The Keyport, NJ based punk rock band Nervous Triggers provides listeners with head-banging tunes that offer a satirical commentary on our current political situation. Their music combines the genres of punk rock with more hardcore sounds, along with surf rock, new wave and ska elements. Their songs spread awareness of present-day issues in our country and they give listeners something to think about. The Pop Break had the chance to speak with Jay Insult of Nervous Triggers about their history, musical inspirations, their most recent EP Do the Drool and their favorite memories as a band.
Who is Nervous Triggers (Names of your band members and the instruments you play): Nervous Triggers are Patski on guitar, J. Nixon on bass, Eric Truchan on drums, and Jay Insult on vocals.
What year did you form as a band: We started practicing in the spring of 2015, and played our first show on Wednesday, June 24, 2015, with Mikey Erg, Nato Coles & The Blue Diamond Band, and Toys That Kill.
I see that you are based out of Keyport, right? How’s the music scene there: Keyport is our headquarters for practicing and writing songs. Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot of interest in original music there. It’s a small town with a handful of bars that mainly cater to the classic rock cover band crowd. As a result, Asbury Park is pretty much our home base in terms of playing shows, and we are proud to be a part of the great scene based in and around the shore area, with fantastic and diverse bands and friends like Night Birds, Exmaid, Hot Blood, the Battery Electric, TV Tramps, Execütors, Dentist, and many more.
And New Brunswick, the Hub City, a town we all either lived in or spent a lot of time in, is where we do all of our recording. New Brunswick is still the place to be for DIY spaces and basement shows.
Where are some of your favorite places to perform along the Jersey Shore and why: We dearly miss the Asbury Lanes, first and foremost. It was a real home to the band members in previous bands. I DJ-ed there frequently and J worked as a sound guy there. We were lucky to play an early Nervous Triggers show during the last few months that the Lanes was open, and we were very grateful to do so, because the spirit of that place is in this band’s DNA. Nothing has quite replaced it yet.
That said, the Brighton Bar is still going strong after decades and we are always stoked to play there. We played a show that Jay booked for our our friends Indonesian Junk from Milwaukee, which was at the Asbury Park Brewery. Jeff Plate, the owner of the brewery, has played in bands before so he really gets it. He picked up that show on super short notice after it was dropped by another spot in the area and it was great. Anyone willing to stick their neck out for DIY bands on tour is aces in our book. We’d be glad to play there again.
The Asbury Park Yacht Club is a blast as well. Asbury Park Music Foundation has a great live room. There are a few other spots around town that we love that we haven’t gotten around to playing just yet, i.e. the Bond Street Basement, the Anchor’s Bend, the Overlook, and of course the good old Stone Pony, but we’re sure we’ll get around to each one. We are stoked to play the Wonder Bar for the first time this Monday night!
How did you decide on your band name? How does it reflect who you are as a band: It came together pretty fast once we knew we needed one. “Nervous Triggers” is adapted from a line in one of my favorite songs by the Clash, “Groovy Times.” The full line is, “They discovered one black Saturday that mobs don’t march, they run/So you can excuse the nervous trigger man just this once, for jumping the gun/They were picking up the dead out of the broken glass/Yes it’s number one, the radio said/Groovy times have come to pass.” That verse is about a British soccer riot, but it’s a great allegory for protests and political clashes. The threat of violence from people, police, soldiers, etc., with itchy trigger fingers is one that recurs over and over in our society. That line just resonates with the issues that we want to speak about in our songs.
We were almost “One Black Saturday” but that sounded a bit too metal. At first we agreed on “Nervous Triggermen,” but then we discovered there’s a British cover band with that name, so we shortened it to Nervous Triggers, which in retrospect is a much stronger name. Aside from the literal meaning about pulling the trigger of a gun, it has taken on a bit of a double meaning as well. Other important issues to the band are those surrounding mental health, which various band members struggle with. So “Nervous Triggers” also refers to the circumstances that can spark episodes of anxiety and/or depression, and learning to live with them.
