Words by Sean Moeller , Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
The very last line of the storybook that accompanies Antarctica, the debut offering from North Carolina's The Never, reads, "Fall in love with this world." It sure seems to be a funny time for notions such as that one. It's too late, one would think, for falling in love with this world, one that certain others have targeted for annihilation. Why get attached to a place that, with a swift flick of the right switch, could turn into a smoking cloud. A big red "X" has been painted on its side and it's been selected for the chainsaw. We are in the throes of something that looks like a crisis. This world - the one that we're trying not to get too attached to because we're afraid of it -- is locked between what used to be prosperity and what might soon be nothingness. All it would take would be questioning the wrong person's dick size (figuratively speaking, of course - or is it?) and a few manmade thunderclaps could level it all to rubble.
At that point, the world, love and all those capable of it would be non-existent, so we wouldn't need a reminder. An article by Bill Powell in this week's Time magazine, entitled, "When Outlaws Get The Bomb," is accompanied by an illustration of cuckoo Kim Jong Il, the leader of the People's Democratic Republic of Korea, where he's got two black nuclear warheads for eyes, broken matchsticks for a nose and is holding a mushroom in his right hand. The piece details how the most frightening and possibly unavoidable effect of North Korea's adamant desire to possess the power of atom bomb technology and its recent test bombings will come when every other country feels the urgency to do the same - the law of the jungle sets in and the kill or be killed mantra takes hold. There won't be any world left to love and this - in a roundabout way -- is addressed in Antarctica, oddly enough. The protagonist Paul - a naÃ¯ve boy from the forest - finds an atomic bomb in the meadow and feels that the best place for it is in the city, so he straps it onto a Radio Flyer and begins pulling it into town. How he got the heavy ass thing onto the wagon...not addressed...but there's no mistaking the impending doom and you instinctively hedge that the city's going down.
Be ready for a spoiler. The bomb doesn't go off, though it gets into the hands of some evil-doing people. It's dropped, but it never detonates. It falls to the streets below with a hollow clanking sound. To serve as a continual reminder of how close they were to being wiped out, the residents of the city stood it up and made it a statue to help them better appreciate the good things in life. The Never - singer/guitarist Noah Smith, drummer Jonny Tunnell and bassist Joah Tunnell - gravitate toward optimism. Well, that's not completely true. They do generally seem to drift toward positive thinking, but there are the touches of emotional catastrophe that are set off first and then reconciled with a code of better days and better nights - things can't stay this way forever.
One of the group's newer songs, "When You're Gone," has Smith asking, "Who'll be here to hurt me when you're gone?../I'm used to being miserable with you," and yet he makes the situation feel idyllic in a way, taking you back to a time when relationships - the young ones or the soon-to-fail ones - weren't really about destiny or cosmic fortuity, but perspective. The rotten apple was still half-good to one side. The brighter side is the one that seems to be taken most often by this group of childhood friends who grew up on dairy farms and in towns that barely had a mailing address. They seem to round that corner and move into a slightly better way of thinking once they've gotten through a verse or two. Suddenly, it's not so bad anymore. They've begun thinking about their happy place - one of snow and calming beauty - and gathered all their strength to buck up. The sunny side wins again.
The Never are not just a band. They were already addressing the root problem at the center of Al Gore's "inconvenient truth" before his documentary movie and book were released this spring, touring on vegetable oil copped from charitable restaurants' throw-away bins. The waste product went to fuel their van, converted from diesel to vegetable oil, and helped them do their part in not contributing to the toxic pollution of the environment. The Tunnells spent most of their youth raised as Antarctica lead character Paul was - in seclusion and without modern amenities. They were home-schooled, bathed in barrels, had no indoor plumbing or electricity and it was this upbringing that fostered an appreciation for the nature that's either dwindling or taken for granted. These guys are about more than that even. They are about the ties that still bind us to the nascent formulations of how we interact with others and how we first started dealing with that voice inside our own heads. The voice in most of their songs comes from that in-between period in life where some things have been figured out, but most have not. Most everything is still up for grabs. There is much spry vigor and untested wisdom in many of the things that Smith sings on Antarctica -- ideas and emotions that are still growing legs, stretching into their fingerprints. He and the band bridge a young energy with what can only be classified as hopefulness in a future that can be good if we'll just let it be.
