Punk Zines and Nirvana: an Interview with Napalm Star

Photo by Dean Stacy

By Vlada Stark

Early one morning, a friend of mine played “Never Learned How to Dance,” a slow-paced emotional song with a poetic, horrifying twist that symbolizes the adolescent fears of sex. The band behind the song, Napalm Star, is an indie-rock group with punk influences from Las Vegas’ growing music scene. The band consists of Dean Stacy (guitar/vocals), Tom Verhoeve (lead guitar), Ivan Wind (drums), and Milo Manuel (bass) who is subbing in for Kaden West (bass). 

I spent the rest of the week almost obsessively listening to their debut album Blow, then was blown away by their performance at Recycled Propaganda on March 12. Their set was captivatingly raw and truly exuded the essence of unrefined rock, and, personally, was the highlight of the entire night. I even snagged a shirt and zine which the band makes themselves as an artistic complement to their music. 

Thankfully, I was able to sit down with them on March 19 at a coffee shop to ask them about their influences, history, and goals surrounding their music. 

Vlada: Your name, “Napalm Star,” comes from The Clash’s “Charlie Don’t Surf.” But is there any specific reason as to why you’ve picked that lyric? “Napalm Star” is definitely memorable. 

Dean: So, in that song, it’s kind of like, like, “Charlie Don’t Surf” when you  think of  “Charlie Don’t Surf,” ‘Charlie don’t surf and we think he should; Charlie don’t surf and you know that it ain’t no good; Charlie don’t surf for his hamburger Momma; Charlie’s going to be a napalm star.’ It’s kind of like, mocking, like, like a military macho man. And I just liked that attitude. Like, the idea of naming yourself something bad. Like evil.

V: Another memorable aspect of yours is the artwork of Napalm Star along with Dean’s zine “Meathead Magazine.” Zines and the music scene have always been intertwined with one another ever since the Riot grrrl era. So, are there any zines and artists you take inspiration from? 

Tom: Zines came from like the punk scene.

Dean: Yeah, a lot of it is like, like, 80s punk scene, like hardcore. As far as the art style,  it’s a lot of like comic books. Yeah, I don’t know, I like monotone things. And it’s also cheaper to print. So that’s responsible for a lot of the style is just that I can print it at home without having to waste colored ink

Tom: Designs that will look good on a white t-shirt just lacking. Yeah, white t-shirts are cheaper and black ink is also cheaper.

Dean: A lot of it’s just how I’ve been drawing or like, for most of my life, so it’s not really from a specific place. But the idea of having a zine, yeah, that goes back to like, the punk scene that I like. Well, my first one, I was kind of disappointed in myself, all I had was like a poem. And then like a really long intro, and then I explained the song and so I felt bad selling that for $1. And so, the second one I was trying to make it as big as possible, so a crossword and then it unfolds into a poster.

V: Branching from the artwork inspiration, are there any musical acts you take heavy inspiration from? 

Dean: That’s tough because the music itself is like collaborative. So we all have our own things like, like Kaden’s writing is nothing I would write. And like the way you [Ivan] approach drums is so different. They all like different things. Yeah, can you [to other members] break down your major unique influences because we have common stuff.

Tom: So, like, basic bands? Or smaller bands?

Dean: Well, yeah, you have to seem cool. So you have to say like a smaller one. Even though the answer is Nirvana.

Tom: Nirvana for sure. Yeah. In high school, it was like, on repeat every day.

Dean: Kaden would be like Primus and –

Ivan: Kaden mostly takes from like, Primus, Tool, and like, bass prominent.

Dean: Yeah, man stuff.

Ivan: So yeah, Kaden likes complicated bass. I took all of my drums from like, just original punk stuff that I grew up listening to. So, obviously, like punk and alternative drums. For example, I listened to a lot of like Rancid, or like, I listen to a lot of Misfits, The Vandals I guess. So, it’s like the mix between 90s punk, where it became like skate punk. I tried to incorporate that with like the band’s alternative general style.

Dean: That for me, it’s like Nirvana, Pavement, The Breeders and it feels like that kind of stuff.

Tom: Yeah, I always liked blues guitar. I have like the solos from like jazz. I never really liked the fast guitar solos. I thought they were like overdone. It sounded cheesy.

Dean: Van Halen shit?

Tom: Yeah, I’ve never liked Van Halen. So I always thought it was more about hitting the right note than hitting lots of very quick notes. Courtney Barnett is super awesome. I love her guitar playing. I think she’s super unique.

Dean: She’s fantastic.

Tom: She’s fantastic. Courtney Barnett, for sure. Yeah, I also like punk guitar like, I like bands like Minor Threat.

Dean: We also played a lot of punk when we were starting because we didn’t know how to play very well.

Ivan: Yeah. The easiest starting point because the whole goal of it’s just to have fun.

