Can You Still Feel the Pull?: A Decade of Now, Now

Cacie Dalager and Bradley Hale of Now Now, circa 2017. Photo by Sam San Román.

Now, Now pulled many of us into the 2010s—right out of the Hot Topic era and into the brave new world of adulthood. Formed in Minnesota during the early aughts by frontwoman Cacie Dalager and drummer Bradley Hale, when the two were still in high school, the duo spent their first seven years honing their sound, refining their line-up, and coming of age before releasing their Neighbors EP in 2010. Throughout their music, a melancholy keyboard anchors guitar and drums that pay homage to emo forbears like Sunny Day Real Estate, American Football, and Paramore. Now, Now was a bit of a forgotten stepchild of the “scene” era, but for those who bought in, they were both vessel and balm for emo angst.

Dalager’s moody charisma lies in her velvety voice, paired with the drama of Tegan-and-Sara-esque syllable breaks. The band’s Neighbors EP burst like a firework into the new decade, just a year after their meandering debut album, Cars. After the instrumental intro track, the aptly-named “Rebuild,” electric guitars and drums weave a shimmering web that eventually nets the song’s soaring coda. Darkly-plucked guitars and plaintive vocals buoy the rest of the album through “Roommates,” “Jesus Camp,” and the title track, and through two emotionally-charged acoustic versions. All of it is about young crushes, restlessness, hometown ennui. “Tell them when they’re older / how you miss the neighbors / standing in the front yard / telling all your secrets / like they were theirs to tell.” Each song finds the listener staring Dalager in her huge, haunted, green eyes, spellbound by her lightly veiled tales of loneliness and longing.

Two years later, their cult-favorite album Threads dropped, a melee of fuzzy guitars, wide-eyed melodies, dark chords, and sharp drums that earned them a modest but diehard fanbase. This is the one most emo kids will cite: the moody guitars layer over and over and over, the ideal soundtrack for throwing a hood over your earbuds on a bus to anywhere. It begins with haunting opener “The Pull,” and ends with lyrics on “Magnet” that implore, “Can you still feel the pull?”

Now Now circa 2012, with former guitarist Jess Abbott.

The album peaks on track four in the stripped-down strums of “Dead Oaks” — perhaps the band’s most beloved song. Though it’s less than two minutes long, “Dead Oaks” offers the effortless and infectious “Oh oh oh oh oh I’ve been up and oh oh I don’t sleep enough” that present-day fans will still echo at the top of their lungs.

From 2012 to 2017, Now, Now went pretty much silent. That summer, they rewarded their faithful fanbase with new single “SGL,” an electric ode to front-seat love that was satisfying, hot, and catchy as hell. Next came shimmering “Yours”: pop mastery that echoed the ‘80s and seemed radio-ready. “AZ” and “MJ” followed, showing off more emotive synths and charming, breathy Dalager vocals. A little under a year later, Now, Now released Saved, their final full-length album of the decade. Saved is fuller and punchier than their first two LPs, but the sharp vocals, piercing melodies, and compelling drums boomerang to 2012. 2010, even – “Back to the heart of it all.”

The last decade saw pop intensify and rock retreat, and Now, Now followed suit; yet, they remain emo kids at heart, along with many of us who still feel the pull. As the opening line of “Threads” incants: “Find a thread to pull / and we can watch it unravel;” their lyrics are hollowed out with longing, from 2010 to 2019 and back. Throughout the 2010s, Now, Now has remained a trap door out of adult life—a promise that you can always retreat into your hoodie’s sleeves if all else fails.

SHOW REVIEW: Daddy Issues, Foxing, and Now, Now Deliver a Divine Performance At August Hall

I’m not a very religious person, but I do think that whatever I’ve lost from not going to temple I’ve gained back at all the live shows that hit me hard.

That’s certainly what happened to me last Wednesday night at at the small-but-mighty August Hall, where I caught Foxing and Now, Now on their joint tour.

Daddy Issues, a grunge rock band from Nashville, Tennessee, opened the show. To my great chagrin, I actually missed about half of their set, but in my defense, I thought the day that a rock show started on time would be the day the rapture starts for real.

