INTERVIEW: Nick Sturtzel is a Digital Baller Probably From the Future!

Pictured above: Half Homedude. Half Top Executive. Nick Sturtzel the BizBorg. 

One half of the incredible synth pop duo Norrin Radd, Nick Sturtzel has been an active member of the Louisville punk scene for years now, perhaps most notably in the undeniably excitable VIKING! As we’ve previously mentioned here, Norrin Radd make electronic music that balances an exploration of sound with a strong pop sensibility. The duo are playing tomorrow night as part of the Chime Music Series at Nelligan Hall with Black Birds of Paradise, The Hal Dolls, and Mu w/spoke word performances by Black Falcon, Bridgette Case, and Mark James. The show is at 8pm and costs $6. We caught up with Nick and talked with him about the origin of Norrin Radd, his love of bleep blop machines, and how he balls out. Buy this man a bourbon on the rocks already.

Never Nervous: How did Norrin Radd come together? This is so different from Viking that I would have to imagine that that was an intentional decision.

Nick Sturtzel: I was desperately trying to get back in the habit of making music and playing shows. Christopher Cprek and I were working on a clandestine project called Templar Grandin that ended up falling apart, but we had already booked a show and I was determined to play it. I went to my best friend/consistent musical partner Robert Johnson to throw stuff together and it led to the Norrin Radd no one knows or loves today.

VIKING! ended seven years ago and our tastes and musical practices continued to grow and evolve over that time. It was never an intentional “we’re done with this silly guitar music” thing or anything like that, it was more of a natural progression of interest.

NN: Speaking of, what happened to VIKING!? Was it your first band? Was there anything between VIKING! and Norrin Radd?

NS: College happened to VIKING!. It was our (Rob and myself) Post-High School band and Will and Paul’s High School band, so when they graduated and did the out of town college thing it fell apart. Rob and I did our best to try to keep it together with Spencer, who had joined on second guitar at that point, but without Will and especially Paul it just wasn’t the same. The band was fun partially because of internal conflicts concerning creative direction, to be either poppier or heavier, which lead to a strange mix of both. When those two dudes left we didn’t have as much to fight about, or as much drive to spitefully write things to show the opposition why our opinion was best.

Rob, Paul, and I played in a band called JATheRHL (capitalized in that manner not because of silly internet culture, but because the name was a compromise between the other members who wanted the band to be called Jebidiah And The Receding Hair Lines and those of us who thought that was terrible. The ‘creative’ initialization was an attempt to mask any connection to that name and to create an air of mystery. Ha, high school). It was basically our attempt to simultaneously be Thursday and Modest Mouse, with expectedly terrible results.

Between VIKING! and Norrin Radd neither of us did a lot musically. I hadn’t played a show in over 5 years until the show we played with Visiting Nurse and Shedding at Land of Tomorrow. Rob and I actually stopped hanging out for a while in there at some point and eventually came back around.

NN: Who composes what in the band? It seems like it’s you playing almost everything and Robert singing. Is that accurate, or too simple a view of the process?


NS: That was fairly accurate at first but lately it’s become a lot more fluid, with a good deal of give and take. Our newest song was written entirely by Robert and I just added my parts in where appropriate. He’s also developing a vocal style outside of just singing; using a loop station to create beats, rhythms, and textures using his voice as an instrument. Live we are also evolving: on Saturday we will have several guests playing guitar and bass on a few songs, one of which is a cover we are really excited about.

NN: What got you into modular synthesis?

NS: It might be hard to tell now, but initially it was my connection to the DIY/hacker/maker movement and assembling electronics. I am a member of LVL1, Louisville’s Hackerspace, and attended a biweekly meeting called Soundbuilders. Soundbuilders focus on creating, rehabilitating, and assembling various electronics used for music and sound making. Projects in the past have involved a homebrew PA system (currently in development), a hex keyboard for nontraditional keyboard layouts, and a dodecahedron speaker enclosure to blast sound in 12 different directions. People all work on individual projects as well, and share information, so to bring it back around to the initial question I started building DIY modules there. That eventually grew into more consumer premade modules once I graduated college and got a job that provided adequate income to be able to throw money at synthesizers.

