Night Club are one of those bands that very sneakily cut through the fabric of your daily routine, nestling an earworm somewhere between the hippocampus and the amygdala. At a time when you’re folding laundry, sitting behind a desk or making that first pot of coffee, the diminished pop glory of “Candy Coated Suicide” shows up to whisk you away to a leather-clad universe filled with dancing acid bunnies, pink swamps and overall derelict joy. This intense picture is painted with the happenstance that Emily Kavanaugh and Mark Brooks smacked into in 2011 when they formed Night Club, only to show up touring with one of the largest bands in the world with A Perfect Circle seven years later.
Night Club shot for mxdwn by Marv Watson
Night Club has a knack for uniting elements of pop, punk, electronica, hip-hop and metal to form a sound all their own. Kavanaugh and Brooks are both students and lovers of all music and cite the song, not genre, as a driving influence in songwriting. There’s no better example of this open-mindedness than how the duo formed — at a party over a love of, believe it or not, The Vines.
The band had an eventful 2018: they released the deeply personal and critically acclaimed Scary World, followed by an impressive run on A Perfect Circle’s arena tour (no easy feat considering the notoriety of Maynard James Keenan fans). Between their auspicious new album and a live performance that can back it up, Night Club is mxdwn’s Best New Artist for 2018.
The love of music that the two members share was evident well before that party. Kavanaugh grew up in New Jersey and didn’t even think about writing music until her teens. Even then she didn’t take it that seriously. Even though Kavanaugh’s dad spent time in the band of one of New Jersey’s most beloved heroes — Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes — she had no plans to actually write music and be in a band. It wasn’t until her father passed away that her music career started to become a reality. “My parents got me a guitar, this electric guitar when I was 15,” she said. “I just kind of started… I taught myself a little bit. I taught myself basic chords and stuff. I was super into it. I took some guitar lessons and stuff. Then I went to college, and I didn’t really play it anymore. I just kind of did the whole college thing.”
Brooks, on the other hand, had it in his veins from the start. He was a founding member of the now-cult favorite punk bank Warlock Pinchers, who were active in the late ’80s and early ’90s. After his time in that band and others, he vowed to never be in a band again. This leads us to that party in 2011 and their mutual love of The Vines. “We just kind of hit it off musically,” said Kavanaugh, “and we were like, ‘Why don’t we just try?’ We had no intentions of ever forming a band. He’d been in bands in the ’90s and stuff. He was like ‘Fuck forming a band again. It’s so much work. It’s so hard to get it off the ground, but let’s just try writing and see what happens, and maybe we’ll try to write the beats and try to sell them or try to write some songs and sell them.’ We didn’t know what the fuck we were doing. We were just fucking around.”
“We found we liked the same things. Like The Vines to rap and hip-hop [and] that we have the same kind of hip-hop that we like,” said Brooks. “I mean just it was all over the place. Usually, my taste in music doesn’t connect with a lot of people because I just have such a love of music in different things and a lot of people are a little more rigid in their parameters. And she was not at all. She’s just all about the songs and doesn’t really care about the genre, and that’s how I felt. It really wasn’t an intentional thing to start a band. It just kind of… we were like, ‘Well, if we want to hear these songs, we’re going to have to have a band,’ you know?”
“Then we wrote a song called ‘Lovestruck,’ Kavanaugh added, “Which is on our first EP in 2012. We wrote that song, and I remember demoing the vocals. I was like, ‘All right. I’m just going to record the vocals, and we’ll see what happens.’ I literally had no confidence in myself as a singer. I’d never been in a band before. I didn’t know what I was doing.”
The members of Night Club have been tied to multiple projects since then. These projects range from two full-length records — their debut in 2016 titled Requiem for Romance and, of course, this year’s Scary World — and a trio of EPs, to soundtrack compositions and Brooks’ directing credits on Metalocalypse and videos for groups like Slayer and Melvins. Because of the connective powers of the internet and sites like YouTube, the band’s music has been seen and heard all over the world, even in places they’d never performed before. “We toured Europe and people in Budapest were like, ‘We found you. We saw “Dear Enemy” on YouTube or “Show It 2 Me,” or whatever,'” said Kavanaugh.
Scary World found the band releasing what they’ve called their most personal record yet, following Requiem for Romance and their three EPs Night Club (2012), Love Casualty (2013) and Black Leather Heart (2014). The record is filled with dark pop nihilism while also shining a light on the deep, at-times uncomfortable and altogether too rarely addressed topic of mental health. Mental health is something that the duo has expressed as a running theme of Scary World, putting into perspective the album’s cover, which features a pink-and-white little pill.
“We’ve each had our fair share of problems with mental illness in our lives,” said Kavanaugh. “Growing up we experienced it a lot; he’s kind of experienced a lot with his family and with himself too. I struggled with depression and anxiety kind of my whole life. This record we really made it a point to… each song we wanted to be about something specific that was very personal to us and just kind of touching upon these issues of mental illness. Basically, the album is about mental illness and coping with it and dealing with it. In the past, I think we just kind of written… not that our songs weren’t super-personal but we kind of just wrote songs like, ‘Oh, this is a cool sounding kind of pop hook or pop lyric or whatever,’ without it being deep. You know? Without it really truly meaning something within us.”
