Angela Owens

Nothing Will Save Us

The Philadelphia underdogs are void fuckers in a time that calls for it. They rose from hardship to become one of today's most beloved cult rock bands—but they still feel misunderstood.

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Nov 7 2018, 5:00pm

Angela Owens

A fun fact about the music industry is that if you don’t tell your own story, someone will tell it for you, and that person will not care about you a month from the telling—whether you live or die, or how you’re remembered once you’re gone. And the people who tell your story thereafter will tell that initial story forever. That’s why when bands write their bios, they should list at least three bands they won’t mind being compared to for the next ten years—and keep their story sexy and endearing. Also, if a band can help it, they should come from money and have gone to art school and have at least one writer.

So, Nothing, Filthadelphia’s reluctant nu-shoegaze flag-bearers—replete with troubled histories, an inability to go along to get along, and chest-pieces cryptic enough to make a Suicide Girl blush—have a couple strikes against them. While Captured Tracks probably deserves the dubious honor of starting the shoegaze revival, Nothing is the band that arguably brought that sound to the kids outside of Brooklyn and Silver Lake. Along with instant comparisons to Slowdive, Nothing was burdened from the outset with Nicky Palermo’s click-ready story of getting arrested in 2000, after allegedly stabbing another man during a brawl outside a Blink-182 concert. He was convicted of aggravated assault and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, among other charges, sentenced to up to a maximum of seven years in prison, and released two years later, when Nicky was 21. The band gets to discuss that forever as well.

Not being privy to the press kit for Nothing’s first release that got any real attention—2012’s Downward Years To Come EP, which they released on the now defunct hatecore label A389—I discovered their music via a Philadelphia house music DJ with a background in hardcore. The template of melodic wash, hard drums, and Motorhead-ian “everything louder than everything else” sonics was set early—and my friend wasn’t shy about the hard luck and hard stare origins of the band’s members. His pitch to me made it clear that Nothing were the sort of people I like to hang with, myself being partial to Cro-mags (the band and the personality type) and not particularly giving a shit about shoegaze. My editors at the time weren’t interested, or maybe I just forgot to pitch them, but a couple years later, Guilty Of Everything came out, and everybody but me was talking about Nothing. And what they were saying was, “Check out this bomb-ass shoegaze music made by total fucking thugs.”

Full disclosure: I have seen members of Nothing around socially for years. We nod to each other at parties and had, previous to this profile, made loose, never realized plans to do drugs or talk shit on mutual enemies together. Nothing is also on the same record label, Relapse, as my band. But they also sell far more records than my band does, and if you think I don’t bear that grudge, then baby, we’ve never met. This is all certainly relevant to the sausage and how it’s made, but if I thought Nothing sucked, I wouldn’t write about them. I tend bar specifically so I don’t have to pretend to like anything.

So why do I like Nothing? I certainly don’t listen to most of the bands they get compared to—Slowdive, Ride, Smashing Pumpkins, Oasis—but I listen to Nothing all the time. Maybe it has something to do with the backstory; I have the classic middle-class punk/hipster’s attraction to those who’ve suffered more than me. Or maybe it’s because I hear the drive and desperation that fuels their songs, from the recurring guitar avalanche of Guilty of Everything’s “Endlessly” to the caustic black humor of the line “Young and dumb and full of tears” on “Hall On Palace Pier,” a song from their new album, Dance on the Blacktop. Nothing can catch me off guard even if I’ve heard a given song before—and when one that I haven’t manages to sound familiar, it’s usually because it evokes childhood touchstones like Shudder To Think or The Swirlies—oddballs and noise-poppers who never got their due the first time around. Nothing, hype or no hype, feels like underdog music to me. And dogs, especially the pound pups who nip and always have weird gunk in their eyes, are fucking great.