NN: What one piece of gear is indispensible and why? Is it your favorite toy, and if not, what is?

NS: Easiest question of the interview. I waited a year to receive my Buchla Music Easel and everything else has been neglected since I finally received it. In my opinion is has the best of most worlds of synthesis: the patch-ability and flexibility of modular, the workflow and interface of an all in one, interesting FM and AM synthesis options, and an incredibly rich, versatile sound. As we have more and more time to practice and develop new songs it will grow into its role as the centerpiece of my setup.

I can go ahead and answer this question for Robert as well. He recently picked up a Boss RC-505 Loop Station, and it’s everything he has ever wanted out of a looper. Five independent channels of looping with built in effects, faders for each channel, and, his favorite, the ability to effect/mangle a track and re-record it. You can hear the best example of this on our recent performance on Allen White’s Art FM show Mythic Beat.

NN: One last gear nerd question: what musical toy do you wish you had and what would you do with it?

NS: I’m desperately trying to get out of the gear lust mindset that’s led to my current overabundance of synths, but it’s been difficult to ignore the Metasonix D-1000. It’s an all tube drum machine with a ton of bite and grit. Metasonix make a bunch of different modules, all based around vacuum tube technology, and they all sound disgustingly great.

I’m also really looking forward to seeing how Korg’s reissue of the ARP Odyssey turns out.

NN: Given the opportunity to play music with any one person dead or alive, who would it be and why?

NS: I think I would just want to hang out with Bach and show him what people are doing now. Then bottle his tears and sell them on ebay.

NN: What is your favorite adult beverage?

NS: Bourbon On Ice.

NN: Do you believe in talking about religion or politics on a first date? Tell us how you ball.

NS: Yes if you think it might potentially be serious, especially if you have differing opinions. How well you argue with one another is a large contributing factor to how well a relationship will work.

No if you are just trying to have fun. Talk about puppies or something, I don’t know I’m not good at this.

I ball by being overly straight forward and awkwardly telling girls that I think they are cute while drunk. Then I fall into a cycle of self-doubt and anxiety. Ladies, you know where to find me. 😉

NN: Since you are named after a comic book, are (either of) you a big comic book fan? If so, what’ve you been reading? If not, why?

NS: We both love comics but probably don’t read them enough. Our favorite ongoing series right now is probably Invincible. Its tagline is “The Best Superhero Comic in the Universe” and, in my opinion, that’s not hyperbole. The book greatly benefits by the Superhero books of the past, learning from what worked and what didn’t, creating an incredibly well-crafted and fully realized world/story.

I’ve been trying to keep up with Mike Allred’s new Silver Surfer comic (which is fantastic and gorgeous) for obvious reasons.

I’m always a fan of anything Ben Sears does, especially his ongoing series D+ that’s updated every Saturday on Study Group. It’s like a sci-fi adventure time, which is a combination right in the peanut butter and chocolate wheelhouse as far as I’m concerned. (http://studygroupcomics.com/main/double-by-ben-sears/)

NN: What are your non-musical influences?

NS: Space and space programs.

We (Robert and myself) have mutual best friend Jeff Hipsher. He’s a poet who is turning his focus to sci-fi themes and feelings. Conversations with him always lead to good things and his work makes me genuinely feel things, which is something I can’t say about much poetry.

The Minimalist artists of the 50’s and 60’s (Donald Judd, Walter de Maria, etc).

NN: Last but never least: name five records you would take on an indefinite space exodus and tell us why.

Oneohtrix Point NeverR Plus Seven. If I’m staring into the vast emptiness of the Cosmos I think this would be a pretty good soundtrack.

The KnifeSilent Shout. When things get boring on the ship we can turn the lights out and have an anxious dance party.

Charles MingusThe Black Saint and Sinner Lady. For variety and contemplation.

Queens of the Stone AgeSongs for the Deaf. For when we raid alien landscapes for supplies and women.

AirMoon Safari. To get everyone in the mood for the objective based procreation necessary to maintain genetic diversity, so that when we eventually (after x generations of space travelers) find the new planet we can claim as our own we won’t all have blue see through skin.