When Verbow lost its deal with Epic five years ago, front man and guitarist Jason Narducy wasn't sure what he'd end up doing--music had been the center of his life since he was ten and fronting the grade school punk band Verboten. But the 34-year-old has landed on his feet, and he's not only running a painting company but enjoying some unexpected success playing bass as a hired gun--he's toured with Liz Phair and Bob Mould and just landed a gig with former Guided by Voices leader Robert Pollard. "What has me scratching my head is that I'm not really a bassist," says Narducy. "But I do understand that once you do something and people see you do it, that's the category you're in. It's kinda been a second career for me, so I'm not complaining."
Narducy, who lives in Evanston with his wife and their young son, got his first sideman job in 2003 after a mutual friend recommended him to Phair. He and Phair had met when he opened for her at the Vic in 1995, playing in a duet with future Verbow cellist Alison Chesley, but they hadn't kept in touch. "The call came out of the blue," he says. "It's a lot different from being a singer-songwriter in your own project, but I liked it right away."
After the Phair tour Narducy launched a new band of his own, Rockets Over Sweden, with late-period Verbow drummer Dave Suycott and keyboardist Eddie Carlson. They made their live debut in May 2003 and released an EP, Penny Coliseum (Aware), a year later, but it wasn't long before Narducy was called away again. This spring Bob Mould, who'd produced Verbow's 1997 debut, Chronicles, made him an offer. "I have a long history with Bob," says Narducy. "He got in touch in May saying he was going to put together a rock band to support his new record, Body of Song, and play a lot of his old stuff."
Late this summer Narducy traveled to D.C. to rehearse with his fellow recruits--Fugazi's Brendan Canty on drums and Richard Morel, aka Pink Noise, on keyboards--and in early September the band kicked off a six-week international tour. "It was just so much fun to play for people that were losing their minds," says Narducy. "They were so happy to hear all those Husker Du and Sugar songs."
While on the road with Mould, Narducy ran into Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster in North Carolina and power-pop cult hero Tommy Keene in LA. The two men had already been chosen to form the nucleus of Robert Pollard's first post-Guided by Voices backing band--former Frank Black guitarist Dave Phillips would come aboard later--and both recommended him to Pollard as a bassist. Though Narducy had seen Guided by Voices several times, he didn't actually meet Pollard until the infamously prolific songwriter came to Chicago a couple weeks ago to sign copies of Guided by Voices: A Brief History at a Barnes & Noble. "We talked for ten minutes. And he was like, 'Do you want to do this thing?' I said yes, and now I have 50 songs to learn," says Narducy, laughing. "And I think that's just side one of the new record."
Pollard's album From a Compound Eye is due out on Merge on January 24, and the tour to support it--actually a string of long weekends with stints at home in between--will reach Chicago at the end of March, after South by Southwest. The set lists will consist mostly of material from Eye and a follow-up disc scheduled for the fall, along with a smattering of Guided by Voices favorites.
Rockets Over Sweden hasn't played at all this year, but Narducy says the time on the road has actually helped inspire him. "On the Mould tour we had XM radio in the car, and there's so much great music out there that I hadn't been privy to," he says. "So I went on a CD-buying binge. I bought more CDs in the three weeks after that tour than the three years previous to it."
Narducy and Suycott plan to begin work on a new Rockets album as early as this month. "We've been e-mailing each other with ideas," says Narducy. (Carlson is still in the band but living in Rhode Island for the time being.) In the meantime they plan to post a few new songs at rocketsoversweden.com for their neglected fans. "I feel bad, because we started up and then just kinda stopped," Narducy says. "But that was another great thing about touring: seeing all the Verbow T-shirts and meeting the people who bought the Rockets record."
Despite his busy schedule as a musician, Narducy still runs Inside Outside Painting Company ("a reference for all the Beach Boys and Who fans out there"), which he founded in 2001 with actor and director Ben Byer. (Byer left in 2003 after being diagnosed with ALS.) "It's successful for a small business," says Narducy. "But again, just like being a bassist, it's something I never thought I'd be doing."
Narducy already has plans to return to Europe with Mould after the Pollard tour, and hopes to get more opportunities to play as a sideman. "The main thing is that I don't want to be in a project that I'm not excited about," he says. "So far, I've been incredibly lucky."
Back in the early part of 2004, after Kanye West and Twista propelled Chicago hip-hop onto the national stage, major labels developed a keen interest in the city's scene--and Bump J was one of the first local MCs to sign a contract. Atlantic's Free 4 All imprint was scheduled to put out his debut album, Nothing to Lose, this spring, but now the year's nearly over and several subsequent release dates have come and gone. Bump (real name Terrance Boykins) won "Best Midwest Mixtape Artist" in March at Justo's Mixtape Awards in New York, and in August he played a handful of shows sponsored by Vibe magazine and Doritos. His music has turned up in McDonald's commercials and in video games like NBA Live 2005 and Madden NFL 06, and there's been talk of a Bump J clothing line from Ecko--but still no CD. All the label has released so far is a teaser track, "Strip Club," that's been getting played on WGCI, B96, and Power 92 for the past few weeks.
Bump's management and label reps say the biggest reason for the delays has been Atlantic's packed schedule for 2005. The label decided to wait till it could devote its full attention to the album, and according to the current plan Nothing to Lose--which features contributions from Kanye West, Twista, and Young Jeezy, among others--should be out in March. An "official" first single will drop in mid-January--either "That's My Song" or a still-untitled track produced by West. Bump plans to make a promotional tour in February, with concert dates to follow in the spring. For now you can hear him on a new Rhymefest track that's just been released to radio, "Chicago Rillas." Rhymefest, another local MC with connections to Kanye (he cowrote "Jesus Walks"), has a full-length called Blue Collar due on J Records in early '06.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Jin Newberry, Vincent Soyez.