When I first heard “AZ” by the Minneapolis duo Now, Now earlier this year, I felt one of those paroxysms where you need to immediately send a song to everyone you know—my girlfriend, my friends, the National Grid help line, whomever. It’s that good. The song captures a quality that’s hard to find amid the current glut of affected, twee indie rock—a perfect down-the-middle hook embedded within jeweled guitar tones, like Avril Lavigne meets the Smashing Pumpkins. The song has an appealing blankness that avoids overwrought posturing and lets you feel like it’s specifically about you. “It’s all inspired by this suburban aesthetic,” explains drummer Bradley Hale. “What we do is figure out a concept or emotion and just go as hard as we can,” adds lead singer and guitarist KC Dalager, “going back over it a million times until it’s perfect in our eyes.” See for yourself with the video for “AZ,” which we’re premiering below.
Earlier this week, the band sent me a handful of pictures they’ve taken on the road over the last few months, and told me the stories behind them. Over the phone, Hale and Dalager finish each other’s sentences—they met in their high school marching band in the early ’00s, and they’ve been best friends and collaborators ever since. They released their debut album Cars in 2008 as Now, Now Every Children, before shortening their name for their sophomore record Threads in 2012. Five years later, their third release Saved is finally hitting stores on May 18. It’s been a long road (“I still am in disbelief,” says Dalager) but the end is finally near, and thank God—indie rock needs them.
BRAD HALE: One thing that we love is the Minnesota State Fair.
KC DALAGER: I love this understatement. It’s our Minnesota State Fair. I’ve been going every year my whole life.
HALE: I went once as a child and then I didn’t go again until I met KC and then I’ve been going every year since then and I don’t know, that was high school I suppose.
EZRA MARCUS: Paint a picture for me of what to expect at the Minnesota State Fair.
HALE: Baby animals. Cheese curds.
DALAGER: Baby animals. Any food on a stick you could ever imagine.
HALE: It’s like a million people all squished together but it doesn’t even matter because it’s so much fun.
DALAGER: There’s really good people watching and then there’s the animals. It’s not the main event but it’s our main event.
HALE: Well, that’s your main event. [Dalager laughs] My main event is cheese curds, for sure.
HALE: Those are my feet. I think that was a day off in Seattle. We really wanted to try to get on a boat and we tried to use the power of Twitter to find a boat but it didn’t work. So here we are, at a beach. We stayed there. It was smoky out because everything was on fire at that time.
DALAGER: We went on a hike that day and then we went to a beach. We just had a really nice outdoor day, that day. This was sunset time.
HALE: I was burying myself and then I thought it looked really artistic so then I took a picture of it.
DALAGER: I think I started burying you.
HALE: I don’t think that’s true but you can think that if you want.
MARCUS: Is this the Domino’s Pizza Tracker?
HALE: That definitely is. We were in the process of doing a music video shoot in that hallway using a projector and we got really hungry. We were using my computer to projecs stuff so that’s really all there was to it.
MARCUS: What’s your favorite stage of the Tracker?
HALE: It’s hard to say. I get excited by the first stage, which is when you’re order is placed, and prep is really fun. I like to picture them getting my cheese pizza ready, which is really complicated because it takes a lot of effort to make a cheese pizza, you know? I get the Wisconsin Six Cheese Pizza so there better be six cheeses on there.
DALAGER: We were looking for inspiration for the “Arizona” music video and I was going through old home videos.
MARCUS: What were some of the videos you found particularly inspiring?
DALAGER: It was just a lot of me when I was little and just watching my grandparents and my mom interact with me and seeing how I’ve been the same person my whole life since I was an infant. There’s this clip where my mom is picking me up from my grandparents, and I’m sitting in a stroller and she’s like, “Are you an alien? Are you an alien?” And I always say I’m an alien, so seeing that happen since birth, it freaked me out.
MARCUS: What do you think the “Arizona” music video is about in terms of your personal history?
DALAGER: This video felt like a turning point for me. I’ve always felt very uncomfortable trying to be pretty, like normal pretty. I get really self-conscious about it because it just feels wrong for me. But when I can feel weird, when I’m being my natural alien self, is when I feel best. I was able to allow that version of myself to show, which I don’t think I’ve ever been able to do with this project at all so that was a milestone for me, personally.
