RSVP HERE: Nihiloceros Livestreams via Radio Free Brooklyn + MORE

Photo Credit: Carlo Minchillo

Mike Borchardt, frontman of Brooklyn DIY punk outfit Nihiloceros, is a stellar show-goer. He is always stage-side, taking photos and promoting every show happening that week on his band’s social media accounts. From the looks of Instagram, he has taken the transition from IRL gigs to virtual shows in stride, continuing to post live stream schedules and Insta-live screen shots.

Mike started what has become Brooklyn’s most supportive band in his hometown of Chicago. They were originally called Samantha, but changed their name to the much more Google-able Nihiloceros. The trash pop trio’s rhythm section is filled out by Alex Hoffman on bass and vocals, and German Sent on drums. They released a self-titled EP in 2017, and are putting the finishing touches on their follow-up EP in a socially distant manner. You can catch Mike of Nihiloceros doing a solo set this Tuesday,  June 2nd on Radio Free Brooklyn’s Instagram at 8pm. We chatted with Mike about commuting during lock down, creative livestreaming, and being quarantined with band mates.

AF: Has Nihiloceros been able to get together or collaborate remotely during lockdown?

MB:Luckily Alex lives right downstairs so he and I have been able to work on music a bit. We’ve built a little recording booth in the basement for a few finishing touches on the new Nihiloceros record. I’m still taking the subway into Manhattan every day for work, and Alex’s wife is pregnant, so we’ve been trying to socially distance the “upstairs people” from the “downstairs people” as much as possible. I’m definitely the black sheep pariah of Nihiloceros Castle.

German has been quarantined with his family in New Jersey. I haven’t seen him since our last show the first week of March, but we’ve been talking through musical concepts we are excited to start exploring. German drove back into Brooklyn a couple times to go play drums in isolation at our rehearsal space. Alex and German are both in the middle of home construction projects, so they’ve also been swapping notes on demolition and rehab. German and I have been workshopping prototypes for new merch, including Nihiloceros soap and Nihiloceros Chia Pets.

AF: What are some of the things you’ve done to support bands and venues in lieu of not being able to go to shows?

MB: It’s been really important to us to stay involved with the scene as we all navigate this crisis together. I’ve written a handful of songs for some quarantine compilations (Dim Things, Shred City, NYC Musicians for NYC) all to raise money for Artist Relief Tree, Food Bank for NYC, etc. We’ve done a series of video sessions and livestreams for a lot of the venues like Our Wicked Lady and The Footlight to help them pay their staff and hopefully keep their doors open on the other side of this. Everyone should check out the work NIVA [National Independent Venue Association] is doing through #SaveOurStages to drum up congressional support and secure funding on a national scale for all these stages that make up our DIY tour circuits.

Alex and I are both lucky to still be working, so we’ve been buying merch and music from bands as much as possible. And also obviously we’ve been catching and sharing as many artists’ livestreams as possible. From a photography standpoint, those screenshots on the phone aren’t as fun, but they’re much easier to edit.

AF: Do you have any creative tips on screen shooting live streams? What’s your approach to live streaming like?

MB: I think we are all still trying to figure that out. I remember the first week of the lockdown, we played a couple shows on the Left Bank Magazine Virtual Music Fest, and we all spent a lot of time looking to see if we had hit the right button, if we were live, if people were watching, and asking viewers if everything sounded okay. In the weeks and months since, I think we started to figure things out. I believe Ilithios was the first I saw who just shut up and put on a great show. Since then, I’ve tried to make our livestreams be more like a real performance and less like my dad trying to use the internet.

We also always try and partner a livestream with an organization or label/blog/venue (BandsDoBK, Ms. Understood Records, Songwriters Salon, etc.) as a vehicle to raise money or awareness for something we care about. Gillian Visco (Shadow Monster) and I came up with a super fun weekly music hangout stream idea called #TagnSplit that’s been touring around the community for a few weeks now. We got some stuff we are working on with Bloodless Management, Street Wannabes, as well as some live podcasts in Staten Island and Philadelphia and St.Louis. And this Tuesday night 6/2, Nihiloceros is going live on Radio Free Brooklyn to play some songs and talk about ways we can all help out.

AF: You’re an essential worker and still commute to your job everyday. How has navigating the city been during this time and has the experience changed your perspective of New York City?

MB: Taking the subway into the city everyday amidst the pandemic has definitely been an experience I won’t soon forget. It’s been a constantly evolving situation that I’ve witnessed ranging from terrifying to extremely heartwarming. On one side there’s the Mad Max post-apocalyptic Manhattan streets and the homeless camp territory wars on the subways. But at the same time I see a heightened sense of care and humanity as we reach out and help one another, and as we take responsibility to safely share our limited social spaces. The other day, a stranger pulled over and got out of her car to give me her canvas bag and helped me gather my groceries that had fallen, broken eggs all over the sidewalk, and humus that rolled into the street. This pandemic has had a real polarizing effect, but it has reaffirmed my perspective of NYC and everything that defines it. Everything great and everything awful about this city will still be here after this crisis is over. And that’s kind of comforting to me. Though hopefully we carry forward a little more of the good than we do the awful.

