Nick Wuebben Interview
I recently had the chance to ask Nick Wuebben of Just Nick and Adult School a few questions about music, dreams and more! Check out the premiere of his newest song “Thanks, Delacroix” above and see what he had to say below:
Just Nick: justnick.bandcamp.com
Adult School: adultschool.bandcamp.com
Let’s start with the basics. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your current musical projects.
My name’s Nick. Last name, Wuebben; pronounced very much like how Elmer Fudd from Looney Tunes would say ‘Ribbon.’ That’s the go-to anecdote. I live in Santa Cruz, California, with a few of my friends and our dog, Willow. For about 5 years, I’ve written and performed folk/punk tunes under the name Just Nick (justnick.bandcamp.com), which is the primary project that has given way to what I’ve been working on with my pals in Santa Cruz. Adult School (adultschool.bandcamp.com) started playin’ together about a year after we all met as undergrads, and is typically thrown into the pop/punk category.
If you were an inanimate object, what would you be and why?
I’d be one of the six Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass records that you’d find in a cardboard box at a thrift store, and you’re totally thinking about buying me as a gag-gift. I try not to take myself too seriously.
When and why did you first start making music?
Trevor (who plays the drums in Adult School) and I have been playing music together since junior high, but it really wasn’t until 2012 that I’d started writing music with the intent to distribute it in some way. Around that time, I’d just begun to play shows at DIY spaces in the suburbs of Southern California. My first collection of songs ended up being recorded in the warehouse used by The Dial Collective (which is sadly no longer) and recorded by some of the collective members for distribution through Not Punk Records. I was 16 at the time, and that collection of songs is called Semi-revolutionary.
How do you feel your music has changed over the past few years? How is your music different in your different bands?
The first three years that I did a considerable amount of this, I now see as an extended exercise in the practice of confessional songwriting. The lot of those songs had something to say and said it with a lack of inhibition, which I think is what can be attractive about that style of writing. It’s transparent with the audience. This style started with the original demos and was used pretty heavily up until the end of 2014. I had planned for a collection of unreleased demos (which eventually appeared as Well, This is Embarrassing) to be the very last songs to fit into that schema, and simultaneously tried to move the Just Nick persona into an early retirement. Ultimately, Just Nick was a hard name to try and drop. After playing a few months of shows under my full name, it became clear to me that Nick Wuebben is to the artist, as Just Nick is to a character within the work of art. It took some growing-up to start seeing that it wasn’t my job as a musician to worry about what others may think my art is intended for. As a matter of fact, the flier for the very first Just Nick show, read Just Nick, solely because the artist didn’t know how to spell my last name. When I think about it now, it may have not been fair of me to try and do away with something that came about by happenstance. It may have been the universe’s way of pushing back at my ego, but then again, it may have just been an effective gimmick. Nonetheless, with the conception of Critters (2016), came the practices in songwriting that reached further than what Just Nick releases had done previously, and eased a considerable amount of my insecurities over continuing to perform and release music as Just Nick.
What inspires you to create music? What is your creative process in making music?
When I was in the sixth grade, I saw KISS play live for the first time, which was also the first time I’d said something along the lines of “Hey, Dad… I want to be a rock-star.” Today, the general trope of the ‘rock-star’ seems a little more farfetched to me, but putting their success into context made the dream feel wildly romantic. In reality, KISS was just four kids from the city who would put on kabuki makeup, spit fire, and thought it would be a cool idea to shoot rockets out of their guitars, all whilst wearing six-inch heels. That sort of thing impressed the hell out of me, and led me to further question the role of theatrics and performance in contrast to songwriting. In retrospect, those questions led to the majority of the one-track live recordings in the Just Nick catalogue, along with the brash nature of it all. As for the songwriting itself, I typically write my music and lyrics separately, although I’ll often write ‘em with a specific progression in mind. Some songs take twenty minutes, and some take three months.
Do you think of yourself in relation to a certain scene (e.g. folk punk) or community of musicians?