Brooks echoes that sentiment. “‘What are we saying and what is this band really about?’ We’re both fucked up people in some regard. I think we’re both really nice people, but we’re both messed up in our own right. And I think a lot of people are messed up. And that’s where this album started coming from when we started writing all this stuff. Scary World became really, really personal, and I think it just had to do with all that stuff that we’d both had to deal with in our lives.”
“The record was about realizing you might be ill and that you have these issues but also realizing that you have to overcome those issues and have to somehow survive it and not let it bring you down,” he added. “I had to see a lot of dark stuff. I’ve been around a lot of messed up people in my life just by being an artist, I guess, seeing people that have committed suicide because they couldn’t really survive it and they couldn’t make it through it. And so, it became really personal. Sometimes people maybe don’t hear it at first. They’re just like, ‘Oh, what is this, just some pop song?’ and then I think it seeps in more that it’s like, ‘Wait, what are they talking about?’ And I think that’s made a weird other duality to it because the music is so catchy because we like that sort of stuff. We like that it’s hooky and catchy. But then it has this dose of heavy-duty reality underneath it which makes it a little more cutting. And that’s what gives it its edge these days, I think.”
There is a DIY, punk rock ethos to Night Club as well. The band keeps a close eye on their craft and do as many things in-house as possible. This includes marketing, recording and distribution, as well as directing all their own videos. “It’s like we’re anything but pop in a way because it’s like we’re completely DIY,” said Brooks. “We’ve put out all of our own records. We’ve turned down every record deal anyone’s offered us. We manage ourselves. We do everything by ourselves. We make all of our videos ourselves. We’re anything but pop, really. It’s just that our songs are catchy. We’re not trying to be like Ariana Grande or something, you know?”
“I’ve been in bands a lot,” he continued. “This was Emily’s first band, but I’ve been in a lot of bands, and I’ve been in underground punk bands and stuff. And I’ve been in bands that signed with major labels before. And I went through a period with one band in particular where I sold the rights to my music. I made an album that I really loved, and then it got shelved for like two weeks after it came out. I just couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t handle not being able to do what I wanted to do with my music. And that was a long time ago and I just was like, ‘I’m never doing this again. I’m never going to let somebody else own the shit I make, and I just can’t handle it.'”
“And it really came out of because I don’t want my record to get shelved,” he continued. “We own it all, and when somebody says, ‘Hey. We want to put this in a movie,’ we go, ‘Yeah or nah,’ and it’s our decision, no one else’s decision. There’s no other songwriters… I think the smartest way you could do it is we own our entire catalog of stuff, and that’s become, I don’t know, lucrative in a way because you just own it. When Minor Threat made their own label, that’s the smartest thing they ever did because Fugazi made all of the money, not some record label. They made the money. And those guys are my idols, and Glenn Danzig. I worked with Danzig as my day job as a director. We’ve talked about all that DIY punk rock stuff and people have just forgotten it.”
Night Club have managed to find their way into many television programs and movies, going so far as to compose the soundtrack for Comedy Central’s Moon Beam City and the feature-length movie Nerdland. They have also been featured in multiple shows for MTV including Jersey Shore and fashion icon Betsey Johnson’s TV show. They have stayed true to their sound and have taken it in stride. “I was just like, ‘This show is going to kill us,'” said Kavanaugh. “I’m so happy that our music is playing in some random club scene. I thought that was really funny. It’s actually really cool. We make these songs just me and Mark. To see them on a TV show, it’s like an accomplishment. It’s like these things that we just make ourselves in our little room. Then thousands of people or whatever are watching it. It’s pretty cool. It makes you feel accomplished. It’s like, ‘Okay, people are actually hearing this stuff and not just us.’ We’ll never say no to a show. Shows are great for exposure.”
“Moon Beam City was our first real foray into scoring things, and as a TV show,” said Brooks. “It’s very much like you don’t have a lot of ability to stretch out because it’s about the jokes, and it’s about here’s a little piece and it’s going to be up for like 30 seconds and then it’s into the next skit or into the next piece of it. So it’s a little more utilitarian. You’re there to service the story of what they’re doing, and then that’s that. But when you do a movie and you score a movie, you have a little more freedom to create something more epic and something that can maybe be a 3-4 or 5-minute sequence.”
That love of visual arts has made its way to the band’s repertoire and DIY ethic as well. Brooks directs all the band’s music videos in addition to videos by the Melvins, Slayer and the cult cartoon show Metalocalypse. While his passion started in visual arts, he quickly understood that directing videos would save him money in the long run.
