label to front the band money to record, but unlike most labels, those offering the money are not doing it for their own profit but to support what they love. We are trying to remain self-sufficient…plus we’re poor.

Is there any concern that the people who supported you won’t like what you created? How would you react to that?

Buddy: We always want our fans to enjoy our music, and we’re confident in all the songs we record, hoping that they’ll enjoy what we enjoy. Of course, it is unfavorable if our normal supporters dislike the new material, but we won’t lose them as friends or fans.

Jeremiah Sweeney: There’s always the excitement/nervous factor when putting out any new album, for the fact you don’t know how people will perceive the new sound. That is the best part, though!

You also seem to be big proponents of the house show. What is it about house shows that you like?

Hugh Morretta: As a new band, house shows were sometimes the only option if we wanted to play to more than just the bartenders on a week night.

Promoters aren’t going to book a band if they can’t draw a paying crowd and make the bar money. So we played those places out of necessity, but we also had a lot of fun doing it.

The process of booking shows – do you do that on your own? What are the major differences you see between bars/clubs and house shows?

Hugh: Lynna [Stancato] booked a lot of the house shows mainly through e-mail, like we book anyhow, and they’re a great option on tour where we may still have that problem of promoters who won’t take a risk with a smaller band. We also still really enjoy those types of shows because of the freedom to not have to worry about the head count and just play for a few people who are interested in the music. But as our music becomes a little more complex, it becomes harder to do the material justice with two mics and two speakers in a basement. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep a lot of the house show energy while playing the new stuff at places where we can much more easily re-create the sounds we got on the new album.

OK, lots of shirts coming off at shows, lots of overt sexuality; are you all really cocky or is this part theatrics?

Buddy: We enjoy what we do; there’s nothing cocky about having fun.

Lynna Stancato: Some people see it as being cocky and get turned off by how outgoing and energetic we are at shows, but we’re really not trying to act at all. We’re just trying to make each show an exciting event and connect with the audience.

It’s all about getting the music across in a live setting. Sometimes that requires something more outgoing then staring at our shoes.

How would you describe each other?

Lynna: I’ll describe the band members: Hugh is the leader in the creative process but also the one who encourages everyone to get drunk at a show. Buddy is serious about the details and sometimes wound a little too tight, but the one you need to worry about when he drinks too much at a show. Jeremiah is the band mascot. Loud, outgoing, the salesman.

Hugh: Lynna is the boss, always needs to get to the show early, takes every roadblock to the band as a personal challenge but always smiling and ready to crack corny jokes.

There’s definitely a feel of intentionally doing things on the cheap (the graphics on your blog are a fantastic example). Was this a conscious decision or not?

Hugh: It’s really out of necessity. We update the website ourselves. We travel in our own 10-year-old van. We try to stay with friends on the road because motels are too much of an expense. There’s really no other option for us. I know that if we could afford to have people drive us around or create our artwork I’d be pretty happy to let them take over so we could concentrate on the music. It’s not too much of a DIY-ethic thing. It’s just the way things are

How has Philly influenced you as a band?

Hugh: I’m not sure Philly has influenced us directly, except that obviously we’re East Coast people and I’m sure that affects our ideas on things. As far as any type of scene, I don’t think we’re really a part of anything going on here. I’m not sure if there really is any type of unified scene at all. Sometimes there’s a few bands that may have similar sounds and be friends but that’s something that’s often short-lived and may not have any lasting effect. I’m one of those people who believes the Internet has made scenes outdated. People living in vastly different areas can easily influence each other and connect over a similar sound. That makes where you’re making music much less important then what you’re making.

How did band’s name come about?

Lynna: The name is really just something that we like because it’s playful and maybe a little confusing. It’s great to see reactions from people when they hear the name because they’re really not sure where we’re coming from. We wanted something that’s a little ambiguous, but is obviously more of a sarcastic joke when you get to know us

How long did you have in the studio for the new LP? What sort of schedule did you prepare for yourselves?

Jeremiah: We really spent a lot of time on pre-production. So, once we got to the studio we were confident and ready. It worked well in that once we were in the studio we had time to really experiment with sounds and bring out the full potential of our songs.

Buddy: I don’t remember the exact length of time, but Kickstarter only funded a portion of the recording. Since we love what we do, we always put in all we can for TNR projects. Having other people help out with the funding didn’t change that. The album has been the most important venture for us in the past two years.

There’s an ’80s feel on some songs, straight up rock and roll on others, and maybe even indie rock here and there. What does your songwriting process look like and how would you explain the diversity?

Hugh: When writing the album, I became more interested in synths and electronics and also changing the singing style to be a little more dynamic. I didn’t intentionally try to evoke any specific era of music, but with these new sounds added to the band and a new vocal approach it definitely has an ’80s kind of feel.

Buddy: We’ve all also had a huge ’80s influence…I’ve been listening to a lot of Tears for Fears, a-ha, and Bowie in the recent past, but we write music according to how we feel. Jon and Brian [Almost Endless producers] had a big part in creating that sound in the way they introduced us to analog synths and also their use of reverb on the album.

How much does the gear you use matter in your (extremely) energetic shows?

Buddy: Drummers only use what the house allows us to use. Sometimes that means a house kit and some house kits are treated like shit. Basically, I’d prefer to always use my kit out of comfort and sound, but I don’t have the luxury of always using my gear.

Hugh: Although we are really concerned about the energy level at shows, I know we all think that sounding great is the most important part. That’s when it can be really frustrating to play any type of DIY or small bar show where that’s almost impossible. It can really ruin a night for any one of us if we don’t feel our sound is coming across. As far as equipment, for me a Telecaster through a Fender amp is what I’ve been using for a few years and I couldn’t do a show without it. In the synth department, we’re huge fans of analog right now and our [Roland] Juno-60 is a really big part of our sound. It’s a must to get that thing sounding great if we want to sound anywhere near the album.

What do you hope people are feeling after they leave one of your shows?

Lynna: I hope they look at us as talented musicians rather than a party band. I think people get that impression of us from how energetic and outgoing we are.

Jeremiah: Extreme music ecstasy!

Buddy: Recently, I hope people appreciate our new music as much as we do. We feel it’s more mature. It shows our new direction. So we hope people connect with it live.

Hugh: We really want to communicate directly with everyone at a show. In a perfect world, we want the songs to speak directly to the audience and have them feel that they’re part of the experience. I think we’re always working toward that goal. Sometimes we have more success than others.

photos by Jon Stars