Nic Snyder and Josh Sickels met in elementary school when Nic was in the 6th grade and Josh was in 8th, an age difference that back in junior high “is like the difference between a teen and an adult.” Despite the gap, the two boys from PA became quick buddies, “He had blue hair and was wearing an Exploited shirt that read ‘Punk’s Not Dead’ the first day of class. I knew that we would be friends,” says Snyder. “[So] we started skateboarding together and we’d listen to punk.” Fast-forward to 2011, where the two boys make up the band 1,2,3. Leading up to the years before they formed the band, Nic and Josh had lost touch. “Josh moved away for a few years and by the time he came back we weren’t really friends anymore,” explains Nic. “However, he started dating an ex-girlfriend of mine that I kept in touch with. Me and some friends were recording some stuff, it was kind of garage rocky. Our drummer had recently quit though, and we were fucking around with drum machines. It was a mess,” he admits proudly. “So, at some point in this process I was on the phone with this girl [the ex-girlfriend of Nic, then girlfriend of Josh.] I told her we had no drummer and I hear Josh in the background, ‘I play drums.’ Which, [Nic doesn’t fail to add] he didn’t. But, by the end of the week he was banging on this kiddie kit that belonged to our guitarist’s kid brother. We pretty much played together ever since.”
So, why the name 1,2,3? According to Nic—it’s the anonymity that drew them to it. “It just popped into my head a few years back and stuck. It was simple, meant nothing, and gave the reader no preconceptions of what we sounded like.” Nic and Josh’s emphasis on openness is even more clear in the music itself. On 1,2,3’s album New Heaven, there is this amazing ability for songs to dance between triumphant mid-tempo tracks like “Work” to slow and ethereal songs like “Just Like Heaven (is gone)” or “Heat Lighting”—all the while maintaining a unified and solid album throughout. Nic hesitates to explain this, as he pauses; “Umm, it was organically intentional. What it boils down to is that I just like all sorts of music, and really have trouble containing myself when I sit down and a song comes out. It’s too difficult to constrain it into one category. Hopefully there are parallels people can draw throughout all the songs. I believe there are, but it’s just never really been a concern of mine.”
Nic is also not afraid to pay homage where homage is due, “There is certainly a large category [of musicians] that I will always return to with much admiration…and to be quite honest they’re all fairly cliché,” he prefaces, “Dylan, the Beatles, Neil Young, Marvin Gaye, I’m a big Bacharach fan, Roy Orbison, and Van Morrison just makes me happy—especially in the summer. But you always have to try to realize what it is that makes those people great and bring it into your own world.” Nic also mentions how other mediums offer him inspiration with songwriting. “Classic movies like Apocalypse Now or the Last Picture Show are always inspiring on more of a subconscious level.” Also, he says, “Lots of post modern writers like Raymond Carver and that whole Gordon Lish crowd. I related to [those writers] on a pop song level,” which he explains; “you need to take the most important themes and motives, and make them compact. The first line always has to be great.” He continues, “I liked a lot of flash fiction. It was the 3 1/2 minute pop song of the literary world.”
For the song “Work,” Nic tells us that it was written in parts over a long span of time. “I wrote the music about a year earlier,” before writing the lyrics. “It was just a tambo and kick loop. I think I had three different sets of music put over it at various points. The first sounded like something from Bowie’s Station to Station. It was too derivative though, so I changed it.” The lyrics came more effortlessly, fueled by the way Nic has experienced the working world. “The only real jobs I’ve ever had were manual labor jobs. I was a farm hand for 5 years through high school and college, then I hung drywall, worked for a paint crew, things like that. So I suppose that was kind of running through my mind when I wrote the lyrics.”
Although it appears to be perfectly simple, just like the pure and down-to-earth quality of the song, the video for “Work” was “kind of a mess,” as Nick describes. “We had a bunch of different treatments but they all got thrown out due to budget issues. So Drew [Norton, who directed the video] drove down from New York without us having any idea what we were gonna do. The original idea was to involve Braddock, PA, which is like this post-industrial wasteland that is on the rise. They have this really outspoken young mayor who’s all tatted up and is really changing the landscape. We wanted to involve him but we never heard back from his office. So we just started driving around town shooting whatever.” Ultimately, the premise ended up being two laid-off workers who are “having one last day of fun before we go home and tell our girlfriends/wives.” Nic admits, “I was sick to my stomach half the time because I was so worried it wasn’t gonna be good. Drew seemed to pull it together after about a month of editing, though.” For those of you who have just watched the video, I’m sure you can agree that he pulled it together just fine.
Catch 1,2,3 on tour with Givers in late June, and watch out for a potential tour of the UK. “I’ve already started worrying about the second album. I think I want it to be a double album,” Nic resolves, “We’ll see.”—Annick Mayer