Essex punks Bad Nerves talk breakthrough year, writing their fastest songs ever and buying mansions in the future: Interview

They’ve been compared to bands like Ramones, The Strokes, The Black Keys, and some of the finest garage punk bands out there. I know, it’s a bold claim to bundle together America’s top-tier garage-rock legends with a British quartet who’ve been bubbling up under the radar for the last few years, but their 2020 pummeling punk-rock self-titled debut album and a second album in the pipeline, Bad Nerves can make such claims. With an unwavering fast pace offering a hundred thrills a minute, Bad Nerves are everything you could possibly want from a modern-day garage punk band. A punk rock attitude combined with some of the most memorable indie-rock hooks – or power pop hooks as frontman Bobby Nerves calls it – you’re likely to come across.

For many years, Bad Nerves played tiny clubs in mysterious places in front of five people, but when we met them for our first interview at the end of 2022 they had a plan: 2023 would be the breakthrough year where they would play bigger support slots and play on American soil for the first time – and what a year they had! First, nothing happened, and then they were flooded with invites.

They supported The Struts in the UK, toured the US with Royal Blood at huge venues, squeezed in their own tour in Europe, did a few support slots for The Darkness, and left for a huge tour in Europe with Nothing But Thieves (and toured with The Hives after our interview). And that’s where we meet up with Bobby and Jon for the second time, in Hamburg just a few hours ahead of a 7 000 cap gig at Sporthalle, supporting Nothing But Thieves.

A chaotic and game-changing year in review

It’s great to have you back for a chat after the amazing year that last year was for you. When I met you in Gothenburg at the Viva Sounds Festival in December 2022 you were hoping to get picked up by a band for an American tour and were working on getting bigger support slots in general, and today, a year and a bit later, all that happened and a lot more. How would you summarize 2023 when you look back at it today?
“Oh yeah, we were just cruising along and then everybody on Earth invited us to come to play (laugh). The funny thing was that we were sitting there the first half of the year and were watching all our friends going on these tours and we were like ‘No one wants to take us’. But then, in the space of a couple of weeks, we had a US tour booked and a full schedule and was like ‘How the fuck did that happen?’, it was crazy. It kind of like snowballed really quickly.”

“We supported The Struts, we did the US tour with Royal Blood, and when we came back from there we did a headline European tour and played fourteen shows in fifteen days. We practically killed ourselves on that one. It was nine shows in a row, and then a day off and five more shows – we had one day off in the middle of the winter (laugh). It was insane!”

“But then we had a couple of weeks off and we recorded some more bits of the album before we headed off for a tour with The Darkness for a month, and when we came back from that I [Bobby] just went and slept in the fucking studio with Mike (laugh), our producer, trying to finish our album. We literally just mastered it a few days before we went on this tour with Nothing But Thieves. I had about two days to move house, moving back to my parent’s house (laugh) before we left for this one”

I just had a look at your tour schedule for 2024 and realized that you can’t be home much at all over the next few months either.
“No, for the next six months, we’re pretty much on the road. When we’re done with this [touring with Nothing But Thieves] we have about two days off before we go back to America. But we’re in that awkward position where we don’t have lots of money so trying to keep a cash flow to enable you to take advantage of the things you’re offered is really difficult, it’s really hard to keep it going financially”

I can understand that because you want to tour America as much as possible now to enable your own headline tour over there in the future and get enough paid for the work you do.
“Yeah, it’s pretty much like that. For the next six months, we kind of have to swallow a lot of costs and live like shit (laugh). Financially, it has been like this since day one, it has always cost us but the difference now is that we’re away so much that we can’t really have jobs at home. That’s what’s weird, we can’t have jobs anymore but the band isn’t sort of able to support six or seven people including the crew so we try to figure out how we can make it work. The alternative is to go back home and get back to our normal jobs but we don’t want that, not yet anyway. It’s not like it’s the hardest job in the world to be in a band. You go on stage for half an hour or forty minutes a night and have a fucking great time (laugh), but it’s tiring to tour because you don’t get good sleep. But having a nine to five job – that’s the hard life (laugh).”

