NIGHTMARE AIR: THE SCAR IS INTENSE
photography by debi del grande
After two long years of recording, mixing, and mastering, modern shoegaze band Nightmare Air has released their sophomore album Fade Out. But guitarist and singer Dave Dupuis has barely had time to celebrate his band’s latest achievement: not only has been he has been traveling the world as Gary Numan’s tour manager and front of house sound guy, he’s preparing to have the rest of the band join him as the opening act on Numan’s fall tour. L.A. RECORD caught Dupuis on a rare pit stop in Los Angeles to talk about Nightmare Air’s new synth-centered sound, meeting your heroes, shattering skulls, and living life on the road. They perform Sat., Oct. 6, at the Fonda with Gary Numan. This interview by Julia Gibson.
So Nightmare Air is a skateboarding reference?
Dave Dupuis (guitar/vocals): Back in the 80s there was a skate company called Powell Peralta. They had something called the Bones Brigade, which was made up of like seven skaters including Tony Hawk. They made these little films where they would go to a spot, skate for a while, then do some dumb acting. As a kid, I loved them. There’s a scene in one of them where they are laying around a hotel room after a sweet skate sesh at a pool, and one of them goes, ‘Hey Lance! [talking to Lance Mountain] Do the nightmare air!’ And so the nightmare air is where he’s laying down and pretends to fall asleep, wakes up from a nightmare, and puts his skateboard down at his feet like he’s landing. It’s such a stupid reference, but it stuck with me. When it was time to name the band, I was trying to think of something that evoked fun, friends, good feelings, and naiveté. It didn’t take long to land on Nightmare Air because I was waiting to use it for a long time. When the band started, I wanted it to be fun. Bands aren’t always fun. You tour the world with five dudes and one guy is a dick, and one guy is yelling at his girlfriend or whatever. I didn’t want any bad energy, so I wanted our name to inspire good energy.
Do you still skate?
Dave Dupuis: I do, yes. I had a little bit of an ankle injury last year so I haven’t much lately, but I do. I don’t skate like a week or two before tour because I don’t want to break my arm again. I’ve broken my arms and wrists like eight times, and pretty much every other bone in my body. I don’t do tricks that much anymore either, but I do get excited once I get on a skateboard. I’ll go until I fall down.
Have all of your broken bones been from skating?
Dave Dupuis: They’re all from being a clumsy fool. I did shatter my skull in a mosh pit when I was 19. That wasn’t my clumsy move though.
What? Whose mosh pit was it?
Dave Dupuis: It was a local band from New Hampshire. I was kind of a hardcore kid back in the day, X’s on my hands and everything. I was in this mosh pit and I caught the wrong end of a steel-toe Doc right in my forehead. It shattered and pushed in my skull.
I assume you got … stitches? At least?
Dave Dupuis: Well, this is what an injury in New Hampshire is like in the 90s: they fucking sucked. I got kicked in the head and all this liquid snot came out of my nose. That had happened to me a couple times before when I hit my head snowboarding so I was like, ‘Oh, no big deal.’ But I noticed my forehead was dented in, so my friend took me to the emergency room. They took an x-ray and were like, ‘Looks good to us! If it doesn’t pop out by tomorrow morning let us know!’ I went back home and the next morning it popped out, so I went snowboarding all day long. I had a raging day on the hill, and on the way back I felt my forehead and it was dented again. I called my mom and of course she freaked out. We went to a doctor who said we needed to take care of it in the next three days or I would be screwed forever. So they cut me from ear to ear, pulled down my forehead, and wired my skull back together—like 13 pieces of it. I had 52 staples across the top of my head. Thank God for these curls. If they ever go, I’m going to look like a freak. The scar is intense. But I’m alive!
You play guitar with Nightmare Air, and also played guitar with your previous band Film School. Have you always been a guitar guy?
