Inspiration is a strange beast. For Philip Gage, the leading track on No Touching's EP came to him in response to a 7-Eleven clerk who he had a less-than-pleasant experience with. The track, "Big Mama," started as a joking poem-rant from Gage to bandmate Elana Nelson, but eventually developed into full songwriting and even the formation of the band.
These and other idiosyncrasies define No Touching, a punk band with a tinge of pop and a growling ferocity. But beneath the genre of characteristically simple chord progressions exists rhythmic complexity, strong vocal performances and outstanding songwriting. With their self-titled EP fresh out of the gates from Civil Recording this week, the band is ready to start booking shows and taking Denton by storm.
No Touching has operated as a three-piece for a few months since recently enlisting the help of Gage's younger brother Jesse to drum with them. Nelson, who handles bass and vocals, and Gage both wound up in Denton in search of other creative types to collaborate with. The two met at their job at an undisclosed restaurant (they're less than excited about their job, you understand), when they eventually began to loosely form bands and practice together a year ago.
The band splits songwriting duties just about in the middle between Nelson and Gage. Their EP has three tracks by Nelson and four by Gage, although one is likely to do background vocals in the other member's songs.
On her portion of the EP, Nelson says she writes to be, above all else, honest. She sings on her own experiences and emotions and carefully coordinates the words to convey the same feelings through song. "I've been writing poetry for basically my whole life," she says. "I put a lot of care and thought into each word and syllable. I'm always checking meter and iambic pentameter."
She also writes with her family in mind, making sure that what she writes about is something her relatives would be proud of. With six siblings to take into account, Nelson says she feels responsible for what she writes, making sure to sing about topics that are meaningful and positive. "The Truth About Ghosts and Monsters" is a bridge between the honesty and the family oriented lyrics, with Nelson writing about how the ugly parts of life are just as important as the good parts.
Gage, on the other hand, prefers to be cheekier and have songs that are funny or sarcastic. To give you an idea, he wrote "Horny Gibberish" on the EP, which features exactly the kind of tongue-in-cheek sensibility Gage thrives on, singing about a relationship with mismatched expectations. But in sharing songwriting duties, Gage says they've struck a perfect balance.
"I wouldn't want to be in a band that has all my songs and my sense of humor," he says. "She kind of reins it in and then I get to be dirty and stupid."
When either songwriter touches on deeply personal topics, they each feel a cathartic release in being able to sing about a song and separate the feelings from the personal experience. "After you write about something, it stops being about that subject," Gage explains. "It's almost like it's somebody else's song at that point. I work through everything and I can move on from it."
When the two come together, Gage says Nelson typically has the whole song developed and ready to go before he even hears a note of it, while he usually ends up "noodling" around on his guitar and asking for her input. He describes his style as being "needy," with a laugh, but Nelson says her style is more out of perfectionism.
"I'm a quiet creator," Nelson says. "He's just more confident about the process. I hide it, I'll do it while he's a sleep or at work because I don't want him to hear me mess up for some reason."
After two days of recording for this EP, listening back to the album caught the band pleasantly by surprise. "We were like, 'Is that us?'" Elana says with a laugh. "And, 'Oh, that's not so bad.'" She explains that when the two are caught up in their songwriting, the music exists in a vacuum, and exposing it to someone else is a terrifying prospect. But upon hearing the recording after working with Michael Briggs, they were thrilled to have their fully-formed songs to listen to and share.
Between their contrasting music tastes, Nelson and Gage found a huge common ground in the eclectic work of Animal Collective. For both of them, the band spoke to a new level of songwriting by expanding their ideas of what was possible within a song, and the shared appreciation for the strange potential a song can hold. They also mentioned Parquet Courts and Talking Heads as massive influences.
"That's all I listen to now, really. That and really dumb rap music when I want to get crunk before a show," Nelson says. "I'll put on some K Camp, jump around and act like I have no mother, basically."
The band's name serves as both an Arrested Development reference and as a response to peoples' inquires about the nature of Gage and Nelson's relationship. The two once lived together and have been self-proclaimed "super best friends" for years, but if someone asks if they're dating, much like George Bluth Sr., they declare, "No touching!"
The feedback from their album so far has been positive, and Gage confesses to checking the band's page with unhealthy frequency to see how many listens a song has. But in being able to share their music with friends and family, Nelson says she's floored by the support the band receives.
"It's exciting to know people are listening to what we've been writing," she says. "It's overwhelming, just thinking about all these people hearing all the songs we've so carefully put together."
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