Interviewed by Kai Slater and Asher Case
Necktar Tropotaxis is an otherworldly
three-piece band from Chicago, words don’t do their music any justice, just listen to em! They just released an amazing new single titled “Tertiary”, so we had a little chat!!
1. This new single is really awesome. It sounds like it draws from a wide variety of musical influences, bringing to mind bands like Parsnip and Le Tigre, but it’s still very uniquely Necktar Tropotaxis. Tell us a bit about the writing process of this song. What kind of collaboration went into it, and how did that impact the overall sound of the track? We wrote it quite some time ago. I think it was one of the first songs that, when we were all working on it together, gelled extremely well. We started it at least a year ago.
2. Did the song evolve from that time, or was it pretty immediately realized? The end part of the song usually calls for some improvisation on the vocals, so it’s a little bit different each time we play it. So in that way, it changed, but most of the structure of the song has remained pretty similar. In terms of the process, what we typically do is Mattie will bring in a chord progression they’ve been working on and then Zeb and Molly will workshop a bunch of stuff while we’re all in the same room, basically trying to figure what all fits together.
3. The first thing I noticed when listening to your music is the vocals. You’ve got these harmonies that are as musical as they are dense and impressive. What are all your respective backgrounds in singing? MATTIE: I’ve been singing for a long time, since I was little, and I did Chicago Children’s Choir for like 10 years. (Molly, don’t laugh at me!) They make fun of me but it’s fine. That taught me a lot about singing. We were all in School of Rock and that kind of helped me singing other styles. ZEB: I primarily do background vocals for the band. I’ve done vocals for a while as a past time, and I have a big soft spot for choir vocals because I had to do it as a young kid. So I really enjoy the combination of Mattie’s styles of singing with the harmonies that we do. I don’t have any specific singing training, though. MOLLY: I haven’t sung nearly in the same way as Mattie has, they have been mastering their voice from a very young age, and it really shows! I dunno, I was in choir for a week in middle school, and then for senior year of high school. I do a lot of singing now that I’m in college, but I have more of a background in classical flute, which is much of the basis for how I’m able to hear and replicate tones.
4. Have you guys used flute? Can we expect flute in the future for the band? I could see it happening in the future. We’ve done it before - we’ve done flute, trumpet and bass together.
5. I notice the lyrics in this song are more image-based and bizarre than, say, your last single “Lesbian Layer”, which was more direct in its delivery. What inspired the lyrics, and what are the usual themes in your writing? ZEB: Tertiary is one of the songs where I contribute lyrics, and most of the lyrics come from all of my journaling, and comes from a lot of mental health-based places. I have really intense C-PTSD as well as anxiety and depression. During the period when I wrote Tertiary I had been going through severe episodes of flashbacks and I would wake up anxious and freaking out - the kind of underlying point of Tertiary is that music was one of the only things that could ground me at the time. I am also just a big fan of intense imagery to convey these things. They’re really impossible to convey any other way for me.
6. What is it like to be a young/non-binary/working/etc. musician in Chicago right now? How has the past year impacted the band, and what kind of changes do you expect/want to see in the future logistically? It’s been interesting, because for a good amount of it, we’ve all been in different places. Mattie’s usually at Oberland, Molly’s in Minnesota, and Zeb’s in Chicago. So a lot of our connection and making plans are over discord calls right now, but we were all in Chicago during the wintertime, so we had the opportunity to work on our album and record it then. Overall, though, the pandemic has made it very hard for art communities to continue, so we’re still learning what it’s like to be out of high school and be in the Chicago music scene. Before the pandemic, during the summer, we were always the only band on a bill that were all non-binary people, all not men, and that’s always been a theme in the Chicago music scene. That’s kind of continued on to the larger scene, even though there’s more flexibility in that larger scene.
7. What was the Chicago winter recording process like? How did the recording process overlap with the writing of the song and how do you think that impacted the final product? It was really different because all the other stuff we had recorded was done in Molly’s basement, before it flooded. So we were really excited to work with Arturo from Pulp Drummer Studio, who recorded and mixed everything on the upcoming album. Before recording, we had a lot of days practicing in 10 degree weather in Molly’s garage, covered in clothing and gloves and huddled around an itty bitty space heater. In the studio, we started with the drums, and then the bass, and guitar and vocals last for all the songs. Although, we had one song that we recorded as a full band cuz of time issues. But for the most part, we could just see each of us record every one of the songs. We ended up recording 11 songs for the album.
8. From what I can tell, you’ve had a few changes in the band, from lineups to your title - how did the current lineup form and what is the story of both names that the band has had? We used to go by Jeris Girll, which was a play on “Jeri’s Grill”, which just closed down, but was a classic diner place on Western, right by Welle’s Park. We found a lot of community in that place, so we did the band name about that. It was when we started coming out, and being like, “oh, we’re trans!”, Jeris Girll just didn’t feel as accurate to who we were, and sometimes people would mess up the name and call us, like, “Jerry’s Girls”, and that was obviously just not the vibe we were going for… So then we wanted a funkier band name and Necktar Tropotaxis came out of our love for bugs, and we thought necktar was a cool word. Tropotaxis is something that bug antennas do to sense where they’re going. Together, it created the image of bugs trying to sense necktar, and for some reason that made us think that “we are the necktar!” We are the little juicy bits and sugar that the bees want. Although Molly told their bio professor about the band, and said “Necktar Tropotaxis? That could be shortened into Chronotaxis!!” Or whatever the actual process of bugs trying to sense necktar is specifically called, I don’t remember what word he used.
9. We’ve talked about things you remind us of, but what do you guys listen to the most/things you keep coming back to or bond over? MATTIE: I really like the band Speedy Ortis, I started listening to them in high school a lot. I think the guitar parts and the usage of dissonance taught me a lot. ZEB: I know Molly’s gonna laugh at me when I say who I’m gonna say, but I listen to way too much Frank Zappa. That’s been a thing for a very long time at this point. Also, in elementary school, the first genre I really fell in love with was doom metal, and groove metal, and nu metal - I fucking love nu metal. So a lot of heavier, groovier basslines are where I tend to come from. On the other end, I really love Drahla and portuguese rock from the 70’s. MOLLY: I’m really into sad men that play the guitar. Elliott Smith is probably my favorite artist ever, I love them a lot. I also like a lot of prog stuff too, though, like Zappa and Floyd. I like punk from the 70’s and 90’s, new wave, indie, that shit.
10. How would you like to move forward with things in the next year? Do you have plans to release things following or in accompaniment to this new single? ZEB: I probably already leaked it on Instagram, but we do have an album coming later this year, and that’s the album we recorded in the winter. It’s kind of like a capsule of everything we wrote in and after our last years of high school. I feel like we’re shifting into a new phase of the band, so there’s a lot more coming.