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Now Hear This: The Nude Party | Midnight Manor

I'm getting caught up on the good albums that have come out lately. Like this one.

THE PRESS RELEASE: “This music thing is no place for those weak in spirit or constitution. Just ask The Nude Party, whose breakout hit from their 2018 self-titled debut turned a scolding from one of the band members’ relatives — “You’ll never make enough money / and no one cares about the things you say” — into an earworm chorus hook. But as singer Patton Magee notes now, “there’s a lot of shit you have to deal with playing music, and it is kind of genuinely hard. But then again, it’s also like, What do you have to complain about?”

That rock ’n’ roll dichotomy — the agony and the ecstasy, the pleasure and the pain, the rave up and the come down — is baked into the very grooves of The Nude Party’s latest full-length effort ​Midnight Manor.​ The album blasts off with the hot-wire glam-boogie of Lonely Heather, in which Magee channels his inner Lou Reed (and that’s Lou at his most nervy and agitated) as his band mates — bassist ​Alec Castillo, guitarist Shaun Couture, pianist Don Merrill​, percussionist Austin Brose ​and drummer Connor Mikita — kick up a sweaty, amphetamine-fueled stew behind him, and even throw in a few ​sha-la-la-la​’s to boot.

Photo by Bryan Derballa.

From there we get, among others: the Stonesy (and that’s Mick ‘n’ Keef in full-on country-honking mode) Pardon Me, Satan, where the down-and-dejected protagonist laments, “If the worth of a man is the weight of his word / I guess mine could be blown by the wind,” over a bed of acoustic guitar and pedal steel, the latter courtesy of Jon “Catfish” Delorme; the AM-dial ’70s pop of Shine Your Light, with a wispy groove that shimmers with refracted, reverb-heavy guitars; the country-rocking What’s the Deal?, whose buoyant choogle belies the fact that the lyrics (“Oh and it’s hard growing old / When all of your friends start turning cold”) came after visiting a band member’s ailing grandmother in a nursing home; and the kazoo-specked closer, Nashville Record Company, where a sleazy company man wryly observes, “I’d buy your bleeding heart … but it ain’t in the budget.” Of that last song, Magee recalls, “That one came when I was visiting my parents in North Carolina and explaining to my mom how a record label works. When I was done she said, ‘Well, that sounds stupid. Why would you even want that?’ ” He laughs. “And it’s like, ‘I don’t know! We signed the contract when we were ​22​!’ It is what it is.”

Chalk it up as another tuneful example of the triumphs and trials at the heart of The Nude Party experience. After all, this is band of college friends (that would be Boone, North Carolina’s Appalachian State University) who, after honing their chops through incessant practice at their communal band house and also on the road, gained the admiration of the musician Oakley Munson, who had them relocate to New York’s Catskill Mountains and took them under his wing. “More than anything, Oakley brings a certain ‘golden trust’ to everything,” Magee says of their mentor, who also serves as the band’s producer. “When you finish a take, everyone’s eyes turn towards the control room and look at Oak. He’s the guy in the executive chair.”

Photo by Bryan Derballa.

It is also at Munson’s property, tucked away deep in the Catskills, where The Nude Party have lived, loved and labored (and we mean that literally — they earn their keep gardening, tending to animals and doing all manner of general groundskeeping) for the past several years. And it’s where they worked up the tunes that populate both their self-titled debut and ​Midnight Manor,​ which was recorded, in true rock ’n’ roll fashion, live to tape in six days, at the nearby Outlier Inn studio.

As for the differences between the two albums? For starters, after the first and before the second, they toured their butts off, hitting stages from the U.S. to Europe to Australia, appearing at massive fests like Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo and supporting major artists like Jack White and Arctic Monkeys — both of whom, like most musicians The Nude Party encounter, quickly transitioned from mere tour mates to full-blown fans.

Understandably, the response from listeners and artists alike has been humbling. “I constantly feel like somebody made a mistake or called in a favor on our behalf from some shadowy room,” Magee says. No favors here — The Nude Party have earned every ounce of accolade through hard work and blood, sweat and tears… and, admittedly, a fair amount of booze. Take the new album’s Thirsty Drinking Blues, a rowdy romp of a tune that declares “I’m on my knees every time I fall / Ain’t religious, I was baptized in alcohol” over a barrelhouse piano-studded classic rock rhythm swagger. The genesis of that one is rooted in a tour stop in Louisville, Kentucky, where the band generally “likes to have a good time.” Maybe too good of a time, as drummer Connor Mikita and a few others “wanted to keep the party going from Saturday night into Sunday morning. But they didn’t have anything left to drink and you can’t buy alcohol in Louisville on Sunday … so they went to a Catholic church to drink wine.”

Photo by Bryan Derballa.

But it’s not all drunken hijinks with The Nude Party. ​Midnight Manor is also imbued with “all the stress and pressure and internal dynamics and personal turmoil” the band experienced in the time since their debut album. “There had been no creative outlet for all of that until we finally got down to writing again. It felt like a release of built-up tension with this record.” The biggest release came via the song Things Fall Apart, a ’60s-style pop ballad that chronicles the end of a relationship, with the singer intoning, “Goodbye’s hard to hear / When the reasons why really aren’t clear.”

“Some songs you don’t have to think about — you just emote and they’re there,” says Magee, one of several members that went through a breakup during the album’s creation. The experience eventually brought the band closer together. “We got back on the same page and became friends again. And I think a good amount of the songs reflect that process. As for what comes next? If I had to think about a long-term goal for this band, it would be to just exist, and exist in a purposeful way. I mean, if you want to be a superstar, you ​probably have to make modern pop music. But if you want to satisfy your soul, you just have to play what you want to play. And in 10, 20 years? I want to be onstage and still be surrounded by my friends. So we’ll just continue to do what we know how to do, and what we love to do. I know that’s easier said than done” — to quote the title of a rollicking, raucous ​Midnight Manor​ track — “but that’s what’s important to us.”