AF: What do you think life in NYC as a musician will be like post-lockdown?

MB: I think humans have a short memory and an amazing ability to adapt and pivot. That can be both a good and bad thing. We are extremely resilient, but we often don’t learn from missteps and end up repeating the same mistakes. I think our communities will make some adjustments as we ease back into our new normal. I don’t know exactly what that’s going to look like. It might be a little while before moshing, crowd-surfing, and hugs make a huge comeback. People are itching to get back out into our creative outlets and social circles, but we are also justifiably apprehensive. It will just take time.

I hope we learn to appreciate what matters a little more, both in and out of music. Maybe we won’t feel the need to scramble all over each other all the time. Maybe we can slow down and enjoy the process a little more. This has been a unique opportunity to reset who we are as artists and who we are as people. It’s an opportunity to rebuild the community the way we want it built. I really hope we continue to build each other up and come to appreciate the journey rather than the destination.

AF: Is Nihiloceros planning to release any new music in 2020?

MB: That’s the million dollar question right now, and I really don’t know the answer. Our new record was almost finished before the pandemic hit. Alex and I had been in the studio writing and recording and it with Chris Gilroy, who drummed with us on the record before German joined the band. We are super proud of it, and were already extremely eager to release it. But as a band that defines themselves so heavily on their live show, it just doesn’t feel right to put it out there without the ability to play and tour on it properly. We’ve had to push both our Summer and Fall 2020 tour plans, so we may hold off on releasing it until we have a better idea of what the future of live music looks like.

I’ve been losing a lot of sleep over this the past few months. We still have to get Stephanie Gunther (Desert Sharks) and Gillian Visco (Shadow Monster) into the studio to do some vocals on a couple songs once it’s safe. Maybe we’ll release a song later this year, and release two records in 2021 since we’ve already started writing new songs.

RSVP HERE for Mike of Nihiloceros livestream on Radio Free Brooklyn’s Instagram 8pm Tuesday 6/2.

More great livestreams this week…

5/29 Ana Becker (of Catty, Fruit&Flowers, Habibi) and Vanessa Silberman via The Foolight Instagram. 8pm est, RSVP HERE

5/29 Dropkick Murphys and Bruce Springsteen via Fenway Park Facebook. 6pm est, RSVP HERE

5/30 Johanna Warren and SAD13 via Baby.TV. 7pm est, $5-50, RSVP HERE

5/30 Psychic Twin (dance party) via Instagram. 1am est, RSVP HERE

5/31 Courtney Marie Andrews via Pickathon Presents YouTube. 4pm est, RSVP HERE

6/1 Brandi Carlile performing By The Way, I Forgive You via Veeps. 9pm est, RSVP HERE

6/1 Elvis Costello, Anne Hathaway and more via YouTube (Public Theatre Benefit). 7:15pm est, RSVP HERE

6/1 Waxahatchee via Noonchorus. 9pm est, RSVP HERE

6/4 Whitney via Noonchorus. 8pm est, $15, RSVP HERE

INTERVIEW: Johanna Warren Comes into Her Power with Chaotic Good

Photo Credit: Jeff Davenport

When Johanna Warren was twelve or thirteen, she recalls thinking that if she wanted to be a true artist, she would have to fuck up her life. Her musical idols – Elliott Smith, Kurt Cobain, Nick Drake – all died as tortured young poets. Warren hadn’t sung in front of anyone since she was a child, writing songs with her little brother as their alter egos, Horsey & Joe. Over the next several years, she’d throw herself first into musical theater, combating crippling shyness to play the parts she’d immediately regretted auditioning for, before preforming jokey songs at open mic nights about surviving apocalyptic floods by taking refuge in the Loch Ness monster’s vagina. It wasn’t until years later, in a grimy punk house basement, that someone took her seriously; even then, she felt a dark pull toward misery and misfortune. “I wanted to be a great artist, so I had to open a chaotic portal to invite in a lot of suffering because that’s where great art comes from,” Warren says. “I think it’s a really grave miscalculation that we’re encouraged to make. I can’t help but feel that there’s some kind of intentionality there, on behalf of some dark, oppressive forces that want us to dim our light and die young and never thrive.”