Dave Dupuis: I started my musical career with the saxophone when I was seven. I played that until I was 18. I was in the marching band. I never really practiced or took it seriously—it was more of a time after school where I could fart around and hang out with friends. But by the end of high school I realized I was really good at it. Then I went to college. One night I went to a café with my friends and there were these guys there playing acoustic Jane’s Addiction covers. The girls I was with thought they were so hot, and I was like, ‘I can do that.’ So the next day I bought a guitar. I’m not really like that … but that’s what happened.
Are you a Jane’s Addiction fan?
Dave Dupuis: Oh, massive. Honestly, they kind of fucked me over. My voice is pretty high, and it’s all because I used to sing [along with] Jane’s Addiction and Superchunk. I’m learning how to sing with a lower voice now, but Perry Farrell was definitely an influence. I got to go out on a U.S. tour with Jane’s Addiction a few years ago and meet Perry and hang with those guys. It was a six-week tour, and I didn’t see Dave Navarro with his shirt on but once. Always shirtless! It’s wild. Just hanging out in catering, shirtless. They haven’t changed! But he’s a really nice guy. Just sexed up.
He’s earned it. By all means take your shirt off, Mr. Navarro.
Dave Dupuis: I wish I had pecs like that. I wish I could pull off those nipple rings. [laughs] Hollywood rock hasn’t gone anywhere. People still do that whole thing. I identify more with that sometimes than I do with the younger generations of indie weirdos because I grew up with that. I find myself listening to the Lithium channel on Sirius a lot.
What’s the last song you listened to today?
Dave Dupuis: This is weirdly embarrassing, but the last song I listened to was an Enigma song, last night in my car with a friend. I’ve got this super dope-ass sound system in my little hot rod, and we wanted something with a good beat. We put on Enigma, which is very 90s but really fun. I’ve been at the DMV for the last 4 hours, so I haven’t listened to any music so far today!
I was introduced to Nightmare Air when I saw you open for No Joy at the Echo in 2015. I bought your music the next day and have been a fan since. Have you had that experience of discovering a band?
Dave Dupuis: I had that experience at every concert I went to in the 90s. I’ve been living in rock clubs since I was a kid. I grew up outside of Boston in New Hampshire. I quickly moved to the city and all my friends worked at the Middle East. We were in that club every night and it was a great time for music. People used to discover bands by seeing bands, and that just doesn’t happen anymore. Jimmy, our drummer, and I both grew up in rock clubs and discovered bands that way. We were both in bands when we were younger and when we would tour, people would discover us at those shows. You tour in one city and come back a month later, there’s twenty more people there. You just did it like that. But it just doesn’t happen like that anymore. We all know rock clubs are going downhill, and it was a sad reality that we came to right after High In The Lasers came out. We toured for the album, and it was cool and the shows were good, but it didn’t feel the same. We had a sense of nostalgia and it just didn’t feel like that. It’s definitely a sign of the times.
Are nostalgic rock shows going the way of the dinosaur?
Dave Dupuis: I don’t know. In the past few years, there’s been a big 90s sound revival and there’s a bunch of shitty bands playing again. I see it at South by Southwest every year—there’s shitty bands out there with people in their 20s, and it’s nice to see that. I think things are happening, but I don’t know if it’s going to hold. We’ll see. I hope so.
Something that really strikes me about Nightmare Air’s music is how masterfully you layer sounds to create one cohesive piece of music. How do you fit them together, and then know when to stop?
Dave Dupuis: I don’t know when to stop. It is really hard. The process begins with just trying to create a vibe. That will start with one or two sounds, like a guitar or keyboard. All of Fade Out started out exclusively on keyboards. High In The Lasers was a guitar-heavy record—Fade Out is more synth. The process starts with trying to find a vibe, then layering complementary tones: tones that will build into whatever message the song might have, whether its darker or lighter, whatever the song might need. I really enjoy the layering. I will sit there all night and mess around with 4 sounds, 6 sounds, 25 sounds … It’s honestly the fun part for me. So first I’ll get the vibe, then the song will come out of the vibe, and then I go bananas layering tones. I try to find whatever is going to make the song go to that level where it’s overwhelming—eyes rolling back in your head, like, ‘YES,’ you know?