As with any good boy band, each member of Nothing is pretty in his own way. Drummer Kyle Kimball is the princeling-looking one; bassist Aaron Heard, with his lithe skateboarder's physique and intentional facial hair, sits on the more sweetly professorial end of the spectrum; Palermo and Brandon Setta, who share duties on guitar and vocals, fulfill the tatooed “bad boy” role, albeit with different levels of musculature. They also swear— a lot. Like, in place of nouns, verbs, or even articles, they swear. During the almost-week I spent with them in August, every time Nicky or Brandon verged on saying something profound, whether it be about music or their childhoods, they’d substitute “shit” or “fucking” for whatever the key word might otherwise be. As much of what they talked about was either philosophically demanding or irretrievably sad, the substitutions were often welcome.

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Angela Owens

This past August, I accompanied the band to a Sonos store on a cobblestoned street in SoHo for a Dance On The Blacktop listening party. The store was a strange beast, part minimalist high-end loft and part mini-mall, complete with listening huts that look like Calendar Club kiosks. The staff was friendly, but with an anodyne professionalism that didn’t totally jibe with the band and the shots they’d done on the walk over. I was constantly surprised to see that I wasn’t holding a Jamba Juice.

The Q&A following the listening session was about as illuminating as you’d expect an interview in a mod-con stereo store—led by a band’s manager—to be. At points, the band would pause to make sure their friends got in. (I spotted Youth Attack’s Mark McCoy, who designed the album art, and author Chelsea Hudson, whose face graces the cover wearing an unsettling Vagone “Soft and Sexy” mask.) At one point, Kyle, who made bones in the hardcore band Salvation, was asked what he took from his punk/DIY background into his current lifestyle. I braced myself for the sort of “Now I’m DIY from within the system!” doggerel I have come to expect from bands who go from the underground to guitar sponsorships, but I was actually pleasantly surprised by his answer. “Honestly, nothing,” he said. “In my punk days, I stayed in roach-infested houses, and now I just stay in houses.”

All the band’s members are from Philadelphia, or close to it—and more importantly, from a Philly that predated its current existence as a gentrified indie rock hotspot. Nicky and Aaron are from North Philly, long known merely as “Slightly Less Racist Than Boston” and only just recently starting to be home to vegan restaurants, high-end coffee shops and, as Nicky describes it, “typical privileged asshole shit.” Kyle is from nearby suburban Warrington. Brandon is from Wilkes-Barre, which he describes as “ pretty white trash” and which is notable for being the hometown of the “Apparently” kid.

Though he said he recently fell off his gym routine (and a brief foray cutting down on drinking), Nicky is bit more muscular than I usually like in people I associate with, especially musicians. He’s instantly likable, with the half-swaggering, half-loping gait of a young Mark Ryan (Supertouch, not Marked Men) and that singer’s melancholy, thoughtful apartness from his tough-guy peers. His memories of growing up in the 80s are, to say the least, complicated. When he describes his dad’s red Lincoln and affection for African-American fashions and music, he’s bragging. When he talks about how his father—a member of the Laborers’ International Union (Local 57) and, eventually, president of the Communication Workers of America out of Trenton—treated Nicky’s mother and his siblings, he most assuredly is not. Nor is he poaching for sympathy.

“There’d be violent arguments with someone’s mom fucking crying through the walls. I had other kids my age, and I’d be like, ‘Come over,’ and we’d sit there and play music and try to ignore what was coming through the walls. It was happening on both sides.” —Nicky Palermo

“My dad's was coming home from two tours in Vietnam, and God knows what he was dealing with,” he said. “I have vague memories of him being in the house, and they are not great ones. He was kind of a loose cannon—huge into cocaine and the drinking.” Nicky said that his childhood experiences were par for the course in his neighborhood. “There was a lot of abuse in every house,” he remembered. “There’d be violent arguments with someone’s mom fucking crying through the walls. I had other kids my age, and I’d be like, ‘Come over,’ and we’d sit there and play music and try to ignore what was coming through the walls. It was happening on both sides.”

After being the family's sole breadwinner for years, Nicky's father left. “My mom had to start at ground zero, being a 30-year-old woman,” he said. His mother struggled to keep the family in some approximation of stability. “Working two jobs so she wasn’t around very often,” he remembers. “Sheriff sales for the house—she’s crying, we work it out, and a couple weeks later, they’re back again,” he said. Nicky’s father died on November 19, 2015, a year after Nothing’s first album, Guilty of Everything, came out.

