Edgar Lorre speaks with Night Nail about the magical effects of romance, life, and music in Berlin to result in the band’s third album.
An InterView with Brandon Robert of Night Nail
By Edgar Lorre (ErrolAM)
Berlin, a magical city that first emerged in the 13th century, can be a rather imposing place with many ghosts. Vast, dark, and winding, in the Weimar Years of the early 1930s, it was a thriving decadent artistic cultural haven, attracting the world’s finest painters, poets, dancers, singers, architects, all intermingling with each other before the continent was ravaged by the ugliness of war. In the last few decades or so, it has once again become a beloved artistic enclave. Although not quite the bargain it once was, it is still an electric and creative town with many opportunities. One of these Berliner artists is Brandon Robert of Night Nail, an American expat who resides there with his wife, the equally talented Valentina Veil of VV & the Void. Out now on Metropolis Records is his thrilling new album, entitled Fates Explained, featuring contributions from Valentina Veil, guitarist Justin Deaktivere, bassist Ilija Gavrilenko, with Kill Shelter’s Pete Burns on the mix and master, as well as additional instrumentation and co-writing ‘Normal Es Normal.’ Edgar Lorre was recently able to chat with the man about life in Berlin and his new album.
I believe that Fates Explained is truly a breakthrough album and could help the band rise above the fray. Would you agree that navigating the world of underground music and making strides can prove quite challenging? This, in what appears to be a rather overcrowded moment in darkwave and post-punk music, with piles of new music coming out every day?
Robert: Thank you for this opportunity to InterView with ReGen Magazine. Thank you for the positivity about the new album. We try not to focus on the hardships of exposure, such as the overcrowding of the scene’s releases, big festivals that we are not playing, or just competing for attention. Those worries are fruitless to give energy to. Sure, it is damn expensive and time-consuming to make the music that we make. We are lucky enough to have had experience, a little momentum, support from the grant Initiative Musik, and support from Metropolis Records to make Fates Explained. We also had the great opportunity to work with Pete Burns of Kill Shelter again. If I think of competitors, I think of Night Nail. We try to outdo ourselves and always try to exceed the quality of our last albums. I’d humbly say we did this. With luck, passion, relentless effort, and positive manifesting, it all came together. Also, I don’t feel that we fit into any genre or specific scene. However, I know what you mean about the overcrowding in the darkwave scene. This is just a natural response to the state of the world coupled with a healthy rejection of mainstream music.
Is there a central concept behind the new album or do you consider it more of a collection of songs that reflect where you’re at right now? Additionally, can you tell our audience about some of the guests on Fates Explained?
Robert: Conceptually, Fates Explained is less of a statement and more of an expression of feelings we had at the time in which we were making it. When I listen to the album now, I am surprised by how much sadness I hear from my voice and some of the instrumentation on it. I hear my opening piano for ‘Cracks In My Heart,’ and I hear incredibly sad notes. It is hard for me to reconcile in my mind that the person who played that music was me and acknowledge that I was in such a low state of mind at the time. There is a German word, untranslatable in English, that I recently saw in the German magazine that interviewed us. The word used to describe our album is ‘weltschmerz.’ It roughly translates to ‘a feeling of melancholy and world-weariness, often accompanied by a pessimistic view of the world and society. It is a feeling of sadness and resignation caused by the awareness of the world’s imperfections and the suffering that exists in it.’ I think it is an accurate depiction of the feelings culled from the album. I can’t speak for everyone who played on it, but I think they all have their specific feelings and approaches, which differ from mine, but also serve to counterbalance my gloomy outlook.
You have been working with the talented Pete Burns (of the Scottish band Kill Shelter) for the last two albums. Can you tell us about the process you use to work together? What is it that he brings to the table as a producer and collaborator in your opinion?