DALAGER: This is my cat Sprout. She is my best friend, and I don’t even know what else to say. I love Sprout so much.
HALE: She’s also an alien. She’s not actually a cat.
DALAGER: No, she’s not a cat at all. She’s definitely an alien pretending to be a cat. No part of me believes that she is a cat.
MARCUS: What is she like? What are some of her un-catlike behaviors?
DALAGER: She moves like an animatronic cat. That’s a very nice try but it doesn’t look real. There’s something in her eyes that, “I know you understand me, I know you understand me.” There have been at least two times where she looked into my eyes a little too long and I was afraid she was going to speak English. Like I was like, “This is the moment where she speaks.” I’m convinced that one day, both of us are going to disappear, Sprout and I, because she’s going to be like, “Hello, it’s time.” [Hale laughs] And I’m going to be like, “Holy shit, it is time.” We’re going to be beamed away and I’m probably going to have to save the world or something.
HALE: This is at the Minnesota Children’s Museum. They had an adult night. It was pretty entertaining though KC and I don’t really like to go out and be around people, but we made the best of it.
DALAGER: It was for my sister’s boyfriend’s birthday. A lot of drunk adults at the Children’s Museum. [laughs]
HALE: So lots of small furniture and really drunk people.
DALAGER: Yeah. They’d exhibit like slides and stuff like that. The slide was a huge event.
HALE: I don’t know what’s going on in this picture, it was a pretend office area where I guess you learn how to have a job or something.
MARCUS: What were you pretending to be?
DALAGER: Maybe I’m a teacher, my name is Ms. Boss.
DALAGER: This was the cover shoot for our album. This was the first round of testing out how to get the shot we were looking for. I was in the bathroom for nine hours.
HALE: And all the water was turning pink.
DALAGER: That necklace that’s being held, we designed this custom jewelry, a ring and a necklace. They’re pieces in the world of the album. So we were trying to figure out how to include water, these jewelry pieces and to make it look like you don’t know where it is, to not make it look like a bathtub even though it was, to confuse your senses, to not be able to know what the depth perception is. So this was the first day of figuring out how to approach that.
MARCUS: Had either of you designed jewelry before?
HALE: No. That was definitely a weird learning process. [laughs] But it was very rewarding. I’ve always wanted album artwork that has that insane depth to it, even if it doesn’t appear complicated. So now we have that skill set if you need some rings or pendants.
HALE: This is at SXSW, this past one, a couple weeks ago. KC attempting to do our warm-ups when there’s a thousand bands playing all around you.
DALAGER: It’s my shirt pulled over my head. It was to block sound and block people from looking at me. It was a multi-purpose.
HALE: It’s pretty fashionable too.
DALAGER: I tried to make a tent for no one seeing in and me not seeing out.
MARCUS: You match the corrugated roof behind you. It’s like urban camouflage.
DALAGER: I’m a natural.
DALAGER: We did an acoustic session at this blog, and this dog’s name is Hudson and I have not been able to stop thinking about this dog since we did this. He’s my dream dog. He’s just a big, big, big dog with a huge head. [laughs] He’s really mellow, he’s the type of dog that puts his whole body weight into you when you’re petting him you know? and he just chilled on my couch the whole time we were there. And before we had to play he was sleeping on my arm for probably a good 30 minutes so I felt so bad when I had to get up and remove his headrest. So this was before we played and I wasn’t focused on anything but this dog. I don’t think I did any socializing of any kind.
DALAGER: It’s a winter drumline competition. Brad and I are 17 here. During high school, we were involved in a lot of music programming. This specifically is winter indoor drumline and that’s my little sister up front and my cousin on the side.
MARCUS: How did you guys meet?
Both: Marching band camp. [Hale laughs]
MARCUS: What was your first impression of each other?
DALAGER: This is…
HALE: A classic story.
DALAGER: I’d just moved back to Minnesota from Virginia, I lived in Virginia for five years and I just moved back, this was the summer before tenth grade. So I lived for band, like any band-related anything. I was so excited to be able to be in marching band and maybe make friends, but I found out they had a band camp and it was a sleep-away camp in Wisconsin and I was just ruined from this because I’m very antisocial and I really don’t know how to make friends very easily. And so I was crying about it, like “I have no friends, I have no friends.” And then I met Brad and I thought Brad hated me and that was the beginning.
