An Interview with Nick Ammerman of Scare Quotes

Nick Ammerman has been sporadically releasing home-recorded music as Scare Quotes since 2004. The project is broadly inspired by the DIY lo-fi home-recording movement of the 1990s, embracing noise, tape hiss, and musical accidents as valuable parts of the songwriting process. Nick has also been in bands including the Fake Fictions, Advance Base, and the Id. 

Hear Nick, along with  Dave Davison (Maps & Atlases), Justin Petertil (Love Raid), and Lindsey Charles (The Cell Phones) at Elastic Arts on April 24, 2015, 9pm. 

Who had the biggest influence on your music?

Ugh this is a boringly canonical answer, but I'd have to say Kurt Cobain. Nirvana was a huge band to me as a teen in terms of their music, but maybe more importantly, Cobain was also a big booster of smaller bands and unheralded predecessors. He would talk in interviews about Half Japanese or Mudhoney or Daniel Johnston or the Vaselines or Wipers, bands you wouldn't know about when you were 13 in 1992 and learning about music by reading album reviews in Entertainment Weekly and People. He also pushed a lot of women-fronted bands and riot grrl bands, which was refreshing coming out of the more masculine mainstream rock scene of the '80s and early '90s. I think ultimately Kurt Cobain was at least as important as a promoter of other people's music and the value of music as a voice for the disenfranchised as he was as a musician and songwriter. It's embarrassing when your honest feelings about music come out sounding like a big fat rock critic cliche, but I guess that's what happens when you're a dude in your mid-30s. 

How does your song writing process usually begin?

The music usually comes from messing around until something happens that strikes me as appealingly wrong. An unexpected chord change that works anyways, a riff that's so stupid that it circles back around to being smart, a nice clunky rhythm track, something like that. The lyrics always start with a phrase or a title that amuses me. I don't write joke songs or funny songs, but my lyrics always have something in them that is funny to me. Jokes are usually the most efficient way to communicate a complicated thought.

What compelled you to begin writing songs? 

Basically boredom and opportunity and necessity. I was 14 years old and all of a sudden I had friends who were learning to play the drums and guitar and bass, and we were all listening to "alternative rock" that was technically simple but sounded cool, so I said we should start a band. I couldn't play any instruments so I was the singer. We played some cover songs but most of them were too hard to play right so we had to write our own songs to have stuff that we could play right by default.

How has your songwriting changed over the years? 

I've made more of a concerted effort to reflect an adult perspective in my songs. I write more songs about cool grown-up things like worrying about money, trying not to be a terrible parent, and dealing with having responsibilities beyond your own personal pleasure. 

What songs would you like played at your funeral?

The part at the beginning of Bruce Springsteen's cover of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" where he's talking to Clarence Clemons about whether Santa's going to bring him a new saxophone. A video projection of this performance of "Is It My Body?" by Alice Cooper. And then, as my corpse is wheeled into the cryogenic chamber, "Crazy Horses" by the Osmonds.