In 2012 and up until 2014, Jesse (who plays folk-pop tunes as Paper Ceilings) put together a few compilation records that featured dozens of active folk and punk acts. This included a handful of neighboring acts in California, who I’d end up playing quite a few shows with shortly after the release of Folk-O-Rama: Vol. 1. The relationships I’ve built within this community are in no means exclusive to the local scene in Southern California. I’ve had the chance to play with a considerable amount of the musicians who played on those compilations and come from all over the US, which is something I’m very grateful for. Additionally, to add the context of where I currently reside, Santa Cruz stands out to me as a community that heavily supports local music, as Adult School has been kept consistently busy. When and wherever we play, we’ll probably always say that we’re “from Santa Cruz.”
Do you feel like your music represents you well as a person? What do you want people to take away from your music?
That first question is something that I’ve thought about more over the last year, than I ever have. I think it shows with the adjustments I’ve made, topically and aesthetically, to the Just Nick catalogue with the Critters release. Working on that project, taking the focus away from the “I” and surrendering it over to a cast characters that don’t naturally have the autonomy to speak for themselves, gave way to a creative and personal progress. More simply said, Critters is a response to the feelings of inauthenticity that I feel as a result of a continued relevance of my first two records. It’s not too often that I disagree with the narratives of my past projects, yet I still feel responsible to steer clear of themes of naivety I employed within ‘em. I see songwriting as a way to throw myself into a perspective or story I may have otherwise never experienced, as imitative arts often ask one to do.
What’s a favorite show you’ve been to?
Recently, Adult School was given the opportunity to play a few shows along the California coast with two bands from Portland, On Drugs & Horse Movies. One of the shows, we hosted at our home in Santa Cruz, where we typically throw shows on a month-to-month basis. Also on tour from San Diego, Cheeks joined the party, and every set was special in its own way. We danced, we sang, we smiled, and we even broke a window. Unmistakably, it was some of the most fun I’ve had in quite awhile. Do me a favor and be sure to go give all those bands some love.
If you could play a set with anyone, who would it be? What’s your dream venue for the show?
Undoubtedly, I’d want to play a set with John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats. Ideally, it would happen in my living room and we’d all play D&D together after the show.
What’s the best show you’ve ever played?
That’s a tough one. I tend to have the fondest memories from particular shows that have provided some personal insight as to why I continue to write and perform. It’s not entirely determined by my opinion of how well I did that night. A few years ago, I was booked to open up for a musician that I held in very high regard, and come the night of the show, I’d completely lost my voice. Against better judgment, I went on up and played. I’d say that might’ve been one of my best, albeit the terrible performance. On the other hand, a lot of my performances with Adult School have also given me those same gut feelings of fulfillment. The full-band dynamic gives me the opportunity to get a little wilder, which is somethin’ I can’t always do at solo shows.
Is there a song you’ve written that’s your favorite or that you are particularly proud of?
As I’m sure it’s the case for many songwriters, I’m generally biased towards whatever it is I’ve most recently wrapped up; that being so, one of the newer tunes called “Thanks, Delacroix” is unique insofar that it appeared as a poem, prior to being put to music. I guess that may be the case for a lot of the post-Critters tunes, but these are some of the only lyrics I haven’t modified from their original draft to fit to the rhythm of the melody. The lyrics are pretty wacky, too. It finds the speaker in a getaway car occupied by their partner-in-crime, alongside Eugene Delacroix’s interpretation of Mephistopheles, and accompanied by hints of Robert Johnson’s “Crossroad Blues.” I had a lot of fun putting it together, and it was definitely a spontaneous one.
What’s the last song you listened to?
Leonard Cohen’s, “Love Calls You By Your Name.” Shortly after he passed in 2016, I picked up Songs of Love and Hate, and New Skin For The Old Ceremony, both wonderful collections of songs, or at the very least, a good mix of sadness and wit.
What’s the weirdest dream you’ve ever had?
I might be interpreting this question incorrectly, but nonetheless, I’ve always dreamt of being a doctor. No, not like the kind of doctor that takes out people’s guts, but the kind that write books and give lectures. So yeah, that’s somethin’ I’m working on. Weird, huh?
What’s your favorite smell?
What can we expect from you in 2017?
The first Adult School full-length will be available in the spring. I’m especially proud of this one. We’ve been practicing and performing quite consistently despite packed schedules, and it’s been real’ fun to spend that time with my friends. Shortly after the release we’ll be playing a handful of shows in the Northwest, and plan to hit Southern California in the early summer. Throughout this first half of the year, I’ll also be wrapping up another collection of songs for Just Nick, which will play with some new production styles and themes. It’s definitely going to be a busy year for me.