The Never
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The Never
Billboard November 16, 2002
There’s something instantly endearing about a band that intentionally bucks trends. The inherent bravery required to step apart from the pack can be irresistible, especially when the music by the band in question is top-shelf quality. We have to believe that such bands like the never will be rewarded in the end with deserved success. This Chapel Hill, N.C., outfit has begun to build an ardent local following on the strength of tunes that combine seeming disparate elements of Weezer, Ben Folds, and early Bruce Springsteen, among other influences. The connecting thread of the band’s material is a winking sense of humor and an undeniable disire to pave is own musical path. Even with such apparent influences, the real charm of the Never is their quirky originality. It’s easy to pinpoint their pints of stylistic origin, but there are enough unique characteristics to render songs like the piano-driven “ I miss home,” with its shifting tempos and clever lyrics, and their relaxed, folk-spiced “wonderful,” deliciously distinctive. The band is currently string to widen its scope by playing gigs in various parts of the country. In fact, it recently took its first New York Bow to positive audience reaction. If justice prevails, a few smart major-label A&R executives were there taking notes - Billboard


It’s tough to review an opera one’s never seen. North Carolina’s The Never is touring Antarctica: A Storybook Record this summer, and, although I have the album and the 50-page illustrated storybook sitting in front of me, putting these two pieces together without seeing the show feels like I’m missing an important part.

However, that’s not because of the album’s weakness. On the contrary, Antarctica’s music is a confident, competent, and altogether charming combination of Death Cab for Cutie and Some by Sea: intense but low-key string- and keyboard-accentuated pop music that takes itself more than a little seriously. Lyrically Antarctica owes a great debt to Roddy Frame and Paddy McAloon, and a higher compliment is difficult to pay.

Antarctica has some glorious pop moments. The label recommends for airplay “Summer Girl/Old Man Winter,” “Cavity,” and the title track. While I agree with “Summer Girl,” a generously indulgent slice of the purest pop with a heavily orchestral outro that could be a fairly serious hit if anyone could get this on the radio, and the title track, with its soaring harmonies and swerving lyrics (from a little odd to absolutely opaque in two lines: to “But in Antarctica, a place where I don’t feel alone / And in Antarctica, our words are buried in the snow / And the witch can’t fine me here / And all of my friends are there / And I’ll find my heart in Antarctica”), I disagree with the inclusion of “Cavity” because, although musically arresting, lyrically I can’t escape its double entendres (consider the alternative meaning of cavity — that is the one that doesn’t mean tooth rot — and consider the lyrics: “You’re a cavity / You’re mine all the time / Although it hurts it’s good for me / You’re mine all the time / Get it right the first time / Or you’ll be alone”; see what I mean?) and would have recommended instead “March of the Minions,” as that grabbed my attention on the first listen and continues to grab it now on listen number eight or 10 or whatever.

Let me say here that I usually only listen to an album twice to review it (and, according to some, that’s generous — unlike Nick Hornsby, I don’t have the luxury of dismissing an album based on cover art, for instance). That The Never’s effort has taken me, like, 10 listens to review says a great deal about the album’s depth.

Anyway, “March of the Minions” grabs the listener by the throat, tells the listener about this terrible nowhere job (“Working in the madhouse”), then throws him down and walks away with a vicious stuttering rhythm that’s impossible to ignore. I can understand why The Never doesn’t do this on every song — it’d make the band a different kind of band than what these guys want to be — but that hasn’t stopped me from backing up the CD and listening to “March” over and over. Further, “The Winter’s Coming” turns into a much bigger song than it initially seems, and one listen with both ears all the way through quickly turns this, too, into an album highlight.

The album’s slower, smaller tracks (some of which feel like the listener must scoot forward in his chair to better hear them they’re so small... like, taped-off-of-AM-radio kind of small) are equally rewarding. “Farmland,” “The Sharpest Place,” and “Snow Starts to Fall” are all solid tracks; heartfelt but not trailblazing, they do a fine job of rounding out an album of, if the world gave artists who deserve it the respect they undoubtedly earn, maybe a half-dozen college radio pop hits.

But The Never wants more than this. And that’s the downside to the Antarctica album. It’s designed as a contiguous narrative about, well, as the album’s interior says, “the journey of a country boy returning a nuclear bomb to the city.” This makes some songs goofy as hell out of context. Lyrically interspersed with these half-dozen chiming, serviceable pop tunes are casual mentions of bombs, cold, hills, snow, trees, witches, and several other things that just don’t make sense unless you have the storybook that’s to accompany Antarctica: A Storybook Record.

