Oliver Ackermann (A Place to Bury Strangers) Talks Nobunny’s Secret Songs: Reflections From the Ear Mirror

I love garage rock the same way I like all of my music: If there is an amazing song or the band is doing something special, then I'm in. In the...

I love garage rock the same way I like all of my music: If there is an amazing song or the band is doing something special, then I’m in. In the ’60s, garage bands were blowing up amplifiers, playing guitars with drum sticks, blasting fuzz louder than anything else in the mix and arranging songs in the strangest, most experimental ways and yet maintaining some elements of classic pop and rock.

Nobunny, the mysterious one-man project of songwriter Justin Champlin, clearly loves garage rock as much as I do. His new album Secret Songs: Reflections from the Ear Mirror starts with a couple of happy Archies-type songs with that popular modern retro-punk garage vibe that grows on you real quick. It’s interesting from the start and just gets better as the record goes on. Although it doesn’t sound like Nobunny spent much time crafting these songs, they seem to pour out naturally, which makes for a pure and honest-sounding album. Secret Songs… is not uncool in any way so you can feel OK cranking this up around your friends and not getting strange looks as if your musical taste is crap. These are good, anthemic head bangers, sweet groovers and nasty thrashers played by an awesome one-man band.

There are no apparent click tracks, drum machines, ’80s synths, or samplers that I can hear;  it almost sounds like it was recorded in a bedroom that was converted into a practice space, capturing the thrill of writing music with friends. The album reminds me of my youth, thinking, “OK, great, the parents are out of the house, let’s crank it up.”

Everything is done very tastefully though. The guitars don’t sound too effected and the vocals are sweetly doubled up in cool ways. Something that I like about ’60s pop and garage music is everything wasn’t discovered, as far as what was going to be the standard for pop arrangements, and you can hear that same spirit here. Nobunny is searching for something, and he just goes for it without seeming to question if it’s going to work or not, just like Tommy Roe did on his classic 1969 hit “Dizzy.” Sometimes they’re not the best ideas but they create something charming and unpredictable, and that makes you fall in love with it.

There’s smart ideas all over Secret Songs… . “My Blank Space” sounds like some guitars were run through practice amps that were cranked way up and features an overdriven bass played like a guitar. “Bye Bye Roxie” sounds like an unplugged guitar rocking out before it’s smothered by another guitar blasting through a practice amplifier, as if they were dueling right in front of us. Both songs have hooks and guitar melodies that get stuck in your head and stay with you through the day.

Nobunny busts out with some Ramones vibes on “The Birthday Girl,” which sounds like the vocals were recorded through a high school announcement PA. This reminds me of growing up in the ’80s — I’m back in middle school and the cool teacher has taken over the intercom and is preaching to the school. Sometimes the record sounds like I would imagine ’50s radio jingles would sound — as if everything was played in a radio booth. But then Nobunny drags you out to a swampy soirée in songs like “Do the Stooge.” There is something filthy going on — maybe it’s the echo on the vocals or how it seems like the microphone is being attacked, but it is sort of pleasurably violating as the record goes on. Sleeze-twee. Cute and filthy.

It all feels like Nobunny is having fun, and that makes it super fun to listen to — Secret Songs… is a party and I’m invited.

Oliver Ackermann is a sheltered brainiac who spends his time immersed in his work every waking hour of his life.  This is the bane of his existence as he ignores his loved ones and friends to create cities of electronic machines and universes of soundscapes to vacation in.  He is also a member of A Place to Bury Strangers. You can find them on Instagram here.