Before prison, Nicky sang in Horror Show, a mid-aughts negativity youth crew outfit he started when he was 17, and which combined wounded animal vocals with reasonably inspired pit songs. But Nicky’s childhood brought him into contact with different wells of musical sustenance, all influences that would shine through in his later work. “My brother was into a lot of the punk and hardcore stuff, and he started getting into post hardcore and English rock and the early 90s,” he said. “He was coming out of his Smiths/Morrissey thing into Stone Roses/early Oasis stuff. Even Ride. My sister was in the other room, blasting Slayer and Sepultura. She was just out of the hair metal phase into the thrash stuff. My mom is just dealing with crippling depression from financial [issues] and bad break-ups and trying to find someone as a woman in her mid-thirties with three awful kids. She’s in her room, banging The Cure and Sinead O'Connor and having meltdowns in her room, crying.”

After Nicky’s release from prison in 2003, Horror Show played a few shows, on and off, and Nicky lost a few years tending bar and living in Los Angeles, before a mental breakdown brought him back to Philadelphia, and he decided to commit himself to the vision of heavier noise-pop and dream-wave he heard in his head. At the 2010 edition of This Is Hardcore (the renowned Philadelphia festival featuring a mix legendary and up-and-coming bands of the breakdown and windmill/kickflip variety), where Horror Show played one of its final performances, he gave out CDRs of the first Nothing demo for free at the merch table.

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Angela Owens

Brandon, a self-taught musician from a bad neighborhood with problems of his own, had his first real conversation with Nicky that year, at a Smiths Night that Palermo was deejaying. At the time, he was working restaurant jobs he was indifferent to and cat sitting for his mom in Kingston. “I had no idea what the fuck I was going to do,” he said. “I happened to be at his DJ night. I was like, ‘Yo, I heard your demo on the internet. I’ve been playing it all the fuck day.’ He was like, ‘We need a new guitarist—what’s up?’”

Brandon grew up in a tiny apartment with his grandmother and mother while the latter worked her way through nursing school. Brandon said his dad was “a fuck up, into bad shit,” and his mom didn’t “want me to be around what he was around.” Still, his father’s listening habits rubbed off. “My dad was into the whole glam rock thing that was then destroyed by grunge, and then he was into grunge,” Brandon says. “That’s the first music I remember hearing in my life: Nirvana. I’d sit there in this empty house where my dad was squatting. He’d have no furniture and a bass with no strings on it, and he’d put it in my arms and I’d pretend to play ‘Come As You Are.’” When Brandon’s father joined the army to get straight, he bequeathed Brandon all his CDs.

After his first conversation with Nicky, Brandon stayed up all night learning all the songs on the demo, left a pile of food for the cat, and took a bus to Philly to try out for the band, “‘Please get me out of this,’ he remembers thinking. “There was nothing in my future at all. It was so desolate. ‘I want to be in this band so bad.’”

Nicky invited him to join. Now an equal co-songwriter in Nothing, he is the Paul to Nicky’s John, or vice-versa—or at least the the Guy Picciotto to Nicky’s Ian MacKaye.

It is unfair, both to the full picture of the band and to the friendship shared by the four, to give short shrift to the band’s rhythm section, but I hope they’ll forgive the truncated time spent with them. Kyle, who joined the band when their original drummer struggled to play to a click track for the recording of Guilty Of Everything, is something of a musical and cultural outlier; his drumming is dry and direct, in the 80s midwest hardcore mold. His upbringing was suburban and pleasant, and, having gotten a degree in history, he worries that his parents are “bummed” that he’s a musician. But his dad got him his first Black Sabbath album and his mom’s favorite band is Alice in Chains so, really, it’s on them.