Like the storybooks wherein a cue is provided for one to turn the page and continue following along, The Never’s storybook has cues on the bottom of pages that signal when the listener is to turn the page based on the time elapsed in the accompanying song. Unlike many people, I don’t own an iPod nor do I listen to my music through my computer — I kick it old school and put CDs in my actual stereo, which is across the room from where I’m writing this. Without the telltale beep to signal page turning, following the storybook’s narrative with the album is a bit of a challenge, but I can’t think of a better way to do what The Never has done.

The storybook is a 50-page illustrated narrative poem. Although it looks like it’s for children, it falls into the genre of children’s literature for adults, a surprisingly large genre (springing to mind is Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, a story no child could ever discern the truth of but that makes parents feel like better parents... and if you loved The Giving Tree when you were little, please go back and read it again before you tell me I’m full of crap). The storybook does, indeed, trace the adventures of Paul after he discovers a nuclear bomb near his forest home. He allies with Alice, his friend from the city, in an effort to return the bomb to its rightful owner. All the while, Paul and Alice are pursued through pristine forest and decaying city by the evil witch and her henchmen, who want, for reasons unexplained, to detonate the bomb in “the mountains and forested land” right near Paul’s home and (in another nod to Silverstein) the tree he loves so much. Eventually captured by the witch, Paul remembers the carving on his favorite tree (more nodding at Silverstein) and convinces the witch not to drop the bomb, but signals get crossed and the bomb is dropped in the heart of the city, where it doesn’t explode and instead becomes a symbol of the wasted lives of the city’s inhabitants. The city rejuvenated and the witch rehabilitated, Paul and Alice stroll off into the snowy landscape.

Although the plot is a change of pace (I doubt you’ll see a Disney film about a boy handing a witch a nuke), the sentiment is, sadly, an old hat. Nearly concluding with the lines, “Life is so perfect in all of its flaws / but we forget to slow down, forget to just pause,” the storybook says the reader should, in essence, carpe diem and stop and smell the roses and all that stuff, which is nice, but unless you’re just dumb, you probably knew this already, and having a four-piece from Chapel Hill tell you so is probably redundant.

The poetry itself is amateurish but heartfelt. Numerous minor grammatical errors plague the text (the frequent misuse of everyday for every day — it’s one word only when used as an adjective, dammit! — is particularly egregious), the lines don’t scan, and more than a few lines are forced to rhyme although it perverts regular sentence order to do so, turning some into a mishmash of filler. Take a look:

Around the bomb, the streets start to fill.

The crowd just gets bigger, it builds and builds.

They gather around and slowly begin

to lift the thing up and stand it on end.

Now it’s a constant reminder for all those who pass,

to live everyday like it was their last.

Insert sic’s where necessary; this is what the text really says. The repetition of start and begin in lines 1 and 3 lend an unfinished quality to scenario (when, exactly, do they finish and end?). The word just is unnecessary. Crowd is singular and doesn’t agree with the opening They in line 3. The phrase “lift the thing up” is repetitive (one doesn’t often lift things down, does one?). Now is unnecessary, as is “all those who pass” (for who else would it influence?). The comma should be deleted at the end of line 5. In line 6, that everyday should be every day, and that like it was should be as if it were.

If this seems pedantic, it is, but it’s why the storybook can’t stand on its own: it’s not great poetry. It is poetry — it’s rhythmic in its own way — but the storybook only works when combined with the album and the book’s illustrations.

And what beautiful illustrations these are. Noah Smith, The Never’s vocalist/guitarist/bassist who is responsible for the storybook’s poetry and drawings, outdoes more than a few professional illustrators with the storybook’s watercolors. The dark and complex depiction of the witch’s henchmen that is to accompany “March of the Minions,” for example, captures perfectly the song’s sentiment. Those in the front of the piece are discernibly human, but toward the back they become less so and more skeletal. The orange-brown sky and the barbed wire lend a concentration camp air to the piece, and, as one remembers from earlier, who hasn’t felt like his job was actually a concentration camp — a madhouse — and he was just waiting to get sent to the showers?

The piece complementing the conclusion of “Searching and Chasing” captures Paul riding the bomb, the bomb tied to his wagon, being chased by a pair of Suburbans. Paul’s expression is a combination of resignation (“Why did I do this?”) and concern (“Yep, they’re still back there”). Both Paul and one Suburban are catching air, making them appear, possibly, as two sides of the same coin. “There, but for the grace of God,” might wonder Paul, “go I.”

