NONWORLDLY CONCEPTS (1988-1998)
Chapel Hill's Most Underground Avanternative Band
.N.W.C. are (clockwise from top-right):
Jon Carson (guitars, bass, keyboards) 1989
Marc Sloop (trombone, bass, etc) 1988
Glenn Liptak (guitars, keyboards) 1992
Amar Setty (drums, percussion) 1990
Michael Waldinger (trumpet, etc) 1990
Fletch Brendan Good (keyboards, electronics) 1988
Howard Thompson (miscellaneous) 1990
not shown- Eric Coker (keyboards) 1990, E. Neil Morris (keyboards, vocals) 1989, Steve Berndt (vocals) 1989, Jill West (vocals) 1993, James Hepler (bass) 1993
A highly-experimental recording-only group that operated mainly during the early 90s in the Chapel Hill, NC indie scene, NonWorldly Concepts (.N.W.C.) only ever had one live performance, and only a handful of songs played on their college radio station WXYC. Thus the band and its members were largely unknown by most people outside of their general sphere of friends. But with a catalog of 15 albums recorded in a span of five years, they can't be dismissed out of hand as a few friends getting drunk in the dorm room over the weekend and forgetting to press STOP on the tape deck. (That only happened once.)
The group usually functioned like a musician collective, with whoever was available getting together whenever to work on whatever material those present had to submit. They only occasionally wrote material down. Stylistically they were all over the place, but most often they acted on the strongest influences the members all had in common, mixing equal parts Captain Beefheart, The Residents and Negativland with the pervasive style of college rock of the early 90s- their term is "avanternative". Absurdist humor and cultural commentary on post-Reagan America were usually the finishing ingredients in their experimental audio-stew.
Considering their rampant obscurity along with their voluminous output, stylistic experiments, and soundtrack-style accompaniment to their times, they can pretty safely argue for their status as Chapel Hill's most underground band of the early 90s.
"air guitar" in the March 1988 NCSSM Airband contest.
His "guitar" is drawn on his t-shirt. His hat is labelled "Pontis".
Fall of 1989 found all three at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Since Fletch was majoring in audio production, he began the tradition of recording their noodling sessions. As more friends with different instruments joined the circle, their sessions became more focused, if not actually any more serious. With fellow Science-&-Math'ers Amar Setty, Eric Coker, Howard Thompson and Michael Waldinger, they made enough recordings in 1990 for a double album, Handlebar Eyebrows. It was a quasi-concept album strung together with messages taken from an answering machine at Fletch's hometown newspaper, featuring readers complaining about a festival of local bands where ATF agents got involved. The musical material itself was in many styles (including some regrettable forays into rap), but was a fairly even division between heavily-constructed "collages" of found sounds and samples built by Fletch, and pieces written in more traditional songforms by Carson. Setty, an Indian percussionist, added the element of live percussion to the group for the first time, and Waldinger combined with Sloop to give them something like a horn section. Coker was a more skilled keyboardist than Fletch, and Thompson brought a more critical voice to the lyrics- which were being written by everyone. Vocal duties were also being handed around like a hot potato, since no one was actually any good at it, with the notable exception of Carson.
1991 brought their fifth album, Jolly Mell, a more concise, less grandiose affair, though still an even mix of songs and collages. Not surprisingly, America's commercial involvement in the Persian Gulf War was a major topic of the album. It was around this time the group started getting some airplay on the college radio station WXYC- because Sloop had become a DJ there. These airings became the main focus of their efforts to publicize the group's activities, since they never played out live and never tried to sell the few cassette copies Fletch made of their albums. A few songs got aired during Sloop's night-time shifts throughout 1991, and sometimes one of the other guys would join Sloop in the studio for a mock-interview. Then one night the following summer, the entirety of "Jolly Mell" (including a WXYC legal ID as a part of the actual album) was aired at 2:30 in the morning. WXYC would continue to play more material in the coming years, when it was brought to the studio, sometimes resulting in a few calls inquiring about who the band was. One song, Philadelphia, was overheard on the air by Chapel Hills legendary Todd Morman while he was in the radio stations studio, and commented that he liked the song.
In 1992 Fletch got serious about recording and bought a four-track recording deck. This enabled the guys to make properly engineered recordings, whether they were Carson's songs or Fletch's "sound-salads". But the second album they recorded with it (their seventh) was neither- this was Bring Me The Sky, a 40-minute, one-take, unrehearsed tour-de-farce with wall-of-sound noise, endless samples and found sounds, and big ranting diatribes, that only ended when the tape deck stopped. It was .N.W.C. at their best- totally unplanned, bizarrely improvised, musically contradictory and damn hard to listen to.
At the end of the year, Carson and Sloop both joined other Chapel Hill groups. Sloop joined Hymen, a melodic-noise/grunge outfit with an ex-member of Superchunk, while Carson got onboard with Dada Veda, whose lead singer had joined Zen Frisbee. The remaining "Core Group" of .N.W.C. (including recent addition Glenn Liptak on guitar) decided to move into the live performance arena as well. They added bassist James Hepler and vocalist Jill West to write some new songs and rehearse what few old ones would work in a live setting. In the spring of 1993 they had their first and only live performance, a battle-of-the-bands at a local fraternity that no other bands showed up for. So at last .N.W.C. won! However, while rehearsing for the show, the members were unable to agree on a new name for this particular lineup. They finally agreed that if no better name was thought of, they would simply call themselves Philadelphia as a default. Yet they wound up playing the show without introducing themselves by any name at all. Carson and Sloop did join in on the last song for what was announced as a "NonWorldly Concepts Reunion." The gig was recorded by Fletch, of course, to become their tenth album, Suspension of Disbelief: Live.
1994 was marked by a fracturing of the group. While Fletch, Setty and Liptak recorded most often as a trio, there was one session that featured almost all the members of the group, a double album recorded in the same style as Bring Me The Sky. Called Got To Get To Know You Well, their twelfth album had one side filled with repeated references to recently-deceased X-President Richard Nixon.
As everyone scattered from UNC, the following years saw Fletch collecting their odds-and-ends into three more albums for posterity's sake. The guys regrouped in 1997-98 for another set of recordings for another album, though it was never finished. Carson continued to record songs on his own, and Sloop was a part of the Chapel Hill music scene for a very long time. Everyone else got jobs and started families. They're all still good friends and in contact with each other (the contact usually being to beg Fletch to get the tapes digitally transferred). On Facebook they call themselves "The Residents of Beefheart, Negativland 27705".
The text of this page comes from these links:
.N.W.C.'s first page on the UBL (Ultimate Band List)
.N.W.C.'s other page on the UBL (Ultimate Band List)
.N.W.C. listed in the UBL under Nw-Nz
Click here for the old "coming soon" graphic
Bonus Track: Turistan, by fellow Chapel Hill musician Matt Levy, with Amar Setty guesting on percussion