It’s funny you’re talking about that ‘eyes rolling back’ effect; I heard you describe Swervedriver as having that same quality.
Dave Dupuis: I learned how to play guitar listening to Swervedriver. We’re departing from that sound on the new record, but we’ve always been more rock-shoegaze like they were. I don’t think they were even called shoegaze back when they started, just alternative rock. I’ve always been way more into rock. I like Swervedriver more than My Bloody Valentine, although I did like m b v. I’m way more punk than dream. I just like that eyes rolling back in your head, exploding feeling … I just try to get that with whatever rockiness comes out of my fingers. Swervedriver was always one of my faves. Film School was asked to support them on their reunion tour and it was a mega dream come true. As a job, I tour manage and do sound for bands, and I did a few tours with Swervedriver, and now we’re all buddies.
Between being buds with Swervedriver and hanging with Jane’s Addiction, would you agree or disagree with ‘never meet your heroes?’
Dave Dupuis: I’ve been lucky enough to meet and work with almost all of my musical heroes. I haven’t met Thurston Moore, but I would’ve shit my pants if I had met him fifteen years ago. Now I’d just be a little happier. I’ve been able to go out with lots of my heroes, and I haven’t been screwed over yet.
Another one of those heroes is Gary Numan, right?
Dave Dupuis: Yes! I tour manage for him. He is very much one of my musical heroes and influences. Film School was the last band signed to Beggar’s Banquet, and Gary Numan was the first band signed to that label. He basically made Beggar’s Banquet happen. When we got signed I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m on Gary fucking Numan’s record label, this is so cool.’ We met at a Nick Cave afterparty five years ago. I introduced myself and said, ‘Hey, I’m Dave—we’re labelmates.’ I got to say it! Since then, we’ve been touring around the world nonstop.
Nightmare Air is supporting Gary Numan on tour in the fall. Are you looking forward to a different role on this tour?
Dave Dupuis: I’m doing everything. I’m doing the whole fucking thing. Fade Out came out in March, and Gary still had to tour for the year. I was like, ‘Dude, I have to go with my own band now.’ They were like, ‘Well, just start opening for us.’ I’m really busy on these tours: between tour managing duties, working front of house, and two-hour meet and greets, I don’t really have time. We did a few test shows: one at the Teragram and one at the Fillmore. It all went swimmingly so we did the six-week tour in Europe. It’s fucking nuts. Everyone at the clubs are like, ‘We’ve never seen this before. You’re tour managing and singing in the support band … what is going on?’ But it worked out. It’s honestly a little energy boost. When you’re playing in front of thousands of people it’s a rush, so by the time Gary goes on, I’m pumped.
With the way Nightmare Air’s sound has changed from High In The Lasers to Fade Out, opening for him is a good fit. The synths are way out front on this album.
Dave Dupuis: I started touring with Gary Numan five years ago and I was screwed from that point forward. [laughs] No, I will say that was an influence, but I have always been a synth guy as well. After High In The Lasers I bought a shitload of synths: a bunch of Prophets, Viruses, Moogs … I just bought things in an effort to create a new vibe and a new sound. I already know I can make my guitar sound like a synth, just run it through a hundred pedals, and I was like, ‘Let’s try something else.’ My guitar pedals have dwindled down to more refined tones as a result. It’s not as much of a wash anymore. Now we’re getting comparisons to early Cure.
Did you play favorites with your synths when you were making Fade Out?
Dave Dupuis: Yeah—some of those synths I bought didn’t even make it on the record. I teamed up with a guy out of Toronto named Doug Romanow to finish the record, and he is a synth maniac. I’m talking hundreds of synths. I went up there three times and we just layered sounds until we found the synth tones I liked.
