Bands that thrive over multiple years and albums tend to develop a signature sound. For a band to progress musically often means climbing out of such niches. For Midwestern indie-rockers Margot and the Nuclear So and So's, their fourth LP Buzzard (Mariel Recordings, the band's own label) is such an ascent into the next phase of their music.
In the last five years, the indie-rockers have released four albums in which they have established a definitive sound of singer/songwriter material orchestrated with an immense ensemble of strings, keys, horns and even duo drumsets. Their ambitious undertakings have seen them frequently dubbed "chamber pop," a category often associated with artists such as Sufjan Stevens and the Arcade Fire who also utilize many instruments.
Margot's vocalist and songwriter, Richard Edwards, however, felt the band's lavish instrumentation never entirely captured the message he was trying to convey. That's something he wanted to change with Buzzard.
"In those [early] records I always thought the anger and frustration didn't really come across. It's hard to get that across with such pretty instruments," said Edwards, whose ethereal vocals and moody instrumentation are a snapshot of a fantastical world and the melancholia of Midwestern winter, drugs and love gone awry.
"It's really exciting having someone come in and play cello on a song you wrote, and maybe your judgement gets clouded as to where you actually need those things because it's so exciting to have them," Edwards said.
So it's not surprising that when Margot released Buzzard in September, noticeably absent were the adornments and accouterments. This album, their first release since leaving Epic Records, was partially recorded in an old movie theater in Chicago and was mostly tracked live, driven by a rawer sound with guitar and bass taking center stage. The softer moments sprinkled throughout the earlier material are gone. Still, it's difficult to categorize Buzzard as a strictly new sound for Margot--it's more of a return to the roots of the music Edwards and Margot co-founder Tyler Watkins originally wrote together.
"That was exciting, getting together a really solid band that could maybe showcase a different kind of energy. We had a few lineup changes and it gave Tyler Watkins and I an opportunity to go for making a record that was more in semblance to our taste and what maybe we were doing before Margot properly started.
"I don't think there was ever really a plan for Margot to be an orchestral sort of thing but when you do your first albums like that it's understandable. Even when we were making Animal! [Epic, 2008], we were laughing about how fun it was going to be to just take guitars next time," said Edwards.
Originally from Indianapolis, the band did a stint in New York City before relocating to Chicago, where Edwards feels inspired by the change of scenery.
"I'm a little ignorant to it, but there's definitely a long illustrious history of bands that live in Chicago. It's pretty humbling, especially being around the bands that I grew up being enamored with and listening to," said Edwards.
The benefits being in the Windy City has provided include opportunities to work with some legends of the indie rock realm such as Brian Deck and Tim Rutili, both of Califone and Red Red Meat fame.
"I'm not really a huge part of the young Chicago scene. I feel like a transplant in that way, but I do have a lot of older friends. I'm fortunate to have a friendship and working relationship with Brian Deck who produced our record and played drums--he was really helpful. Red Red Meat was one of my favorite bands, so it's the older guys like that who I really kind of love and admire," said Edwards.
Some of the mystery surrounding Margot and the Nuclear So and So's is the origin of the band's bizarre and lengthy name. Stories include Edwards claiming Margot is the name of a non-existent daughter and that "nuclear" is a nod at George W. Bush's inability to properly pronounce the word. Now, however, Edwards says the current story is the closest to the actual truth yet.
"The most recent one is actually kind of the truth--which is that I'm not really sure. I remember real vividly coming up with it in the minivan I owned in Indiana. It just sounded trippy to me. I thought it gave kind of a levity to the music that at the very least could verge on outright dark humor and worst on outright misery," said Edwards.
Currently in the middle of a two-month tour, Margot is set to play their second-ever show in Boise at Neurolux on Saturday, Nov. 20. Despite losing a couple members, Margot is still capable of covering a lot of musical territory.
"We have six [members] now, so it's still not really a small band. There's no second drummer anymore and no horn player, but the core of the thing is pretty similar to what we can play off of those old records," said Edwards.