Jason Narducy Walks Us Through Split Single’s Guest-Heavy New LP “Amplificado”
The project’s third LP—featuring R.E.M.’s Mike Mills and Superchunk’s Jon Wurster—is out now.
While most casual rock enthusiasts today may not immediately recognize the name Jason Narducy, it can be difficult to extract the Chicago guitarist’s influence on the national scene dating back to the early ’90s (even glancing at his Wikipedia page, the first paragraph cites Narducy as a major influence on Dave Grohl’s decision to start playing music). His involvement in groups such as Superchunk and live bands for Bob Mould, Liz Phair, Robert Pollard, and Eddie Vedder demonstrate his range of influence, while his ’90s outfit Verbow still stands alone as the template for a successful cello-infused power pop band.
Narducy’s latest endeavor sees the songwriter re-teaming with Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster for his third album as Split Single, this time featuring Mike Mills on bass duty (Spoon’s Britt Daniel is credited as bassist on the project’s 2014 debut). In the same way the outfit inserts disparate elements of each of its contributors’ unique musical talents, the new release, Amplificado, puts a remarkably neat bow on the past year or so of turbulent politics and pandemics, resulting in a fairly cohesive collection of songs fondly recalling (and putting a punk edge to) the heyday of groups like Nada Surf and Rogue Wave without sounding dated.
We asked Narducy to walk us through the new album, from each song’s lyrical roots to the specific goosebump-inducing contributions of the record’s key contributors. Stream the record below, and read on for Narducy’s thoughts.
I was fortunate to work with Robert Pollard for a few years. He might call this a setup song. Kind of like “Honey Pie” by The Beatles. Is it a proper song? Maybe. Does it set up the next song? Absolutely. I intentionally included a clown horn, a cash register, and an inconsistent tempo to represent how the last five years have felt to me. CCCP.
2. “Blood Break Ground”
From 2015 to 2020 I wrote the music to a musical based on my first band, Verböten. The work demanded that I revisit 10-year-old/11-year-old/12-year-old me. It was exhausting, but also rewarding. What was not explored during this process was my teen years. For some reason, when I wrote the music to this song before I had lyrics, I felt 18-year-old me trying to break free and discover what the world offered. Engineer Matt Allison had a lot of tracks to manage on this one, and I love how he balanced it all. Despite the roaring guitars, he was able to make Jon Wurster’s drums sound massive.
3. “Stone Heart World”
I am tired of talking about Trump and the complacent GOP, but there is no way I could let this era go by without getting this off my chest. Jon Wurster is a ball of fury on this song. Mike Mills sings the high harmonies. Just glorious sounding. I wanted this song to be early in the sequence because it captures the three of us at full speed.
4. “95 Percent”
Another political song, but this one digs into my skepticism about all politicians. And not in a “both sides” way. Musically, it is the first song of mine that is explicitly influenced by Superchunk. Mac is so good at writing choruses where the vocal repeats the same melody while the chords change underneath. No surprise that Jon Wurster sounds right at home at this tempo. His fills are nothing short of inspiring. When Mike Mills sent me his backing vocals for this song (which he recorded in Athens with Sugar bassist David Barbe engineering!), I couldn’t believe how much power he gave the song. That’s him screaming “Ha!” at the beginning, and that’s him screaming before Dan Leu’s guitar solo. His “Oooo”s in the bridge are beautiful.
Just like “CCCP,” I wrote this song in the studio. “Adrift” is the most vulnerable song I’ve written in years. I battled depression during the winter of COVID and tried to hide it from my kids. I wanted to protect them. The lyric “I can’t love you anymore” is not literal, but touches on the feeling of not having enough energy to show love. I recorded the acoustic guitar with no pick and it was the first take. You can hear my stomach growl at 1:49 but we kept it in. I asked my friend Alison Chesley if she would like to add cellos to the song. She came back with cellos and piano. Absolutely stunning. It is the first time we’ve recorded together in 22 years (1999 when we were in Verbow). She amplified the stark mood of the song.
6. “Bitten by the Sound”
My childhood was full of turmoil and this song addresses some specific moments. I had a nun for a music teacher in 6th grade, and she made up stories about meeting John Lennon. My mom’s wheels were stolen from her car (“I’d never seen a car sit on bricks”). Some adults in my life told me I wouldn’t understand certain things and made the mistake of saying that to me about music. It infuriated me. That contrasted my life-changing discovery of The Who, The Ramones, Cheap Trick, and so many others. “And then a kingdom imagined, sprouted up from the discs that we spun on the floor.” The drum fill that Jon Wurster plays at 2:29 gives me goosebumps every single time.
7. “(Nothing You Can Do) To End This Love”
I should have mentioned this earlier, but I write music and melody first. Lyrics are last, and they often take me a while. But these lyrics came quickly. The music reminded me of defiance. The chorus came first: “She loves her and he loves him, there’s nothing you can do to end this love.” That was all I needed to get started on my first LGBTQ+ ally song. “A or B or AB or O, we are all one of these four.” We are all humans and we all deserve equal rights and protections. Last minute decision for Mike to do call-and-response vocals in the second verse. I love hearing him sing alone like that. Nice contrast.
8. “Mangled Tusk”
I didn’t have lyrics for this song, which was temporarily called “Jangle Tusk” (because the guitar was jangly and the drums reminded me of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk). Taylor Hale, the engineer that tracked my vocals for the album, liked the title “Jangle Tusk” so I tried to stick as close as I could to the original title. The song is about wearing a nightguard. I know, pedestrian topic. But I tried to squeeze some imagination in. “Watching colors in a pitch black room, more enamel chips away.” Mike Jorgensen was kind enough to lay down some bad ass B3 organ on this track. It gets louder and louder as the song goes on.
9. “Belly of Lead”
When I recorded the demo of this song in my friend Grant’s basement, I held a Leadbelly songbook in my hands and read various words from his songs. “If you ever go to Houston” is the only Leadbelly line that I kept, but his name gave me a storyline. The main character is on the run from the law but has been caught and then shot by authorities. This is his goodbye letter to his son and his father. I like the sound of Mike’s bass frets after the first chorus.
Along with “Adrift,” this is the only other song about the pandemic. Sometimes I’ll get started writing lyrics by just jotting down stream-of-consciousness ideas. The isolated existence we were living in was overwhelming me. When I looked back at what I wrote down, I noticed that the verses didn’t rhyme. I decided that worked because there was no apparent resolve, so I kept it. “Smoky clothes from bonfire assembly, congregation; wind and stories, human lines stretch, staring silent, no more outlets, only waiting”
The first song I wrote for Amplificado. I think I played it for the first time in 2017. Ended up being the third single/video. I wasn’t sure which song to go with, but Bob Mould recommended “Satellite” and that was the right call. As soon as the video came out, I received so much positive feedback. Feels good to connect with listeners about a song that is about searching for a connection.