”I [Bobby] always feel that things will figure themselves out though. It has done it so far.”

You’ve played quite many big venues now, way beyond 10 000 cap theatres. But you still do your own gigs in between these big tours. How is it to change between these huge arenas for small pub shows?
“Please, don’t remind us (laugh). You couldn’t have got a more polarizing tour because we came back from doing Royal Blood at massive theatres in America, and one of the places we played at on our own European tour a few weeks later was a bar. Imagine you walk in the door and you have this room, probably double the length of this room [the tiny 10 sqm room we’re in] and maybe double the width but with a big bar on one side, and down at the end there’s just a cut-out bit of the wall where the band go, and we were like ‘Where’s the venue? Is it made of bricks’ (laugh). It felt like a pop-up café (laugh).”

“But it was nuts! Apparently, it was the most amount of people they’ve ever had, but the total capacity must have been like 20 (laugh). Well, it wasn’t probably more than 80. But there weren’t any tickets or anything, you had to show up, and they had about 250 people outside that couldn’t get in which is crazy because we were in the middle of nowhere in France, in Tours.”

“So yeah, we went from these huge theatre shows to small underground places. But it’s fun, it’s kind of where we cut our teeth, that’s where we always used to play. We haven’t got the attitude to refuse to play somewhere you can’t fit on the stage because we’ve done that for years and it’s just a different kind of fun. The big stages are fun because they allow you to run around a bit and the small ones are nice because the vibe from the people there is just unmatched. The only thing is that it’s really hard to play those shows because normally you can’t hear anything but that’s just punk, right (laugh).“

“I don’t know how it would be to play a show like this [Sporthalle Hamburg, 7 000-capacity venue] to people who love your band, to headline something like this. You do see other kinds of big bands book secret shows in tiny places, I [Jon] think they must miss it, like Green Day playing a pub in London the other day. You are detached out there and can’t really see anyone or anything”

But touring with some really big bands and playing a lot in America must have opened lots of new doors for you.
“It’s like a domino effect. When one big band take you on tour, suddenly the word spreads amongst the bands and the crews if it goes well. It’s like ‘Ok, they’ve done that tour, it worked out well, and we’ve heard they’re good’. That’s how it worked for us.”

“We have always been a band’s band, and we found out the other day that the old guitarist of Anthrax is a fan. Things like that open doors.”

Like Billy Joe wearing a Bad Nerves t-shirt?
“Yeah, he’s been fucking awesome to us. Watching him play ‘Basket Case’ wearing that t-shirt – you can’t get a more mind-blowing moment (laugh). That’s one of the first songs I [Jon] ever learned on bass. That’s so weird to us.”

Going faster on their upcoming second album

Bad Nerves are still touring on the back of their 2020 debut album but in just a couple of months, their sophomore album will be released containing some of their fastest songs ever made thus continuing on the successful formula used on the first album. However, Jon and Bobby are keen on pointing out that there’s a slight progression and not a ‘worse copy’ of their debut – and it was important that their long-time friend and producer Mike Curtis was part of the process this time as well.

Your second album is mastered and will be released in a few months, and I remember you talking about a lot more pressure after the success of your debut album. How do you handle this new kind of pressure while working on the album?
“We write whatever we feel for and it will probably make some people pissed off and some people happy. Not to be pretentious but we always make music for ourselves and if we like it, it’s good enough. There have been times when we’ve been like, ‘What do people want to hear?’, but it sounds shit when you do that.”

“The new album is a good progression and has some of the fastest stuff we have ever done, and some slightly, slightly slower stuff as well. People will like it (laugh), it’s not too drastically different from the first one. But it is weird to do that second album because when there’s an expectation you can’t repeat exactly the same thing again, it will just sound like a worse version of the first one. We’ve tried to do an album that sounds like something on its own and not a copycat of the first one, but it still has throwbacks to the first one.”

Have last year also led to new opportunities when you work on new music? Bands that get lots of attention also tend to get attention from people who want to work with them.
“Not really actually but we’ve had other bands asking about co-writing stuff. I [Bobby] have been talking to a couple of people about potentially writing some songs together, but it actually hasn’t happened anything. I don’t even know if we have anything at all (laugh).”