HALE: And here we are now.
DALAGER: So this is Alexa, she is our videographer. She travels with us and makes all of our music videos with us. We were standing at merch, meeting people and everyone had cleared out and she decided that she wanted to take a meet and greet photo with us.
HALE: KC’s doing your sort of school picture face.
DALAGER: Yeah, my senior pic face. When someone is smiling with their mouth alone but no other part of their face is smiling. It’s hard to look like your smiling genuinely in a school photo. That’s my go-to photo pose.
HALE: It’s confusing because it looks like your body is my bottom half. This is the new black and blue dress.
MARCUS: Did you see the black and blue or white and gold?
HALE: I saw black and blue but KC switched, you had a swap.
DALAGER: I saw white and gold at first. Someone sent it to me and I thought they were just trying to drive me insane by being like, “People are seeing black and blue,” until I showed it to Brad and he saw black and blue and I was like, “What!”
MARCUS: Our entire generation disassociated from reality when The Dress happened.
HALE: I think so. That was the beginning of this weird time we’re living in. Someone planted it just to screw with us.
BOTH: Oh my God.
DALAGER: This photo is from December. I was having a panic attack this whole day. Our lives felt like they were crumbling at this point. We were trying to find a label for the album and nothing was working. Our whole business world was falling apart, and this is before we had people on our team who believed in the album enough to let us put it out. We were just waiting for somebody to come sweep us off our feet and give us some sort of great advance, but we didn’t even really want that. We just really wanted to put the album out because it had been five years since our last album, so of course no one was going to be jumping at making us an offer. So we were just having a major life crisis. I was laying in bed and I pulled the sweatshirt over my face and it looks like I’m hugging a person.
MARCUS: It looks like Kenny from South Park. What does it feel like to finally release this record?
HALE: It’s insane.
DALAGER: I don’t think I believe it. I’m still waiting for a fake out. I’m waiting for “You can’t put it out for this reason” or some freak something to happen where we can’t put the album out. I’m not even fully there yet. I will randomly freak out about it, and be like, “May? In a month and a half?”
DALAGER: This is a screenshot of our details section of our group chat with our visual team, which is Sam and Alexa. We went to thrift stores to figure out what outfits to wear for the next series of promos and music videos, a vibe of what’s plain, suburban, not too cool. That’s one thing we’re really trying to avoid. We want everything to be almost unflattering, but flattering in the way that it’s unflattering. It’s more us being ourselves than anything. The hardest part about this is to not water yourself down. It’s so easy to want to do the easiest cool thing, but this is just us being who we are.
DALAGER: This is a disposable camera photo that I had scanned and saved to my phone. This is Joshua Tree. I’ve been to this place a few times, it’s a little Airbnb that doesn’t have a TV. It’s pretty in the middle of nowhere, it’s where we shot “SGL,” which is the first music video that we made for this, and it feels very much like an escape. Something big always happens when I go to this place. The last time was when “Yours,” our second single, came out. It feels like a symbolic place for the beginning of this album.
HALE: At Rough Trade.
DALAGER: This is the first time that we played New York since we had released anything and it was just a very special day. The show was sold out. That’s Sam and our manager Amber, looking so happy and lovingly. It really embodies the energy of right now and the positivity of the relationship of everyone in that room.
HALE: And it was like the first time we were playing New York where we weren’t stressed out about industry stuff, where we were just like we’re going to have a good show. I think that’s the beauty of this chunk of touring is we figured out how to make it for us and not care about anything else.
MARCUS: How do you think you figured that out?
HALE: I think it’s partially telling yourself that and just the mood you create on the road, it doesn’t have to be stressful and negative.
