John Bowers of Nurses called Boise Weekly from his coastal retreat in Astoria, Ore. The backup vocalist and keyboardist was taking a break from his hectic life in Portland, Ore., crafting new music to bring back to his bandmates Aaron Chapman and James Mitchell.
"It's somewhere between a creative retreat and a lifestyle change for me," Bowers said. "I'm definitely not taking a hiatus from music. In fact, I brought a bunch of instruments out."
But this isn't Bowers' first seaside sojourn. Nurses retreated to the Oregon Coast in winter 2010, where it recorded and created the album Dracula in a cabin by the ocean. There band members honed the sound they're known for: colorful experimental pop, syrupy with electronics and drums.
"It felt like a release," said Bowers. "We'd been bottling up all these ideas for so long. We could finally be us three working on music instead of trying to pull our lives together between trying to make a living and live a normal life and have girlfriends."
Armed with iPhones, MacBooks and Garage Band, Nurses turned the cabin into a recording studio, waking up early to record old tracks and build new ones, taking things slowly, soaking in the ocean and the forest.
"I think we talked about music a lot of the time in visual terms," Bowers said. "Maybe that's our substitute for some technical knowledge of written music? We speak more in terms of the landscape it paints in our heads."
Nurses has always seen things a little differently. The band formed when Bowers and Chapman met more than a decade ago as students at Idaho Falls High School. In the desolate high desert landscape of Southeast Idaho, the band crafted its own realities with music.
Bowers and Chapman nursed their wanderlust in California and Illinois before finally settling in Portland, Ore., in 2009. But it was while they were crashing on Mitchell's couch that they made a fortuitous discovery. Bowers and Chapman had recently parted ways with half the founding members of the band. With an approaching gig, they asked Mitchell if he knew anybody who played percussion.
"He said, 'You guys know that I play drums, right?'" Bowers laughed. "It was kind of perfect."
And the current incarnation of Nurses was born. With Mitchell's drum and beat background, the three refocused on rhythm. The jamming they were doing was a far cry from the band's 2009 sophomore release, Apple's Acre.
"I guess Apple's Acre was more like a dreamlike solitary experience," said Bowers. "While we were making Dracula, it was more about the body and moving the body, and we got really into basketball. We got really into the movements of the body."
From Hangin' Nothin' But Our Hands Down (2007), to Apple's Acre, and now to Dracula, the band's sound has morphed in a different direction. What used to be ethereal indie jam tracks have become nuanced, layered productions.
"It's definitely more beat- and groove-heavy," Bowers said. "We got a lot more elaborate on this album."
That depth also comes from something the band has dubbed "the pile"--a heap of electronic equipment all tacked onto a board.
"Some sound guy coined the phrase when we were starting up. He asked me to sound check my 'pile' when we were on stage," said Bowers.
The name stuck, though he says the pile has evolved into more of a workstation.
"It's kind of just a large instrument made out of tons of different parts," Bowers said. "Those parts are everything from a toy keyboard to a sampler to a synth or something."
Four months ago, the trio crafted a music video for the song "Fever Dreams," the first track off Dracula.
The band was intent on using an old VHS camera to capture the video the first time, producing something akin to a home movie. Chapman, his face covered in fluorescent paint, warbles into a light bulb in the video.
"We ... produced this weird universe that we thought the song existed in," said Bowers. "You can kinda see that character that Aaron is portraying as the character that sings the song, the universe that the song exists in."
Nurses talks about all its projects this way: crafting little microcosms rather than playing music. This is the same band that played a live concert on the webcam sharing site Chatroulette in collaboration with Portland's Into the Woods project.
"We got a bunch of MacBooks--25 MacBooks or something--and used video screen capture," explained Bowers. "The audience is anonymous and they don't know they're happening upon it."
Into the Woods' Jordan Kinley directed the video. In a room lit with Christmas lights, Nurses played a graceful acoustic set.
"We made the video out of three or four performance angles, and we kinda just pulled the best reactions," said Kinley.
One particularly great reaction involves a cute girl who randomly clicked into the performance. Her face lights up with a smile, and she sits forward in her chair as she realizes what she's witnessing.
"Unedited it's pretty awesome. ... She's really freaking out," said Kinley.
The girl's reaction, amid the less-enthused hecklers and occasional phallus, elicited a strong response from the band. They were "stoked," to use Kinley's word.
You can freak out on Nurses sans webcam at the band's Ida-homecoming show at Neurolux on Friday, Jan. 13.[ Video is no longer available. ]