Fast forward about a decade, and Johanna Warren found herself recording her fourth solo album, Chaotic Good, at Elliott Smith’s New Monkey Studio. It wasn’t the only place she recorded – what started out as angry acoustic demos in her Portland garage transformed over the course of touring behind her 2018 self-released double album, Gemini, as folks she met on the road offered her free studio time from coast to coast. But New Monkey was a significant space for Warren. “Right when I was starting to look for places to record, the owner invited me to have a free day there. It’s all functional as a recording studio, but they have done a really respectful job of preserving things more or less as they were when he was there – it felt like a shrine as much as a studio,” Warren says. “That was so meaningful and that was really the beginning of feeling like alright, I’m making a record. And it felt like it had kind of [Smith’s] blessing. He’s sort of my patron saint of songwriting. I feel like he gave me permission to make a record like this, where it doesn’t have to fit into one neat little genre box, it can just be an expression of my feelings and my own inner hypocrisies and self contradictions.”

Also of particular relevance was the time she spent at the Relic Room in Manhattan, recording with her old bandmates in Sticklips, Chris St. Hilaire and Jim Bertini. Their band had fallen apart in 2012, following the death of Sticklips’ leader, Jonathan “JP” Nocera. JP was the one who, all those years ago, had sat Warren down and made her play every song she’d ever written, recognizing in her something she couldn’t yet see in herself. “He wanted us to keep going with it, but honestly he was the glue that held it all together,” Warren recalls. “I was not capable of keeping it together after he was gone because I didn’t know myself enough musically or emotionally. I wasn’t confident enough in my own ideas because the only music I had really recorded or produced was with them, and they were all slightly older men. At the time I was all too happy to let them take the reins. I was angry about it but didn’t even know that there was another way. My frustrations with that were building but I didn’t have the emotional interpersonal skills to communicate any of that so it just exploded.”

Despite the buzz around the band’s two LPs, 2009’s It Is Like a Horse. It Is Not Like Two Foxes. and 2012’s more minimally-named Zemi, Warren had decided to go it alone, and moved to the West Coast, touring with the likes of Iron & Wine and Julie Byrne. “It was definitely kind of traumatic because I felt like I’d always wanted to be in a great band – I was obsessed with The Beatles and Radiohead. Right as things started to really gel, it all fell apart. And I was so young at the time, it was really formative. I’m just now starting to open the door to collaborating with other people again, cause I’ve been licking that wound for the last decade.” Her first solo album, Fates, arrived in 2013, followed by numun (pronounced “new moon”) in 2015. After recording both Gemini records, but unable to find a label that would release them, Warren formed Spirit House Records from the ashes of a label that JP had gifted her upon his passing. Over time, it has evolved into a collective of experimental folk artists, mostly in and around the Portland scene. Later, Sadie Dupuis of Sad13 and Speedy Ortiz would re-release the Gemini records on her Carpark imprint Wax Nine, as well as put out Chaotic Good.

In the process of recording Chaotic Good, Warren says she looked to that younger version of herself for gems of wisdom and truth that had gotten buried and forgotten over time. “That’s sort of a theme of the album – burying the dream that never came true, and the presence of death and the spirits of the dead, but then the rebirth and new life that springs from the ruins of whatever you’ve buried and grieved,” Warren explains. “This last couple years have been all about a kind of return. It has led to me stepping into my own power, and then also remembering: I have a band – I left them in New York ten years ago. I just need to hit them up and make some amends.” Warren did just that, reuniting with St. Hilaire and Bertini to add drums, synth, and bass to her demos. “It was so healing for everybody to play together again in a completely different context, and for me to be able to assert myself and hold my own. It felt so satisfying to pick up that loose thread and weave it back into the tapestry.”

It was validating, too, to be in control of that process – the band added their parts over the vocals she’d recorded in Portland, as opposed to Warren adding her parts over Sticklips tracks. Back then, Warren says, “I was like the icing on the cake – even though it had been my song that was the foundation around which all of the other instrumentation had been built, I always felt like my stuff was just an afterthought. I didn’t even have the vocabulary to say I can’t hear myself, it doesn’t sound like me, it doesn’t sound like my song anymore. So to work this way with the same people, but have my parts actually be the backbone of the whole recorded construction was really cool. It was such an amazing testament to the collective work we’ve all been doing in the last ten years around gender and power and breaking down these oppressive hierarchical structures.”

The metaphor of excavating her old selves pops up in two videos for the album’s early singles, the graceful stop-motion of “Bed of Nails” and “Only The Truth,” which posits Warren as a Druid resurrected in present-day Los Angeles, still able to find magic in a neon-lit roller rink. “It was so fun to play that character for a couple days, cause I realized, I didn’t really even have to act – this is how I’ve always felt moving through the world, especially places like LA. So much of her world has been lost and destroyed, but magic still exists in everything, and that’s kind of what the song is about too,” she says, before quoting a lyric from the song: “I see light everywhere I go, I see the love in all of you.”