Although Smith needs to develop more as a poet, his development as an illustrator is what I’m really looking forward to. These pieces are fantastic by themselves, and they align perfectly with both storybook and album.

I want to take this as a whole. I really do get the sense that without seeing the stage show (which is supposed to include The Never playing with “a small orchestra and projecting the art from the book on screens as they play through the album”), I’m missing a vital part of what The Never have achieved with all the parts of Antarctica: A Storybook Record.

The achievement is sweeping, ambitious, and more than a little dangerous. This is only The Never’s second album, and attempting something on such a grand scale smacks of pretension and overreaching. And, at times, Antarctica is pretentious, and, at times, Antarctica does overreach, but it does so for the best of reasons: a unique multimedia vision that borders on operatic.

The Never plays Virginia, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, and the band's native North Carolina before the tour wraps up at September’s end. Here’s hoping a live DVD is forthcoming, because if The Never got even as close as San Diego or Vegas or Phoenix, I’d get out of my chair and drive from Orange County, California, and go see the act. Once you’ve experienced Antarctica, you really want the whole experience and all that that entails. Antarctica: A Storybook Album is a fantastic accomplishment that everyone should have the opportunity to experience, and to limit it to just those folks who are fortunate enough to live in the Northeast and Midwest is just cruel.

-Robert Harris
08/23/06 - Delusions of Adequacy


The Never’s latest album, Antarctica, carries with it the subtitle of A Storybook Record, and that explains it in a nutshell—it’s a CD with a bonus book (or a book with a bonus CD, if you prefer), supposedly making for an audiovisual multimedia experience...or something like that. The CD is fantastic—it’s poppy and orchestral in all the right places, and it has a vague theme of the passage of time as represented by the seasons. “Leaves Start to Fall” is lovely and lilting, complete with some third-based harmony lines and lots of synth buzzes and whooshes that complement the typical four-piece band setup perfectly. Noah Smith sounds a little like Self’s Matt Mahaffey with the rough edges removed, portraying an innocent sound, perhaps unprepared for the winter to come. The storybook, then, feels a little bit disjunct when placed next to the album, as its bleak tone (the rhyme scheme points it toward children, while the dark subject matter steers it away) and colorful-but-stark artistic style don’t quite meld with the lush acoustics of the album. Still, the mere fact that Smith is resposible for the entire book as well as one of the driving forces of the music is very, very impressive, for even as the two don’t quite meld, there’s certainly plenty of talent to be found in both. Plus, it’s easy to appreciate the moral of this particular fable, especially amidst a worldwide climate of fear and distrust. The Never has quite a document on its hands here, and while it never quite melds like they seem to hope it does, it’s well worth a look or three. - PopMatters.com


Local band's concept spurs admirable LP
By: Bryan Reed, Staff Writer
MUSICREVIEW
The Never
Antarctica
3.5/4

When a naive young boy finds a nuclear bomb in the woods, there's bound to be an adventure afoot.

And in the hands of Chapel Hill's The Never, the fantastic tale becomes the central theme of a storybook and concept album, packaged together for simultaneous consumption: Antarctica.

The story focuses on a young boy named Paul, who despite his innocent nature, has an indestructible zeal for life.

When he finds a nuclear bomb near his countryside home, it leads him on an adventure into the cold, gray city, and into an evil trap set by a sinister witch.

When Paul manages to melt the witch's icy heart, the citizens "fall in love with this world," and everybody lives happily ever after.

The book, written and vividly illustrated by Noah Smith, The Never's co-frontman, offers a delightful fable (sans animals), and shows Smith to be a sort of indie-rock Aesop.

But, as good as the book is, the music is where the project really shines. The album plays like a rock opera, with first-person streams of consciousness forming the lyrics and crafting the tale from internal perspectives.

Each track serves a purpose in advancing the plot - or if listeners are reading along, adding depth to the book's third-person point of view.

The music is arranged artfully, dabbling in diverse styles from folk to pop rock, and even flirting with hip-hop beats.

Shimmering strings create a fantastic countryside realm, while urgent, ominous synth-driven beats add depth to the plot on the instrumental "Searching and Chasing."

On "Bomber Pilot," the band creates a quasi-chaotic atmosphere, reflecting a particularly suspenseful scene in the story's plot but then slows the tune as tension builds to the story's climax.