“We have always struggled with getting other producers in but it doesn’t matter how big the name is because we know what it’s meant to sound like. Our producer Mike did our first and now the second album. Like I said, I was living in his studio for a month, and you can’t do that with any normal person. He just has so much patience and you’d need that with us because it’s a constant change and chaos when we record our stuff. You wouldn’t have that with someone you don’t know and just pay an astronomical fee. There’s something magic about him being one of our best friends which enables us to push it further than we would be able to do normally.”

“But we have done it before and recorded songs with other producers, and they come in, do a bit and they go ‘What do you think?”, and we’re like ‘Sounds shit’ (laugh). We know how we want to sound, roughly, and we know how we want the vibe to be. Specifics can be changed but the vibe has to be right, the guitars have to be fucking loud. Other producers can be like ‘Turn the vocals up really loud’, but that’s not the sound of this band. I’m [Bobby] a singer, I should want the vocals loud but that’s not our sound and some people don’t really get that whereas Mike does whatever shit we ask him to do (laugh).”

“We’ve known Mike for so many years, it’s the sort of relationship you have with your best friend. I [Jon] have every faith when these two [Bobby and Mike] go into the studio that we’re going to get something that is way more what we expect than if we would have gone with the best producer in the world. They know how it should sound like and they won’t stop until it sounds just like that.”

I remember you saying that the vocal melody dictates how your songs come together and that many of the songs on your debut were built up like that. Has that method of writing songs changed when working on the second album?
“Yeah, it’s kind of the driving thing because, without a good topline, there’s no hook. There’s loads of music I [Bobby] love that doesn’t have these crazy melodies, but with this band, the hooks are kind of driving it. Don’t get me wrong, everything is important, but if you take away the melodies we’re just a punk band (laugh). The pop hook has always been at the forefront of everything we do. Essentially, we’re playing power pop (laugh).”

“I personally like songs that get stuck in the head, songs with a hook that makes you singalong. When music doesn’t have that I just don’t remember it, which I find a lot of rock music to be like right now. That’s why I love Nothing But Thieves because I hear a song once and then I remember it, they just make such great melodies.”

Mansions on the wish list

After the tour with Nothing But Thieves you switch over to support The Hives. Tom [the tour manager] just told me you’ll be touring with them in the UK, a perfect match if you ask me.
“Oh yeah, that’s going to be so fun. I’ve heard [Jon] that they’re really awesome people. I’ve listened to that band since I was a kid, you know. I remember I was seeing the video to ‘Hate To Say I Told You So’ when I was really young and couldn’t believe what I was seeing, ‘What is this!? What sort of ballsy stuff is this?’ (laugh). It’s probably one of the best garage punk bands ever.”

“Nothing But Thieves and us are different kinds of sounding bands and I’m sure some people like that combination, but with The Hives we’ll get the exact same audience. But let’s not jinx it, shall we? Maybe it will be like ‘Boo, get off the stage your fucking phoneys” (laugh).”

But America is your target this year as well, right? You will return for a few dates with Royal Blood after touring with The Hives. Is America more interesting than Europe for you now?
“No, not at all. We’ll always have time for Europe. That’s where we started and it was the first place that gave us time because the UK didn’t want to for a long time. We came out and started to play Holland, Germany, and France, and every time we played at these kinds of small festivals people always made us feel at home like they understood what we’re about. We will always come back to Europe – Europe and America, fuck England (laugh). No, our fans in England are fucking awesome people, you can have a decent conversation with them because they’re switched on people.”

“When you support bigger bands in England the crowds can let you know they don’t care (laugh), and the venues don’t look after you or take care of you at all. I remember a Dutch band called the Cloudsurfers who we’ve known for a while, just really nice blokes, and they always said ‘We wanna come play England’ and we’ve been like ‘It’s not what you think’, and when they finally came over and played three shows they were like ‘You’re right, it’s terrible’ (laugh)”

What’s the goal for this year then? Last time it was to get bigger support slots and play in America, and know when that’s done you may have something else to reach.
“We want to buy mansions (laugh). Next time we’ll meet up in our mansions.”