Warren, for what it’s worth, has long identified as a witch “as kind of an eco-feminist fuck you to the patriarchy,” though she doesn’t rely on ritual these days as much as she once did. She practices plant medicine and reiki, and her spiritual beliefs are subtly integrated throughout the album. “What you call God, I call the mysteries of the universe/What difference does it really make after all?” she asks on “Rose Potion,” a song that hints at her experience weaning herself off of pharmaceuticals prescribed for chronic illnesses that only worsened until she was able to find natural remedies and process past trauma. Piano-driven, woodwind-embellished album closer “Bones of Abandoned Futures” describes, in essence, a binding ceremony, in which Warren releases herself from the spells of the past: “Expell from my body the putrid mess inside me and call back my magic to me,” she sings, describing the process as “killing” and “slaughtering” the darkness before she comes to the final, poignant lines, “The time has come for stillness and mindful cultivation of light/Removing the sting and the sorrows of losing by singing with all of my might.” In that way, Chaotic Good is medicine all on its own – the album sees Warren confronting abusers past and present, personal and political, and stepping into her own power and anger as a woman.

“A big part of it [was] just recognizing that I have always had anger in me, inviting that energy into the room, learning how to scream, and giving myself space to do that vocally for the first time,” says Warren, who is at her most brazen on “Twisted,” a seething send-off that sees the singer posit herself as a warrior broken by loving someone incapable of empathy or understanding. “In my previous work I tried to repress it, because I thought it was ugly and scary and bad. I’d been limiting myself to this really pretty, clean, crystalline quality that gets praised a lot. But [for] this record and this time in my life, I’ve given up on prettiness and just gotten more interested in being whole, embracing all parts of myself and not trying to cut things out cause I don’t think they’re pretty.”

Parts of Chaotic Good still rely on the haunting beauty of Warren’s voice – like hushed ballad “Hole in the Wall,” rambling confessional “Every Death,” or wistful, warm acoustic number “Thru Yr Teeth” – but juxtapose them with with the same bitter emotions. As Warren lived her nomadic lifestyle, touring behind Gemini and snatching up time to experiment with newer songs in whatever studio spaces she could, the instrumentation on Chaotic Good grew more robust than any of her previous work, drawing that bitterness out sonically on songs like “Faking Amnesia” and “Part of It,” on which she sings “This is a time for me, everything else can wait/Whatever is meant to be will be and everything else can fall away.”

Indeed, Warren herself is the centerpiece of Chaotic Good, even as springy bass and shuffling drums give the tracks more punk rock energy than the pristine folk she’d cultivated in the past. “I was the only consistent player throughout – it was just me and my guitar and my traveling hard drive flitting around the whole country and working with different people in different places,” Warren says, noting that such an usual way of working was incredibly freeing in that it allowed her to explore different elements and ideas. “It was re-enlivening to get so many pairs of fresh ears on it, a day at a time. It was such a unique way of working. I’m not in any rush to go back to doing it the other way because it gave me so much time and space to reflect and change things up with low stakes.”

“That’s part of the namesake – the chaotic nature of recording it,” she continues. “I was like some little pollinating insect flying around flower to flower and getting the nectar of each moment in time in space,” she says. “I’ve never worked like that before… I feel like it translates to me synaestehtically; when I listen to the record all my senses are flooded with this feeling of variety. I feel like I see rainbows when I listen to it because there are so many moments in time, so many places, so many people, it feels like a travelogue of the last couple years that have been so beautiful really. So chaotic, but so good.”

More than any other song on the album, “Only The Truth” encapsulates Warren’s tumultuous journey, not only as a singer- songwriter, but as human being drawn into a series of co-dependent relationships. As the track builds, she calls out her past reliance on creating songs out of personal tragedy, describing “the sacred well of pain that I’ve returned to time and time again to fill my vessels with the nectar torture poison that my thirsty muse took a liking to.”

“That is to me, an encapsulation of a big over-arching process that I’ve been really invested in personally,” Warren admits. “I’ve taken a real stance against that in myself and in the world around me. It is possible to be happy and make great art and thrive and be healthy and live to a hundred twenty. And I want to do it. I want to prove to myself that that’s possible.”

Warren is currently holed up Wales, following the postponement of a European tour in support of Chaotic Good; she’s planting a garden, foraging wild foods and setting up a recording studio in a spare room, realizing that she needs this time to heal the body she’s put through years of touring. “I feel really happy right now, and honestly, I haven’t had that burning desire to create that I did when I was a tortured 20-something, when that was my only outlet,” she says. “Now, I feel really peaceful when I just wake up and walk outside and plant my beans. I don’t feel the urgency that I did, but I feel that I am making good work that I stand behind that is serving a purpose. And I feel very invested in dismantling that programming that has been running itself out in my mind for a long time and creating and alternative.”

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