Like the best concept albums, Antarctica flows smoothly as the story unfolds, alternately building and relieving tension as the tale demands.

The ambition of the project is impressive to say the least, but The Never pulls it off seamlessly.

The band deftly manages to achieve both atmosphere and melody, which makes the album play like an LP, not just as background music to the book.

That can be an obstacle when trying to read the book and listen to the music simultaneously.

It's not unlike trying to read parts of Moby Dick while listening to Mastodon's Leviathan.

Even though the stories are the same, the differences are large enough that they detract from one another - when slammed together.

But when taken separately, the book and the album complement each other perfectly and create a touching indie-epic for the whole family.

- The Daily Tar Heel


The blend of indie rock and chamber pop on The Never's concept album Antarctica is always grand but never grandiose: Every note is deployed in the interest of making the melodies as unforgettable as possible. The concept involves a boy returning a bomb he finds in his back yard to the city, only to be beset by evil witches. The concept is more explicit in the illustrated storybook that accompanies the album, but it simply provides a subtle structural integrity to the music.

But while the narrative arc is obscure, its subtext--the tension between youth and adulthood's conflicting desires for change or stability--is writ large in these lyrics of ominously shifting seasons and outsized emotions. A year's worth of inflamed passions drift by in the first four tracks alone. On the brief overture "Summer Time," a verdant bed of Brian Wilson-influenced harmonies buoy up a swooning vocal melody: "I'm in love, love, love." Delicate chimes waft over a spitting drum machine on "On a Mountain," as weeping strings saw out a forlorn melody and mandolin runs flicker like candlelight. The tone is charming but elegiac, and on "Leaves Start to Fall," a twinkling indie rock ballad with swelling strings, trilling organs and deft shifts in intensity, "Summer's over/ It's ending / It's over." By "Summer Girl / Old Man Winter," a wonder of contrast with its dark choral interludes and bright acoustic guitars, the winter has come to "bury everyone."

The lyrics can be mawkish, and more cynical listeners will choke on lines like "Group of faceless people far far away/ I've heard they take more than they give." Nevertheless, The Never's whipsmart arrangements, luxurious production and pitch-perfect sensitive-boy vocals render the words nearly inconsequential. Sounding like a mix of The Decemberists and Death Cab for Cutie, with an unnaturally smooth finish for such a young effort, Antarctica is in fierce competition with Roman Candle's latest to be the most nationally relevant and commercially viable Triangle release in recent memory. --Brian Howe - The Independent


Antarctica is proof that, even in the year 2006, there are bands operating below the “buzz / hype” radar, making independent music that’s more creative, inventive, affectionate, and overall brilliant than anything that’s being passed off as “hip.” The Never are a quartet out of Chapel Hill, NC led by guitarist/vocalist Noah Smith and pianist/composer Ari Picker. The two have been friends and collaborators since childhood, and the results of their mutual understanding are absolutely astonishing on Antarctica. Picker’s multi-instrumental arrangements – featuring organ, saw, samples, fiddle, mandolin, and more – not only compliment Smith’s delightful pop-centric melodies perfectly, but are never overdone or inappropriate. The interplay between the instruments, voices, and beats resemble a futuristic, efficient superhighway where traffic always seem like they’re dancing with each other. The swoops, dips, ascends, winding lines, etc. cut patterns around each other while functioning as accentuations for one another, dazzlingly mosaic (but not in an over-the-top way) in their fine craftsmanship. The fact that the songs end up somewhere between The Beach Boys and Ben Folds in witty catchiness is even more testament to this band’s vision and execution. Classy structure and memorable, emotional songs… such a rare find these days.

Oh but just when you think the merits of Antarctica end there, the band take it a step beyond: as well as being a concept album, Antarctica is a 50-page illustrated novel featuring art, layout, and story provided by Smith (who went to art college). A child finds a bomb in the backyard of his home in the country, decides to return it to the city where it came from, and fights through an evil witch, her minions, and inner turmoil on his journey. Though my copy of the record did not come with the storybook, it didn’t take more than two listens to the songs to realize how fully fleshed out the plot is. Like the bio states, Antarctica is a sprawling project that, although humungous when all the facets are combined, can be separated into individual elements without losing potency. If you only listen to the music, read the lyrics, or browse the book, none of the tale’s impact is lost. As the songs speak of the boy’s courage, disillusion, hopefulness, and eventual fatigue in beautifully restrained, poetic, deceptively simple phrases that belie their wealth, it becomes apparent that The Never not only write better songs than most of their peers: they try harder at sculpting a vision, too.

