How Play Came to Be and How We Came to Play

posted June 6, 2011

Nields History Part IV-Our 1998 Release, “Play”

We Nields have never had a number one hit single on the radio, nor have we appeared on National TV on a late night talk show.We’ve never ridden on a tour bus and we’ve (sadly) never had action figures made to resemble our personages.Nevertheless, in the 8 years of our existence, we feel we’ve lived the full gamut of a rock and roll career worthy of a VH1 Where Are They Now? special. For the first seven years, we were widely touted as The Next Big Thing, which was fun for awhile, though we tired of well meaning friends saying, “I had an idea for you!You guys should be on Conan! If you went on Conan, you’d be famous!”(Courteously, we’d thank each one of these good people, saying, “Yes, what a fine idea! Why didn’t we think of that earlier?” While inside we were tempted to grow bitter and cruel, self-mocking and depressed. But we fought this temptation with all our might!) As obedient Next-Big-Things-To-Be, we left our homes in February, 1996 to chase the Rock and Roll Dream in our sweet Dodge Ram Van, Moby, all the while fantasizing about traveling in a tour bus. We played in venues ranging from beautiful theaters, gorgeous outdoor festivals to little scummy clubs redolent with beer and excrement, with dressing room graffiti that would make Marilyn Manson blush.

We wrote what we hoped and prayed were catchy sell-out hit singles only to have our record company A&R guy and our publisher tell us they were merely “more cerebral Nields songs about teen agers.” Rats! we cried.

By the fall of 1997, our van, Moby, began a slow and excruciating death march across Texas.

News from the home front was that our record company, Guardian, was about to fold. When we called them, concerned for their health, they said, “What are you doing talking to us on the phone?! Get back on the road–we need you to keep promoting Gotta Get Over Greta.” “But we have so many new songs!”we whined. “We want to make a new record. Or two.” “Tough,” they said kindly but with tough love.”We’re busy trying not to become a nonentity Your petty concerns distract us.Meanwhile, go to California where we have a gig for you that will make you famous, put you on TV and in magazines and get you a tour bus.”Obediently (for we were nothing if not obedient!), we flew to California to become famous, finding our selves in the Bloomingdale’s at the Stanford Mall, performing a song about a teen age prostitute to a group of extremely nervous and self conscious fifteen-year-old-winners of an amateur model search (as well as the losers-they weren’t so happy either.) Curiously, this did not directly lead to our fame and fortune, or even a mention in Seventeen Magazine. For the rest of the fall, we played all over the North American continent. In late October, 1997, we took a break in Sewickly, PA to learn the backlog of new songs we’d accumulated. This was the smartest thing we’d done in years.For when the record company did fall, and we found ourselves with no van to travel around in, in that darkest hour between 1997 and 1998, we looked around the room at each other’s dear faces and shrugged. Someone said, “We can still play.”

Well, play we did. We hunkered down at Sackamusic Studio in Amherst and spent the next third of a year recording these 13&1/2 songs, determined to create something that would make our fans proud of us. On June 13, 1998 we held a fundraising concert called Jam for the Van and bought a new van (Nessie, the Loch Ness Vanster) to replace Moby, and that same month, we signed a record deal with Zoe/Rounder/Mercury/PolyGram on the theory that if one record company buys you lunch, four must feed you for at least four meals.

Where did the songs come from?

-“Easy People” was written in Bloomington, Indiana while Nerissa was going for a run. She was very grateful.

-“Georgia O” was written in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Katryna had suggested to Nerissa that she write a song about women who inspired us, especially Georgia O’Keeffe because her name was so musical.

-“In the Hush Before the Heartbreak” was an idea conceived in the Adirondacks.

-“Snowman” was written on a snowy January morning at home in Hatfield, MA and first performed at Passim in Cambridge, MA. David wrote the guitar chords and the words and handed the lyric sheet to Nerissa and started playing. She made up the tune. (“I wrote the chorus!” David complains frostily.)

-“Art of the Gun” was conceived in Atlanta, GA and David first played it for the rest of the band in Grand Junction, CO. He’d heard about an art exhibit called ‘Art of the Gun’ and thought it was an oxymoron.

-“Last Kisses” was conceived on the New Jersey Turnpike.

-“Friday at the Circle K” was conceived at the Iron Horse in Northampton, MA while we were watching a show featuring Eddie from Ohio and Susan McKeowan & Chanting House; it was finished in Sewickly, PA.

-“Check it Out” was an annoying phrase squeaked out ad nauseam at that show in Bloomingdale’s in Northern CA. Nerissa woke from a dream a few days later with the entire first verse full written in her head. She finished it on the stretch of road covering New Mexico, Arizona and eastern CA.

-“Nebraska” was written in Florida, although the inspiration for the song came from a different state.

-“The Train” was written at home in Hatfield. David said, “I oughta write a train song. It’s about time.” So he did.

“Jennifer Falling Down” was written at home in Hatfield.David came to Nerissa with the words to the chorus and said, “I think this is kind of good.” She agreed and wrote the song in about ten minutes.Then they went to a party.

-“Innertube” was written in Pittsburgh, inspired by Dave Chalfant’s grandmother’s beautiful house.

-“Tomorrowland” was mostly written in McLean, VA, but it was based on a chord pattern written at the Loomis Chaffee School back in 1995.Nerissa found an old “work tape” one day and played it in the car ride down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina (much to David’s annoyance: it mostly featured her playing the same droning pattern over an over again, attempting to master a certain guitar lick. She still hasn’t mastered that lick, but she did get inspired to write this song.)

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