“It was like, ‘Well, what about videos?’ and I would always try and get somebody to do a video for my bands,” he said. “I’d be like, ‘Well, what about this or this or that?’ And then it got to a point where I was like, ‘You know what? I feel like I’m directing these videos.’ I’m coming up with the concepts, and they’re getting the credit. I just started thinking, I moved to LA and I had sworn off the music business because I had just had such a horrible round of just losing all the rights to your music and everything. And I just was like, ‘Well, what else am I going to do with my life if I’m not going to do that?’ In a band, it’s totally really hard and no one ever gives you credit except other band people. It’s really difficult to come up with that and then go up on stage in front of nobody or in front of people and do it. I realized once I was in that world of directing and writing and all that stuff, I had this weird strong suit that I didn’t realize was so valuable, which was I could edit, I could direct, I could write, I could draw it. And so just out of necessity, I became that thing, and then I realized, ‘Oh, I can get paid to do this stuff?’ And then stuff like Metalocalypse came along and it was like… I met Brendon [Small] and it was like our first interactions were just about music, and that’s all we talked about, was music and music and how much I loved Slayer.”
Night Club ended 2018 crisscrossing North America as the opening act for A Perfect Circle and Tricky, playing to 15,000-person arenas. A Perfect Circle is famous for taking non-metal groups on tour with them, and Night Club won over a bevy of heavy music fans with their high-energy dark-pop tendencies. The tour turned out to be wildly successful for them showcasing the band on the national stage for a new fanbase.
“Oh, my God. I’m already an anxious person in general,” said Kavanaugh. “There’s nothing scarier than standing on the side of the stage five minutes before you have to go on. You’re just like, it’s a fucking arena? You’re just like, ‘Oh, my God.’ It’s a weird thing because everyone is kind of seated, and we’re used to playing these small clubs where everyone is up against the stage and the energy is huge, and you’re just like, ‘Yeah.’ These shows — it’s Maynard’s audience. It’s Tricky’s audience. It’s like they don’t really know who you are. They’re sitting down. That kind of makes it extra scary. I mean, I thought we did what we had to do, and it was fun. Now we can say that we’ve played arenas. It just makes you… I just think it makes you better live. When you have to fill up an arena stage, you have to make your show bigger. I have to run around more. I have to be louder and more aggressive. I think now going back into small rooms, I’m going to kind of harness that energy more and kind of bring it to a smaller room. Openly, I just think it makes you a better band in the end because you take these thousands of people, and I have to convert all of you. I have to make you see and know who I am. It’s a lot. For some reason, this tour I was so tired by the end of it because I just gave everything inside of me and just left it on the stage because it was just so big.”
“It was a trip, man, and it happened early on that there was this opportunity,” said Brooks. “They reached out to us and like, ‘Hey, you want to?’ They had a few dates to where a band had dropped off and this was about eight months ago, nine months ago. Like, ‘Would you want to play a couple shows with us?’ And we were like, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’ And so, then we did it and it was just us and A Perfect Circle, big shows and it was terrifying because we’re a duo. And you have to go up in this arena and bring it like you’re in an orchestra or something. It was such a great experience and such an awesome experience, and I think we did a good job because they were like, ‘Hey. You want to do our fall tour with us?’ And we were like, ‘That would be amazing.'”
“They were like, ‘You’d be in the opening slot, but in the middle, we’ll have another band. We just don’t know who that is yet,’ And we said ‘Well, yeah, we’re down. No matter what, we’re down,” Brooks continued. “Then as time went along, we found out it was going to be Tricky. [To] which I was like, ‘Wow, really? That’s amazing,’ because I’ve known his career and he’s such a unique, creative weirdo, you know? He’s a unique guy. And so, I didn’t know what to expect when we went on tour. Then Tricky came up to us on night one right after we played and was like, ‘I loved your set and it was really cool to watch you guys.’ And I like that he’d done all this research on us and watched all these videos and he knew everything about our band before we even played with him.”
Night Club is riding their successful 2018 into the new year with new music videos, a new tour and hopefully some new music. Expect to hear a lot from this promising duo in the near future.
“We definitely want to try to tour this year,” said Kavanaugh. “Not sure when. Maybe spring or summer. Want to try to get back to Europe maybe fall or winter this year. We’re going to start writing probably in January again. After we finish a record, we don’t really want to write for a while because we want to just allow ourselves to like to be inspired again. We don’t want to just rush back into writing. We just want to let ourselves experience things and be inspired again.”
“When we went to Europe the first time this summer, we played in Hungary, in Budapest, and all these people know the words. Or you go to Poland and they all know the words to the songs and you’re just like, ‘Wow.’ And that’s 100% because of YouTube, not because of the records. And so, there’s a lot of life to a record still, that I know a lot of people were like, ‘Well, you just did that record. When’s the next one?’ It’s like, ‘Well, we’re working on that but there’s still a lot of life in this record.’ As far as touring, I’m sure we’re going to do some of that next year. But we need to just start writing again because we spent like, I don’t know, six or seven months touring this year, so we toured a lot. I think it’s time to get creative again. But I think it’s time to go back into that think-tank and start making more songs and start figuring out what the next record is. But it’s probably not coming out until 2020. It’s going to be a while, and we’re going to just make videos for this record and probably play shows.”
Whatever happens in 2019 and beyond, there will be no shortage of Night Club fans. The duo is making music for all the right reasons and doing it their way. It’s exciting to see a band stay true to their sound and image, all while making non-pretentious music that sounds incredibly refreshing and original in today’s scene.
Night Club shot for mxdwn by Marv Watson