Cacie Dalager, lead vocalist for Minneapolis-based indie-rock trio Now, Now, says the experience recording the band's second full-length, Threads (2012, Trans-Records), can be summed up in one word.
"Terrifying," Dalager said, laughing. "We hadn't put out a full-length in three years, so we had no idea what the response would be, or if anyone still cared or was interested, and we'd been having a hard time finding our sound. We had gone through some problematic transitions with people we were working with," she added. "It was really stressful ... There were so many variables and we had no idea what was going on."
Threads was released on Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla's record label, Trans-Records--and it was Walla who reached out to Now, Now, which is comprised of Dalager, who also plays guitar, Jess Abbot on vocals and guitar and Brad Hale on drums and synth. The album also marked the first time the band left its home state of Minnesota to record, and the content on Threads seems to mirror the uncertainty and anxiety swirling around Now, Now at the time.
A meditation on the search for meaning, trying to find out where you fit and where you stand with others, the angst captured on Threads is, well, the album's narrative thread. In fact, the core of the record might very well lie in the bridge of the title track "Thread," a power pop gem in which Dalager sings, "Find a thread to pull / And we can watch it unravel / But this is just the start / We'll find out who we are."
That feeling is also in the dreamy rock track "Wolf," in which Dalager croons about longing to be "worn" by the object of her affection, as well as in the mid-tempo rock number "But I Do," which is filled with questions and awkward post-breakup dialogue. The driving, semi-acoustic pop track "Dead Oaks" ramps up the tension with lamentations of sleeplessness and the fear of unrequited love. While songs might or might not be entirely autobiographical, the lyrics resonate deeply with Dalager.
"[The album] is very personal, and for me, that's the only way I'll ever write something I'm happy with," she told Boise Weekly. "I can't just pick any random topic and write about it. It has to be something that really, really has affected me. The whole album is really emotional and so all of those songs are really personal."
In fact, some of the material is so personal that sharing it was nerve-wracking for Dalager, and she kept out details that might reveal too much.
"It almost makes [writing] uncomfortable because you feel naked," Dalager said with a laugh. "You don't know if people can tell what you're writing about. Writing for me is really secretive, and I try and capture the emotion of what has happened to me as opposed to storytelling and saying, 'This happened, and then this happened,' and so on. I try not to get too specific."
The fact that Dalager did share so much of herself--even if that's not evident to every listener--has likely contributed to the album's success.
After its March 2012 release, Threads was hailed as a "winning collection of emotional songs," by Under the Radar. Alternative Press called the record "compelling." Now, Now performed at SXSW 2012 and the band was pegged by Paste on its list of "Twenty Must-See Bands." NPR's All Things Considered also praised Now, Now for its "remarkably sophisticated ear for irresistibly infectious pop-rock."
During the following 18 months, Now, Now toured with Minus the Bear and The Lonely Forest, among others, and performed on the Heavy and Light Tour with artists like Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman and The Lone Bellow. As Now, Now embarks on what is probably its last tour in support of the record, Dalager remains blown away by the continued interest.
"The shelf life for an album is usually about a year. Threads came out over a year and a half ago, so it's awesome that we can still tour on that, even though the album has been out for so long," Dalager said. "[Threads] has done so much more than I ever would have hoped it would."
"When we went into the studio, we didn't have a label, so the fact that Chris [Walla] contacted us, saying, 'Hey, I want to put out your album' ... even if nothing happened with the album, I would be satisfied just because that happened."
As the Threads experience comes to a close, Dalager looks back on the past two years with a fond sense of lessons learned.
"I think it's good sometimes to be uncomfortable and have no idea what you're doing because that's the best way to learn what you want to be doing instead of what you don't want to do," she laughed. "And then to hear from people that something that's so important to us is also important to them ... that's something you hope for, but you can't expect that. So when you hear that from someone, it's validating, like, 'OK, I'm doing the right thing with my life. This is what I should be doing.'"
That validation will be key for Now, Now when it starts working on the next album. As with Threads, it's going to be a challenge and that challenge is always more difficult than Dalager expects it to be.
"Every time we start writing a new album, I always think it is going to be way easier than the previous one was," she said. "I always think I have a greater understanding of what I want it to sound like, what I want to sing, what I want it to be about. But every time it gets more difficult because more people are finding out about us and we're growing as a band. You feel the pressure of that every time you try and write, so it just gets more stressful instead of getting easier."