Fade Out was recorded, mixed, and mastered in three different countries. What effect did that have on the sound of the record?
Dave Dupuis: It made it come out like two years too late. We recorded in Ireland because we won a songwriting competition randomly on Sonicbids. That’s where you apply for SXSW—you can make a little electronic press kit to apply. There’s also contests on there, and one of them was to win two weeks of recording at Grouse Lodge. I was like, ‘Fuck it! I’ll just submit.’ I sent in ‘Escape’ from High In The Lasers, paid 12 bucks, and didn’t think anything of it. Three months later, I got a call saying we won. So we went on this all-expenses paid trip to Ireland and went to this dope studio where Michael Jackson recorded and Muse recorded, and that’s where we recorded. It was in an old castle and we didn’t leave it for two weeks. It was fucking awesome, but because of that we put off recording in L.A. for six months. Right after recording, a tour came up, and then another thing came up, and so we were working over the phone for months. Everything got delayed because of that process. Doing things remotely sucks, but I don’t regret anything. The record is what it is because of the time we took. But it definitely took too long.
Nightmare Air’s lyrics are simple and succinct. How do you come up with lyrics?
Dave Dupuis: I have a list on my phone of words and phrases that I think sound cool. For example, here’s the last thing I wrote: ‘golden chicken.’ [laughs] Okay, that’s not a good one. What the hell was going on there? Anyway, I have this list. The phrase ‘high in the lasers’ is on it. If I think of something that might invoke a message, I’ll write it down. That’s where a lot of the lyrics come from. I write most of the lyrics. Swann will come in and add or alter if she wants. Jimmy came up with a few things this time around. I come in with lyrics, but I’m very open to interpretation. That was the thing with this record—I wanted everyone to feel part of it. It’s such an endeavor to make a record without a label, without support, without any money, without anything. We all worked so hard at it, so everyone should feel that they are a part of it.
Which song was most memorable to record?
Dave Dupuis: ‘Way We Fall’ because that was the most unrealized song when we got there. ‘Sweet Arrows’ as well. We took our time with that one since we couldn’t find the groove on it for a while. Memorable meaning ‘had the most problems.’ Those are the ones I’m going to remember. But it all should be difficult, right?
I saw the video for the title track, ‘Fade Out,’ and it is a perfect match visually for this new synth-heavy sound. How did you get that experimental, glitchy look?
Dave Dupuis: We worked with Tachyons+. He’s a dude I met on a tour in Florida years ago. When it came time to make this video, I called him up. We filmed on my little point-and-shoot in front of a white screen in our practice space, then we sent him the tapes and he ran them through his setup. That’s how we did the ‘Who’s Your Lover’ video, too. We just took turns filming each other and edited it up quick and sent it off to someone else to sauce it up. We’re on a budget! We need another video though ASAP. We’re working on tour videos right now, so there will be a new one by the fall tour.
You travel a ton, and have moved around a lot in your life. In an interview you said, ‘keeping my feet moving has been a wonderful curse.’ What makes it a curse, and what about it is wonderful?
Dave Dupuis: It’s a curse because I can’t stop. And I don’t want to, so maybe that’s why it’s wonderful? It’s exciting when you are moving forward towards your next destination. It gives me purpose. I can really be myself when I’m traveling and moving because I’m not surrounded by day-to-day problems. It is a curse though because you aren’t around for the rest of the day-to-day things. You aren’t around your family. You leave your friends and you are a stranger in your own town. But I’m going to be on a boat in Greece for two weeks in July, so that part is awesome.
I saw a picture of you in front of the Pyramid of the Sun recently.
Dave Dupuis: I went to Mexico City a month ago. It was so cool! I had never been before. We played a festival down there and then decided to stick around and spend the week there. Talk about magical … the pyramids were just like, ‘Wow.’ We stayed at an AirBnB and there were buskers out in the courtyard playing in the morning and families out dancing around. It’s a really family-oriented vibe down there. You gotta go.
