Nigel Chapman speaks much like he sings. As leader of the jangly indie band Nap Eyes, the singer-guitarist spills out his lyrics in wordy and occasional discursive heaps, exploring sociological and philosophical ideas through some sharp self-reflection. Not your usual pop fodder.
Here, for example, are the opening lines to “Stargazer,” a track found on the Halifax-based group’s upcoming album Thought Fish Rock Scale:
The effect is something akin to the talking blues antics of Mark Kozelek’s last few albums, but with a lot more self-control and no references to crab cakes or Ben Gibbard. So it goes for the rest of Thought Fish as well, with Chapman poring over his existential fears and failings as a human while he and the rest of the band (drummer Seamus Dalton, bassist Josh Salter, and guitarist Brad Loughead) rumble along quietly in the background invoking the spirits of Flying Nun and Sarah Records’ past.
Chapman follows a similar tack when he and I spoke on the phone recently, letting his comments wander down every potential avenue in an attempt to answer a question. When asked what inspired him to start making music, his response is breathless and thorough, rattling off a series of influences that includes the Johnny Appleseed song, his early interest in punk via Green Day, his conflicted feelings about The Strokes, and then his embrace of ‘60s/’70s singer-songwriters such as Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. All in the span of about two minutes.
That may read as manic, but to hear it coming from the source, the feeling is far more passionate and thoughtful. Chapman rattles these words out at a steady, rat-a-tat clip because he doesn’t want to leave any important detail out. Everything must be examined and explored as a potential cause for his foray into wordy guitar pop. Is it any wonder then that he spends his days working as a biochemist? His is the kind of curious and questioning mind you want wrestling with the principles of gene theory.
Therein lies another subject worthy of Chapman’s close scrutiny: how to balance his interest in his day job in the sciences and his desire to keep exploring his creative concerns.
Until this past year, there wasn’t much discussion to be had. After forming Nap Eyes with a few trusted friends who helped him on some other musical projects, the band recorded and self-released a debut album, Whine of the Mystic. With that record staying below the radar, Chapman could play the occasional show in Halifax while still keeping up his work at the lab.
Once it fell into the hands of Canadian label You’ve Changed Records and U.S. imprint Paradise of Bachelors, both of which reissued the first Nap Eyes LP in mid-2015, word on the band quickly spread through the music blogs of the world. Soon, calls for touring and more music followed.
The latter was easier to manage. The quartet already spent some time on the shores of Nova Scotia, knocking out what would become Thought Rock live to tape in Chapman’s family vacation home over the course of four days.
“That’s something conceptually and philosophically informed by the tradition of American music from the old folk days,” Chapman says of his band’s no frill recording method. “It comes out of this idea that it really influences the way you play. You’re hearing the drums in your ear and hearing it as it’s happening, and the drummer hears you. Everybody isn’t imagining how it will sound while you wait for the vocal track to get laid down.”
The act of promoting Whine took a little more effort and time management skills from the gents in Nap Eyes, as it would for any young band who has to extricate themselves from their daily lives to spend two months on the road traveling as far west as British Columbia and the Northwest. For Chapman, it only re-emphasized some issues that he had been wrestling with since his days in university.
“It’s a weird complex of feeling guilty for not spending enough time on science while I’m spending time on music and feeling a sense of frustration or concern about doing enough of other things when I’m at work,” Chapman says. “It’s easier now because I’m working fewer hours than I was before. There was initially a lot of confusion as to how to prioritize my life and have balance rather than just expecting things to work out. I feel grateful that my university and labmates are supporting me. Their flexibility has made any of my resentment feel completely unjustified.”
For the moment, he and his bandmates can rest easy. Thought Rock won’t be out for another month or so, leaving them time to work on new material, work on other creative pursuits (Salter and Dalton also play in the band Monomyth), and play a show here and there. The heavy lifting gets underway in March when Nap Eyes leave Halifax and tour down to SXSW, head to the West Coast and then across Canada. Until then, the itch for action is only growing stronger every day.
“We’ve know for a year that this record would come out,” says Chapman. “It’s been in the works for a while. Seeing things play out like this, you start to wonder if you should be preparing and what would you to do to prepare. Is that taking the form of moving forward in terms of songwriting and playing guitar and stuff? When the record comes out, it will have been 18 months since we recorded it. We’re still really into the songs but we worry about getting complacent. We’re trying to keep focused and keep working and hoping it all goes well.”