What acts as inspiration for your music: Lyrically, we try to write about relevant issues of the day, to create awareness but also to express frustrations and stand in solidarity with those who are struggling. I’m no expert on his work, but I recently encountered the quotation from author Cesar A. Cruz, “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” I think that sums it up pretty nicely. We also write about things in our lives, but it just so happens that there’s an awful lot in society to be pissed off about these days, so it’s not always easy to sit down and write something very personal and inward looking, although that’s a challenge. Maybe someday we’ll write a love song. We’ll see. Musically, we are inspired by our friends, and our favorite musicians. Often, those are one and the same. Music has always been very much about community to us, and we are fortunate to be a part of a musical community full of inspiring weirdos.
As far as genre, are you strictly a punk rock band? Are there any other sounds or elements present in your music? What are they: Personally, I always find it pretentious when a band who clearly play within a certain genre try to pretend like they can’t possibly be categorized. A bit of a pet peeve. So it is fair to say that we are a punk band, and we’re all fine with that. We all love punk rock. What we steer clear of is defining punk rock narrowly. All four of us are music nerds, and our record collections are pretty all over the map, so the music we make, whether it sounds like it or not, bears the influence of all of that. We like many different kinds of punk and hardcore, but also post-punk/goth & new wave, surf & garage, ska & reggae, folk & country, metal, indie rock, hip hop, some electronic music…the list goes on.
The degree to which you can hear those influences tends to vary from song to song. It’s up to the listener to decide how much they hear any of it. So truly, we are just a punk band, but we have a very wide stance of what kind of sounds are on the table for a punk rock song.
From your Demo 2016 to the Do the Drool EP, how has your music evolved over the past year: Hopefully we’ve just gotten better. We just passed the two year mark as a band, so we’ve gotten better at anticipating one another in the moment and bringing out the best in each others’ performances. Live shows are pretty much the lifeblood of any band, so all of our songs are written with the live show in mind. The demo was recorded by our good friend Mark Bronzino (from the fantastic bands Iron Reagan and Söft Dov, among many others) in a New Brunswick basement. Most of the stuff on there are first takes, so it’s raw and live sounding, which was exactly what we wanted. For the EP, we went into Volume IV studio in New Brunswick, NJ with our old friend Chris Pierce (from the bands Doc Hopper and Speed Queen, among many more, as well as the guy who has recorded many of the great punk records to come out of New Jersey in the last couple decades).
Whereas the demo was intended to capture the live sound of the four of us playing together, in the studio with some more time, we really wanted to flesh the arrangements out. That meant calling in our talented friends once again. Marisa Bergquist, from the great NYC bands the Besties and Chandeli’ers, played the Hammond Organ on the title track as well as the garage-centric “The Final War,” and it really brings those songs to the next level. For “Zero-State Solution,” we wanted a straightforward fast punk rock song, but we also knew we wanted our friend Sayuri Gomez, who Patski had previously played with in the great band Teen Wolves, to provide her inimitable vocals on it. Between the songs on the demo and the EP, they represent the bulk of the original material we have been playing during our first two years as a band. We are slowly but surely working on new material, with an eye to eventually recording an LP. It can be a challenge because we’re all in our 30s, some of us are married, time off from work is precious, and we all lead busy lives in general.
But we always enjoy the creative process, pounding away up in the attic and seeing what sticks. We are friends first and over two years we have learned a lot about each others’ strengths, and we all legitimately love playing together. We are excited to continue pushing forward with new material that will hopefully keep things fresh.
