Published Mar 26, 2020Nerds have gotten a bad rap in the past few years. While the term may conjure an extremely online message board troll, it can also describe anyone delving deep into a passionate pursuit, building something up instead of tearing it down.
Halifax's contemplative jangle-pop quartet Nap Eyes represent the latter, as four tight-knit friends mastering their craft without an ounce of pretension, and they've become folk heroes because of it. Singer/guitarist Nigel Chapman dresses like his fans, in button-up shirts, jeans and trainers; he stutters through stage banter, and gives off a nervous energy that's as genuine as it is relatable.
If you need more proof of Nap Eyes' nerdy qualities, here are a few quick examples: The band recently announced their mock performance of a Redwall-themed folk opera, followed by a Family Guy adaptation; Chapman's blonde, bespectacled look has been compared to both He-Man and Foxtrot's Jason Fox; and in real life, he spent years working in a biochemistry lab before the band became a full-time job.
When Chapman answers the phone, he's visiting a veterinary clinic with his cat, who he says "is pretty fierce, so they need to sedate her." It's just one more illustration in the life as an average guy that you might not expect from one of Canada's most acclaimed rising bands. This month sees the release of Nap Eyes' fourth album, Snapshot of a Beginner, recorded at the National's Long Pond studio. They've never sounded more polished, without losing any idiosyncratic charms.
"I definitely self-identify as a nerd," says Chapman with a laugh. "The identification or categorization doesn't matter to me, but being someone who's interested in learning, self-improvement or getting deeply into things is very important. It doesn't have to be purely mental, and can be things involving your physical body too. It's good to nerd out on things you think are sweet."
Following the band's development over the past decade has been rewarding in itself. Chapman first became a cult favourite in Halifax for the thoughtful lyrics and tranquil melodies of his solo project the Mighty Northumberland. He teamed up with bassist Josh Salter and drummer Seamus Dalton (then playing with Monomyth), as well as hotshot guitarist Brad Loughead (who splits his time with Homeshake), and Nap Eyes were awakened.
The quartet's first album, Whine of the Mystic, arrived in 2014 as a tiny run of 200 copies on Montreal DIY label Plastic Factory. After a few years of picking up steam, it was rereleased by You've Changed Records in Canada and Paradise of Bachelors in the U.S. Snapshot of a Beginner finds them jumping up to even bigger leagues with a signing to Royal Mountain Records (Alvvays, Mac DeMarco, U.S. Girls) and Jagjaguwar (Bon Iver, Angel Olsen, Sharon Van Etten) in the U.S.
Searching for spiritual harmony is a subject that has interested Chapman since day one. It's perhaps best captured in Whine of the Mystic's closing song, "No Fear of Hellfire," which slowly unfolds in heartbreaking beauty over seven-and-a-half minutes. The band's latest album was introduced with "Mark Zuckerberg," a shimmering earworm named for the notorious Facebook founder. While musician Caleb Glasser of Fake Buildings wrote its lyrics, "Mark Zuckerberg" ends with a repeated line that could be Nap Eyes' mantra: "Transcendence is all around us."
"I truly believe that," says Chapman. "Unless you're a highly adept spiritual practitioner who's getting that experience 50 to 80 percent of the time, for most of us that feeling might come around a couple of times a week. It's good to have reminders of that kind of thing, and that's what I think art should be doing. Popular art does it rather rarely."
Another apt example is "Dark Link," a song dating back to the Mighty Northumberland that was reworked for Snapshot of a Beginner. Using a character from The Legend of Zelda series as a springboard, Chapman delivers some of the album's most stirring words: "Life never ends / There's no chance of giving up / There's only getting up again."
"People tend to write off videogames, cartoons or comic books when the depth is not always evident," he says. "But those N64 Zelda games are a work of art. They can be very powerful in their suggestive depths and the archetypal stories they tell. It's fun to refer to something that many people are familiar with. Even if they really like it, they might underestimate it as a spiritually fulfilling form of media."
Snapshot of a Beginner comes out March 27 on Royal Mountain Records.