Get To Know NUFFER [Interview]

Olive Soki

Starting out in a new career can be nerve-racking. New schedules, etiquettes, and general lifestyle changes are hard to navigate when you first step into an environment. Luckily for NUFFER (Jake Nuffer) most of his life has been a form of preparation for his recent solo endeavor. A week before the release of his debut EP, A-OK, I got a chance to speak to the San Diego native over Zoom. We got talking about everything from his musical background, to his up-coming EP — and even got some solid recommendations.

So you grew up in San Diego. How was your experience growing up there?

Yes. I am a San Diego boy at heart. It’s extremely temperate. Extremely sunny all the time. I’ve said “extremely” three times, but it's extremely chill. Like it's a little slow. But great people. And it was very cool growing up there. I was very lucky to grow up there. But now, I'm very happy to be in LA because it was slowing down quite a bit.

Do you prefer a fast pace, as opposed to a slow one, like San Diego?

I mean, not to jump into “Deadbeat” [but] that's kind of like what it’s about. Complacency, I was feeling a little complacent there [ and] not feeling like I was moving my life forward, because it's so comfortable. But, yeah, but I finally moved to LA to be a little bit more uncomfortable and put myself out there. I would say New York, when I lived there for three years, was like the opposite side of the spectrum of being extremely intense.

Did you go from San Diego, New York and then LA?

It was San Diego, New York, back to San Diego during the pandemic, and then L.A.

I heard that you were part of a couple cover bands back in San Diego.

I forgot that I mentioned. Yes, I was playing in bars when I was like 13 or 12. And I had a music teacher that taught in a band setting, instead of a solo setting, and would bring those bands to like bars. We would play for  drunk old people to dance. That was where I got all my musical knowledge; trying to make these 90 year olds dance to some random Grateful Dead song or something.

Did it work?

It worked for sure. That was the goal every night to get people dancing. It’s a whole culture. There’s those lines that you say to people and like all the tricks of the trade. But yeah, I was in a couple of them for a long time. That’s how I made a lot, or not a lot of money, but like that’s how I made money in high school, gigging.

When you started playing, did you have any guitar heroes or idols?

I’ve mentioned this, but that’s the reason why I started playing guitar because of Guitar Hero, the video game. It’s funny because the answers that I have are pretty dorky. Because it all started with the classics, you know: Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray. And then I started to get into more fusion jazz, which I think might be the nerdiest genre of all time. But really, I love it in a secret way. I really liked John Schofield. He’s like my guitar hero. I’ve definitely taken a lot of him into this music (i.e., dissonance)

Yeah, the dissonance comes up quite a bit, which I personally enjoy.

Thank you. Yeah, I love that kind of stuff; balancing and releasing.

You also have your first EP coming out August 16th. So not next week, but the week after.

Yes. Like in a week and a half.

When did you know that you wanted to start working on your own material and eventually your first project?

I’ve been making music on the side, I’d say most of my career, if you could call it that. I started doing it for fun. I released a couple of songs on SoundCloud but didn’t think much of it. And then I was in a band ‘Fashion Jackson’, and they [were] really helpful and supportive of being like, “Yeah you should make your own music.” When I left the band, I don’t know if this is a lame answer, but it’s true, My manager, but also [my] friend, Andrew, was like, “hey i will support you. I like your music so much that I will support you pro bono. And you should take yourself seriously.” That was the first time someone was like, “I will invest my time in you.” So yeah, he kind of sparked it a little bit, for sure.

I feel like, in those situations, where your manager also happens to be a friend can also be ideal, or a great place to start. I just watched a Sheryl Crow documentary yesterday, and she started out in a similar fashion. It’s a nice combo.

Hell yeah. I need to watch that Sheryl Crow documentary, is it on Netflix?

Um, I watched it on Crave, but it should be on Hulu.

My girlfriend has Crave, so I’ll get the login.

How was your experience playing with Fashion Jackson? Do you think you gained some knowledge that could then be applied to your own career?

Oh, absolutely. I would say, I mean, I left jazz school. I was there for three years in New York. And then I left because I just felt like I was losing touch with what I loved about music, you know, and it was becoming very competitive. And I joined Fashion Jackson. I would say, mostly because of the community, that I felt. Like, not only were they playing lots of shows, and like, I've never done that before, like playing real, like shows where people were singing along, that was enticing. But also harnessing a community around your music and making safe spaces for people and caring about your fans and all those things. I had a little bit of [it] growing up, but being a part of it was, in a way, inspiring.

But yeah, but for other things like playing guitar for other people, you know, that's always just like a one-off kind of learning experience. You get little tips and tricks. I would say most of it is just like, don't be a weirdo and be cool. Like I would say the most important thing in music is, like seriously, what I have found is like you don't even have to be amazing, you know, or whatever. I'm not like the best, but like, I don't know, I try to be a nice person and a good hang.

And speaking of working with others, was there a collaborative element to the EP, or was it mostly written and recorded alone?

