The Nields:
finding a harder edge

An interview by Tom Knapp,
December 1996

They're a folk band no longer. With their latest album release, The Nields have completed a journey into rock. "The truth is, we're more plugged in now," said guitarist David Nields, one of three band mates with the Nields surname. "Even when we were doing '66 Odessey Street,' we always wanted to be a rock band."

Their early albums, like 1992's long out-of-print 66 Hoxsey Street and the popular Bob on the Ceiling, grounded The Nields solidly as folk-rock artists. But band members now find that label confining. "We come from an acoustic tradition," David Nields said. "We're not ashamed of that. We had the same energy and music style we have now, but we played acoustic guitars. We were trying too hard to create noise we weren't capable of creating with those instruments."

There is definitely a harder edge to Gotta Get Over Greta, their fifth release with indie label Razor & Tie. (The band later signed with EMI/Guardian, and Greta was re-released with three bonus tracks.)

The band was conceived in northern Virginia by sisters Katryna and Nerissa Nields and pal David Jones in 1987. They played "open mic" shows using names like Big Friendly Giant, Cartoon Kids and Sam, Bangs and Moonshine. They went their separate ways, only to reform as The Nields in Williamstown, Mass., in 1991. By that time, Nerissa and David had married and he'd taken Nields as his name.

They worked the Boston and Hartford, Connecticut, music scene, cut a few albums, and added bassist Dave Chalfant and drummer Dave Hower to the lineup. The band began attracting widespread attention with their 1994 pivotal album Bob on the Ceiling. "What you hear on Bob is an unusual situation," explained singer/guitarist Nerissa. "We had just decided in our minds that we wanted to be a rock band but we hadn't made that transition. "So what you hear on Bob is a folk quartet pushing the envelope of folk music towards rock. Greta is by a rock band ... that has worked on the songs from the ground up."

Despite the transition from folk to rock, Nerissa and lead singer Katryna's intricate vocal harmonies remain a distinctive part of The Nields' sound. "We know that we're writing for somebody else's voice," said David, who shares writing duties with his wife. "So we're creating characters in a sense because somebody else is going to be the narrator." They tell stories, but they think mood is more important. "There are certainly stories in our songs. We take the lyrics really seriously," David said. "But I wouldn't say we're storytellers in the way that Greg Brown is a storyteller, or even Bob Dylan." "With our more recent songs," Nerissa said, "we've been trying not to write stories as much, just as a change of pace."

Katryna is adding more to the writing process as well. "Katryna provides a lot of inspiration," David said. "For instance, "Gotta Get Over Greta" -- she had that phrase. She gave it to Nerissa and said it has to be about two kids who grew up and had a kind of relationship." Nerissa said they rarely draw from their personal memories. "Any story is like a patchwork quilt," she said. "It might have a basis in reality, but the whole point to me as a writer is to become the creator, in a sense ... and to make something new. So they're not really autobiographical, although I think the emotions and the resonances are true." "They are autobiographical emotionally but not realistically," David agreed. "We try to convey emotions we've experienced but not necessarily stories that we've known."

[ by Tom Knapp ]