“To be honest, I [Bobby] want to do the same thing again but bigger. The album is coming out and it would be nice to play our own headline shows. It’s amazing to do this stuff but it’s a different thing to play for a crowd that’s there for you.”

“We played a show in Camden, a 500 cap gig so it wasn’t massive but it was sold out, and it was one of the best shows we’ve ever played. It was absolutely crazy and pretty much the bucket list kind of gig we’ve always wanted to do. I’ve [Jon] never seen a sweatier room, it was literally pouring off the walls, and it was so much fun because everyone just loved the songs. It’s hard to explain but it’s like living in the moment and feeding off the energy and the feeling and the joy. It’s not many moments you remember forever but things like that you really do. The people connect to the songs the same way we do, and we all end up on the same wavelength, almost like it’s spiritual. We want to do more of that this year.”

And hopefully, get some money as well.
“Yeah, loads of money because that’s why we do it (laugh). But it would be nice to get enough to sustain what we’re doing. There will be a time when we need to make money to survive, it won’t be sustainable otherwise. If we can just get this to a point where we can survive off of it, just being able to pay rent and food, we can do this forever”

“We’ve already gone past what we dreamed of doing, we went way beyond it. Just look at us now, we live on a fucking tour bus, that’s insane. I’m [Bobby] sitting on this bus and think ‘What the fuck is happening?’ (laugh). It’s very surreal you know. Well, I know that the bus cost a fucking fortune but that’s on Nothing But Thieves’ tab (laugh).”

“We’ll never stop to appreciate these kinds of things because we come from literally nothing. Nothing happened for years, we were just doing it because we love songs, and we have been driving hundreds of miles to play for a couple of drunk blokes. Remember when we played Ramsgate Music Hall [Bobby turns to Jon] and there were like three people in the room. The doors at the back go straight to the road and you can see the van out there on the street and you think ‘Why are we here?’ (laugh). We did like that constantly and have been told so many times by people in the industry ‘You’ve had your shot, you should pack it up and do something else’ and ‘Are you still doing that band?’ (laugh). It’s amazing how many people try to discourage you but it’s because they never followed their own dreams. They’re just wankers (laugh).”

But isn’t it amazing how fast it can change then, just by getting one great year with big support slots?
“We don’t understand where that came from (laugh). When we put out the album in 2020, at the worst possible moment [at the height of the pandemic], people did seem to like it the way we liked it and we actually thought ‘Maybe we will sell out a couple of small shows’, and now we’re here because of that same album. So now we’re thinking ‘Fuck, what’s gonna happen with the second album’. We’re sitting on a tour bus about to play for 7 000 to 8 000 people and thinking ‘What the fuck is gonna happen with the second album?’. It’s kind of terrifying (laugh).”

“I [Jon] never thought that punk would get me to this because it’s opposite to what we’re used to, playing those Ramsgate-like shows – and now we’re playing for 8 000 people (laugh). But hopefully, we can knock the door down for some other punk bands to get a bit more recognition, like a revival for the scene. I think that young kids have kind of been looking for a guitar band to come along and play high energy stuff. You get a lot of rock bands who can play really well and put on a good show, but there are no guys just with their guitars that just fucking rock. If I was learning guitar or bass today, that’s the sort of stuff I wanted to learn.”

“We don’t have a huge production either, not like Nothing But Thieves with this big production and awesome shows – we’re not like that. Ok, we can’t afford it (laugh) but I think the younger generation would appreciate seeing dudes putting on a show how it used to be. I like that we’re still just five blokes without any gimmicks, at least not yet. Maybe it will be different when we do our own arena shows, like having the Stonehenge like in Spinal Tap (laugh). And then we’ll buy mansions (laugh)”

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Photographer: Sophie Dobschall

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About J.N.

Music researcher with an unhealthy passion for music and music festivals. Former studio owner, semi-functional drummer and with a fairly good collection of old analogue synthesizers from the 70's. Indie rock, post rock, electronic/industrial and drum & bass (kind of a mix, yeah?) are usual stuff in my playlists but everything that sounds good will fit in.
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