While Nora Marks is hardly new to the Chicago scene, what makes the band’s post-pandemic success so joyful to watch is seeing how quickly they’ve covered such a great distance recently. Developing from the raucous party guys to the (jokingly self-proclaimed) dads of the DIY scene, Nora Marks has helped younger artists along the way, support the scene wholeheartedly and throw a mean barbecue (where they undoubtedly manned the grill).
But none of that means they don’t also unleash some rowdy rock on stage as well as on the new EP “The Buzzing of Flies,” which they released last weekend.
“People have helped us out in that way. I just feel like we’re paying it forward at this point,” said Michael Garrity, lead vocalist for the band. “Sometimes we do joke about being sort of the dads on the scene a little bit. … We’re just trying to make sure everyone’s feeling welcome and having a good time. And that feels like a lot of our role in terms of how I think we want to be perceived and just sort of the general vibe we’re trying to cultivate. Shows that are somewhere where people can go and see people they know, meet new people, everything being pretty laid back and accepting and just sort of chill vibes. Just go, have fun, watch music, enjoy yourself, and take care of each other.”
Such is the ethos of Nora Marks.
The new EP, which dropped on Sept. 30 (almost exactly a year after the band’s full-length “Opt Out”) through Chicago’s Take A Hike Records label, takes that ethos and runs with it. In its fast-paced 10-minute running time, it pulls from songs that didn’t quite fit on the last album, but also introduces some recent creations in a mix of punk-inspired, aggressive rock bearing passionate and thoughtful lyrics.
Last year’s full-length expressed some long-standing concerns that had been surfacing for the band — namely the cyclical nature of adult life, attempting to carve out one’s role and the ever-present doubts about the future — and “The Buzzing of Flies” responds to some of those questions.
In the five songs on the EP, Michael, his brother Matt Garrity and bassist Matt Galante — along with a production assist from Kat and Tony Baker of Hot Mess Records, who Michael credits with helping Nora Marks hone its sound — tackle the new mindsets and growth they’ve experienced since re-emerging from the pandemic’s downtime. One song in particular, “Hunch,” was originally written for last year’s release, and Garrity said it hits differently releasing it a year later.
“I think it kind of works better now because really that song is about the end of that feeling,” he said. “It’s about seeing these ways that you’ve let these, whatever this is, this anxiety, or being so worried about where you fit in, and how you fit in and how people think about you. It’s sort of about getting over that. And that’s kind of what I feel like the whole EP is about, at least for me, in some ways. I never even would have thought that I would be here, but I feel like I have moved past that a bit.”
So what has Nora Marks figured out since last year’s release?
On top of working to further sharpen its sound for the new EP, Garrity said the Chicago trio has strengthened its confidence in experimenting musically in live settings.
“Before I would be so terrified to do anything different or wrong in a live show,” he said. “And now I’ve kind of just embraced like this is what I’m feeling right now so let’s try it and see if it works.”
They’ve sussed out where they like to play and what kinds of crowds they want to appeal to. And that they definitely like mosh pits at their shows.
“I think what’s changed the most is that we’ve reassessed. … We broadened our horizons, and we’ve seen that there’s more that you can do than just follow one path, and just try to get one kind of attention from one type of audience or label. There’s more out there that you can do,” he said. “And we’ve really just learned that there’s value to it, but there’s also just how much more fun it is to put the effort into working with other bands and other people in the scene to make something that’s not just a carbon copy or not just many different bands trying simultaneously to achieve the same thing. But instead to make something different, and have our own thing that we share with all these other bands.”
But even more importantly, the trio has figured out that they’re still figuring out what the road ahead looks like.
“Success just looks different to us. It’s more about being able to maintain our own vision and our own independence, but also to do that in conjunction with other people that we just like and want to spend time with and want to share the stage with,” he said. “This has grown pretty much beyond what I thought it would ever get to, so everything is kind of new from here. And it’s pretty exciting. I feel a measure of confidence that we’ll be able to figure it out from here.”