Some of the best music in the world has the power to humble you; make you feel like a kid discovering a favorite band for the first time again. Antarctica not only does all of that, it also returns to listeners the innocent, naïve kind of bewilderment that a good bedtime story can bring. The only thing possibly harder than writing an intelligent, fulfilling album is capturing true wonder in an intelligent children’s story: unbelievably, The Never have accomplished both in one breadth. If you are not moved one way or another by Antarctica, you are not human. - Transform Online


For its second album, this musically ambitious band from Chapel Hill, N.C., offers a "multimedia project incorporating music, art and storytelling."

The theme, about a country boy off to the city to return a nuclear bomb found in his backyard, is pretty far-fetched, especially when there are evil witches involved. Thankfully, the band's music is strong enough to enjoy outside the context of the tale --and without the 50-page book that comes in some editions.

Guitarist-bassist Noah Smith, multi-instrumentalist Ari Picker, guitarist-bassist Joah Tunnell and drummer Jonny Tunnell, augmented occasionally by others on fiddle and mandolin, can produce a heavy, harmony-laden sound that evokes Weezer comparisons on songs such as "Cavity" and the opening "Summer Time."

Antarctica's most impressive moments, and there are quite a few, are when the musicians are more imaginative.

"March of the Minions," for instance, quickly evolves from a plaintive guitar introduction (with bootsteps heard faintly in the background) into a massive wall of organ and a kaleidoscopic mish-mash of sounds delicate and dissonant. A manic crescendo crashes headlong into the song's subdued final breath.

The band can also shift into a quieter mood, as it does on "The Winter's Coming," a lonely ballad accompanied by tremolo-drenched electric guitar. Turns out the Never doesn't need big arrangements to make its point.

The album's story is still a cumbersome fairy tale, but the Never's sweet, seductive music is powerful enough to stand on its own. - The Orlando Sentinel


The Never are a young North Carolina band who, on their recent album Antarctica, worked the same grandiose indie rock seam as Death Cab for Cutie and the Decemberists. Musically, there's not a lot to this unreleased Antarctica­­ track, recorded live for Daytrotter. It's a stately jangle with popping percussion that opens up into an electrified, hand-holding chorus, swaying drunkenly in the Catfish Haven style of white boy soul. As is always the case with such bare-bones indie rock, the song's success hangs on how much melodic lucidity and emotional oomph the Tunnell brothers can pack into their bell-clear harmonies; it's on this score that "When You're Gone" succeeds. It's also an interesting counterpoint to the relentlessly idealistic Antarctica-- with lines like, "My apartment's just your parking lot/ You leave me when you're done," the Never begin to probe the fissures in their romantic idyll, and one gets a poignant sense of a youthful bubble on the verge of its inevitable explosion. - Pitchforkmedia.com


The very last line of the storybook that accompanies Antarctica, the debut offering from North Carolina’s The Never, reads, “Fall in love with this world.” It sure seems to be a funny time for notions such as that one. It’s too late, one would think, for falling in love with this world, one that certain others have targeted for annihilation. Why get attached to a place that, with a swift flick of the right switch, could turn into a smoking cloud. A big red “X” has been painted on its side and it’s been selected for the chainsaw. We are in the throes of something that looks like a crisis. This world – the one that we’re trying not to get too attached to because we’re afraid of it—is locked between what used to be prosperity and what might soon be nothingness. All it would take would be questioning the wrong person’s dick size (figuratively speaking, of course – or is it?) and a few manmade thunderclaps could level it all to rubble. At that point, the world, love and all those capable of it would be non-existent, so we wouldn’t need a reminder. An article by Bill Powell in this week’s Time magazine, entitled, “When Outlaws Get The Bomb,” is accompanied by an illustration of cuckoo Kim Jong Il, the leader of the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea, where he’s got two black nuclear warheads for eyes, broken matchsticks for a nose and is holding a mushroom in his right hand. The piece details how the most frightening and possibly unavoidable effect of North Korea’s adamant desire to possess the power of atom bomb technology and its recent test bombings will come when every other country feels the urgency to do the same – the law of the jungle sets in and the kill or be killed mantra takes hold. There won’t be any world left to love and this – in a roundabout way—is addressed in Antarctica, oddly enough. The protagonist Paul – a naïve boy from the forest – finds an atomic bomb in the meadow and feels that the best place for it is in the city, so he straps it onto a Radio Flyer and begins pulling it into town. How he got the heavy ass thing onto the wagon…not addressed…but there’s no mistaking the impending doom and you instinctively hedge that the city’s going down.

