Out of mere happenstance I came across the New Brunswick, New Jersey band ex wife. After reading about this three piece band on a music blog I checked them out and found out I’d been missing out on some amazing music from the Garden State. Dream pop, shoegaze, post-punk, all thrown into a musical stew that is a feast for the ears. I got the opportunity to talk to Nick Bolton(baritone guitar/vocals), Phil Connor(bass), and Matt Harvey(drums) about the band and their music.
JH: So tell me a little about the band. How did ex wife get together? What other bands were you guys in before ex wife?
Nick: Matt and I knew each other from high school, and have always played music together. We formed this band as a two piece a while ago, maybe because that’s how our old band Snake Vision started, or because it’s just easier with only two people. We were super casual with it, and once we started caring we asked Phil to play bass.
Phil: Before joining ex wife, I was playing with a psych-punk band called SLAW. I was one of three guitarists at a point and it was as stupid as it was loud.
JH: When I listen to ex wife I hear some post-punk, some dream pop, and definitely some early 80s alternative (The Smiths at times definitely). But the vocals are angst-y like punk. What artists have shaped the sound of ex wife? And do you guys hate labels like “post-punk” and “dream pop”?
Nick: I think our songs differ pretty greatly, so live it sounds like a collage or something. People sometimes compliment us by comparing our sound to famous bands, so we get all sorts of weird unexpected things. I think the Smiths are actually accurate though, so thanks! Early on we were super influenced by Sunny Day Real Estate, Jawbreaker, Pixies- emotive music which I think shows in a lot of our songs. But tastes change and all, and we got really into fx pedals. This album was probably mostly influenced, for me at least, by Spacemen 3 and MBV. New Order too probably.
As far as singing, I’m not really sure. Before ex wife I never really sang, so I learned by trial and error at basement shows. There are never monitors, and the PA is like 5 feet in front of the bands, so to hear yourself you have to yell pretty loud. Consciously though, I think the juxtaposition between yelling and pretty major chords is fun.
Phil: Labels and genres, I guess, can be helpful for generalizing or categorizing music when it’s appropriate. I think bands that live and die behind a genre are kind of dumb… Why limit yourself like that?
JH: One of the truly unique aspects of ex wife’s sound is the baritone guitar. It gives the music a ghostly, murky sound, very dream-like as well. I was wondering how you came about writing with the baritone as opposed to the typical 6-string?
Nick: Before he was in the band, Phil suggested I used a baritone in the two-piece so it sounded deeper, or fuller. I used 3 amps then, and always kept the low b string ringing out. It was the first time I really played guitar in a band, so I formed my style around that.
Even now with Phil playing bass, I generally play repetitive, lower chord progressions, and he plays more melodic higher up parts, and we trade off carrying the low end. It makes things interesting, I think. And the more he sounds like Peter Hook the happier I am.
JH: The sound of ex wife has evolved over the years from a blast of punk rock to a more restrained alternative sound. Is that a result of just being together for a few years now and finding a groove with each other? Or is it more of a conscious change? Wanting to expand ex wife’s musical palette?
Phil: Sure, all of those things you said are definitely real within our band. Our own personal tastes shift and grow and that has a huge impact on the style of music play. We consciously try to do new things with our sound based on stuff that’s inspiring us at the time, but the result is usually pretty separated from sounding exactly like whatever was catalyzing it… which I think is really cool. I’d be so much less into doing this if we were rehashing or sounding just like the figureheads of the genres we listen to.
That being said, so much of what this band produces is a reflection on personal feeling/experience so just the nature of our life situations have a bunch to do with how the band’s sound has evolved. When ex wife first started, we were all living in New Brunswick with this sort of ‘fuck it, who cares’ mentality… Now we’re all several years out of college, doing real life shit with no real milestones ahead of us except for the ones we make.
JH: Talk a little about the latest album, ‘New Colors’. How was the writing process for ex wife? Do you guys just get together and hash out tunes? Or is it more that one of you brings the songs to the band and then as a band you finish it? Do lyrics usually come before or after music is written? “Still Life” is a stunning track. Is there a story behind it?
Nick: I think they’ve all been personal songs. For past albums, I’ve written a few parts I like, or whole songs, and then Phil and Matt would tell me if they were interesting, or too familiar or whatever. Then we’d mess around loud and eventually Phil and I would sit down and try to write harmonies together. It sounds formulaic when I put it that way, but it always differs, I suppose that’s just the most common way. Also recently Phil’s been writing songs and parts as well, and our styles are converging. Maybe now he just understands what chords I can play.
Lyrically it’s always later on, like the last thing after we already know the songs. It’s easier for me to write melodies when I know how the song moves, and can fit lyrics to the mood. Still life might have been an exception though. I wrote it during our hiatus, and it was the first song we learned as a band coming back. I like it a lot, but I wrote it on a normal E to E guitar, so singing it is strange at times. I think I wrote all the lyrics in one shot, stuck in grid lock on rt 1&9 at 8am last summer.
JH: Is there still plans on releasing ‘New Colors’ on vinyl?
Phil: Yes! Those are definitely still coming… Yup, any day now. Seriously though, we had some unfortunate set backs with the physical copies of this record and still don’t have a definite ETA which sucks more than you could imagine. When they are available, trust me you will know…
JH: What’s the band scene like in New Brunswick? New Jersey has given me one of my favorite bands Yo La Tengo, plus I really dig Real Estate…and ex wife.
Phil: The music scene in New Brunswick is heavily dependant on college students hosting DIY shows in the basements of houses they rent while attending school. There is a grand total of ONE legitimate legal venue actually in New Brunswick that does shows for local bands. It’s not too bad, but it’s a bar so not everyone can go. Lot’s of really amazing and (arguably) successful bands have come out of New Brunswick, so our hometown definitely has a little reputation and certainly has got a bunch of attention over the years.
JH: Are ex wife planning any sort of national tour? Load up the Chevy Van and hit the open road for a couple weeks? How far have you guys traveled for a gig? Ever hit the Midwest?
Phil: We try to tour as much as we can! Everyone in the band works soul sucking day jobs, which makes it tough to go out on super long trips right now. Occasionally we’ll load up the van, or in our case a 1997 Subaru Outback with roof bubble, and get out for about 10 days at a time. So far the farthest we’ve traveled has been from Grand Rapids, MI to Atlanta, GA with a bunch of Midwest and Southeastern cities between. So yes, we have been to the Midwest! It’s a really cool place as far as I can tell. We have another tour coming up really soon. It’s going to be 11 days throughout just the Southeast, to catch some of the cities we missed out on during our last tour. We’ll announce that really soon so look out for it.
JH: So what does the rest of 2013 hold for ex wife?
Nick: We just finished shooting a video for Still Life, with Kate Sweeney and Kali Riley, which is really exciting. And yeah, like Phil said, we’re going on another small tour in fall, and writing a bunch of new songs to hopefully do something with in the spring.
JH: Where do see ex wife in 5 years?
Nick: I have no idea. Maybe we’ll be a calypso band.
Well, as long as there’s still that baritone guitar, melancholy longing, and post-punk angst, sign me up. Check out ex wife at http://exwife.bandcamp.com/ and hear for yourself that this is one ex you want in your life.