photo by Sam San Roman
When Now, Now wrapped up touring behind their last album, 2012’s Threads, the Minneapolis indie-pop group had reached new heights. The album, recorded with former Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla, impressed the critics, and it landed them on The Tonight Show, as well as tours with nationally known bands Fun. and the Naked and Famous.
But founding members K.C. Dalager and Brad Hale—who have played music together since they met in marching band at Blaine High School—were stretched to their breaking points. They did exactly what a successful young band isn’t supposed to do: They disappeared.
“We got back from that really intense touring cycle and I just felt like I’d been thrown back into a different life,” says Hale, the group’s drummer. “I had to take time to try to unpack those two years of touring to have a clear head and to be able to write the record that we wanted to write.”
In the ensuing three-plus-year hiatus from the public eye, Hale busied himself with outside production work, while primary songwriter and vocalist Dalager fell into an extended bout of writer’s block. Bassist Jess Abbott left to pursue a solo project.
“We’ve been writing the whole time, pretty much, and just trying to pinpoint what exactly we wanted these songs to be,” Dalager says. “We went through a lot of ideas and a lot of different formulas of writing to end up where we are.”
Now, Now ended up with their third album, Saved, out May 18. Worth the six-year wait, the Hale-produced collection aligns acoustic guitars, drum machines, retro synthesizers, and Dalager’s whispery voice for pop nuggets like “SGL” and “Yours.” Despite so much time away, Now, Now’s return to the stage last year was a sweet one. Their first headlining tour started with a sold-out show at Minneapolis’ 7th St. Entry.
“To come back after three to four years of not playing any shows, and seeing how it grew just because of the record, and seeing everyone singing along—which had never happened before—that was just crazy to me,” Hale says. “I thought it was going to be a struggle to restart this thing.”
“It was the first time we ever played in Minneapolis where people were singing along—and it was loud,” Dalager adds. “People were screaming. It was crazy, and most of the shows that we have done headlining have happened that way.”
Performing: July 6 at the Basilica Block Party. More at nownowmusic.com
Digital Extra: Extended Q&A
You’d been on the road a lot after the release of Threads. How did you feel afterward?
Dalager: It felt like we’d stuffed all our creative energy away while we were traveling, because for us, we can’t write while we’re on tour. I think everything was compacted; there was too much energy at once. It made me feel like we couldn’t write. I couldn’t finish writing anything for two years.
Do you feel like you learned any lessons from touring?
Hale: It taught us a lot about how to approach this cycle of touring and recording, and to always be aware of our mental health in the midst of it all. I think the biggest lesson we learned in the whole five years of getting to this point is [the importance of] communication, on all fronts.
Dalager: Being from Minnesota, it feels selfish talking about our feelings sometimes. I don’t want to say it feels self-centered to say how you are feeling, but you just power through, and you feel how you feel and deal with it.
Hale: This time around does feel a lot better. It’s been so much fun. We can just tell there’s a difference from all the lessons we’ve learned.
In spite of those qualms you mention, your music has always been very personal. Is that something you naturally gravitate toward, or do you feel like you need to express those things musically in order to grow personally?
Dalager: Writing helps me sort through those emotions. It’s an outlet. It’s like therapy. Also, we’re very emotional people. I don’t think I’d survive if I didn’t have a way to get that out there somehow. The songs that make us most proud are the ones that are the most personal, and maybe the hardest to write emotionally.
Hale: It’s those songs that, when you play them at every show, every time you can feel that same thing. It’s important to write a song that makes you think about a specific time or a specific emotion.
You started Now, Now at a young age. Do you still connect with your older songs or do they feel like they were done by different people?
Dalager: There are some that I still feel very emotionally in tune with, and then other ones where I feel like they got away from me in terms of the way they were written. But when we play them live, we tend to change the old ones to match the style of the new ones, which definitely makes them feel relevant still.
Hale: At the end of our last [tour] cycle, I was so over playing those songs. Now, coming back, I’ve learned to appreciate what they are and what they did for us.
Was there a moment when things just clicked that finally got the new album going?
Dalager: The first song we finished was “SGL.” The chorus part we’d had for maybe about a year, maybe eight months, and we couldn’t figure out what else we were trying to say. Then one day it just happened. It was very strange. The verses came out, and then the rest of the song came out very quickly. It was a surreal moment of being like, “Oh, my god, we finished a song. We finished a song after about two and a half years of not finishing one.”
Last year marked your first full tour as a headlining act. Did that feel like a milestone for the band?
Hale: To come back after three to four years of not playing any shows, and seeing how it grew just because of the record, and seeing everyone singing along—which had never happened before—that was just crazy to me. I thought it was going to be a struggle to restart this thing.
Dalager: The time when we weren’t playing shows did the opposite of what everyone was afraid it was going to do. I think it made everyone value the fact that we had been playing shows so much, because people were scared we weren’t going to be a band anymore.
Hale: We were talking to people after the shows and everyone was saying that they were so scared we were never coming back, and they were so glad we did.