Be ready for a spoiler. The bomb doesn’t go off, though it gets into the hands of some evil-doing people. It’s dropped, but it never detonates. It falls to the streets below with a hollow clanking sound. To serve as a continual reminder of how close they were to being wiped out, the residents of the city stood it up and made it a statue to help them better appreciate the good things in life. The Never – singer/guitarist Noah Smith, drummer Jonny Tunnell and bassist Joah Tunnell – gravitate toward optimism. Well, that’s not completely true. They do generally seem to drift toward positive thinking, but there are the touches of emotional catastrophe that are set off first and then reconciled with a code of better days and better nights – things can’t stay this way forever. One of the group’s newer songs, “When You’re Gone,” has Smith asking, “Who’ll be here to hurt me when you’re gone?../I’m used to being miserable with you,” and yet he makes the situation feel idyllic in a way, taking you back to a time when relationships – the young ones or the soon-to-fail ones – weren’t really about destiny or cosmic fortuity, but perspective. The rotten apple was still half-good to one side. The brighter side is the one that seems to be taken most often by this group of childhood friends who grew up on dairy farms and in towns that barely had a mailing address. They seem to round that corner and move into a slightly better way of thinking once they’ve gotten through a verse or two. Suddenly, it’s not so bad anymore. They’ve begun thinking about their happy place – one of snow and calming beauty – and gathered all their strength to buck up. The sunny side wins again.

The Never are not just a band. They were already addressing the root problem at the center of Al Gore’s “inconvenient truth” before his documentary movie and book were released this spring, touring on vegetable oil copped from charitable restaurants’ throw-away bins. The waste product went to fuel their van, converted from diesel to vegetable oil, and helped them do their part in not contributing to the toxic pollution of the environment. The Tunnells spent most of their youth raised as Antarctica lead character Paul was – in seclusion and without modern amenities. They were home-schooled, bathed in barrels, had no indoor plumbing or electricity and it was this upbringing that fostered an appreciation for the nature that’s either dwindling or taken for granted. These guys are about more than that even. They are about the ties that still bind us to the nascent formulations of how we interact with others and how we first started dealing with that voice inside our own heads. The voice in most of their songs comes from that in-between period in life where some things have been figured out, but most have not. Most everything is still up for grabs. There is much spry vigor and untested wisdom in many of the things that Smith sings on Antarctica—ideas and emotions that are still growing legs, stretching into their fingerprints. He and the band bridge a young energy with what can only be classified as hopefulness in a future that can be good if we’ll just let it be.
The Daytrotter interview:

I felt bad seeing the pictures on your site of the sick and busted veggie mobile. Is it dead? Did the benefits of traveling in it far outweigh the hassles that it brought, with the grease collecting and whatnot?

Jonny Tunnell: Ahh the bus. It’s doing alright now. We think. The benefits certainly outweigh the problems we’ve had. Environmentally, mainly. The reason we’ve had trouble with it is not because of the veggie oil conversion. It’s just an old engine. We actually ran into old friends mewithoutyou last weekend and they had the veggie oil as well and said it was running quite well. The first few months were difficult though. So, I think we’ll have worked out the kinks by the winter.

Noah Smith: The problems weren’t related to the veggie oil. They had to do with sensors that wear out after lots of miles, which the bus has seen. We are in fact very environmentally active. Having grown up in a very rural area, I have a strong appreciation for nature. My brother and I were raised in the forest of N.C., close to the Rocky River. We went the first bit of our lives without many of the modern amenities. We had no indoor plumbing, electricity, etc. We bathed in barrels, and got our water from Mount Vernon Springs, which is currently in jeopardy from a quarry that is trying to move in). Our mother worked running an antique business and our father was and still is a bluegrass musician. It gave him lots of time to spend with us out in that rural setting. I’m fond of my childhood, so I’m sensitive to these environmental issues because they directly affect that kind of lifestyle. I’ve spent most of my life living on an old dairy farm in Pittsboro, N.C., which can be likened to a Mayberry-esque, Andy Griffith sort of existence. It’s nice though. It’s also close to Chapel Hill where there is so much great music.

What are the particulars of the vehicle? Who built it? When did it start going bad? Are you pretty environmentally-conscious dudes? Did people think you were nuts for taking that thing out?