Aaron is Nothing’s newest member—and, at 26, the youngest member of the bunch. He didn’t play bass on Dance On The Blacktop, but he brings a frontman’s dynamism to the rhythm section, often playing center stage with Brandon and Nicky flanking him. When he was growing up, his dad was in prison most of the time. Eventually, a girl he liked got him into screamo, and his aunt got him a ukulele. Learning to play the ukulele lead him to pick up the bass, which happened concurrently with him learning to scream real nice and form Jesus Piece. The bass, and the extended family of Philadelphia hardcore, led him to Nothing.

Everyone in Nothing got started in hardcore. This is their cross to bear, but anyone with even a cursory familiarity with punk/skin iconography knows that hard men love to bear crosses. Jesus Piece is one of the best metalcore bands around, something that sounds like faint praise but isn’t. Brandon remembers the first hardcore show he attended, in 8th grade, featuring Out To Win, Strength Through Reason, Death Before Dishonor, and Scare Tactic. Kyle was in ignorance-as-art weird heroes Salvation. Whether this background is discernible in their music is debatable, but I know what I know, and knowing gives grit and blood-sweat to what I hear. What’s indisputable is how the hardcore background has both solidified the band’s friendships and affected how Nothing is perceived, abroad and in their hometown.

Nothing have always felt like outsiders. Their relationship with Philadelphia is one of fierce pride, not just in each other but also in the people they grew up with—the people who let them live on their couches and floors and who declined to let them die. It’s also a relationship full of grievances—grudges held against gentrifiers, scenesters, the indie kids who wrote the band off as brutish imposters in their own town.

“We played Philly a shiltoad,” Brandon said of Nothing’s first few years as a band. “Nobody fucking comes. People talk shit on the band, say we’re some tattoed-ass hardcore kids. The first show where I was like, ‘Philly finally fucks with us,’ was the Guilty record release show.” Nicky agreed, but with a caveat: “There’s always been the love from the genuinely Philadelphia people,” he said. “That’s never changed. The people from the neighborhood, the good people. There was a lot of really good people who gave a shit about the band in early days. But the outside perspective, the snobby punks…”

"There’s always been the love from the genuinely Philadelphia people. That’s never changed. The people from the neighborhood, the good people. There was a lot of really good people who gave a shit about the band in early days." —Nicky Palermo

Some of the band’s sense of isolation is understandable. Except for Kyle, the band is aggressively working class at a time when rock music is largely the purview of those who come from at least a bit of money. It’s extremely difficult to pay rent in a city, pay for equipment, pay for a practice space, and tour on a barista’s salary. I come from a solidly upper middle class background, and financial stress is still a constant. The members of Nothing describe a background of single parents working multiple jobs and fathers who are in prison or otherwise absent, so resentment towards those who wave a DIY flag while failing to disclose how exactly they paid for Temple University is understandable.

Nothing’s history as a band is only slightly less turbulent than that of its members. After they put out their first EP, Downward Years To Come, critics celebrated them as tough guys who put out music that we could enjoy without having our lunch money taken at shows. They signed to Relapse in 2013, representing the metal label’s first foray into short-haired Pitchfork bait (unless you count Unsane). The press bit hard, if not in always glowing reviews than at least in the volume of their coverage. Then, in 2015, Nothing was going to put out a record on Geoff Rickly’s Collect Records, before Collect imploded when it came out that Martin Shkreli, the pharmaceutical propheteer, was the money man behind the label. Nothing was one of the first bands to distance themselves from the label, but if there’s bad blood between the group and Rickly, nobody’s saying so.

Nothing’s new album, Dance on the Blacktop, sounds like, well, Nothing, but with a deep tunefulness that casts the band’s previous dreaminess in starker terms. Producer John Agnello has sharpened the tone, made the vocal harmonies more present, and allowed Kyle’s drums to lose some bombast and therefore drive harder. The title is both a slang expression for fighting and an earnest “lying in the gutter, looking at the stars” type dealio. I love it. Pitchfork thinks it’s only OK. We’re all back in our comfort zones.