Robert: Pete Burns and I have developed a solid working relationship, kept alive and fresh through an unyielding maintenance of mutual respect, clear and consistent communication, and realistic goal setting. We both love each other’s past musical work. More than that, we are both musicians and producers. Neither of us forget what it’s like to create something from scratch as a musician, and we both show one another respect even if we disagree about the strength of an idea. That way, all creative expression grows without self-consciousness. No ideas are bad, but some are better than others. I try to communicate exactly what I want to hear from the music to Pete in a Google doc, which we both edit. If I don’t know what I want, I honestly admit that and kindly ask Pete to contribute his ideas, or he just offers. We learned from our past wins and mistakes. If our past workflow was a rough diamond, our most recent work on Fates Explained represents the polished version of that same diamond. Finally, we are both multi-instrumentalists and whenever we needed a good bass part, a quick guitar bridge part, incidental noise, or a keyboard for mood enhancement, etc., Pete or I could both deliver it and do so at the same quality as the other tracks that made up the album.
What prompted you to leave Los Angeles and move to Berlin? Are there more opportunities for bands there these days?
Robert: Romance brought me to Berlin. I always assumed the music and my band would just follow me. It was a pretty unpredictable move for me. My partner, Valentina Veil of VV & the Void, and I met in Hollywood on January 16, 2014, at a show at a club called Loaded, and we both played in different bands. I was playing bass guitar at the time for a band called Bonfire Beach and she was playing synths and singing for a band called House of Light from Melbourne, Australia. We met at the show. I don’t remember the show being that great. However, Valentina made an impression on me that night. She was talented, powerful, smart, and kind. She went back to Australia, and I saw her again the following year in L.A. when she asked me to DJ with her. The romance ensued and she suggested we go to Berlin where she kept a flat. I had never lived outside of the U.S. and under the heavy influence of oxytocin (the ‘love’ drug), we moved to Berlin. Justin Deaktivere, our guitarist who has been with Night Nail since the beginning, also moved to Berlin one year after I arrived. Then, after falling in love with Berlin and Valentina, she and I got married, had two children, toured the U.K. and Europe, and fast-forward, Night Nail has now recorded its third album, Fates Explained. There are a lot of opportunities here in Berlin, but there is a tradeoff. With that total, ‘desperate’ freedom to create music here in Berlin comes a total, ‘desperate’ style of living. East Berlin is cold, poor, and sometimes hard on the soul. Germany has serious grant opportunities for artists, but the cost is that you need to learn German, fill-out correctly a lot of bureaucratic paperwork, and then step outside of your ‘western’ cultural comfort zone. At least, we did, and we have had no regrets or complaints… except for the weather.
Was Night Nail once more of a traditional band that has really become more of a solo project for you?
Robert: Night Nail began as a solo project in 2013, changed into a five-piece band in 2014, changed back to a two-piece band in 2019, and then a three-piece band in 2021. Night Nail is constantly evolving, and we are planning our live shows as a three-piece as we have achieved a singularity in terms of expression and that energy that Justin, Ilija, and I bring to the live incarnation.
Like quite a few bands out there, Night Nail has recorded for a few different labels including Cold Transmission, Cleopatra, and now Metropolis. For some of our readers who are in aspiring bands, can you talk about the experience of being with a few different labels and how it differs from being independent?
Robert: All three records we have been on in the past have taken a chance on Night Nail. We remain grateful for that chance to all three record labels! We would not have gotten this far without lots of help. We also had a lot of help from our first manager, Robert Duzey. We owe our successes to those who first believed us when no one else did. With each record label, we learned something new. Every record label is run differently. Our experience with Metropolis Records has been great! Athan Maroulis, our A&R man who also has his own great band NØIR, with the whole team at Metropolis Records are passionate people who love music. They are a really solid, historic, and extremely supportive record label. We are thrilled to be working with them. My advice to new unsigned bands is to remember that the record label will only work as hard as you do on getting your music full exposure, as it should be.
It seems that Night Nail is more of a studio project and is not focused on being a live entity. Is this an intentional decision and do you plan to change this in the future and possibly do some touring?
Robert: Shows and tours, both nationally and internally, are currently being planned for Night Nail for 2024 and 2025.
After three albums, multiple singles and EPs, would the Brandon of 10 years ago be surprised by the results of the last decade?
Robert: Brandon of 10 years ago would be both surprised and happy with the way the last decade has materialized. Music is unpredictable, but the voyage of music is necessary.
Looking ahead, what direction do you see the band heading in? Any plans or new releases you’d like to mention?
Robert: I see in my crystal ball a remix album on the horizon with some exciting collaborations both known and unknown, coming soon.
Photography provided courtesy of Night Nail