Jonny Tunnell: Well, it started going bad within the first hours of our first tour back in July. The antifreeze somehow ended up in the gas tank and that’s exactly what you don’t want to happen.We’ve certainly received some strange looks from a lot of people, but it’s increasingly getting to be a well known substitute for diesel. The singer for Piebald actually has done about 20 conversions himself, and I think you’ll find more and more bands in particular doing it. Our conversion was done by a friend of ours here in Pittsboro. It’s a Ford bus, the only difference is an extra tank that holds the veggie oil and heats it before entering the engine. Diesel motors actually ran on peanut oil when they were first invented. (Peanut, veggie, it’s all the same basically). The only reason early motorists switched to diesel was price!!! Ironic, huh? Peanut oil is still quite expensive, but is a cleaner burning fuel and isn’t nearly as bad as throwing petroleum and heavens knows what else into the air. We are very environmentally aware and try to promote environmental groups when we can and have done a great deal of fundraising for a few. It’s something we intend on doing more in the future.

What are your slip-and-slide parties like? I think we’d like as many details as possible. You mentioned optional clothing…How was this years’? When was it held?

Jonny Tunnell: Oh, the glory that is Slip ‘n Slide. Every summer we have the biggest party in Pittsboro. Unless Noah’s mom, Pam, throws a party.We build a 10×100-foot long Slip ‘n Slide and basically invite everyone we can over to The Never’s compound. A kiddie pool full of beer and orange soda. Bands/DJs, movies projected on the house wall. Last summer we had a moon walk. I don’t know how we’re gonna top that next summer. It’s really the only party you ever need to be at.
NS: Our Slip ‘n Slide party is fun. My house always gets trashed, but it’s always worth it. We carpet the yard to lessen the painful impact of leaping head-first onto the lawn, though I still always get mysterious injuries from it.

Who grew up on a farm? Good time, bad time?

Jonny Tunnell: I suppose we all grew up on farms. Joah and I used to walk behind our dad’s tractor, clearing out fields. Whenever there was a new field cleared, it was important to pick up all the roots you could or else the tractor would get caught on the root and tear the plow. Interesting. Joah and I built way too much character that way. Noah and Jones grew up under a rock—literally—for awhile. Then they moved to a dairy farm for awhile and that eventually became The Never compound.

Are you guys friends with Annuals? How do you know each other? How was the CD release show the other night? Anything confidential about them that you can tell us?

Jonny Tunnell: Friends? We prefer best buds! There’s always been a divide between the Cary/Raleigh music scene and Chapel Hill, but we’ve always known of those guys and their bands. But recently, we’ve had the chance to actually get to know them and they’re great! As soon as I get some dirt on them you’ll be first to know. We’re actually dating them now, goin’ steady too. The release show was great! I believe it was filmed in HD so that video should be going up soon on both annuals’ website and ours.

What’s your hometown like?

Jonny Tunnell: Really, really small. All four of us grew up in small, small towns. Joah and I are from Swan Quarter, N.C., about an hour from Nags Head and Manteo, N.C., where the beaches are. You’ve heard of one stoplight towns, I’m sure. All we had was two caution lights in the entire county and those weren’t even in town. There was no music scene. Joah and I played music cause there was really nothing else to do. We had no other friends really cause we were a bit out of the social circles I guess. Our parents home schooled us so we never really got into the social scene. We left Swan Quarter when were around 17/16 years old and moved to Chapel Hill and started playing in bands and haven’t stopped since then. Noah and Jones grew up in the Pittsboro/Siler City area, a little closer to civilization than Swan Quarter. Pittsboro is now home of The Never.

Have you had any encounters with Boyz 2 Men in the last year? Seen them goin’ off? Not too hard, not too soft?

Jonny Tunnell: Of course we have!!!! That’s really the only reason we tour. To track down Boyz 2 Men. We want them to join our group. If you guys are reading this call me!! We saw them in Indianapolis the last time we went through and they still sound awesome. We’ve got video of that. (editor’s note: It’s true)

Tell me about your busking experience in Central Park again.

Jonny Tunnell: We do loads of busking. We’ve busked upwards of six hours in one day. Our music tends to lend itself to that kind of performance, so it’s fairly easy to make a buck or two and maybe pay for lunch. We busked in Central Park over the summer for about two hours and sold about 15 records. And met some totally awesome Canadians, who were the nicest people in Central Park, ever I’m sure. Thanks Canada. We’ll see you soon.

