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. 

Emerging & Established Artist Exchange: Megan Mills & Morgan Lord

Homeroom is excited to announce the third of three student/mentor pairing for the 2014-2015 Emerging & Established Artist Exchange: Morgan Lord & Megan Mills: television, theatre-comedy.

Los Angeles transplant Megan Mills has begun work on a series of stories told on film and creatively represented through visuals. Along with mentor Morgan Lord, Megan has compiled a list of inspirations for the series, including Monty Python, Key and Peele, High Maintenance, BJ Novak’s One More Thing, Humans of New York, Tina Fey’s autobiography, Louis CK and Graham Norton’s Red Chair. Check out more of Megan's film and television work on her Vimeo page. 

Emerging & Established Artist Exchange: Griffin Kenna & Robbie Hamilton

Homeroom is excited to announce the second of three Emerging & Established Artist Exchange student & mentor pairings for 2014-2015: Robbie Hamilton & Griffin Kenna: music, audio.

Griffin Kenna creates a heartfelt blend of earnest folk music and gentle alternative rock with his personal lyrics and intricate guitar and banjo playing. With the help of mentor Robbie Hamilton, Griffin plans to write, arrange, produce, release, and promote a single or short EP as an independent artist.  Griffin and Robbie have planned a two-studio approach to the project, with tracking occurring both at Griffin’s home project studio and at Pieholden Studio B. A significant portion of their work will also be focused on creating a promotional plan to help Griffin expand his fan base. 

Emerging & Established Artist Exchange: Zelda Vidal & Aaron Renier

Homeroom is excited to announce the first of three Emerging & Established Artist Exchange student & mentor pairings for 2014-2015: Aaron Renier & Zelda Vidal: illustration, book & paper, animation.

Zelda Vidal is an aspiring comic and children's book author and illustrator inspired by "nature, bright colors, Dr. Seuss, Japan, folklore, books, music, Vincent Van Gogh, E.H. Shepard, Quentin Blake and a bajillion other things I see and experience every day." Zelda plans to use mentor Aaron Renier's expertise in illustration and narrative storytelling to self-publish a 30-page book that will be for sale at Quimby's and other Chicago area comic book stores. Zelda's intricate watercolors emit a warmth and coziness perfectly suited to graphic novels and children's literature.

Songwriter Showcase: Anthony Cozzi of Radar Eyes

Anthony Cozzi’s music (Radar Eyes) is more pop than punk, but his candy-like hooks don’t shake the darkness that inspired his first songwriting. His melodies build tension with guitar counterpoint set against his detached vocals before cascading into the bliss of Love-esque choruses.

James joins Che Arthur (Pink Avalanche), Maigin Blank (Whales), and James Deia (Blasted Dipolmats) for the Songwriter Showcase on Friday, October 10th, 9pm at Uncommon Ground Wrigleyville, 3800 N Clark St. Chicago, IL. Facebook Event.


Who were some of your earliest musical influences?

The earliest musical influences I can remember were the first 45's I had as a kid in the mid 80's.  Theses included Tom Petty "Dont Do Me Like That", John Fogerty "Centerfield" and Micheal Jackson 'Thriller" LP.  I would stand on my head in my bedroom and listen to these records over and over.  I soon "borrowed" a Beatles greatest hits tape from my Dad and that became a fast favorite.  A little later in my early teenage years I traded a couple of my old Beatles/Stones tapes for three albums that I had never heard before but would change the way I listened to music from then on - Minor Threat - "Complete Discography", Jane's Addiction - "Self Titled"(XXX), and Fugazi "13 songs."  The Minor Threat album took about ten listens just to understand what was even happening. The recording and performance on the album is so ferocious, I had never heard anything like it. Then I started to read the lyric sheet and discovered there was a community behind the music. The Fugazi album was a continuation of what Ian started in Minor Threat but with more emotions than anger as well as dynamics in the instrumentation.  The Jane's Addiction album was so weird to me at the time Perry's voice wrapped around the amazing rhythm section and Dave Navarro's spacey, melodic, but heavy guitar - it was like alien hippie punk.  But, more importantly what this album did was to introduce me to Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground via the cover of "Rock n' Roll."  
One other album I bought around this time was Ramones 'Loco Live",  I basically learned to play guitar to this CD.

How has your songwriting changed over the years?

I wrote my first songs when I was about 15 they sounded a lot like Nirvana or the pop punk of the time.  I would usually write the music first and then hum/scream out a melody and lyrics would come last.  I spent most of my time in high school not paying attention to the teachers and writing thoughts/poems/slogans/drawings into a notebook(s) that I always carried with me.  I usually pulled lyric ideas from this notebook.  With Radar Eyes I wrote most of the early songs by myself in the same manner as above and would bring a mostly finished song to the band to flesh out.  This has changed dramatically since Russ, Lucas, and now Nithin have joined the band.  Usually Lucas or I will come in with a couple ideas musically and we will slowly form the song as a band.  I still have a notebook of lyric ideas but I am taking a lot more time with them for this latest album, it's actually been a very difficult but enjoyable process for me.

Do you have a process for starting a new song or combating writer's block?

I have had writers block and what I usually do is change the instrument that I'm writing on. So, I'll write on bass or synth as opposed to guitar. This usually gives me a fresh perspective.  For lyrical writers block I try to just write anything, however nonsensical, and hope that eventually my subconscious takes over and something usuable comes out.

What song or songs do you want played at your funeral

I would really want my funeral to be a party so maybe something like AC/DC "Highway To Hell."