h3. The Daytrotter interview:
*I felt bad seeing the pictures on your site of the sick and busted veggie mobile. Is it dead? Did the benefits of traveling in it far outweigh the hassles that it brought, with the grease collecting and whatnot?*
Jonny Tunnell: Ahh the bus. It's doing alright now. We think. The benefits certainly outweigh the problems we've had. Environmentally, mainly. The reason we've had trouble with it is not because of the veggie oil conversion. It's just an old engine. We actually ran into old friends mewithoutyou last weekend and they had the veggie oil as well and said it was running quite well. The first few months were difficult though. So, I think we'll have worked out the kinks by the winter.
Noah Smith: The problems weren't related to the veggie oil. They had to do with sensors that wear out after lots of miles, which the bus has seen. We are in fact very environmentally active. Having grown up in a very rural area, I have a strong appreciation for nature. My brother and I were raised in the forest of N.C., close to the Rocky River. We went the first bit of our lives without many of the modern amenities. We had no indoor plumbing, electricity, etc. We bathed in barrels, and got our water from Mount Vernon Springs, which is currently in jeopardy from a quarry that is trying to move in). Our mother worked running an antique business and our father was and still is a bluegrass musician. It gave him lots of time to spend with us out in that rural setting. I'm fond of my childhood, so I'm sensitive to these environmental issues because they directly affect that kind of lifestyle. I've spent most of my life living on an old dairy farm in Pittsboro, N.C., which can be likened to a Mayberry-esque, Andy Griffith sort of existence. It's nice though. It's also close to Chapel Hill where there is so much great music.
*What are the particulars of the vehicle? Who built it? When did it start going bad? Are you pretty environmentally-conscious dudes? Did people think you were nuts for taking that thing out?*
Jonny Tunnell: Well, it started going bad within the first hours of our first tour back in July. The antifreeze somehow ended up in the gas tank and that's exactly what you don't want to happen.We've certainly received some strange looks from a lot of people, but it's increasingly getting to be a well known substitute for diesel. The singer for Piebald actually has done about 20 conversions himself, and I think you'll find more and more bands in particular doing it. Our conversion was done by a friend of ours here in Pittsboro. It's a Ford bus, the only difference is an extra tank that holds the veggie oil and heats it before entering the engine. Diesel motors actually ran on peanut oil when they were first invented. (Peanut, veggie, it's all the same basically). The only reason early motorists switched to diesel was price!!! Ironic, huh? Peanut oil is still quite expensive, but is a cleaner burning fuel and isn't nearly as bad as throwing petroleum and heavens knows what else into the air. We are very environmentally aware and try to promote environmental groups when we can and have done a great deal of fundraising for a few. It's something we intend on doing more in the future.
*What are your slip-and-slide parties like? I think we'd like as many details as possible. You mentioned optional clothing...How was this years'? When was it held?*
Jonny Tunnell: Oh, the glory that is Slip 'n Slide. Every summer we have the biggest party in Pittsboro. Unless Noah's mom, Pam, throws a party.We build a 10x100-foot long Slip 'n Slide and basically invite everyone we can over to The Never's compound. A kiddie pool full of beer and orange soda. Bands/DJs, movies projected on the house wall. Last summer we had a moon walk. I don't know how we're gonna top that next summer. It's really the only party you ever need to be at.
NS: Our Slip 'n Slide party is fun. My house always gets trashed, but it's always worth it. We carpet the yard to lessen the painful impact of leaping head-first onto the lawn, though I still always get mysterious injuries from it.
