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Nobody Loses All The Time: Nervus' Em Foster Talks 'Everything Dies'

Wednesday, 07 March 2018 Written by Laura Johnson

Photo: Derek Bremner

E.E. Cummings’ poem Nobody Loses All The Time tells the tale of Uncle Sol, who despite being “born a failure” still manages to rack up several attempts at success before drowning himself in a water tank. In death, though, he brings about new life. It’s a posthumous, ironic win for a chronic loser: “Somebody pressed a button (and down went my Uncle Sol and started a worm farm).”

It is one of Nervus vocalist and guitarist Em Foster’s favourite poems and shares its name with the second song on the punk band’s new album, ‘Everything Dies’. For all the pessimism of their second LP’s title, though, Nervus are actually realists whose worldview verges on the optimistic. That shines through on their own Nobody Loses All The Time. “And as you keep moving on through the ash and the embers, to build the life that you want, let your mistakes fade to black,” Foster sings.

“It’s about trying to maintain perspective in the face of things being really shit,” she explains. “But having a couple of bits that are yours that are good.” The song exemplifies the positive progression from the band’s 2016 debut LP, ‘Permanent Rainbow’, which documented Foster’s struggles with addiction and gender dysphoria. Here she is driven by looking at what’s going on outside, writing about accepting yourself in a world that’s not offering a whole lot in return. “It’s much more to do with reckoning with society than ‘Permanent Rainbow’ was,” she adds.

Foster hasn’t abandoned personal writing, though, instead fusing her commentary with tracks such as Recycled Air and Skin, which still have an intimate sadness to them. The approach creates a document of a person navigating their surroundings instead of looking in from the outside.

On Skin, she confides: “I am safe in my own skin, but my armour is paper thin.” But it surely must still be difficult to discuss vulnerability in such a candid way? “It comes in waves,” she says. “Every now and again I’ll get really, really anxious about it and be like ‘why am I saying all this stuff?’ and then that kind of disappears. But to be perfectly honest I’m not bothered.

“I’m a lot more comfortable in myself than I was and I feel like I’m personally, luckily, in a position where I feel fairly safe in terms of my employment and my personal life, generally. I feel very privileged in that respect. So if I can tell bigots to fuck off, or whatever it is that I’m saying or talking about, and that helps other people - because I’d never talk for someone else, there are plenty of people that are in worse situations than I am - I feel like if I have the energy to and the platform to say something worthwhile I should.”

And she does. ‘Everything Dies’ deals with prejudice, acceptance and the life led in between, which will resonate with many. Its melodies stand in opposition to much of the subject matter, adding an upbeat sheen to songs that are sure to ring in your ears long after the record’s stopped spinning. The juxtaposition is something Foster has a sense of humour about. “I don’t mean to make my music sound so happy,” she chuckles. “I’m thoroughly miserable.”

The record is loosely arranged into three acts - birth, life and death - but Foster admits this is another thing that happened more organically than intentionally. “It wasn’t something that was there originally,” she explains. “But I realised as I was writing the songs that the way I’d ordered them, and the lyrical themes which they had, the way musically they were progressing, I was definitely writing each song based on where I wanted it to be in the album.”

One thing that was certain, though, was how the album would be recorded. Every instrument on ‘Everything Dies’, with the exception of drums, was tracked in Foster’s bedroom. Was this to retain the DIY ethic the band came up with? Is Foster a control freak? To an extent, yes to both. But the main factor was money. Though they did decide to put some bucks into time with producer Bob Cooper at Crooked Rain Studios in Leeds, where they recorded the drums and mixed the record, everything else had to be handled in house.

Working with Cooper was meant to take some of the pressure off. It didn’t. Nervus booked time to track drums and then time to mix and had to fit recording the rest of the album between those dates. Touring, work and life in general didn’t make that easy and the end result was more stressful than anticipated. But, ever the optimist, Foster was grateful that it meant the project progressed quickly and did not have time to stagnate.

So, what will the recording of future Nervus albums look like? “To be honest it all depends on money,” Foster confesses. “I’d love to be able to afford to go into a studio and record an album front to back with a producer. There’s loads of places I’d love to be able to record at, there’s Tiny Telephone in San Francisco, or to make an album with Chris Walla, all these things that I would love to do that we’ll never be able to afford. But you got to have dreams right?”

And dreams, of course, can come true. Despite having plenty of things left on their bucket list, Nervus have ticked off a few big ones already. There was the desire to play big venues, like London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire, which they managed while opening for Creeper on their Theatre of Fear tour last year. It was an experience Foster describes as “like opening up the Rocky Horror Show”. Despite not possessing the same flair for the dramatic as the headliners, they walked off stage having gained some new followers. “It was very much a Nervus show,” she explains. “We just tried to make it our own as much as we possibly could.”

That’s what they’ll continue to do when supporting Milk Teeth on their Go Away UK tour later this month. With the difficult second album out of the way, these upcoming shows see them faced with the next clichéd pitfall to tackle: do they stick solely to the new record or give fans the tracks they already know and love?  

“The thing is, we wrote ‘Permanent Rainbow’ at the beginning of 2015,” Foster says. “So we’ve been playing those songs for ages. Before that record came out we’d been playing shows for nearly 18 months and we only ever had those songs. So I think we’re all so excited for that record to be out and to be able to play this new stuff.

“‘Permanent Rainbow’, I wrote that on my own, and then the band was formed around those songs. So this record is musically much more of a band effort. It feels almost like it’s our first proper album. We know who we are as a band, and we knew who we were as a band before we went into the studio. So to be confident in ourselves as a band before we recorded, rather than finding ourselves in the studio like we did with ‘Permanent Rainbow’, was definitely an advantage. It definitely makes the prospect of playing these songs live really exciting for us.”

‘Everything Dies’ is out on March 9 through Big Scary Monsters


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