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Angela Owens

These days, Brandon and Nicky live in New York City, though the rhythm section still resides in Philadelphia. To celebrate the album’s release , Nothing threw a block party in the narrow alley of Livingston and East Lehigh in the Port Richmond neighborhood, complete with a dunk tank, an inflatable water slide, and a bounce castle. The hardcore miscreants and wellwishers numbered well over a hundred: screaming kids in various states of euphoria/dementia, girls in short shorts fisting sangria and soft serve, two dudes in matching Damned shirts, tucked in. There was also a beard in a “Drunk Lives Matter” T-shirt and a pickup truck with a “Police Lives Matter” sticker, but at least the latter was just someone who lived on the block.

The vibe was uniformly posi, with both Kyle and Nicky’s moms making cameos. Everyone there was palpably proud of the band—“Endlessly stoked,” as one put it—and when it was time for a group photo, the photographer had to stand on top of Nothing’s tour van to capture even part of the cheering, drink-and-ice-cream-cone-raising crowd. More than half the people I talked to referenced someone who’d died, usually from opiates. Near the end, the DJ played Deep Blue Something, and it felt right for the occasion, as though the music’s upbeat chords were trying to say, “Enjoy the water slide while you can, because tomorrow you’ll have insurmountable debts, dead friends, and possibly Earth Crisis ink etched on your face.”

It will hardly come as a revelation that Nothing, as a band, like to drink. They talk about alcohol the way other indie bands talk about the Minutemen, and I don’t ascribe a higher morality to either. Everybody should have a hobby. At the block party, we got drunk and took pills so we could drink more. After nightfall, we all ended up at Ortlieb's, the bar across town that Palermo is a part owner of. It had been 14 hours of uninterrupted drinking, and I was no longer responding to stimulants, so I went to bed. The band went to Aaron’s house, where there were apparently dozens of skateboarders taking it to the hoop, and kept drinking.

Both Kyle and Brandon were straightedge before joining Nothing. Nicky remembers the week Brandon officially joined the band—and broke edge: “This fool, when he broke edge, to say he tumbled off the wagon is an understatement. It blew up off the side of a mountain and crashed into a building and the whole town caught on fire,” he said. Brandon does too: “The Red Sea came crashing down. Like, 'Let's do a bunch of blow and die and go to the gay club till four in the morning.'” Kyle had a similar experience. “Me joining and me starting to drink kind of coincided, but not entirely connected, though Nicky likes to always say that it is,” he said.

Still, the members of Nothing are mortal. The day after the block party, Ortlieb’s was home to a hardcore matinee, celebrating Jesus Piece’s record release with a one-off Horror Show reunion. “I keep drinking tequila and it keeps coming back up,” Nicky said when I arrived, like it was weird that the poison wasn’t making him better. “In fact, I think I’ll go throw up again,” he continued, then raced back to the bar basement. It was the only day show I’ve seen with a metal detector outside and where the musicians had the the pallor of overripe ham, though Kyle looked better rested than the others. “When you wake up that day and you know you’re going to have an awful hangover—it’s like the most anxiety-ridden day ever,” he’d tell me later. “I’m 30 now, and I’m getting older. You still have a job to do. You have to perform. You can’t be a piece of shit on stage.”

Despite the collective nausea from the night before, the show itself was grand. The opening had a lyric that went, “That’s what’s up / You fucking suck”—as succinct an encapsulation of contemporary hardcore’s ethos as any. Jesus Piece was fantastic, a thick slab of blunt rage that felt like a callback to the Nothing crew’s youth. When Horror Show took the stage, a shaking but stalwart Palermo offered a tribute to them. “Happy to see anyone in Philly succeed because they don’t want us anyway,” he said. “Gotta stick together, ‘cause they don’t fuck with us.”

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Angela Owens

While unity and positivity pop up from time to time in Nothing’s narrative, Nicky’s violent past is the urtext from which all of the band’s press clippings are derived. It grates on a writer who prides himself in originality to repeat the same questions, hoping for... what, exactly? Nicky to break down and cry, ensuring tens of extra clicks? For him to tell a version of the story where nobody was stabbed, and he didn’t lose years of his own life accordingly? While far from a proponent of “just talk about the music, man,” Nicky makes a writer want to stick to notes and chords out of pure contrariness. But, unfortunately, notes and chords mean nothing to me, and also Nicky went to prison.