*Who grew up on a farm? Good time, bad time?*
Jonny Tunnell: I suppose we all grew up on farms. Joah and I used to walk behind our dad's tractor, clearing out fields. Whenever there was a new field cleared, it was important to pick up all the roots you could or else the tractor would get caught on the root and tear the plow. Interesting. Joah and I built way too much character that way. Noah and Jones grew up under a rock -- literally -- for awhile. Then they moved to a dairy farm for awhile and that eventually became The Never compound.
*Are you guys friends with Annuals? How do you know each other? How was the CD release show the other night? Anything confidential about them that you
can tell us?*
Jonny Tunnell: Friends? We prefer best buds! There's always been a divide between the Cary/Raleigh music scene and Chapel Hill, but we've always known of those guys and their bands. But recently, we've had the chance to actually get to know them and they're great! As soon as I get some dirt on them you'll be first to know. We're actually dating them now, goin' steady too. The release show was great! I believe it was filmed in HD so that video should be going up soon on both annuals' website and ours.
*What's your hometown like?*
Jonny Tunnell: Really, really small. All four of us grew up in small, small towns. Joah and I are from Swan Quarter, N.C., about an hour from Nags Head and Manteo, N.C., where the beaches are. You've heard of one stoplight towns, I'm sure. All we had was two caution lights in the entire county and those weren't even in town. There was no music scene. Joah and I played music cause there was really nothing else to do. We had no other friends really cause we were a bit out of the social circles I guess. Our parents home schooled us so we never really got into the social scene. We left Swan Quarter when were around 17/16 years old and moved to Chapel Hill and started playing in bands and haven't stopped since then. Noah and Jones grew up in the Pittsboro/Siler City area, a little closer to civilization than Swan Quarter. Pittsboro is now home of The Never.
*Have you had any encounters with Boyz 2 Men in the last year? Seen them goin' off? Not too hard, not too soft?*
Jonny Tunnell: Of course we have!!!! That's really the only reason we tour. To track down Boyz 2 Men. We want them to join our group. If you guys are reading this call me!! We saw them in Indianapolis the last time we went through and they still sound awesome. We've got video of that. (editor's note: It's true)
*Tell me about your busking experience in Central Park again.*
Jonny Tunnell: We do loads of busking. We've busked upwards of six hours in one day. Our music tends to lend itself to that kind of performance, so it's fairly easy to make a buck or two and maybe pay for lunch. We busked in Central Park over the summer for about two hours and sold about 15 records. And met some totally awesome Canadians, who were the nicest people in Central Park, ever I'm sure. Thanks Canada. We'll see you soon.
*How familiar are you with that shitty unrequited love? It seems very.*
Noah Smith: Who's not familiar with this? This is quite universal, I suppose, especially when expressing through songwriting. You feel it's something that most people can identify with, especially younger people. In context with Antarctica , it's more about watching friendships fall apart.
*Noah, the undertaking of this record and the storybook had to have been massive. How long did it take...for all those oil paintings to dry...?*
NS: In a technical sense, they're still not dry. Even cheap oils take a few hundred years to dry. It took me about two years of working on the paintings/working on music/my overwhelming social life/alcoholism and working the odd jobs. Luckily, my position as a sales clerk allowed for a lot of that painting time. So, indirectly I was getting paid to paint those.
*What would you do with a nuclear bomb if you came upon one?*
Jonny Tunnell: That's a tough one! I'd run away screaming, then try and tell officials that you trust about it. Either that or I'd take over a small country. Just a small one though!!
*Who do you guys look at as role models for songwriting?*
NS: Jeff Lynne. He's so progressive with his songwriting and some of the most intense instrumental arrangements. The Zombies for composition and vocal melodies. Lately, Harry Nilson has been on my iPod a lot. Conway Twitty for simplicity. He can be so passionate. This record - where it's not directly about me, but having the passion about the song itself.