Hellacious riffs that charge with all the power of jacked-up rhinos. Barbed vocals that could shatter brick walls. A combined force of blistering speed and bruising might that feels like a hammer to the face. This the sound of violence. This is Nails.
The Californian trio formed in 2007, and three years later unleashed their planet-shattering debut Unsilent Death – a 10-track audioslaughter that clocked in at 14 minutes. In 2013 came the even more destructive Abandon All Life, which dumped all pretensions of accessibility. And now they’re back with their finest and most violent album yet, You Will Never Be One Of Us.
Speaking over the phone while on a break at his office job, vocalist/guitarist Todd Jones says that, after almost a decade, Nails have finally achieved their vision of channelling “Discharge, Crossed Out and Slayer”. But why are the band so driven by aggression?
“You don’t start a metal or punk band to make happy music – everybody who plays this kind of music wants to voice their contention with the world,” Todd begins. “When you’re a kid, everything seems fine and you don’t really know what’s going on. You don’t have real opinions until you’re a teenager, and then you start realising shit’s fucked up and that you have a choice and can change things. It’s a feeling I still feel now.”
Today, aged 34, married with a three-year-old son and a five-year-old daughter, Todd is far from being a teenager, but his music brims with the turmoil of those years. Despite having a nuclear family of his own, he didn’t grow up in such a setting. As a child, his mother wasn’t around, the reasons for which he prefers not to talk about. Aged just 15, his father passed away, leaving him alone and bereft of emotional and practical support. “It was a frustrating time,” Todd admits. “You need your parents when you’re a teenager – you need them to show you the way and how to deal with things. There was a lot of guidance I missed out on that I had to pay for in my 20s. I had to learn the hard way, both on a social level and on a mental level.”
Seeking refuge in the music of UK punk bands such as Subhumans and GBH, Todd joined influential hardcore band Terror at the age of 19. By 22, he’d travelled across the US as well as Europe and Japan, but realised that the touring lifestyle wasn’t for him. Spending the following years working, he now balances Nails – rounded out by bassist John Gianelli and Taylor Young on drums – with his much less hardcore career at an avionics company, which provides an internet service to aeroplanes. No one there even knows that he’s in a band, let alone such a ferocious powerhouse. “I wear the mask well,” he says. “I have to be a regular normal person for society.”
Society, with all its bullshitters and fakes, is the overarching theme of You Will Never Be One Of Us. Its crosshairs are aimed firmly at social climbers and hangers-on that contribute nothing to art or community, instead talking smack about people or using other people’s success to boost their own social standing. This bitching isn’t limited to the music scene, but it’s something the frontman sees more and more as his band’s reputation rises.
“The bigger Nails get, the more I notice people are hating on us, and not because they don’t like our music, but because of jealousy,” he says, making sure not to name names. “There’s a lot of snide comments from people who either were supporters, or peers that we have supported in the past.”
With fans including Max Cavalera and Barney Greenway, Todd is aware how significant his band are becoming – if you go to any hardcore or grindcore show, chances are you’ll see a Nails shirt. When the band started, they thought they’d be playing to 30 kids, and now they’re punishing hundreds. This could change in an instant, but Todd hopes they’ve earned a degree of longevity and protection against the haters. “People are fickle about music,” Todd says. “What’s cool today might not be cool tomorrow, but I realise after three albums that might not apply to us. We have real fans who aren’t interested in being part of a popular thing that only exists for a year.”
Nails’ fanbase is increasing with every album, but the band’s ethos of short, sharp and shocking remains the same. You can listen to all three albums in less than an hour and still have time to bandage up your fists afterwards. Todd has never liked writing four-minute songs, which is why it comes as such a surprise that You Will Never Be One Of Us climaxes on the eight-minute hammering of They Come Crawling Back. The anomalous piece is actually three separate pieces of music stitched together, the outro of which is a cover of little-known Boston hardcore band Dead Black.
“Music is an emotion, not a timeline,” Todd says defiantly, when questioned on the brevity of Nails songs. But is it short-changing music fans who pay £10 to £20 for less than 20 minutes of music? “Full-length standards are set up by distributors and business people that have no business telling people how much a record should cost,” he rants. “Don’t let the distributors tell you what a full-length should and shouldn’t be. If you hear an album and you feel like you’re listening to a full-length, just be happy about that.”
Nails have managed to keep the same lineup for three albums, which have all been produced by honorary fourth member, Converge’s Kurt Ballou. The band knew he was the man for the job after hearing Kurt’s work on American Nightmare’s self-titled seven-inch, and established a relationship soon after. With Nails recording with the guitarist from one of the best hardcore bands of all time, it stands to reason that their music would sound like the nastiest thing on Earth. “I’d wear that as a badge of honour,” Todd says proudly. “Our music is meant to be nasty.”
Even with the frustrations in Todd’s formative years, the hatred he has for certain sections of society and the cacophonous noise he makes in the studio, there is a level of positivity and happiness to Nails – the sort of elation that comes from purging emotions and sharing them with a group of like-minded people. “When I was younger, I was a much more frustrated person,” Todd confesses. “A big thing for me then, as it is now, is being able to listen to a record born out of pain and dwell on that, but also feel like there’s someone out there who feels the same way I do, and that’s comforting. If somebody is in a really bad place in their life and they hear a Nails record and they relate to it, the end result is very positive.”
Such is the power of powerviolence.