Nadir is a punk trio with some names and faces you might recognize from their work with Off With Their Heads, Fake Boys, and Hard Pass. The trio has been around for a couple of years, but just released their debut Collecting Misery this year. The record plays rough-around-the-edges punk with an ear for melodic hooks.
SPB caught up with Robbie Swartwood to learn how Nadir formed, why, and how he feels about his singing. The band donated a chunk of proceeds to Save.org, so naturally the discussion also turns toward suicide awareness and how that ties into the concept behind their debut.
Scene Point Blank: What's the story behind Nadir? Given the name of the band and the thematic approach of your debut record, I imagine you formed the band with a concept in mind?
Robbie Swartwood: Initially I just missed the writing aspect of being in a band, which has always been my favorite part. And after being on the road constantly with Off With Their Heads over the last 11+ years and only writing bass lines or helping with an arrangement here or there, I felt like I needed some sort of creative outlet. There was no concept at first, I just kept running across the word "Nadir" in books I'd read and it sounded kind of eastern/mysterious, I guess? Maybe like a shitty Nirvana? Which is basically all we can really ever hope for.
Scene Point Blank: Why did you choose to raise suicide awareness with this release?
Robbie Swartwood: Most of the songs are about growing up surrounded by suicide, and my own issues with suicide attempts/ideation, homelessness, etc. I'm also a huge believer that the best way to help yourself is through helping other people, so I was hoping to make this project as cathartic as possible. But I guess the larger theme is that we've created a society that incentivizes and celebrates behaviors that are directly against the interests of most people, and in turn our own self-interests, which is the main problem. I mean, 45,000 Americans choose to take their own lives every year. Contrast that to the tragedy of the entire Vietnam War that claimed 58,000 American lives over a 20 year period. Seems like a fucking crisis, right?
Scene Point Blank: Can you elaborate on what you just said about growing up around suicide? Broadly speaking, the culture you’re speaking of also has stigmatized it where many people aren’t comfortable talking about it publicly, especially if it’s personal. Was that a challenge with this record?
Robbie Swartwood: Well, growing up my dad would always tell my brother and I that he had a gun in his mouth earlier in the day, when we were like preteens. And then my dad's girlfriend ended up killing herself. So did my friend in high school, and too many friends after that. I've also tried to kill myself a couple times starting when I was twelve. So, growing up especially, I was so overwhelmed by this constant turmoil and questions about, what's the fucking point, you know?
"I think the best way to constantly learn and get better is to put yourself in the most uncomfortable of positions by trying new things out. Even failure can be the best way to learn."
I can understand why people don't want to talk about it because it's such a shocking paradox. This act that goes against our whole biological initiative for being, and kinda calls bullshit on the values that we hold highest in this society as a whole. But I'm clearly not condoning it.
Scene Point Blank: It’s an important topic we could discuss all day, for sure. Did you approach Collecting Misery with that theme in mind, or is it something that just happened once you started writing?
Robbie Swartwood: I didn't have a theme for the record until I started writing the songs, then it started to take shape and kinda just poured out, for better or worse.
Scene Point Blank: You mentioned having that creative itch for writing songs instead of basslines. How did you write the record? Do you write stream-of-consciousness style, or had the ideas been in your head for a while?
Robbie Swartwood: I've always had a hand in writing for every other band I've been in, except for Off With Their Heads (which is probably why Off With Their Heads is a successful band), so I definitely missed that aspect. I would just have an idea for a vocal melody, or a guitar part and expand from there. [It’s] not really a stream of consciousness kind of thing, definitely more deliberate and thought out than that.
Scene Point Blank: Who plays in the band and how did they get involved?
Robbie Swartwood: We're a three-piece right now, with my buddy Mike Foti playing bass (we met when he played guitar for Fake Boys, on the 2010 [I think] tour with OWTH) and Arthur Bergevin on drums who also plays in an awesome Brooklyn band called Hard Pass.
Scene Point Blank: I hit on this in my review -– not in a bad way. Is this your first time singing?
Robbie Swartwood: Oh yeah. I'm a very shy person -- a reluctant singer -- and my vocals seem to be most influenced by Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber's rendition of the most annoying sound in the world. Haha
Scene Point Blank: I’ve noticed you don’t do as many backing vocals in Off With Their Heads as John [Polydoros] does either. When you decided to form Nadir, did you originally intend to sing?
Robbie Swartwood: I did, just to see if I could actually pull it off, really. I think the best way to constantly learn and get better is to put yourself in the most uncomfortable of positions by trying new things out. Even failure can be the best way to learn.
But especially with the lyrics being so personal, I kinda had to do it.
"There was no concept at first, I just kept running across the word "Nadir" in books I'd read and it sounded kind of eastern/mysterious, I guess? Maybe like a shitty Nirvana? Which is basically all we can really ever hope for."
Scene Point Blank: You made the Dumb and Dumber joke, but how did you feel once you started singing and listening to the tracks? Obviously you stuck with it…
Robbie Swartwood: I totally stick by that analogy. By the way, I don't like the sound of my own voice. But I do really like writing lyrics, so somebody's gotta sing 'em, right?
Scene Point Blank: Collecting Misery is the first release, right? Many bands start with demos or EPs. How did you choose the full-length format?
Robbie Swartwood: We released a demo on Bandcamp a couple years ago that is now lost forever -- probably for the best. But all these songs kinda fell out of me at once so it seemed right to put them all on one record.
Scene Point Blank: Most people know you from Off With Their Heads. Did you keep that association in mind when writing for Nadir, either consciously trying to separate the two projects or even drawing connections between the two?
Robbie Swartwood: A couple of the songs are Off With Their Heads related, subject-wise, but I had no intention of separating or connecting the two. [I] just tried to open myself up and see what came out. But I guess there is somewhat of a similarity in terms of dark, confessional lyrics, a melodic, pop sensibility, and some riffs and shit.
Scene Point Blank: Do you play in any other active bands?
Robbie Swartwood: Nope, just Nadir and Off With Their Heads!