Amplify Nights: The Pressure Kids
Earlier this year in February, we had the opportunity to feature one of our favorite Nashville bands in our Amplify Nights series, The Pressure Kids. For all of us at Amplify, The Pressure Kids were one of the first local bands to really blow our minds after moving to Nashville. The Pressure Kids’ energetic live performances, cutting lyrics, and daunting musicality are without parallel, giving you the sense of attending a charismatic church for the young and inexperienced as they clumsily try to find their way in life. After the show, Amplify’s Forrest Brown (FB) met The Pressure Kids’ frontman, Nick Johnston (NJ), to talk more about what The Pressure Kids are about and how nature and poetry play such a big part in their songwriting.
FB: The band is called “The Pressure Kids.” Where did that name come from?
NJ: So that’s a name I’ve had in my pocket since middle school. There’s this band I super dig– this is going to be a rabbit hole– called Broken Social Scene, and they were like one of the first bands that really kind of got me interested in, not only doing music, but the whole “band” philosophy. They’re a big collective. So their lead singer, Kevin Drew, put out a solo-ish side project record, and the opening track on it is called “Farewell to the Pressure Kids.” I loved the name, and I thought it worked really well as a). a nod to one of my favorite bands and b). it just sounded cool, and c). seemed enough of a sort of commentary on our generation. I feel like growing up we were told, “You can do anything,” which is exciting and wonderful and also just super terrifying. It’s a lot of pressure. Everyone’s like, “You can be whatever you wanna be! You can take karate and piano lessons and y’know…the Internet!” We’re at a place now where we’re coming to where we’re under a lot of pressure. But there’s something that’s kind of a celebration of that. So it’s really all three of those things.
FB: You’re from Washington State, right? I would imagine that place would have a big impact on your songwriting. What kind of role does that play in The Pressure Kids?
NJ: I would say it has a huge influence. If anything it’s because Seattle has such a large regional scene. There’s such a “Seattle sound.” Whereas with Nashville now– I mean, there’s definitely components of stuff that you can definitely tell came from here, but–
FB: It’s kind of a hodgepodge of stuff now.
NJ: Totally, totally. It’s a pretty broad palette, but worth everything.
FB: Yeah there used to be like the “Nashville Sound.”
NJ: Yeah, but now there’s so many people making so much cool and different stuff that it’s like…there’s great hip-hop coming from here…and there’s a ton of that, too, up in Seattle, too, but it has such a distinct…I don’t really know how to put in words, I’ll have to think to come up with the right words for it.
FB: I can totally hear it. When I hear you guys, I can definitely hear Broken Social Scene but also bands like The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die…
NJ: Totally. And if I had to give you a word I think it would be like “density.” Everything up there is so layered and green and wet. There’s so many hills and trees and…if you listen to any of the great bands that came out of Seattle, like Death Cab, Nirvana, Broken Social Scene was more up in Canada, but the northern thing, you know? Anything on Sub-Pop. You feel like if you squeeze it it’s gonna be wet.
FB: Another thing in your music is, it sounds really uplifting and inspirational. Do you think that’s a theme you try to hit in your writing? Do you have a specific message in your music and if so what is it?
NJ: Yeah for me it’s always been communicating whether it’s in lyric or arrangement, just a sense of celebration and community. That’s always been really important to me. And even the way we set up the band, like there’s a cajillion of us sometimes. That’s always been the most interesting way to get something across, because eight brains at the end of the day are gonna be way more dynamic and complicated and joyful. If you have all these ideas spilled out and fleshed out through playing, that’s always a way more interesting product to me. For whatever reason, no matter what kind of group I’ve played with since…the more people you have, the more celebratory it gets, because it is like an accomplishment. When you get all those people together it’s like, “We did it.” In terms of the kind of message I’m trying to get across, it would be that sense of community and celebration…a lot of The Pressure Kids’ songs kind of strike that balance between looking at the world and being like “Aaah!” and kind of finding a celebration in that. Kind of realizing you’re in over your head, and I think that’s a really special moment, and I think there’s a lot of beauty in that moment, and I think it kind of teases that apart and makes a kind of beautiful mess out of that.
FB: So as I understand it, you’re a bit of a writer and poet in addition to doing music. What kind of influence does poetry and literature play in your music writing?
NJ: The biggest influence, actually. So I grew up with a dad who was a double English and philosophy major back in the suburbs of Chicago. My entire house back home is just wall-to-wall books, and when there’s no book cases there’s books stacked up. My dad was never the kind of dad to take us out and teach us how to change the oil in our cars or fix the sink. That was always my mom’s kind of thing. My dad was always like, “How did your day make you feel? Let’s talk about it and write about it.” So I grew up reading a ton, and he was always giving me books to read or poetry to read. Some of the best memories I have are sitting around in my living room in the morning with my dad and drinking coffee and reading. My whole history of writing has been a constant pattern of being so immersed in something I’m reading that the only possible next thing to do is spit something out. I feel like I end up taking so much in that the only next step would be to hand that out.
FB: Are there any writers in specific who influence your writing?
NJ: Yeah, I really love a poet named E.E. Cummings who I think everybody should read. Just really beautiful language. A lot of times when I write I’ll just have a book of E.E. Cummings’ poetry. There’s another poet named Mary Oliver who writes a lot of nature poetry and it’s very vivid and intense. That’s always played a big part in my writing, just connecting to the natural world. And there’s another poet named Rumi, and he’s just the man.
FB: We talked about Nashville a little earlier, but I’m going to bring it back up. In a town that’s kind of dominated by country music and singer-songwriters, what’s been your experience being in an indie rock band?
NJ: I think it’s been nothing but gracious to us. Just the fact that it’s such an industry heavy town and the fact that I can see one of my favorite bands play at the High Watt or Mercy Lounge. The fact that I can see these bands play on these stages and then have the connections and ability to play there the next weekend has just been remarkable. And we haven’t really gotten any pushback that’s like, “You’re not singer-songwriter enough” or “You’re not Jack White enough.” It’s just been nothing but gracious. We’re just so lucky to live in a town where that’s what everybody does.