Deep in the heart of the city of Birmingham, Alabama, Nerves Baddington are prepping to release their debut album Dopamine Decoder Ring. Being one of the few hip-hop acts in town, Ryan Howell, John Mcnaughton and Cameron Johnson have a sharp focus on documenting life in America in the south, fraught with creativity, angst, and new-found sobriety.
Today, Ghettoblaster is proud to premiere the video for the single “Let It Bang”.
We also caught up with the trio to learn more about them, how Howell’s time in prison opened his eyes in the world, and how life changed after the runaway success of the hit “Addict” surfaced. Here’s what they said.
What was about hip hop that intrigued the band so much?
Hip-Hop has always been an integral part of my identity. The first cassette tape I ever bought was Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” when I was in the 8th grade. I’ve been fascinated by beats and rhymes ever since. Later in my teens I found myself surrounded by DJs, bboys and graffiti writers and really started learning about Hip-Hop as a culture. Something just clicked for me and the rest is history.
When did it ignite in your minds that you wanted to put your name into hip hop scene?
I’ve always admired the way a message is delivered via Hip-Hop. It’s just so direct. Clear and concise. I started freestyling for fun at house parties or just hanging out with friends. That continued for a while until I heard Outkast’s “Aquemini”. That’s when I knew I wanted to rap for real. My homeboy and I would call each other everyday like “Check out this verse I wrote!” Then we found a local bi-weekly open mic night called The Eargasm and we’d show up every other week jumping in cyphers, battling…you name it. I cut my proverbial teeth on the mic by being a cocky knucklehead thinking I had something to prove. A lot has changed since then but that’s how it started.
Howell-you spend some time in prison, a time that you say changed you. What was it that you saw that made you start thinking that way?
I spent 42 months in the Alabama Department of Corrections and it definitely changed me. I witnessed the racially charged power-tripping of correctional officers. I witnessed riots and stabbings. I witnessed privilege and classism and I started to understand what the system is really designed for; to keep poor people poor and to keep them from having a decent shot at life, especially poor people of color. Life’s bigger picture became more clear and I realized it’s much bigger than myself and my personal problems.
Howell-you had the U.S. Marshals come after you over a weed charge. How big was the felony that you had the government after you?
It’s a rather long and complicated story but the original charge was Trafficking Marijuana.
Why do you think that there’s still a large portion of America that views recreational marijuana use to be so horrible?
Because of lobbyists fighting alongside pharmaceutical companies and private prisons making a ton of money off of incarcerations mixed with the demonized idea of weed being a “gateway drug” and plain old ignorance. I think some people, especially in the south, just don’t like to admit when they’re wrong.
Howell-how bad did it get during peaks of your abuse with substances?
There were times when I was supporting a gram a day heroin habit. The worst it got was while living on the run. I feel like it was mainly me trying to escape the reality I created by choosing to run in the first place. Turns out I was running from so much more than just prison time.
McNaughton-how did you get to know Howell?
He and Shane were looking for a bass player back around 95 or 96. Ryan and I had a mutual friend who introduced us. If memory serves, I met with Ryan and Shane in a grocery store break room (where they were working at the time). We hit it off and I started playing bass for what would become Valerie #4.
The single and video to “Addict” was been a huge success. Would you say that the one of the main reasons for that could be listeners connecting to it personally?
Absolutely. “Addict” was my humble attempt to shake the stigma that comes with addiction. The relatability of the lyrics was important while I was writing. I actually wrote the lyrics while in prison so witnessing the stronghold of even the simplest of routines while doing time was rather eye opening.
Johnson-when and how did you get involved with Nerves Baddington?
I’ve been with them for about a year now, had to go through some pretty heavy hazing but I believe it’s a great fit. They were looking to add live drums to their sound and I was already a big fan – so the rest just fell into place!
What was the vision behind Dopamine Decoder Ring?
As we were writing and compiling the songs that would eventually become DDR, the vision developed itself. There seemed to be a consistent theme of self acceptance and powering through the low points in life. It’s about finding your reason to live for in the least likely of places. All 3 of us have a similar past of struggling with substance abuse and finding a way to replenish our Dopamine is the key to health, happiness and ultimately success.
How was the process like recording the new album?
The process tends to vary from song to song. One of the many perks of modern recoding technology is having the ability to move from studio to studio. The most important constant within the DDR process was certainly Jason Hamric. He and I produced the record together and have developed a unique chemistry in the studio.
Reading about your shows, the band approaches the sets with a DIY-aesthetic vibe. How important was for that mentality to still live within the show?
I’d say the DIY mentality is important because that’s what we come from. It’s what we’re used to. It’s all just been natural progression through and through and having drive and hard work ethic stems from having to do it ourselves.
We got the new album coming out, so what are looking with a possible tour?
We are working on setting all of that up now, look for us in your town soon. In the meantime we hope you enjoy the record!
Nerves Baddington’s debut LP Dopamine Decoder Ring is set for release on July 28.
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