Orca, the debut album by The Answer Page, was released by Houston-based musician Nate McKee in July. A single listen was all it took for me to realize that Orca was something special and that it would be a shame if no one else in Houston heard it. It’s an album I have continually returned to over the past couple of months, and one that I cannot recommend highly enough.
The songs on Orca document the disintegration of a relationship and a man ultimately coming to terms with being alone. McKee, who not only played all of the instruments but produced, mixed, and mastered the album as well, takes the finer points of the “post-rock” genre–the slow, melodic guitars and gradually building tempos–and adds vocals that complement, but never overpower, his songs. Lyrically, the album starts off with the “all we need is love” adage that so often collapses in on itself in youth. Listeners will easily relate to “Shimmer”‘s “Roll the windows down, let’s leave behind / the things we worried about / no one can ever hurt us here…the summer’s everlasting” heartfelt sentiment. But love quickly deteriorates, and most of Orca finds McKee in reflective solitude, pining away for his lost love. “Cold Blue Light (In Circles)” and “Our Words Without Meaning” (on which he sings, “It’s not the end if I fall in love with the sound of everything undone”) best chronicles this loneliness, and listening to Orca is best when taken as a solitary experience, the better to get entwined with the songs’ swirling guitars and moody, echoing vocals.
One of the strongest things about the album is how the songs burrow into the listener’s head, almost forcing focus. Unlike some of the music by better-known instrumental rockers like Mogwai or Explosions In The Sky (obvious influences on The Answer Page’s music, along with Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine), Orca is not content to be background music, and the album’s intricacies–along with the raw emotion of the lyrics–help keep the weight from dragging it down.
People eventually pick themselves up and move on, and the eight-plus minute “Torch Song” finds McKee finally coming out of the funk. “It’s been a long time since I’ve wondered how you are…I’m not carrying this torch for you / I’m not falling down / I don’t miss you anymore,” he sings. We’ve all been there, but not everyone can put it to such wonderfully addicting music.
Listen to and purchase the album on Bandcamp.
I recently asked McKee a few questions about The Answer Page, his musical background, and plans for playing Orca live in Houston.
Houston Calling: You’ve been in Houston a few years now but this is the first we’re hearing from you, music-wise. What prompted the move to Houston and what was your inspiration for the songs on Orca?
Nate McKee: I moved to Houston in 2008 for work but I grew up in Missouri and spent several years in Lawrence, Kansas, for school prior to the move. I’ve come to love Houston and it’s been really exciting to experience a new music scene.
Orca is about a relationship I was in a while ago and the album is kind of a soundtrack to it. It’s chronological from beginning to end and the goal was to try to cover all of the stages of that relationship through songs that would convey the emotions at each stage of it. Some of the tracks on Orca were originally a series of demos and experiments that turned into a larger project to see whether or not I could compose and record full songs on my own in my spare bedroom without a producer. After five or so were finished, I felt like I really wanted to turn it into something more complete, and that’s how Orca came to be.
HC: You’ve played in bands before, right?
Yeah, I’ve played quite a bit but not in Houston yet. I played drums in a band called Ten Hour Drive back in Lawrence for about 4 years. We played lots of live shows, did some studio and DIY recording, filmed a few videos, etc. I had a lot of fun with those guys and learned a lot about performing from playing tons of shows, getting over stage fright the best I could, and trying to have fun with it and not get too wrapped up in perfectionism. Though I attribute most of my skills with the production elements from recordings we worked on towards the end of my time with that band. We got pretty experimental for a while and at one point decided to do everything ourselves. It was out of that necessity that I taught myself how to get by with the recording gear we had available.
HC: I like the “shoegazey” and “post-rock” aspects of your music. What do you consider to be your primary musical influences and how do you think they play into your music?
NM: I grew up listening to all kinds of stuff: Q and not U, Sonic Youth, Glassjaw, Bjork, Boards of Canada, and lots of other bands that probably didn’t seem to flow together real well. I think that because I started playing guitar about 17 years ago while I was listening to some of those different bands with little regard to genre or anything like that, I got a lot of exposure to different styles of songwriting and composition. Later in life I got really, really into …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, My Bloody Valentine, Mogwai, and some of the earlier Appleseed Cast albums while I lived in Lawrence several years ago. I started getting drawn into really dramatic and expansive music and I think it’s what led me to post-rock and shoegaze type stuff when I was writing. In all honesty, I had no idea how much some of those influences had come out in my music until I heard the final product and could really pick out elements that felt inspired by those bands.
HC: You wrote and played all the instruments on Orca, right? Have you had any success putting together a solid line-up for live shows yet?
