When asked who their influences are, the two members of Special Noise mention North of America first. Then Slight Return, Thrush Hermit, the Super Friendz and Burdocks—all Halifax bands the duo has seen live.
Greg Napier, the group’s drummer, and Jef Simmons, who sings and plays guitar, sit around a table at the North End Diner, eating home fries on a day off. They have just returned from a three-week tour in support of their self-titled debut, which gets a hometown release on September 2 at the Khyber. Both are 19, still live at home and their band has only been in existence for two years. They are eager.
This is a band that has everyone in awe. If you mention the name Special Noise among local indie musicians, eyes widen, you receive a measured smile and then a slow approving nod. Their music is post-rock akin to the DC punk scene and Slint in the late ’80s and early ’90s. With a string of impressive live shows—loud and intense—the duo has quickly made a name for itself around town.
Special Noise sprang from strange circumstances.
“I used to be mostly into playing guitar but my neighbour needed extra money because he wanted to get an eyebrow ring and he had this drum set,” explains Napier, “so I gave him $40 for the drum set and put it in my grandparents’ basement. Jef would come over and teach me drum stuff and we just started jamming.”
“Yeah, Greg quickly became surprisingly good on drums,” shrugs Simmons, the youngest brother of Christian Simmons, bassist/singer of indie mainstay Burdocks. (“When I was younger Christian would tell me what to listen to and why it was cool,” he says.)
“We first went into the studio because our friend Caleb had a bunch of money and said he wanted to pay for us to record,” explains Napier. “We would go in and try and figure stuff out, not realizing how much it was costing us to be there. Then we decided that we should pay for our own recording.”
They began playing shows to raise enough money for a few hours of sporadic recording time over the next year. Once recording came to an end the band found it could not afford to get the actual CDs pressed.
As luck would have it, Andy March had just started up Youth Club Records (now home to bands such as Sharp Like Knives and The Museum Pieces) and offered to sign the band and pay for the CD manufacturing. The deal was inked just as Special Noise was heading out on tour. The record will come out as a co-release with Out of Touch Records.
On the road, the duo continued to impress, in some cases a few people at a time.
“We played this open mic night in Hamilton for free and there were maybe 10 people in the audience,” says Napier. “One guy was from a college radio station, he bought our CD and promised to play it. And there were two people from other Hamilton clubs who both asked us to play shows on our way back.”
The band also picked up a few shows from the ill-fated Sharp Like Knives tour. (The Knives’ van broke down and ended its days as a small crushed cube of metal in Ontario, the band returning home by way of Greyhound.) Special Noise had luckily borrowed Napier’s parents’ reliable mid-sized car. Being a two-piece has its touring advantages.
As for the existence of day jobs, Napier and Simmons just kind of shrug while finishing up their food.
“Well, we do have this one job that we have been doing for the past three years,” says Simmons. “My mom does some work for a church and they have bingo every Tuesday night. We set up the chairs and then put them away the next day and we get $35, pocket money.”
When it comes to rock ’n’ roll, living at home helps too.