Dean: We still have some little punky songs. Milo! You’re used to like playing…Milo’s here…

Milo: I’ve been friends with Kaden for a little while. So I kind of picked up on the bass sound that he likes. We both listen to Primus. And I listen to Nirvana too so that’s where we all get along.

Dean: Milo is our sub-bassist. Kaden is in Boston.

V: The Vegas music scene has been blowing up lately, especially after COVID quarantine, so specifically are there any local acts you guys admire? 

Dean: We always loved The Social Set, because they’re like our mom band and like our earliest like, the first show we ever organized by ourselves was with The Social Set. And they took a chance on us.

Tom: They got us a really good show with Desert Island boys, right?

Dean: And then they invited us to their release.

Tom: And we thought that was crazy. Because like, when we like, first entered the scene we went to see bands like Desert Island Boys.

Ivan: I’ve followed Desert Island Boys since I joined the scene. Gone to see any show I possibly could. They’re definitely what got me into the scene.

Milo: The venue was really refreshing. Like house shows too.

Dean: Yeah, that was the first time we ever played inside. And it had like a sound system and like mixing was crazy. We’re used to playing backyards. And then, as for like now, Pudgel is fantastic. I love Pudgel. Yeah they’re great.

V: Speaking of COVID quarantine, how did that period of isolation affect your work and Napalm Star as a whole? 

Dean: We recorded it basically in a single day. For the recording process, except for the poems.

Tom: We definitely did use COVID as an opportunity.

Ivan: Yeah, we worked together a lot.

Tom: We decided like, the month off without shows would be the time to.

Dean: We took a month off in January, just because cases were going crazy. And we didn’t want to be complicit in that. Man, we used that to record. So we did like, what was it eight hours? 

Tom: It was 10 hours.

Dean: We recorded for 10 hours at 11th Street Records. Yeah, in just one day.

Tom: Yeah. So it’s all live record.

Dean: It’s all live recording. There’s some overdubs and some stuff, but it’s pretty much just all in one thing. And then the poems I recorded on my birthday party. Just invited some friends over. Originally, our idea was, we were gonna do a big thing, where it’s like, ‘you want to live forever? Then come exist inside the Napalm Star record!’  You know? And then get like a whole bunch of people. And then they all do the poetry with me. But COVID made that a less fun idea. So the birthday party was just what like 10 people? 10 to 12 people. So cool, though. Cool energy. Yeah, they were all into it. No one was not wanting to be there.

V: I was at the Recycled Propaganda show last week, and your set was absolutely amazing! I noticed “Sundry” was especially popular and was even performed twice. Why do you think “Sundry” is so loved amongst your fans? 

Dean: Um, from what I’ve heard, it’s just a different kind of energy from our other songs. And so it sticks out. You know, and it’s sort of a nice little nostalgia piece. Reminds people of their friends. Because that’s when it was written. I wrote it with his [Tom] brother actually. Joshua. Just like at a skatepark, just thinking about how we felt being angsty teens. It’s a fun one. And it’s fun to sing along, because the verse goes three times the exact same. So if you don’t have the lyrics by the beginning, you know them by the end.

V: You guys also recently released a music video for “Sundry” and the nostalgic feel of using clips of memories with friends is endearing. Did you guys purposefully film those clips with the purpose of using them for the music video and why did you choose that concept? 

Dean: So no, that was all recorded totally. I wish I could say it was organic. We recorded it in like a day. We decided to do that. There’s like clips from First Friday that Haley shot. And then yeah, we just decided to go out at like, what 3am? 3am hang out till the sun came up. 

Ivan: It wasn’t. It wasn’t like, go do this. Go do this. So it was just like us hanging out. So it was organic in the way that we got there and all we did was hang out. It was just more of like a plan. Like, yes, we knew this was for our music video. But we did what we had always did. Just hang.

Dean: Yeah, it wasn’t scripted or anything. But the idea of making a music video was on our mind. And then we got lucky because like, we ran into a husky and a rabbit. And those are both like things in the song.

V: “Never Learned How to Dance” is your most popular song and its bleak twist remains impactful even after subsequent listens. I can’t help but wonder how you guys came up with such an intense storyline? 

Dean: So that was one of the first songs I ever wrote when I was learning guitar. It’s where the chords are so simple. And it started out just trying to write like a simple love song. And I guess what became my writing process would just be to, like, write something normal and change it. So something like halfway through writing the song I came up with that, that twist. And it’s really satisfying to scream. Well, it’s sort of about kind of, it’s about anxieties toward towards sex when you’re younger. I wrote it when I was 16. And it’s about kind of, like the different expectations you might have. And also this like what do you call that? What porn has done to young people?

Ivan: Desensitization?