I didn’t ask him about the crime itself; he’s done little else but answer those questions for years, and also I was afraid to find out that he was a Blink-182 fan. During his two years in prison, he got his GED and BA. He wrote the essay section of the English part of his GED on Crime and Punishment, which his brother sent him, and he told me that he did well enough on his GED exams that “they gave me a $2000 grant for when I came home for school,” though he never used it. I asked him if they let him keep the money even though he didn’t continue his studies. “I wish,” he said. “I would have bought a bunch of cocaine and sold it with that. That would have been the first thing I did—get half a pie and whip it up.”

While Nicky clearly has as little interest as I do in attaching a pat moral to whatever shit goes down in this veil of tears we call life, his experiences have led him to believe strongly in prison reform. I asked him if he was an abolitionist. “I’m more a realistic person,” he replied. “I know that there are people who need to be there. I’ve grown up with people who I know should be there, that are there now. But there are some I know that have been caught up in the system for bullshit, and they’re never going to get out of the system for something they did when they were 18.”

Palermo says he hopes to be able to advocate on behalf of incarcerated individuals in the future. “My main focus is condition-improving and reform upon release—jobs and education and things of that nature,” he said. Accordingly, Nothing has partnered up with Pennsylvania Prison Society, whose mission is “ to advocate for humane prisons and a rational approach to criminal justice”; on October 6, they threw a Philadelphia benefit for the Society with tourmates The Swirlies. Recently, Nicky also entered into talks with Campaign For Smart Justice at ACLU of Pennsylvania, to assist in combating the Pennsylvania DOC’s effort to digitize all prisoner correspondence.

Thematically speaking, it would be a lie to say that Dance on the Blacktop represents a drastic departure from previous Nothing releases. Lyrically, the band sticks to its concerns—figuring existence out, not expecting a resolution. The record begins, on “Zero Day,” with the words: “Everything / starts the same / Infinity / Oblivion / Light abandons me.” By the time “(HOPE) Is Just Another Word With A Hole In It,” the final song, rolls around, not much has changed: “An off white lie / That’s come undone / Composing suffering / That fall on ears / Of no-one.”

A theme that Palermo and Setta return to again and again, in this interview and others, is that of expressing ugly existence beautifully. Sadness expressed at a high-enough richter volume that it sounds like hope, even if it’s a hope that interchangeable with their favorite word besides “shit”: “absurd.” If there’s an air of metaphysical poetry in Nothing’s lyrics, that’s ok by me. There’s nothing wrong with dappling existentialism with a little melodrama.

Nicky usually starts with two pages of lyrics for a single song; sometimes they’re pared down to a certain extent by Brandon, but, more often, each multisyllabic word is made to fit. “I’ll sometimes write this elaborate thing and use this word that will be impossible to make work,” Nicky says. “How the fuck am I supposed to sing that? I dunno, but it’s gotta be there.”

While shamelessly operating within a tradition (shoegaze, rock, generations of baggy striped shirts), Nothing are part of a continuum they’re rarely given credit for. At their heart, they’re a folk band. From the wordiness to the gentle, mournful melodies, the songs are pure 60s reverie—Dylan gone electric and then some, with someone, in this case whichever hometown haters continue to doubt Nothing’s noise-pop bona fides, inevitably yelling “Judas” (cause this is also hardcore).

I know people who claim to have been saved by Nothing. It’s not that I don’t take these people at their word, but I’m a strong proponent that people save themselves; so-and-so just happens to be playing in the background. Anyway, none of those people were in the room, so I asked Brandon, in one of our final conversations, if playing this music has helped him. “People message us and and say, ‘This music helped me through the craziest things in my life,’” he replied, equivocating. “It’s cool to touch some mass of people when we just started this with, “Let’s make music and get out our town and see what happens [...] I wouldn’t say that it’s changed my worldview in any way, but if it did, we’d be making different music than we are now, I suppose. So I dunno. I guess we’re doomed.”