DALAGER: And accepting that one show is not going to make or break your career. I think that was a mindset that had been drilled into us from people that we had worked with in the past, like anytime you mess up there are consequences. And so it made every single show feel like something that I was really very much dreading. I’ve never been able to have fun playing a show until a year ago when we started touring again. I’ve never been able to enjoy a playing a show because I’ve been so in my head about I’m going to suck, I’m not going to be able to sing it, and then some industry person is going to be there and they’re going to be like, “Wow, they suck,” and they’re going to tell every other industry person, “Wow, they suck.” It was all about what’s going to happen as a result of me not performing well, you know? It’s fun to be able to put my focus more on the audience and the crowd than just me telling myself, “Don’t mess up, don’t mess up, don’t mess up.”
DALAGER: Okay, so this one is from the last time we played Brooklyn. I was in full on sick mode so I was just like, “I don’t want to puke. I do not want to puke.” This is right as we’re about to walk out and I’m just having a moment of “Oh, shit. This is the biggest headline show we’ve ever done and I hope I don’t throw up.” [Hale laughs]
HALE: That was also the show where a fight broke out during our set, which has never happened before.
DALAGER: A full-on brawl. It was during one of our old songs, “Magnet,” which is not a really aggressive song by any means. Anyway, this guy was going insane. He knew all the words but he was shoving everyone around him, like moshing. No one wanted to be doing that. So he’s just shoving people and running into people and hitting people and everyone else was like, “Dude I am not there.” And he was either on drugs or incredibly intoxicated. I had my eyes closed because I was playing this keyboard part by myself. I see this guy going insane and I’m thinking, “Okay when the song is over I’m going to address this guy and say ‘Hey man, thanks for being into it but make sure everyone’s comfortable.’” So I open my eyes and there’s a circle cleared out of the middle of the floor and it’s just a brawl.
HALE: Punching and everything.
DALAGER: We all stopped playing and had to call security over. This guy was going nuts and he shoved this girl in front of him who turned around, and she got pissed and shoved him back, and then he punched her. That just turned into a giant brawl of everyone in that area. That guy got kicked out, and the girl wasn’t majorly hurt. I’m glad she was alright.
MARCUS: I really would not have thought of your music as circle pit music.
HALE: Neither did we.
DALAGER: It was very jarring.
MARCUS: Everyone reacts to indie rock in a different way.
DALAGER: So true.
DALAGER: That’s my grandma, who kind of raised me. She has Alzheimer’s and she lives in an assisted living place. She’s in Memory Care now, but this is right before she went to Memory Care. They had performances, and this was an Elvis impersonator who came in. This guy was actually pretty good.
HALE: His outfit’s pretty good.
DALAGER: It was good. He gets all these custom made suits. Everyone was loving it so much, he was really performing to them. He may as well have been Elvis.
MARCUS: I wonder, if you’re an Elvis impersonator, is it just that you happen to look like him so you decide to go into the field of impersonation, or did this guy get lucky in that he also happens to look like Elvis, but would have done it regardless?
DALAGER: It’s strange because I went to track this guy down on Facebook, because I got very curious after this event, and he doesn’t actually look like Elvis in his normal life! He’s bald and his eyebrows are way lighter. He looks like a math teacher. I think he’s involved in church somehow, he looks very church-y.
HALE: Eyebrows can do a lot. And anyone wearing that jumpsuit I imagine would feel the confidence they would need to be an Elvis impersonator.
DALAGER: Seriously, just to get up in front of a group of seniors, who are a difficult crowd because they don’t pretend to like anything. If they don’t like it, they don’t like it.
HALE: We need to bring him on tour.
DALAGER: This is again in Joshua Tree. This is a photo shoot we were testing outside, we were trying to figure out how to get this specific lighting in the sky. Brad, this is a shining moment for you.
HALE: Thank you so much. I feel so beautiful.
DALAGER: These are the only black outfits we allowed ourselves to wear.
HALE: Are we trying to point at the moon?
DALAGER: You’re pointing to you and the moon.
HALE: “Here I am, and there’s the moon.”
MARCUS: It’s important to keep track of where everything is.
HALE: Yeah, you don’t want to get it confused.
DALAGER: Wait Brad, is that you? Oh, no, just the moon.
HALE: We look very similar as you can see.
NOW, NOW’S NEW RECORD SAVED COMES OUT MAY 18TH; YOU CAN PRE-ORDER IT AND CHECK OUT THEIR SPRING TOUR DATES HERE.