Dean: Yeah, like, you’re gonna go straight into the crazy stuff like, like, yeah, because you’re no longer climbing a ladder, you’re skipping to the top because you you know, and so this was basically I was afraid of sex. And this was the worst possible outcome, you know? So it’s like playing into my fears, I guess.

V: Do each one of you have a favorite song off of your first album Blow? Personally, I really love Helly and hearing it live was absolutely incredible. 

Tom: I like “Lonestar.” The reason why is because I never really wrote like a specific guitar part for that song. So every time I get to play it, I just kind of do whatever I’m doing. So I kind of just rip off like a specific key.

Ivan: I like “Love Your Color” because I felt like I had the most, or not the most, but I felt like I had a lot of like force in that song. Feels like a little bit loosely punk-related and it’s faster, but it’s also like bouncy. It makes everybody like want to bounce and sing along. I always liked that.” 

Dean: It’s tough. They’re all my babies. As far as like, I’d probably go with just like what I’m most proud of the writing for. “Lonestar” I’m really proud of. “Clay” is a very specific like emotional thing. Yeah. And then like “Bootlicker” is fun. I like making fun of Nazis. The fun part of that song is the idea of like, maybe some Nazi guy is gonna misinterpret it and think it’s a positive thing, because I’m speaking as the Nazi and so I’m really excited to see if that happens. It would be funny. Milo?

Milo: “Love Your Color.” That one is really fun to play. Yeah. 

Ivan: I really like people singing along with that one.

Milo: Yeah! People really love that one. So I like listening to it on my own.

Dean: Yeah, yeah. For a while, the only songs people would sing along to were the released ones. So like the two singles. And then they started to pick up on, I reckon if we didn’t release the album, they would still be able to sing along. Yeah, because it’s simple.

V: You guys have been booking so many shows lately and the turnout has been amazing! What are your guys’ hopes for Napalm Star both in the short-term and long-term? 

Tom: Well, I think short-term is playing shows, having fun, getting our songs out there. And then you know, long term I would like to play music for a living.

Dean: Make it profitable.

Tom: I don’t want the bore of a nine-to-five. I would love to wake up and know that my only job today is to have fun with the band. We make some money. I think we’re in the positive now. But it’s not enough to live off of.

Ivan: It’s not really personal gain yet. Right now, it’s more so like, trying to make sure that the band is like a self-running machine. Yeah, we can just keep giving music to people without like taking up our own pockets.

Tom: So we never wanted to run the band like a business. We always wanted to like kinda like progress, like, what the band should be.

Dean: Short term, I want to start touring. Yeah, we got some people in LA that listen to us. LA is bigger than Henderson for us, which is where I live. So that’s cool. I want to play a show where there’s a wrestling match going on during the performance where I can plan it out with the wrestlers. So it’s synced up to the music. I’ve already talked to some local professionals. So I’m going to see if that works out. Long-term. Yeah, just to be self-sustaining would be nice. And to have a van. A van would be wonderful! That should be all of our goals.

Tom: Okay. Yeah, I change my long term goal to have a nice van.

Dean: Yeah. Like an Airstream.

Tom: Oh, yeah, like one real cool. Yeah, I think I want flames on the side. But they [the other members] said they weren’t into flames. Okay…they can see the flames.

Dean: Is it airbrushed?

Tom: So we’ll do like a decal.

Ivan: Short-term, I just want to spread our music out to more people. Because it is so cool to me to have people like listening to the music we make and like enjoying. Like just the idea of me being like, ‘Oh, I really liked this band. I’m part of that band. I created music that somebody’s listening to in their headphones.’ I think that’s awesome! Like watching people’s posts, like in our Napalm Star shirts. That’s so cool that people really like the music and I just want to keep spreading it for a short time. Long-term, I think I also want to keep spreading. It’d be cool if it’s all we ever have to do. But as long as we keep having people listen, that makes me really happy. Like, whenever you make something it’s part of you now. You put something deep in you into the song or into whatever piece that you’re working on: new magazines, or music, no matter what. So having people like appreciate that. It feels really cool. Because everybody’s been in the spot where they’re like, ‘Oh, I really liked this art, I feel this art.’ Whether it be like a song or an actual art piece. And I think it’s real cool to be on the other side of that for like the first time.

Tom: For me, it kind of reassures now, that I’m on the right path. Like when people come up to you and like have like kind words it makes my whole day. Then I’m like, refreshed and like ready to go for tomorrow.

Dean: It’s really nice for me when I see people like responding to lyrics I’ve written. Songwriting is kind of a personal thing for me, or was for a long time. Like I wouldn’t share it with anyone. It was exciting to see people would take it in and it just means I’m communicating something.

Milo: It’s been an honor taking Kaden’s place while he’s gone. I’ve been friends with this band for so long it’s really nice seeing them get attention. They’re really talented and they totally deserve it. I’d love to continue growing with them.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s