!!!'s Nic Offer on As If and the Evolution of House Music

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In the year 2016, Sacramento-born, New York-bred dance-punk outfit !!! will celebrate its 20th anniversary as a band. And save for their salad days in the local hardcore scene in California’s capital city, Nic Offer and his ever-evolving group have managed to stay true to the perpetual groove which helped them create such modern day underground club faves as “Me and Giuliani Down by The Schoolyard” and “Must Be The Moon.” With As If, however, the Chks have crafted their brightest, poppiest and best album to date, loaded with soulful, kinetic movers like “Freedom” and “I Feel So Free,” which was recently remixed into piano jazz/NYC house hybrid by DJs Seth Troxler and Phil Moffa, which you can check out here.

As the group wrapped up their short U.S. tour in mid-December and prepared to head over to Europe for a series of shows after the holidays, Offer took some time to talk with Paste about As If and all that it entailed.

Paste : !!! has been an integral part of the New York City sound for so many years now, yet you guys never seem to lose the focus of your root sound no matter how much you expand upon it—regardless of the trends and hypefits that have overtaken the local music scene over the last 15 or so years. You stay true to you, which is very admirable.
Nic Offer: We kind of got the sense that we were doing this before it was cool, and when it became cool we were like, “Well, we’ll probably still be doing this after it’s not cool anymore.” And that’s what we’ve been doing. I hope that our first record doesn’t sound like our latest record. I hope that we’re pushing it forward all the time, which is why we’ve been opening for ourselves as a Stereolab cover band on this tour.

Paste : Most definitely. It’s almost like the way Talking Heads went from Talking Heads: 77 to Naked, especially in terms of its musicality.
Offer: I think Naked is really underrated. It’s such a great record. And I feel a kinship to that album because it also has a monkey on the cover.

Paste : That monkey on your cover looks familiar…
Offer: Well, I saw a still from the movie The Hangover with Crystal the Monkey, and I wanted to use that image of her laying in a bunch of bananas with that look on her face. We tried to get access to that image, but they wanted to charge us something like $17,000 for it. We’re like, “Noooo thank you!” [laughs] But then we saw it was a fraction of the price to just hire Crystal directly and take the picture with her. I had that title vague in my head, but when I saw that look on her face I knew she had to be on the cover. It was one of those things where we were crossing our fingers and hoping to make it work and we didn’t have anything else on deck. But it was great and I flew out and did the shoot with her. She was great, very sweet, very friendly. No Hollywood star attitude [laughs].

Paste : As If is by far your most dance-oriented album to date. You said it was influenced by a lot of early house music?
Offer: Especially with a song like “Freedom,” we were thinking of one of those old Roulé label [tracks], where they just sampled a disco loop through their own filter. So we were kind of like, “Well, let’s just have ourselves be the disco loop.” Almost like sample ourselves, so we’re able to straddle the best of both worlds. We had hoped we were giving our take on both disco and house music at the same time and done it in a way that people hadn’t previously. A lot of listening to the Dance Mania compilations or whatever K-hole of deep house mixes on YouTube we’d fall into, it all played its part in the making of this record. That’s how I listen to a lot of old house, myself, is by following the links online to these early mixes people put up on YouTube or SoundCloud, and then reading all the comments on the bottom of people talking about the old days.

Paste : It’s great to experience through a band such as !!! as well, especially if you didn’t exactly get house music back in the ‘90s heyday.
Offer: Definitely, I was just like that. All my friends were into house, and I was like, “Whatever, you guys.” I was into punk and stuff like Nation of Ulysses and Bikini Kill and Fugazi. I mean, ecstasy was $25, but acid was $2, so it was pretty clear the path I had to take [laughs]. In fact, some of my old raver friends come to our shows now, and they’re like, “So you like house music now?” And they look at me smug, like “See? We were right all along? Where’s your precious punk rock now?” [laughs] But all that punk was important to me. I’m glad that I took this path, in a way.

Paste : The Chic influence on here is undeniable.
Offer: I always like to say that any of our records we have made if you had played it for us back in the day, we’d be like, “Holy shit, this is us???” [laughs]. Everything that we do, in general, is always what we’ve been trying to do. When we started we weren’t so much into electronic house music, but albums like C’est Chic or the Risque record, they were always really important to us. And it’s not even like these are records we are listening to now, it’s more in our resident DNA. Chic was definitely the starting point. When we first got together, they were one of the first bands all of us agreed was the direction we were looking to go in.

Paste : It was great seeing Nile Rodgers be part of such a massive hit as “Get Lucky.”
Offer: I thought that was great. He always seemed like such a nice guy, and I was glad for him to see he finally got his due with this generation. He took the whole comedown of disco pretty hard, and it was great to see him make this kind of comeback.

Paste : It seems like the young generation coming up now is really getting more into music from the late ‘70s and especially the ‘80s. And you can hear it on Top 40 radio now, which is totally wild.
Offer: It is an exciting time for pop. Just think about how like The Smiths were into all the girl singers like Dusty Springfield and Sandy Shaw from the ‘60s, and those artists were like square and normal but they spoke to something esoteric in Morrissey and Johnny Marr and helped them get to a whole other level. And I really think that we’re living in another era of girl groups now with Taylor and Ariana and even Grimes. I think there are kids listening to those albums now that will go on to make really cool, weird stuff. It will be interesting to see how it shakes out in the future.

Paste : The way you use Auto-Tune on this album is really cool as well. It’s great to see how it has evolved from a corrective tool to a creative tool in the wake of 808s & Heartbreak.
Offer: At this point it’s just another effect now, like reverb or delay. It’s certainly a fad right now, but it’s a fad everyone thought would be over like five or six years ago but it keeps on going and evolving. I’m sure it will become passé eventually, but then it will come back and be looked at as classic and everyone will love it again [laughs]. But I love it right now, and I loved what Kanye did with it on 808s. He’d already proved himself as a great artist by then, but when he did that record it showed the scope of how surprising he would be over the course of his career. That was a great moment when that happened. There’s always some artists throughout music who are fascinating to see what they come up with next, the ones who keep surprising you and it’s a joy to see how they developed. And Kanye is certainly one of those artists for this generation.

Paste : You just announced your European tour dates for the winter of 2016, including two shows in France. Did the terrorist attack at the Bataclan in Paris resonate with you?
Offer: It certainly resonated. I really felt for everyone involved, especially in the context of the connection between the band and the fans. I can understand how Eagles of Death Metal feel just in that moment. You play to your fans for years and years and you get a sense of the people that they are, and then to have to deal with something like a shooting. Obviously it’s horrible for a hundred reasons, but I guess I could identify with exactly how they would feel in a situation such as that. It’s something which in many ways they will never recover from; it will always be there, and they’ll have to struggle with that. I’m sure they’ll make it through, as they’ve shown in the last couple of weeks. And they are a band who know the only way through tragedy is to get to the good times again. My heart goes out to all those guys.