I’ve been listening to Daddy Issues for a while now. Their menacing cover of Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer” was the perfect soundtrack to last August, when there everything felt as languid as their fuzzed-out take on Henley’s immediately recognizable riff. Their debut album, Deep Dream, paints a picture from the get go, one where failures seem inevitable, your small-scale destiny of mundanity is written in stone, and lying back in the sun with a hand over your eyes with this album growling in the background is the only possible solution to your ennui.

In person, Daddy Issues were delightful. They recently acquired a new bassist with infectious on-the-balls-of-her-feet energy, who had, apparently, skipped her graduation for this tour (who wouldn’t have?). As dark as Deep Dream may be, on stage the band exudes nothing but gratefulness, not only to be seen and heard for the slim half hour allowed to opening bands everywhere, but clear gratitude for their tourmates, a sentiment returned many times over by the headliners.

Something difficult, I think, about creating art of any sort is that you need to get used to the feeling of unloading your secrets over and over again. The veil of deniability is never as thick as you want it to be, and revisiting old work, whether it be a song performance or a drawing, can feel like picking at a scab. It was a shock to me when the band I thought would stumble onstage under the weight of their own malaise instead were laughing, giggling, joking, and, frankly, beaming— yet another needed reminder that knowing a band’s music is eons away from knowing anything, truthfully and fully, about its members.

Daddy Issues ended their set with “Dog Years,” a teeth-gnashing I-bite-my-thumb-at-you kiss off with the eminently quotable (if hissing into someone’s ear as they sleep counts as quoting) line we’re not gonna be friends/in dog years you’re dead. And while I was happy to have caught a favorite, the dreaded break between sets loomed heavy. I learned from some genial fans that Foxing was up next; having heard maybe a few bars of their most popular song and unfamiliar with the rest of their catalog, my hope had been that Now, Now would play first so I could get home in time to get some sleep before work tomorrow. I sighed and headed to the outskirts of the audience, sliding down to sit on the floor and prepare myself for an hour of waiting. Stage prep proceeded normally until the stage went dark during an old ’50s song — it kills me that I can’t remember what it was — and as the final note fell away, Foxing emerged in a blast of light. And so set the tone for what turned out, to me, to be a reverence-inspiring show.

Foxing’s first song plunged through August Hall like a cold wave. I stayed on my perch at first, but it didn’t take long for me to wander into the crowd, phone in hand as I tried to capture the sound and fury of Foxing’s frontman, Conor Murphy. Murphy is the rare sort of stage presence whose charisma almost overtakes his entire body, a red-hot coil reaching towards whatever divine presence grants him the energy to his thrash and claw his way through the set. His bandmates Jon Hellwig (drums), Eric Hudson (drums), Ricky Sampson (guitar), and their two additional touring members were all equally impressive – talented, confident, and here to deliver a hell of a show.

I was truly hypnotized by guitarist Hudson, who seemed to let the music pass through him like the fuckin’ holy spirit of rock n’ roll, the audience watching it all happen, biting their nails to see who would maintain control of the host body.

I’m just going to say it: I’ve never seen such sexy guitar playing.

August Hall itself was a character in all of this, its shining stained-glass coins of famous Bay faces observing us benevolently as we bounced on our heels, as we danced, as we chorused why don’t you love me back from “Rory,” in the show’s softest, slowest moment of audience-wide introspection. At one point, during the title track from their most recent album Nearer My God, blue stage lights arched above the audience while Murphy threw his hands up in supplication, asking God, Buddha, me, the sound people, the couple making out behind me…does anybody want me at all?

And, just like actually asking that question of God, Buddha, and the rest, there was no answer. So what does Foxing do? They enter a full-scale drop into roiling rock pandemonium.

This seems to be a favorite move of Foxing — lull the people into a moment of quiet, then let loose the mighty force of all six musicians on stage who fling the music out like we’re all trapped in some reverb-loving pinball machine. The drums were so loud, in fact, that a few times I found myself pressing my hands to my chest like there was a real possibility my ribcage would come unknit completely.