NM: Not yet, though I have convinced my best friend Allen to play bass with me when I finally get a band together. For me, it’s always been important to make sure that I’ve got a really good personal connection with my band mates so it may take me a little longer to put something together that feels comfortable, but my goal is to be playing shows by next spring after lots of practicing and probably some work on a new album.
HC: What are your plans for spreading the word about the album? I’d hate for people to miss out on it — I’ve really enjoyed it so far.
NM: So far it’s mostly been word of mouth through friends, social networking, and some really kind bloggers and reviewers that picked up on it not long after it was released in July. I got featured on Get Off The Coast, Cactus Mouth, Altered Zones, and BIRP.fm, and after those posts went up, I got a lot of attention from other bloggers and places like Soundcloud, last.fm, and Bandcamp. It’s been a little strange because since I hadn’t played any shows in Houston, I didn’t have an opportunity to spread the word here as easily and that’s what I’m working on now. I’ve got copies in stock at Sound Exchange and at Soundwaves as well and I’m working on meeting more people here all the time…
HC: How are you using the internet and social media as tools to market The Answer Page?
NM: Social media has been HUGE in my marketing so far. In fact, all of it has been either word of mouth through my family and friends or as a result of using Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, and to an extent Myspace. There are so many music lovers that use some or all of those services and if you can have a presence on all of them, you can really start building a big network of supporters and fans. The coolest part is that all of those services are really good about spreading the word when you meet friends and fans that are really into what you’re doing. I’m 100% fortunate that I’ve had the chance to meet as many people as quickly as I did. I don’t think I’d have had near as much luck without social media tools, especially without playing live shows yet.
HC: In your experience, how do you view Houston’s musical climate?
NM: I think that there are a lot of really exciting things happening in Houston right now. In the three years I’ve been here, I’ve seen a ton of amazing live shows and have even watched some really interesting things develop like the emergence of witch-house music care of DISARO records last year before it moved out to L.A. I’ve found that there are a lot of bands getting out and playing shows and being part of the scene in that way and there are also a whole lot of underground and DIY acts that are getting some national attention too. It’s really great to see a lot of crowd support for local music in addition to the big touring acts that come through town. I’m still new to this scene in many ways but I really enjoy it here. I love the creative and industrious spirit I see in a lot of Houston bands I’ve watched live.
HC: If you could have any band cover one of your songs, what song would it be and what band?
NM: Oh man, this is a hard question. As hard as this one is to answer, I think I would pick “The Two Trees” to be covered by The Breeders. I originally wanted to say Q and Not U to cover the same song, but I remember getting Last Splash on cassette back in ’94 or so and playing the hell out of it to the point that the tape was all crappy and I eventually bought it on CD. I hadn’t even bought my first guitar yet and I’d never touched a drum-set but I remember as a pretty young kid (I was in 4th grade, I think) pretending that I was in that band and wishing I knew how to slay a rock song like Kim Deal. My goal with “The Two Trees” was to have a loud and upbeat song that could open the album and Kim is an absolute genius at that.
HC: What are some of the local bands you’ve been enjoying lately?
NM: I’ve recently discovered Children of Pop and Drowner, both of which I found online and have really dug what they’ve got going on. I also saw Scale the Summit and Spain Colored Orange a few times over the past year and have always really enjoyed their live set and the energy that they can convey to the crowd. I had my face completely melted off by Scale the Summit at Ghoulsfest last year and was in awe at their musical chops and ability to play a seriously tight live set with the brutal sun in their faces. Finally, even though they broke up a while ago, I keep a copy of The Jonbenet – Ugly/Heartless in or around any stereo I own because it’s one of those albums that regardless of how much I’ve heard it I can’t seem to get tired of it. I can’t stress enough how sad I am that I never got to see them live in Houston (though I did once when they toured in Lawrence).
HC: What’s in your CD player/iTunes/etc right now? Anything to recommend?
NM: I’ve been listening to a lot of Active Child – You Are All I See, The Jonbenet – Ugly/Heartless, Red Alder – Dissociation, Dom – Family of Love, Daughters – S/T, Mogwai – Rock Action (it’s a classic!), and a lot of the new JSHIH, Vehicle Blues, and Pariah Carey tracks. And because of the recent news about R.E.M., I’ve been listening to R.E.M. – Out of Time quite a bit too.
I’d definitely recommend that people take time to listen to some of the great up-and-coming acts out there in Houston and on the internet like Drowner, Children of Pop, Vehicle, Blues, JSHIH, Pariah Carey, Red Alder, etc. If you want to discover more, scour Bandcamp and music blogs — there’s a ton out there right now.
Thanks to Nate McKee of The Answer Page for taking the time out to answer these questions. Check out The Answer Page’s music on Soundcloud. Find out more about the band on Facebook. Buy Orca on CD in Houston at Soundwaves and Sound Exchange–or buy it digitally on iTunes or Bandcamp.