How familiar are you with that shitty unrequited love? It seems very.

Noah Smith: Who’s not familiar with this? This is quite universal, I suppose, especially when expressing through songwriting. You feel it’s something that most people can identify with, especially younger people. In context with Antarctica , it’s more about watching friendships fall apart.

Noah, the undertaking of this record and the storybook had to have been massive. How long did it take…for all those oil paintings to dry…?

NS: In a technical sense, they’re still not dry. Even cheap oils take a few hundred years to dry. It took me about two years of working on the paintings/working on music/my overwhelming social life/alcoholism and working the odd jobs. Luckily, my position as a sales clerk allowed for a lot of that painting time. So, indirectly I was getting paid to paint those.

What would you do with a nuclear bomb if you came upon one?

Jonny Tunnell: That’s a tough one! I’d run away screaming, then try and tell officials that you trust about it. Either that or I’d take over a small country. Just a small one though!!

Who do you guys look at as role models for songwriting?

NS: Jeff Lynne. He’s so progressive with his songwriting and some of the most intense instrumental arrangements. The Zombies for composition and vocal melodies. Lately, Harry Nilson has been on my iPod a lot. Conway Twitty for simplicity. He can be so passionate. This record – where it’s not directly about me, but having the passion about the song itself. - Daytrotter.com


Remember those Peter Pan and Disneyland books bundled with a vinyl record that followed the text to the letter and included an instructional beep signaling when it was safe to turn the page? Well, this isn't quite that rigid, there's no narration on the record and no corresponding text, but not since Nilsson's The Point has anyone tried to appeal to both adults and children with such a kindly gentle touch. Against melodic indie pop not unlike The Shins, The Never turn in a masterful children's book and album about a young boy who finds an unexploded bomb which of course the rotten adults want. Smith is an unheard of triple threat in rock, singer songwriter, children's author and illustrator. Let's just hope this doesn't give Madonna any ideas.
- Creem Magazine


Discography

"Antarctica: a storybook record": July 25th, 2006.
Trekky Records. Produced and engineered by Ian Schreier @ Osceola Studios, Raleigh, NC.

"The Never": 2004, Morisen Records.
Produced and engineered by John Plymale @ Overdub Lane, Durham, NC.
(over 4,000 sold)

"Yes, Indeed, the B-sides, Quite": released under the name "the B-sides". 2001, self released.
(North Carolina's top-selling independent release, 2001)

The Never are distributed exclusively by Red Eye USA Distribution.
Radio and publicity by Team Clermont.

Photos

Bio

The Never are not just a band. They were already addressing the root problem at the center of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” before his documentary movie and book were released, touring on vegetable oil copped from charitable restaurants’ throw-away bins. The waste product went to fuel their bus, converted from diesel to vegetable oil, and helped them do their part in not contributing to the toxic pollution of the environment. The Tunnells spent most of their youth raised as their storybook record's lead character Paul was – in seclusion and without modern amenities. They were home-schooled, bathed in barrels, had no indoor plumbing or electricity and it was this upbringing that fostered an appreciation for the nature that’s either dwindling or taken for granted. These guys are about more than that even. They are about the ties that still bind us to the nascent formulations of how we interact with others and how we first started dealing with that voice inside our own heads. The voice in most of their songs comes from that in-between period in life where some things have been figured out, but most have not. Most everything is still up for grabs. There is much spry vigor and untested wisdom in many of the things that Smith sings on "Antarctica"—ideas and emotions that are still growing legs, stretching into their fingerprints. He and the band bridge a young energy with what can only be classified as hopefulness in a future that can be good if we’ll just let it be.

Inspired by the read-along records of your childhood, "Antarctica" is a full album coupled with a fully illustrated storybook. Complete with 40 oil paintings by Noah Smith, the story and songs follow the journey of a country boy on his way to return a nuclear bomb to the city. The album is arranged in such a way that one can listen to the songs and read along; enjoying music, art and written word simultaneously.

The band was formed out of members of The B-Sides (featuring Squirrel Nut Zippers' Ken Mosher) and Vibrant Green in North Carolina. They recorded their first album with John Plymale (Superchunk, Squirrel Nut Zippers) in 2003. The self-titled album was a success, selling over 4,000 copies nationwide. The band's infectious-but-weird pop music landed them opening slots in shows with R.E.M., Ben Folds, Ash and Rilo Kiley. They used this momentum to propel themselves through the completion of their mammoth multimedia project, "Antarctica".