"I'm sorry it sounds like there's dinosaurs next door to me," Jesse Nolan said a bit sleepily, in the middle of our late June phone call. "My neighbor has two very active Macaw parrots, so every morning I wake up to the sound of just prehistoric shrieking."
Nolan shook the sleep out of his voice soon enough, though. Maybe those parrots are a great wakeup call? Or maybe the Caught A Ghost frontman was just excited to come back to Indianapolis, where he has family and fond memories.
It's beyond cliché to comment on a group's "meteoric rise," but that doesn't mean I shouldn't note Caught A Ghost's sudden, pervasive presence in venues and on television screens (they've had placement on many a network TV series). The group's laid back, soulful tracks aren't dissimilar from fellow Angeleno Mayer Hawthorne's vintage pop jams. There's little sparkling electronic sidenotes on Nolan's tracks, though, which he writes mostly solo, before bringing them to his band. That band includes actress Tessa Thompson, weeks into a whirlwind press tour for her new movie Dear White People, so Caught A Ghost can add big screen cache to their small screen and small stage domination.
Caught A Ghost will play the Hi-Fi on July 14.
NUVO: Jesse! You just stopped in Indianapolis.
Jesse Nolan: Yeah, we were just there about six weeks ago. I lose track, but yes, we were just here.
NUVO: Why back again so soon?
Nolan: We happen to be out. I'm such a control freak about such a large percentage of the organization, as soon as I get the opportunity to delegate anything, I try and take my mind off it completely. I know that it's going to get done, that a professional has routed the tour for us, so my job is to just drive the van and get us there!
We're going out to Chicago to play a festival out there, so we routed to and from there. Indianapolis is just cool. Every time I get the opportunity to stop, I do, because I have a ton of family there. I've been coming to indianapolis since I was a little kid. My grandfather was a renowned Civil War historian and scholar and lawyer in the community. They had a great old house on Pennsylvania Avenue – it's gorgeous. It's a great looking street. One of my favorite things about Indianapolis is the trees in the summertime. It's green, and everything's all humid and there's lightning bugs out. It's a very special place. Those are all my memories of coming to Indianapolis, coming in the pool and catching lightning bugs and hanging out with my family. We come from a tradition of music enthusiasts.
My perspective on Indiana is just a little bit different because of the community that I come from. The only thing that I know about Indianapolis is the people that I see when I'm there, who are all really fascinating artists and environmentalists and cool people. So, for me, that colors my perception of what the place is like. I think it's always like, your experience of whatever your city you live in is your community. So you've got to find the good people.
NUVO: You mentioned being a control freak in a lot of aspects of your music. You play all the instruments except drums on your album, correct?
Nolan: And the horns. I like to arrange everything, and then as much as I can bring some other players in to do it, because they've got more muscle memory than I do.
NUVO: How do you go about translating your arrangements for your band? What's your live setup like right now?
Nolan: It varies. The touring setup is usually around about five people. We'll take one horn player and then either a bass player or keyboard player, then Tessa and myself singing, and then a drummer. Stephen Edelstein and myself are pretty much the only fixtures, because Tessa [Thompson] is sometimes unavailable for work because she's an actress, so sometimes we'll take somebody else out as a sub. It's kind of a rotating cast of characters.
It's interesting trying to turn something that is a studio thing into a live thing, but it's kind of easier with this project. It was a very easy process getting it off the ground. I just made a lot of tracks in the studio. The players who play the horns and drums are also the guys that we tour with, usually. They already knew the parts. And everybody's really talented. I've been lucky enough to only work with really great musicians. So it didn't really take a lot of rehearsal process, really; everybody just showed up with their shit learned. And from that point, it's just like working out the unquantifiable, the energy of it.
NUVO: Do you guys have a game plan mapped out if Tessa has to be gone for a long period of time? Your project together is gaining a lot of speed at the same time her separate project is gaining a lot of speed –
Nolan: Right. Well, you know, fortunately there's been a fair amount of serendipity thus far. She's been able to be there most of the time, We may not be the band that tours 300 dates a year. I don't think that's what we are. At the same time, I'm trying to carve out a career as a producer, and I'm really interested in consistently making new music in the studio. I'm working on a bunch of things right now. I think you just have to be willing to be flexible about what your career and your creative life looks like. It's obviously tricky balancing schedules and availability when you have busy and creative people working together, but you kind of have to not be attached to what the outcome is. Just do what you can do, and have a bunch of different channels into which you can funnel your creative energy.
NUVO: What is it like seeing your music used to soundtrack these massively emotional moments on Grey's Anatomy and the like? Shows like that usually use music placements when .... someone is being shot or bleeding out or hooking up or having a heart attack. What is it like to see your work applied to those scenes?
Nolan: It's fascinating. We do a lot of video work, we make our own videos a lot of the time, pairing videos and music is something that I'm accustomed to. Part of what happens in that process is just seeing what fits. You just shoot some stuff, connect it music and see how that lands, see what emotional response it evokes. Sometimes you try to hatch a plan about building a narrative from there, other times it's much more scripted obviously.
So when you're not involved in the pairing of the video with the audio, and it's just something completely separate from you, and your job is to just supply a piece of music and see what happens, it's fascinating in whatever incarnation it takes. Obviously it has the capability to really emotionally resonate – when we had a placement on Suits, for fans of that show, it created a real moment where we had a flood of traffic afterwards. It was an emotional moment for the characters of that show. At the time, I wasn't watching that show, they were just like, "We want to use your song," and I'm like, "Great!" But then, the response was overwhelming. It's a great vehicle to connect with people on that level. So sometimes it's something like that, where it's emotional and it really connects and makes sense.
And sometimes it's just something totally ridiculous. We had a Friskey's cat food commercial. I was like, "Yeah, sure, totally, I'm down." I love cats. It was hilarious, watching this cat strolling around to our music. It was actually one of my favorite ones. With the Grey's Anatomy thing, yeah, I'm always curious to see how they use it. It's really cool when it's something that you really love. We had a Boardwalk Empire promo a little while ago, and I really love that show. It was really cool to see them use "No Sugar In My Coffee." A friend of mine just made a film with Aubrey Plaza and Jason Ritter and some other notables that's been doing really well on the festival circuit. It's called About Alex and they're using "Time Go" as well. It's really beautifully used in that movie, and that was a very cool moment to see. They drop the needle on the record that they're listening to as a group, and then it proceeds to really score the scene. It was just really cool to see. It was a really nice use of this.