The EP Do the Drool is clearly very political. What ideas and subjects are explored in the songs? What tracks have the strongest message: The four songs were chosen very intentionally for thematic cohesion. The EP was released digitally to coincide with the inauguration of the current president. None of us make any secret about the fact that we are horrified by this regime and are opposed to it on just about every policy issue. “Do the Drool” tackles this with satire. We are all music nerds, so we were looking to old rock & roll songs where the lyrics tell you how to do the titular dance. Patski came up with the phrase “Do the Drool” and ideas about conformity and submission. Jay added to the lyrics, and without even consciously thinking about it, it became clear that the song was about people willfully inviting fascism into their lives, which is exactly what happened in the 2016 US presidential election. The song is clearly satire in that the lyrics are sung from a pro-fascist perspective, basically telling people to give up and dance the dance. Obviously our hope is that people do the exact opposite. There’s more than a little Jello Biafra in that one.
“Zero-State Solution” was a phrase that popped into my head while listening to news casts about violence in Israel & Palestine, and how politicians always say the only way to peace is through a “two-state solution.” The idea of the zero-state solution is that if the only function of nations are to give people another reason to destroy one another, then maybe we should re-think how great the idea of national borders are to begin with. From there, the song references religiously motivated violence in Northern Ireland, refugee crises (such as the ongoing one in Syria), and finally, Donald Trump’s toxic anti-immigrant rhetoric and actions. The through-line through all these issues is violence and oppression thriving while people use national borders, religious differences, or just good old-fashioned racism and xenophobia to justify it. Lives are being ruined, and lives are being lost, and for what?
“The Final War” is actually over 15 years old. I wrote it for a previous band during the early years of the George W. Bush regime, and sadly, it has only gotten more relevant. It’s a song of frustration at the failure of politicians, especially under the two-party system, to offer real options to help the governed. The chorus is a call and response that basically states that revolution won’t happen without evolving human thought, but that this is an emergency, because that evolution needs to happen before all of these reckless politicians get us into a state of perpetual war that could very well spell human extinction.
Finally, “Bricks & Mortars” is about violence abroad and at home. It starts from the perspective of a warzone overseas, before shifting perspective to the streets of the USA where we see violence in the form of police shootings, and tensions between communities and authorities during protests and demonstrations. The title is a bit of a pun, based on the idea that bricks & mortar are construction materials, used to build, but the idea of mortar blasts or bricks thrown in anger represent destruction. So really, all 4 songs function together as a kind of survey of modern-day America, and the relationship between politics and violence, both domestically and across the world.
What is your favorite song on this album and why: Total copout answer, but I like each song based on its own merits. Sometimes I like the satirical weirdness of “Do the Drool,” other times I love the straightforward roar of “Zero-State Solution.” Those two songs are a blast to play live. I love the garage beat of “The Final War” and the driving folk-punk desperation of “Bricks & Mortars.” I’m bad at choosing, I’m usually better at spouting off about what I like about each one.
What has been the most memorable performance so far from your time spent together as Nervous Triggers: Any opportunity we have, given our schedules, to make it out on the road, is something we really treasure. We are fortunate to have amazing friends all over the place who put on amazing shows for us whenever we come through. For as tough as it can be for us to find the time to tour, we’ve managed to play 22 different cities in 11 different US states, and we absolutely could not do that if we didn’t have incredible people looking out for us.
As much as we enjoy playing, often the most memorable parts of the shows are the bands we get to play with along the way, the ones we love already as well as the ones we meet for the first time that blow us away. I’d say the oddest show that we’ve done, for us at least, was playing the Asbury Park holiday tree lighting at Convention Hall last year. We literally played after Santa Claus arrived. We played covers of “Fairytale of New York” by the Pogues and “Oi to the World” by the Vandals. It was a great opportunity to collaborate with more friends and family, our friends Jon Schneider and Scott Boyko joined us onstage playing piano and additional guitar, respectively. Patski’s wife Deborah sang Kirsty MacColl’s parts in the Pogues song, which was really special. We were able to play that one thanks to the efforts of Angie Sugrim of Geez Louise. It’s strange to be an angry political punk rock band and to be included in such a family-friendly community event, but it was a total blast, and a testament to the cool people in Asbury Park who still value rock & roll. As soon as we finished, we packed up our gear and drove down the road to play a hardcore show at a bar. That’s just the kind of band we are.