Surreal Nation is a 5 piece indie-rock band out of Smyrna, De. The group features Nikki Nation (vocals), Paul Joseph (keyboard/rhythm guitar), Jackson Vari (lead guitar), Gene Nelson (percussion), and Kevin Curry (bass). They started as a duo with Nikki and Paul and seeking a bigger sound and better gigs they added Jackson Vari. Their first EP titled, ‘Wash Me Clean,’ was recorded as a trio in early 2016. By the end of the year they had their two new additions Gene and Kevin. Now, the band is getting ready to release their second EP, ‘I Know Better.'
Check out a performance from the band!
Was there something (an experience) or someone in your life that was the "catalyst" for you to start writing music? Tell us about it.
Paul: We discussed this particular question as a group. Although we all have our own specific reasons, the common thread among the five of us is that we all desire to create something new. We were all tired of being in bands where we did nothing but play other people's songs. Jackson and I write the majority of the songs for Surreal Nation. We complement each other very well as we both have a deeply rooted need to express ourselves. I'm not sure that there is any single event that either of us would call a catalyst to start writing. I can say that I saw The Lumineers at a music festival in 2014. I don't know what it was exactly, but towards the end of their set, it felt as if something magical happened to me. It was that moment that I was inspired to take music more seriously. I teamed up with Nikki about a month later. A year after that, Jackson joined the band. We realized later on that he was at the same concert and felt the same thing!
Let's get this out of the way. What is the CRAZIEST thing that has ever happened to you in your music career?
We call this the "Why We Can Never Go Back to Harrisburg" story.... Before we start, we have to give you a little background. As you may have read in the bio, Surreal Nation started as folk-duo, with Paul and Nikki. The sound was very mellow (think Iron and Wine). Jackson joined about a year later. We were still very folk influenced but we developed more of a folk-rock sound. By the time Gene joined us, we had really started to move away from the folk influences into a heavier, indie rock sound. So..... We were playing at a music showcase in Harrisburg, PA. This was in February of 2017. The organizers had us play at a dive bar which was actually outside of Harrisburg. Basically, we kind of got put in the middle of nowhere. We ended up having a great set. The crowd was really into us. There was one particular girl in the crowd that was really into Jackson, perhaps a little too much. It was getting late and was time to leave. We packed up the van and realized that Jackson was missing. We found him outside of the club making out with the girl who I just mentioned. We finally got Jackson away from her and into the van. It was at that point that he told us that her boyfriend was inside. I (Paul) asked him if we needed to get out of there fast. First he said no. Then, I think the situation hit him, and he was like YES! Go! Go! I look down the street and see the boyfriend coming out of the club, looking very unhappy. I end up peeling out and speeding back to the interstate. It was at that point that I realized we made the full transition to a rock band!
What has been the high point of your music path?
Nikki: I don't think that we've been there yet. I look at our music path as kind of a roller coaster, with its ups and downs. It took a couple of years to even get the coaster moving. It's only been very recent that the coaster has started heading up that first big hill. I feel like we're close to the top and the real ride will begin soon. This is a very exciting time for us!
So, how do you approach songwriting or what is your creative process like?
Kevin: In short, our creative process is mostly based on Jackson's relationships. We hope for him to have a good one, but we pray for a bad one! Paul: I tend to make up stories and create characters first. My songs tend to be more story based where Jackson draws a lot of his material from personal experiences. As far as the actual melodies go, I would say that Jackson is the main arranger. Jackson: I've found that our best material comes from Paul and I working together. Usually, one will have the lyrics and one will have the music. There have also been times where one of us will have an entire song written, and the other one comes up with a new arrangement. We have several songs, including "I Can Feel The Night," which is on the new record, that have been re-arranged more than once.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Indie Artists today? Or, if you could ask the music industry to change one thing, what would it be?
Gene: I would tell the industry to be more open minded. Rather than manufacturing the same Pop acts over and over, give musicians who have spent years working their projects a chance! Nikki: I would ask for venues that have bands to be more open minded as well. Instead of assuming that everyone wants to hear covers of the same songs over and over, at least try booking an original act. I think you would be pleasantly surprised how much your customers love it! We don't have any issues with covers or cover bands, we just think that there are a lot of talented musicians, who create original music, that people would really enjoy. Kevin: We play some covers ourselves. The difference is that when we do, we try to put our own spin on things. If we do cover a song, we don't want it to sound like it does on the radio. We want it to reflect our sound while still paying homage to the original artists.
If you could share the stage with one other artist or band, who would it be and why?
Nikki: Stevie Nicks...because she's frickin' Stevie Nicks! Paul: Ben Folds...I've been playing the piano since I was 7. Ben made playing the piano as a rock act cool again. Jackson: The White Stripes...because Jack White. I may or may not have a shrine to him in my bedroom closet. I would put on a wig and dress up like Meg White if it meant bringing them back together again! Kevin: Prince..He had rhythmic, funky, soul. Gene: Quest Love, Lenny Kravitz, or The Gorillaz. They all have such great precision.
What are your rehearsals generally like? Or, how do you prepare for a live show?
Our rehearsals are usually pretty methodical (usually being the key-word). We usually run through our regular set. After that, we go back and hit any problem areas that anyone may have had with any of the songs. We may have to do this more than once depending on how many sets we will be playing at our next live show. When we have a live show coming up, it's just about repetition. We play the songs over and over until they are right. It can sometimes be frustrating because we are talking about a room full of 5 perfectionists!
Pick one song that was your greatest challenge to write. Tell us about it!
Jackson: I Can Feel The Night, which is on our new EP. The lyrics start out by taking the listener to a dark place, but by then end of the song, the listener is lifted out of there. The challenge with this song has always been finding a musical arrangement that reflects this. There's been several arrangements since I wrote it. It started out as kind of an acoustic, stripped down song. I really like the album version, which has more of driving rhythm.
What's coming up in the future?
We are dropping a new EP on 02/20/18. We will also be going on tour in support of it. We're looking to do a series of shorter tours. For the first series, we'll be making stops in NJ, NY, and CT.
Where can fans can access your music.
You can pre-order our new EP on Itunes! itunes.apple.com/us/album/i-can-feel-the-night/1315375456?i=1315375459