It’s on my list. I also saw a picture of Nightmare Air on the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland.
Dave Dupuis: That was just a couple months ago! We had a day off in Belfast, one of our rare days off. Are you familiar with Houses of the Holy? That’s what’s on the cover. It was so cool. It was freezing cold and raining, but cool. Ireland is radical. We recorded there for two weeks and spent a week after that just driving around. The people are so nice and the country is so green and alive. We also got a private tour and they took us to all these Game of Thrones sites. They film so much of the show there!
Are you a Game of Thrones fan?
Dave Dupuis: Yes—to the max! That White Walker dragon is so fucking cool.
What’s the best snack you’ve had on the road that you can’t get in the United States?
Dave Dupuis: Bitterballen, from Amsterdam. It’s basically these fried balls of gravy about the size of a golf ball, and they give them to you in a little basket and you dip them in Dijon mustard. It’s one of my favorite things in the fucking world. They’re all over Amsterdam but you can’t get them anywhere else.
Even though there’s no Bitterballen in these parts, is there anything you miss about Los Angeles when you’re not here?
Dave Dupuis: I’ve been living full time in L.A. for nearly 13 years. I’ve always loved being in L.A. and I have great friends here, but because of touring so much—and being a traveling fool like myself—I’ve been one foot out of L.A. this whole time. I get to see all these great parts of the world and that almost makes it harder to come back to L.A. So, why do I keep coming back? It is always nice here, and all my closest friends are in this city. Whether I want to admit it or not, this is it. I live in L.A.
You pressed your album to vinyl, which I personally appreciate. Do you collect records?
Dave Dupuis: I just started a few years ago. Because of all the touring and traveling, I decided not to collect records and decided to collect guitars, amps, and pedals instead. All my friends when they moved would have cars full of records, and I just said I would rather have guitars and drums. But now I’m fucking cursed. So yes, I have a record collection.
Of all the records you have, which is your most prized possession?
Dave Dupuis: Before Dinosaur Jr had their resurgence, their singer J Mascis was in this band called Witch. He played drums and their singer was this guy named Kyle Thomas who is King Tuff now. There was a local guy from New Hampshire in the band too—this was all back in Massachusetts. I have a 7” that they put out ten or eleven years ago, and I got all of them to sign it. I think that’s a very special record. It reminds me of a really special time in my life, being back east and hanging out with those guys.
In your younger days, I heard you used to frequent arcades. If someone were to challenge you to any arcade game, which one do you think you could really throw down on?
Dave Dupuis: I’m really good at Star Wars, the original vector graphic game. I played the crap out of that. As far as other vintage games, I’m really good at Tron. All my friends were into Galaga but I wanted to be a little different and I didn’t want to wait in line, so I played Tron instead. I used to work at Chuck E. Cheese and that’s where I got good at it. I wore the mouse costume and skateboarded around.
I am speechless. What’s it like inside that costume?
Dave Dupuis: Sweaty. [laughs] It’s been a long time since I’ve worn it but I remember you can’t really see that well. You get your bearings eventually, and it’s kind of fun until the kids are dicks. I went back to a Chuck E. Cheese in the South Bay with a friend a little while ago, but really quickly I was like, ‘Let’s get out of here.’ It’s a kid thing. But I do love arcade games. I love smoking a joint and going to the arcade.
It’s not a cabinet game, but do you like air hockey?
Dave Dupuis: I’ll kick your ass at air hockey!
NIGHTMARE AIR PERFORMS WITH GARY NUMAN ON SAT., OCT. 6, AT THE FONDA THEATRE, 6126 HOLLYWOOD BLVD., HOLLYWOOD. 9 PM / $40 / ALL AGES. GET TICKETS HERE! NIGHTMARE AIR’S FADE OUT IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM NEVADO MUSIC. VISIT NIGHTMARE AIR AT NIGHTMAREAIR.COM.