Nicky also circumvented the question, albeit in a different way. “It definitely helps,” he said. “I don’t know what it helps. It helps move forward. I won’t say in a worse way or a better way, but it helps me move forward.” He continued: “There’s definitely been times when this band has helped me move forward in a problematic way, where I was getting so fucked up, falling asleep on stage during a set. I’m not in that rehabilitative stage like Deafheaven. I cleaned up a little bit, but I’m ready to get back into it. There’s a more positive part to us, but that’s not it, either.”

“People message us and and say, ‘This music helped me through the craziest things in my life. It’s cool to touch some mass of people when we just started this with. I wouldn’t say that it’s changed my worldview in any way, but if it did, we’d be making different music than we are now, I suppose. So I dunno. I guess we’re doomed.” —Brandon Setta

Here’s another story. It’s one that Nicky relayed to me about his first few weeks in prison, and maybe it’ll help elucidate the group’s worldview—one that would reek of collegiate posturing coming from lesser Nihilism 101 boy bands, but that, in Nothing’s case, feels grounded in something true.

“Camden County was really crazy. I was stuck in there for the first month. I was in a two-person cell with six people. And it was 23 and one—23 hours locked in and one hour out. The guys I was in with all knew each other from Camden, and they had all boofed a ton of heroin and crack. So the first week they were in there, they were just blowing crack and sniffing heroin off the toilet seat. With a minimum of two years ahead for myself, probably leaning towards four with a parole hit I thought I was going to get because it’s a violent crime, I was more or less thinking of the life of hell my next four years were going to be. Just waking up in the middle of the night and seeing these crazed dudes, the only light being from the window from the door, the fluorescent lights outside, and seeing these dudes holding a burning crack rock, fingers burning—where the fuck am I?

The first week I was there, I left the cell to try to use the phone, came back, and my sneakers were gone. I looked around the cell for my sneakers and was like, ‘Oh my god, here we go.’ And I look across the tier, and there’s this dude just wearing my shoes, just busting it up, talking to someone. I was like, ‘Motherfuck, man,’ so I went over and was like, ‘Hey I think you have my shoes, man.’ They say, ‘Oh yeah, come into the cell and I’ll give em to you.’ So I already knew what it was: I go in there and— bop bop bop —get my ass beat by a couple of ‘em.

That was the thing; you see these movies that are like, ‘Find the biggest guy there and crack em.’ It doesn’t work like that. They’ll just beat your ass every single day, and that’s it. You have to eat a lot of shit. That’s one of the main things—a point of survival there— which taught me a lot about how to live in the streets again. Pride is an evil fucking thing that makes you do terrible things, and as soon as you realize that that’s the case, and [that] you’re meant to be on this planet to just shovel shit down your throat, you’ll find yourself progressing in more positive ways.

That’s the thing: Walking into a room and there’s ten toilets. That first time you walk in, and everyone's just sitting there shitting, you’re just like, ‘Oh, I gotta sit and take a shit like everybody else.’ Pride leaves you super fast. I still have that in me. I can shit in front of anyone.”

There are ways for a band to tell their own story. If your band drinks to excess, takes drugs like Good & Plentys, bears the brunt of violence both dished out and received, and digs My Bloody Valentine as gospel, you should use it. You should use it the same way other bands use college connections, insurance-covered zen, and having parents who buy them instruments with all the strings intact. And if that story occasionally feels like a burden, like it’s taken on a life of its own and become a train without a driver, well, you can get off any time you like. But then you’d have to live with a whole different caboose of regrets.

Nothing’s success is far from a mystery. They are four handsome boys who perform music that makes potential suicides rethink their prospects, and they perform it loud enough to make boys and girls feel that music in their bones. People relate to them while perhaps not knowing exactly what they’re relating to. For Nothing, confusion isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. They’re void fuckers in a time that calls for it—no lyric sheet attached.

Zachary Lipez is a writer based in New York City. Follow him on Twitter.