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Split Single frontman Jason Narducy on his new album, ‘Metal Frames’

Split Single frontman Jason Narducy on his new album, ‘Metal Frames’
Photograph: James Richards IV

Evanston native Jason Narducy has witnessed the past three decades of Chicago music from the front lines—he played in an ’80s punk band, survived the ’90s alt-rock boom and has since made a name for himself as a touring musician, performing with indie rock luminaries like Bob Mould and Robert Pollard. More recently, he's also found time to record his own music under the moniker of Split Single, playing with a rotating cast of notable musicians. On Narducy's latest record, Metal Frames, he provides another collection of nuanced, adventurous power pop with the help of drummer Jon Wruster and Wilco bassist John Stirratt. Ahead of his hometown album release show, we spoke with Narducy about identifying with punk rock, embracing his talents and adapting to an ever-changing musical landscape. 

As a kid, you played in a band called Verboten with some of your friends. What’s your memory of being a part of Chicago’s punk rock scene in the ’80s? Did it feel like the city was a thriving place for that type of music?

I don’t know if I’d say that the Chicago scene was thriving but there were a lot of good bands. I wouldn’t say that my band was one of them, we were just unique because we were so young and strangely ambitious in this style of music that was not popular at all with our friends, and certainly not our parents. I have this perspective of it that’s clouded by youth—I was 10 when we started the band, playing out at 11 and the group broke up when I was 12. I still love that style of music and I still listen to Articles of Faith and Naked Raygun. We just feel fortunate to be mentioned alongside those bands occasionally and to have gotten to know them and do shows, but it also feels like a very long time ago.

What attracted you to punk rock as a kid?

For the four of us, it felt like our music. Our parents were listening to rock, so if I put on the Who, my dad had those records—there was no sense of rebellion. When you put on a punk rock record, the parents weren’t keen on that and that was exciting. Part of the path to independence is to find your own interests. But there wasn’t a connection with our peers in that way. I remember there was a kid who was a few years older than us—he was really tall, wore roller skates and had a Mohawk. There were many stores he’d get kicked out of just for what he was wearing. Of course, now that’s just Urban Outfitters or something—it’s so normal now.

You also played in a band called Verbow that existed amid Chicago’s alt-rock boom in the ’90s. Did you feel any connection to the city's music scene as its notoriety increased?

Of the big three—Urge Overkill, Liz Phair and the Smashing Pumpkins—I didn’t know any of them at the time, I ended up meeting them later. There was Menthol and Loud Lucy—there were a ton of bands that were getting signed. Chicago is so huge geographically that I didn’t feel like I was part of the community but it did feel good to be recognized for the work we were doing. More gratifying than getting a record deal was being asked by some of our heroes to go on tour with them. We toured with Morrissey, Frank Black and Bob Mould—I think that felt the most validating to us, as opposed to being part of a Chicago community or being a part of that huge explosion of money being thrown around by labels, just hoping that some song would get on the radio. 

For the past 10 years, you’ve toured as a bass player for acts like Bob Mould and Superchunk. How did you fall into that role? 

I’ve had the bass in my hands for a long time and as a songwriter—when I would demo songs I would use a drum machine and play bass or guitar. It wasn’t until 2003 when Liz Phair needed a bass player for some promotional shows in town that I was like, “Oh, I haven’t thought about this. I guess if someone needs a bassist I could do that.” And then two years later when Bob Mould asked me to join his band it was like, “Oh, I need to really work on this.” And then I just got really fortunate. There are so many talented, wonderful people that don’t get a music gig for a while, or ever. I suppose that I sort of diversified in order to keep working in music.

The first Split Single record, Fragmented World, was your first album of original music in several years. Did you approach your new album, Metal Frames, any differently?

Fragmented World came together quickly in the beginning. Once Jon Wurster and Britt Daniel had recorded their drums and bass, I think I took a year and a half to do all my stuff. It was a lot of detail work—I was willing and eager to roll up my sleeves and get this in the best place that I could. But with this record I had more time to write and I didn’t sweat the details. There’s less restraint and it’s a more vulnerable record, there’s things like amp buzz and weird sounds. I just let it fly a bit more on this record. There’s a song called “Silences Mercy” that lyrically is very vengeful and dark—I hadn’t written like that before and the first time I wrote those lyrics, the last part was about forgiveness. Then I was like, “Don’t do that, let this be an angry song.” 

John Stirratt of Wilco plays bass on Metal Frames. How did you begin playing with him? 

I met John in 1999 and we’ve just been acquaintances—I started running into him more over the last few years and he started playing Split Single shows on guitar. When it came time to make the record, I knew he’s obviously an amazing bass player, I asked him if he had any interest and he was way into it. A kind of funny story: I had worked with the engineer Matt Allison on the last record, obviously I’ve worked a ton with Jon [Wurster] and I knew John [Stirratt], but I had a little bit of that anxiety when you get three friends together and you go, “I wonder if this is going to work out?” So, the first day, we’re in Atlas Studio and somebody asked John how he became a member of Uncle Tupelo and Wilco. John said, “A long, long time ago I came across a cassette tape that Jeff Tweedy and [Uncle Tupelo co-founder] Jay Farrar had made called Not Forever, Just For Now,” and there was a pause and Matt, our engineer, said, “I recorded that.” So, basically the most important record in John’s career was recorded by the guy that’s making my record. That was a first day icebreaker and ever since then we’ve had a blast.

What made you decide to fund Metal Frames through Pledgemusic? 

When I finished Fragmented World, I sent it to a handful of labels that I liked and they all said “no.” So my hand was forced, I had to release it and it was a learning experience—you find out how you can get your music on iTunes and how to get LPs manufactured. This time, I already knew how to do that, so I didn’t send the record to any labels because I enjoyed the process. I enjoyed releasing it on my own and having full control, so I didn’t even think about that part this time, but what I did think about was this new trend of crowdsourcing. It’s not in my nature to ask people for money, so I asked a lot of people questions and found that so many young bands do this, even if they have a label. It’s a way to not only build up financial support for the album, but also to promote the record.

Now you're getting ready to celebrate the release in your hometown. Who will be playing with you at the show?

Nora O’Connor will being singing with us, Steve Dawson will be on guitar, Tim Remus on drums and Billy Yost on bass. That’s how Split Single works, it’s just who’s available in what town.

Split Single celebrates the release of Metal Frames at SPACE on November 19 at 8pm.

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