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Feature Thu Jan 11 2007

Margot and the Nuclear So and So's: On a Freezing Chicago Street

Margot and the Nuclear So and So's came together as a band in 2004. The setting where this story takes place is the gray landscape of early winter in the midwestern city of Indianapolis. Coalescing around the vocal talent and superb songwriting abilities of Richard Edwards, then just 21, the band eventually took on eight members, including a cellist, a trumpet player, a pianist, and a percussionist (adding to the band's extensive use of vocals and their music's often rough edges honed by the electric guitar). Yes, MNSS is an indie pop band—with startling honest lyrics and a stunningly beautiful musical arrangement that sets them apart from the crowd.

Just a short time after they got together, MNSS recorded The Dust of Retreat which was released by the Indiana-based Standard Record Co. They started touring and gained attention at the 2005 South Park Music Festival. Switching labels, the band hooked up with Artemis, and the album was re-issued in March 2006. Having been touring like mad—the band did at least 200 shows in 2006—they've reached the point where they've earned enough money from album sales and tours to devote their energies to other things (including building their own studio in downtown Indianapolis). Edwards, at the moment, is currently writing the songs for their next album.

At an Indianapolis pet store in 2003, Richard Edwards met Andy Fry by chance. There was an instant connection. "I saw him and felt like I knew him, and struck up a conversation," said Fry in a telephone interview.


Margot and the Nuclear So and So's, onstage (photo by Karin Partin)

At the time, Fry was in a band called The Academy, and he shared studio space in a warehouse. After hearing some of Edwards' songs, Fry was hooked. "I begged him to come into the studio and record those songs. It all developed from there."

One of the songs Fry was dying to record was "On A Freezing Chicago Street," now one of the twelve songs on The Dust of Retreat. According to Fry, it was this song that really brought the band together. "Richard would play it and a bunch of us started jamming. We tried to bring Simon and Garfunkel into it. That went well."

The lyrics are poetic and candid. "On a freezing Chicago street / we shook / your hands were trembling from all those pills you took / and we got drunk on cheap red wine in a paper cup," sings Edwards.

"Something about that song — it puts you in that place," noted Fry. "You know how cold it is in Chicago, and being a kid from Indiana, you're not supposed to be there. It's not your town. Maybe everybody's gone to bed, and you're just lost in Chicago, and it's freezing."


Richard Edwards (front) and Andy Fry (back), performing onstage.

The Dust of Retreat transports you into another world—it evokes a sense of nostalgia and familiarity that is remarkably pure in its expression. In an age where music is increasingly becoming more mechanized—and devoid of feeling—this is a rare, rare thing. These songs make you happy or sad, but never numb you. The musical arrangements have all the components of a pop indie band—the melancholy of Jesse Lee's cello, the soaring vocals of Emily Watkins, the happy-go-lucky sound of Cassey Tennis on percussion, combined with the often masculine driving, rougher edges of Edwards and Fry on guitar. Chris Fry (Andy's brother) (drums), Hubert Glover (trumpet) and Tyler Watkins (bass) round out the ensemble. "We were all involved in the creation of the music—all of us have a personal stake in it," noted Fry. "It really feels like a band. With us there's a belief in what we're doing."

Drugs, alcohol and relationships are the topics of focus on the album. "Our daily life is about our struggles with all of those things," said Fry. Edwards puts it more simply. "I was in love with a woman." He noted that several songs on the album—"Skeleton Key," "Vampires in Blue Dresses," "Talking in Code," and "On a Freezing Chicago Street"—revolve around this theme.

All of these songs are brilliant, and it's not surprising that they were inspired by heartache. What is impressive is Edwards' ability to evoke mood and connection and to convey universal issues of the human condition with just a few words. "Love is an inkless pen," sings Edwards in "Skeleton Key." He also offers offer a startling confession in this song: "I did a sick, sick thing to my love / My lack of loyalty / it swallowed her up."

In "Dress Me Like a Clown," one of my favorites, Edwards trades his cynicism for the hope of building a new relationship. "But tonight / we'll leave all our lovers behind / and try / to live a quiet life / my love is dressed me like a clown."

"Music is the vehicle we use to talk about things—feeling and emotions—that we need to express," said Fry. "Jen's Bringing the Drugs / she wants to get real / fucked up," opens the brutally honest song, "Jen is Bringing the Drugs." The disarmingly positive song, "Quiet as a Mouse," speaks volumes about Generation X/Y's struggle with passivity: "Wake up / You've got a lots of things to do / Wake up / The sun is rising without you."


Hubert Glover on trumpet (photo by Brian Appio)

Edwards named the band after Margot Tenenbaum—the brilliant and reclusive character played by Gwenyth Paltrow in Wes Anderson's film, The Royal Tenenbaums. "I just liked the name," he said wryly. Edwards is obsessed with Wes Anderson, Woody Allen, New York and the 1960s, but not necessarily in that order.

Prior to Margot, Edwards was in a band called Archer Avenue, a reference to the address of the Tenenbaum home in the film. A former film student at Indiana University, he is fixated not only with Wes Anderson, but with Woody Allen, his favorite filmmaker. Both filmmakers succeed in creating a distinctly separate reality in their art, which Edwards attempts to recreate through music and his band. "You have that in children's movies and books, but rarely in adult films," he said.

"Part of the band is the attempt to create a borderline fictitious cult, or separate culture, like the Grateful Dead did," said Edwards.

"We would like to create our own world the way he [Anderson] does. The Margot-ness take on our reality—that is our task in recording—to flesh that out," said Fry.

Like in The Royal Tenenbuams, the entire band of MNSS has, at one time, or another, lived together in one house, not far from downtown Indianapolis. At the moment, it's just four of them—Richard, Andy, Chris and Cassey, who still live there. Fry says that although the eight members are rarely together, mostly on stage, there is a family atmosphere among them.


Jesse Lee on cello (photo by Jacques Brautbaur)

In addition to Wes Anderson and Woody Allen films, Edwards is in love with New York and the 1960s, in particular the music of the era, which he admires for expressing the moods and feelings of a generation. Speaking about the omnipresent theme of love on The Dust of Retreat, Edwards thinks the whole love thing is "stupid." "In the grand scheme of things it's not important." Currently writing songs for the band's next album, he'd rather discuss other issues—the war in Iraq—for one. "The air is heavy now and I want to talk about that," he said. He mentioned how in the '60s, Bob Dylan wasn't talking about "the war," but about the way people felt at the time.


Emily Watkins singing and playing keyboards onstage (photo by Karin Partin)

Perhaps what is most appealing about this band is how humble they are about their huge talent. "We're less mercenary than other outfits," said Fry. Speaking about the future, Edwards said "I don't have to be Bruce Springsteen. It'd be nice if we were a big band, but as long as we keep making music."
-Marla Seidell

Margot and the Nuclear So and So's play at Schubas Thursday, January 11th, at 9pm.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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