But no — I remained whole, perhaps even a little fuller than when I came in; it’s only been a few times I’ve loved a band based solely upon a live performance, and this was one such rarity.

Next up was Now, Now, presenting their most recent album, Saved – also known as 2018’s primo makeout album. The otherworldly tome of songs sound good no matter what you listen to them on, from vinyl to car stereo to shitty broken headphones.

I managed to finagle my way front and center during the break— a first! — inadvertently setting myself up for truly strange feeling of being feet away from those you are used to interacting with in ones and zeros. While I don’t know what its like to be a frontwoman, having KC Dalager three inches away from me while she curled her body around the mike only inspired the idea that my own emotions, on display in the presumed safety of the audience, were being watched, unnoticed, from behind KC’s curtain of orange-dyed hair.

Despite KC being on her way to losing her voice, Now, Now’s set was enjoyable, especially sexy album opener “SGL.” The set didn’t hit me like the last time I saw them live, when KC entered the audience for the closing song and proceeded to lie on the sticky beer floor to quaver out the album’s final words (loving me, baby, is easy/where do I begin), but I wouldn’t expect it to.

KC likes to hide, even on stage. Even when she was a few inches away, I was never sure if we had made eye contact, and she reserved her moments of true vulnerability for a few chosen members of the crowd. According to the overwhelmed fan next to me, whose hands KC had grasped a few times, KC’s gaze was so intense that she wasn’t sure where to look.

I wouldn’t have known either, but I do know this: it’s no mistake that Now, Now’s last album was called Saved.

Though none of the acts at that night at August Hall are explicitly religious bands, all three found ways to channel the divine into their live show, with performances of such spirit it couldn’t help but rub off on those that worshiped at their feet.

PLAYING COLUMBUS: Now, Now Plays A&R Music Bar

I first listened to Now, Now in High School, when a friend introduced the band (then called Now, Now Every Children) to me via mixtape. In the years since, Now, Now has been through a flurry of changes: band members have come and gone, their label has changed, and the music itself has undergone a transformation – from bedroom pop to a crisper, more electronically-driven sound. But the band’s two founding members, KC Dalager and Brad Hale, have stuck it out since the beginning.

When Now, Now kicked off their fall tour in Columbus Ohio last week, the comfortable and kinetic relationship between Dalanger and Hale was center stage. The pair bantered onstage in between songs, cracking jokes and poking fun at themselves and each other. “Sometimes we get yelled at for thanking too many people,” said Hale during a break in the set. “We’ve thanked our cats too many times.” When Dalager’s amp went out during one of the first songs, she laughed too, saying: “we’ve only been in a band for ten years.”

The band’s touring members got in on the fun as well, reaching across their bodies to play each other’s guitars, and performing back to back with Dalager. Dalager herself generated so much movement on the stage that she sometimes seemed to blur into the music. And through it all, the crowd screamed, cheered, and lobbed song suggestions toward the stage.

The set featured several new songs, including singles “SGL” and “Yours,” both released in the past six months. On their newer material, the band sounds more streamlined than previous releases, gravitating toward songs meant for dancing, and away from the songs that made me, and many others, weepy in high school. It’s a marked change, but fans of the band seem to be in it for the long haul. When, launching into one of the new hits, Hale encouraged the crowd to involve themselves, saying “if you know the lyrics, sing along – and that’s an order,” they followed the order. And though the venue was intimate, the crowd’s energy matched that of the band onstage, filling the room with vibrant enthusiasm.

But Now, Now hasn’t abandoned their classics yet. They ended the set with “Thread,” off of their 2012 album by the same name, and brought out two more fan-favorites for the encore: “Oh. Hi.” and “Neighbors.” By the end of the night, both the band and their fans seemed re-energized and soothed. In some ways, surrounded by folks who might have once looked at home in a Hollister or Hot Topic, I felt transported into a younger self. At the same time, Now, Now’s spirited performance grounded me firmly in the present – pulled into myself with each note and gleeful jump. Both sensations were comforting. Most of all, I was moved by the genuine gratitude and empathy Now Now seems to have for their fans. “Thank you so much for coming back,” said Hale, as the night came to a close. “It means so much to us, after so many years.”