In Session: Tom O’Connor of The NoLaNauts

ALBANY – Featuring the stylistic bombast of New Orleans right in our very own Nippertown backyard is The NoLaNauts. A band that has made quite the name for itself with their live shows will finally be releasing their enigmatic debut single, “Early Warning,” for this year’s Mardi Gras (Feb. 21st). Rich with horns, swampy keys, guitar solos, and a groove that refuses to quit, The NoLaNauts have crafted something truly special.

I had a chance to sit down with Tom O’Connor of The NoLaNauts ahead of the release. What follows is our conversation.

Lucas Garrett: Tom! How the hell are you, man? I just heard the new song and it kicks ass!

Tom O’Connor: Thank you, man! We’re psyched. We all write music, right? And, we live at the Jive Hive. It’s a studio. Why don’t we just record some tunes?

LG: Tell us a bit about the song, “Early Warning.”

TO: It’s a funky, in-your-face, high-energy tune. It’s essentially about an oncoming storm, and how the day turns from not-so-bad to not-so-good. New Orleans has had its share of exposure to hurricanes, which sucks. But it feels like with global warming and everything, that it’s not just a New Orleans song. It’s an everybody song.

LG: Right. There’s a lot of fantastic instrumentation on the whole thing. Your band NoLaNauts is pretty f*cking killer.

TO: Thank you, Lucas, coming from you who writes killer music himself. Thank you, I appreciate it.

LG: Tell me a bit about the recording? How’d that all go down?

TO: Well, we wanted to get the drums right. So, we all went direct into headphones – me, the keyboards, and the bass. Then, once we recorded a good base take of the drums, we went from there; brought in the horns, and everything else after that.

LG: Who is in The NoLaNauts? Tell us a bit about the band.

TO: The NoLaNauts are a nine or ten-piece band depending on the day you see us. We have a killer rhythm section; we’ll have up to four drummers and percussionists going at the same time. My partner-in-crime, Brian Lawlor – who’s been going with me to New Orleans for years – is on drums, as well as Joe Sorbero; Peter Andriakos does percussion; David Macejka does percussion and drums – depending on what’s going on; Matt Girtler is playing the bass guitar; Rick Rothermel on keyboards; Ben Moss and I on guitar. Then, our killer horn section is Bill Ringwood on sax – Billy “Rings”, and Brian Brancato on trumpet. We have a lot of Brians, so he’s “B3.”

LG: Hahaha.

TO: That rounds it out, unless we have special guests.

LG: I’ve heard of you for years, now. What made you say, “Alright, I want to release a single now?”

TO: People accuse us of being a funk band that forgot they know how to jam. When you see us live, we’re really pretty tight. When we’re in the Jive Hive and playing and rehearsing, we’ll go off like proper Phishheads and Deadheads – funky jam territory. Out of a bunch of “outtakes” there’s a whole bunch of songs in all those jams. We found a good one and pulled it out, and said, “Here we go.”

LG: When is this song coming out?

TO: We’re releasing it on Mardi Gras day in the spirit of The NoLaNauts. For folks that won’t be able to wait that long, we’re doing a super fan release. If you go to our website, you can get it. On Saturday, Feb. 25th, we’re going to make the world premiere of “Early Warning” at Nanola where we’re playing. We’re teaming up with our pals, Jocamo…

LG: They’re great.

TO: … yeah. The NoLaNauts and Jocamo are kindred spirits. Macejka will be playing with Jocamo as well. It’s going to be a fun time.

LG: There’s a lot of amazing musicians in your band, but what are some of your creative influences? What made you pick up the guitar all those years ago?

TO: I first picked up the guitar when I heard of The Beatles when I was eleven or twelve. It was weird because my dad had his old lap steel guitar – it was the only guitar in the house. He had a little amplifier with it, so it was electric.

On a lap steel, the strings are almost an inch off the fretboard… hahaha. I didn’t realize that, so I was trying to play guitar by fretting a lap steel to The Beatles.

LG: Oh wow, how’d that go for you?

TO: Intonation was not my friend. Hahaha. It had an amplifier, Lucas – an Alamo amplifer. It was made of plywood and had this wild distortion sound ‘cause it sucked. You know, kind of like how The Kinks used huge blades on their speakers?

LG: I think they sliced their speakers to make it sound like that.

TO: Yeah, totally.

LG: So, that’s how it sounded huh?

TO: It did. Guitar started for real when I got into The Grateful Dead at sixteen. Most people like Jerry, but I was drawn to Bob Weir. “Sugar Magnolia” was my first Dead song.

LG: Tell us more about the show on Saturday.

TO: It’s a free show at Nanola; The NoLaNauts and Jocamo. It starts at 8:00 pm and we’re going to do festival sets.

LG: Nice. Where else are you playing?

TO: The next big thing we’re doing is on March 31st. We’re doing a benefit at Lark Hall for Youth FX. Are you familiar?

LG: No, who’re they?

TO: Youth FX is a not-for-profit based out of the south-end of Albany. Their mission is to bring skills like cinematography, movie-making, digital media, music, and the arts to disadvantaged kids from 10 to 24.

LG: That’s awesome.

TO: They’re a great organization that’ve been featured at Sundance and Tribeca. So, The NoLaNauts and our good friends, The Sugar Hold are going to do that benefit at Lark Hall. DJ Trumaster will be spinning between sets, as well.

LG: Well, Tom, as I said, you’ve made an amazing piece of music. Congratulations on your first recording!

TO: Thank you, Lucas!

LG: Is there anything else you’d like to mention that I may have missed?

TO: Think of a silver dollar in life. If “Early Warning” is about shit that’s about to get real, with not too many smiles, you can’t be in New Orleans unless you have a party on the other side of it. Our next single is already in the can. If you follow “Early Warning” to the next song “Neutral Ground,” you’ll end up with a nice smile on your face.

LG: Well, I’m already smiling over “Early Warning!”

TO: Hahaha. Thanks so much, Lucas. I’m glad you took a listen and chatted for a few!

LG: I’ll be in touch soon.

TO: Bye.

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