Surreal Nation – Artist Interview
Written by Matt Zin on September 30, 2020
SN: We are from Delaware. For those who don’t know, it’s small state in the eastern U.S.A. It’s most famous for its appearance in Wayne’s World 2
I see you are a three piece band, who plays what in the band? Do any of you play multi instruments?
SN: For most of our songs, Nikki sings, Jackson plays bass, and Paul plays guitar. However, there are a few songs where Paul and Jackson switch instruments. We are also working on some new material in which Nikki plays the bongos.
Could you go around the room and introduce everyone? Tell us who is the quiet one? Who is the loud and crazy one?
SN: Surreal Nation is, Paul Joseph, Nikkita Yvonne (Nikki) , and Jackson Vari
Paul: I would say I’m the grumpy one but also the “father-figure” of the group.
Nikki: I don’t know that any of us are necessarily quiet, but I’d probably be considered the most reserved. Jackson is definitely the crazy one!
Jackson: I’m the cute one, and what Paul means by “father-figure” is “old”.
How did you all meet? You all look like you are having a lot of fun in your photos, does everyone get a long?
SN: We get along great. We’re like a dysfunctional family but if works for us! Surreal Nation started as an acoustic duo with Paul and Nikki. Our sons are in the same class at school. They were playing together at Paul’s house one day. Paul was practicing his guitar. Nikki just kind of started singing along and everything blossomed from there. Paul and Nikki knew Jackson from a popular open-mic at a place called Acorn Books, (which is now located in Smyrna, DE). Surreal Nation ended up on the same bill with Jackson for a show in June of 2015. Nikki and Paul were looking to expand into a trio. Jackson agreed to play bass on an upcoming EP. It worked so well that he became a permanent member of the group pretty much after the first rehearsal.
I was reading about how you came up with your name, very cool! I always find it interesting how bands come up with their name. I am not going to let the cat out of the bag… I will let you guys tell our listener’s how you came up with your band name. So let it roll…
SN: We took Paul and Nikki’s actual last names and combined them. Nikki’s last name is Nation so that was the easy part. Paul’s last name starts with the letters SUR. It’s his “real” name so we added the word “real” to SUR, coupled it with Nikki’s last name, and got Surreal Nation. It works on another level because it describes what is, at least in our opinion, the state of the country and the world these days.
Let’s talk about your music. Could you tell us what your song “Wash Me Clean” is all about? Who wrote it? What type of style would you say it is?
SN: Sure. Wash me Clean is a cautionary tale about two of America’s favorite pass times; alcohol and guns. The songs tells the story of a man who, like all of us, is suffering from some kind of affliction, he self medicates and finds security in his vices. One night, things get out of control. The song ends with a twist that makes the listener ask themselves; Was the man’s vices that caused this tragedy, or something more sinister?
As far as writing it, Jackson had the original concept. Everybody worked together on it before we put out the finished product.
Jackson: Wash Me Clean was, in a strange way, very much a departure, at least for me. When I came to Paul with the idea for the song, I think all I had was a chord progress and the words, “Wash me Clean do you know what I mean?”. I had a very different idea of what it would turn into. I had no idea it would become a story song, for example, which is not something I really had much experience with. And of course, it changed so much once we got in the studio.
Paul: We would be remiss if we didn’t mention Song Builder Studios, in Catonsville, MD., which is where the song was recorded. Steve Antonelli and Nate Lanzio produced and engineered it, and all the other songs on the EP too. They were instrumental in the song becoming what it is.
How many songs and what songs are on the EP that is coming out? By what I am reading, it appears your EP will be completed later but you have no name for it yet, could you give us a hint on some of the names you have come up with? Have you thought about your fans help you name the EP?
SN: The EP as four songs on it. They are Wash Me Clean, You You You, Medicine Box, and Get a Little Closer. We’ve decided that we’re going to name the EP itself, “Wash Me Clean”. We never thought of asking the fans to help name it but it is a cool idea. Perhaps we’ll do that with the next one.
How do you prep yourself before a gig? During? After?
Paul: Meditation and coffee. Lots of coffee.
Nikki: I’m a complete wreck before any gig. My anxiety is through the roof. I loosen up and get into the moment once we start to perform. I am exhausted afterwards.
Jackson: You know, it’s funny but when I first started playing in front of people, I would get terribly wound up in the run-up to any performance. I’ve mellowed out in my “old age” . Nowadays, it’s more just show up, get up, play, gimme my money. Keeping Nikki calm can be another story, however.
Who are your influences… musical and non-musical?
Paul: This is always a tough question for me. I’m a classically trained pianist. I’ve been playing for, well let’s just say longer than Jackson and Nikki have each been alive. I started playing jazz piano as a teenager and since then, I have always loved anything jazz, especially Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and of course Coltrane. Rock music wise, I feel like the music of the Foo Fighters has been with me through many of life’s milestones.
I also absolutely love Death Cab for Cutie. I’m always in disbelief, that somebody can write those kind of lyrics and music. I should really say that I’m obsessed with them. Our producer said that our upcoming song, Medicine Box, reminds him of early Death Cab. It was a great compliment. I’m not sure if he meant it or was just trying to keep me happy as we are paying clients! Regardless, it was still really cool to hear. Other influences are Nick Cave, Ben Folds, Jack Johnson, and the Rolling Stones (much to the chagrin of Jackson and Nikki, who are both Beatles people).
Non musical influences are Buddha and Jesus.
Jackson: My musical background is very much rooted in the whole Americana/folk genre. My first album was Jim Croce’s greatest hits. It was on a cassette tape. Todd Snider is the reason I’m a musician. Hayes Carll and Jackie Greene are two other huge ones for me. Also, I may or may not have a shrine to Jack White in my closet.
Nikki: Stevie Nicks, Heart, Joan Jett, The Carpenters, The mama’s and the papa’s, Carole King, Janis Joplin the Beatles, Kerri Jobe, Plum, and of course Jesus.
Who does most of the songwriting in your band? Can you take me through how the song writing process starts from beginning to ending?
SN: It’s kind of a split between Jackson and Paul. Jackson has done the lion’s work of the songwriting for out new material. Paul and Nikki usually end up adding to it, so everybody has a role to play. We’re also developing a song that Nikki wrote too. Of course none of it would really work without Nikki’s voice! It’s truly a team effort.
As far as the process itself goes: One of us will have a song, or at least a concept for a song. We bring it to the others. We try to start with a basic chord progression and find lyrics that fit, but are not cliche. We then start to add in some more complex, or as Paul likes to say, “euphonically challenging” chords. We also strive to be disciplined in the process so that we don’t have a bunch of songs that sound the same. We’ve recently started experimenting with time signature changes too. This could be heard in our upcoming song, Get a Little Closer.
How would you describe your music to a hard rocker? There is a catch, you only have 250 characters to explain.
SN: Our lyrics attempt to capture the struggles we all go through; love, desperation, affliction, etc. The lyrics are coupled with a driving indie rock beat and a hint of Americana/folk influence.
What do you like to do when you are not working on your music?
Paul: Counting Surreal Nation, I have three jobs so I’m very busy. I’m also married and have two kids. I really enjoy spending time with my family, especially on the beach. I also like to run and worry about what type of self-destructive behavior Jackson is doing.
NikkI: I’m also pretty much always busy and also have 3 jobs! I’m a mom, so when I’m not working, I like to relax (while listening to music!)
Jackson: Mostly, I get drunk and talk to my cats as if they’re people
Paul: See what I mean?
What are your dreams for your music?
Paul: World domination! (If this is not possible, then I just want as many people as possible to enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoying making and performing it). I would also like to start touring. Or, whatever Jackson says.
Nikki: I’ve been singing since I was a kid. I sing every single day. In 4th grade, I joined chorus. I joined band in 6th grade. By the time I got to high school. I was in all-state chorus. Being a musician has always been a dream of mine. I’m in this for the “Long Haul” (note: Long Haul is the name of one of our songs)
Jackson: I want to get filthy rich and sleep with supermodels on top of a mountain of gold bullion and Paul, I’m telling your wife!
We would love for you to tell our listeners where they can find your music? If you have any special shout-outs, please feel free to do them now.
SN: Our music can be found on all of the standard outlets: I-Tunes, Amazon, CD Baby, and most of the streaming music services. Also, we can be heard on BTD Radio! You can always check out our website at www.surrealnation.com for more.
We would like to thank our families for being so supportive of us. We also want to thank Song Builder Studios, Amy Santos Photography, and Acorn Books. Last but certainly not least, we want to thank our fans. All of this is for you!