Once I got the information from Andrew, like “you could do this,” it was like pandemic, and I wrote a lot of songs by myself [and] discovered how to record, you know, a lot better, and  just kind of made some bad demos — I would say, 80% bad songs. And then I narrowed [it] down to the good ones. That’s how the EP came about. It was like, narrowing down, just getting a lot of volume and then narrowing down. But then I would take it to my friend, Alex, who’s a producer, and then we would work on the good ones. And he would add his touch of production, [and] make it more legit. We would just have fun with it. And yeah, it was a collaborative experience with him, for sure.

And also my brother was a huge part of it because I would go over to his house and record, specifically guitars. That’s how I got some of the guitar tones. With my brother, like doing knobs and shit and playing at the same time. So, that was fun too.

Do you remember any of the music you were listening to while making the EP, and do you think any of it influenced your sound?

Totally. Well, it started with his artist PHF, weirdly enough. And I was just really into how simple his songs were. And I’m like, “Oh I can make simple songs.” I love simple music. And then it started going back to my childhood, of like loving Third Eye Blind [and] loving, you know, 90s Hip Hop like Tribe Called Quest and Farside, and stuff like that. And then a little bit of Hyper-pop, like Dorian electro was in there as well. It was kind of that amalgamation of  indie simplicity, a little bit of hyper-pop, and then just like, my love of hip hop drums. Yeah, I love that stuff.

It’s an awesome blend. I was listening to the EP, and when I think about it, it feels like this perfectly imperfect papier-maché of like slanted and dissonant melodies, and organized chaos.

Fuck yeah

It just sounds great. And the cover art for “Big Brain,”  that kind of clay figure, perfectly illustrates your sound in general, which I think is cool.

It’s a little creepy

Maybe, but in a good way.

I love that album art so much. It was done by my girlfriend, Wendy Jean Hanlon. She’s an awesome artist. But she made [it] herself and it turned out great. But that’s so cool, what did you say? Organized chaos? I love it, I mean, that’s what I was going for. It’s just in your face fun.

It’s so fun. Like the song, I don’t want to get the word wrong, “Tinnitus?”

You know what’s funny? God, you brought this up. That’s actually how you pronounce it. I’ve been saying “Tinn-i-tus” and in the song I say “tinn-i-itus” and it’s wrong.

That’s funny. But yeah, I was listening to it and also reading a press release and it mentioned early Weezer. So I went to listen to some Weezer and found that it reminds me of “El Scorcho.”

Woah, that’s like a deep cut.

I was listening to both tracks and couldn’t get over it.

Yes, Pinkerton was heavily the inspiration, and the blue album. But like, that’s a good call right there.

Are you a big Weezer fan?

Yeah. I mean, when I was a kid, I was [a] huge Weezer fan and it kind of came back as I was writing the music. But I was a big fan of the blue album growing up, and then a little bit of Pinkerton as well. So that is really a great compliment. I’m so happy.

Of course! I was just thinking “I have to put these songs in a playlist together.” Do you have a favorite song on the EP?

I would say “Deadbeat” is probably my favorite. I think that’s just like the best song for me that I felt the best about, and it came out pretty easy. But also, the one that’s growing on me more, which I didn't think was very good, was “Spirits.” I think the chorus of that one is better than I thought. And I’ve never had that before.

Nice! Originally my favorite was “Deadbeat.” When I heard it for the first time, I was like, “this is awesome.” I just really love the chords.  I also like the intro. Did you always know you wanted to start off the EP with an intro?

Yeah, thank you for mentioning that. That was a song I really loved chords for. I was like, “ this is a cool chord progression. I wish I could use it.” But also another throw away. I couldn’t figure out a chorus and then me and Alex kind of both were like, “Let’s just slow this down, like an insane amount,” and it sounded extremely creepy. And I just [re-thought it] with Elliot Smith in mind. I was going for like, creepy-intro-Elliot Smith, to contrast how happy the rest of the EP [feels].

It’s funny you mention Elliot Smith because I’ve been listening to his music a lot lately. It’s weird because his songs aren’t particularly happy, but I still enjoy them.

It’s like pure serotonin for me, but I know it’s like… deeply sad. It’s just so perfect. He’s an amazing songwriter. That’s another person I take heavy inspiration from.

Speaking of songwriting, tell me about your songwriting process?

I actually kind of write music, I guess, maybe not in the traditional way of, you know, getting in  your notebook writing an idea or poem of some sort and fitting it into a song afterwards. I’ve tried that a couple times. It worked… okay. But I mostly write a song, make a beat, record something, and then a chord progression. And then kind of shape the melody around that and focus on the phonetics of the word. I’ve been really obsessed with that for a long time. How a word feels and sounds. Certain words just don’t feel right, and I don’t know why. And just like the balance of that and messing with that, focusing on that and the melody first and then putting words into that. So it’s kind of hard. It’s very limiting to express your words in this thing you’ve already rigidly laid out. But, I don’t know, it worked ok. Maybe I should try something else.

It reminds me of the way people write specific forms of poetry. If you're writing a Villanelle, for example, you have to follow a specific set of rules, which can be difficult and restricting, and hard to track. But once you have it all together, it’s kind of perfect.

Exactly. It’s almost like the form itself is a part of it as well. That’s what I love about songwriting. There’s like all these different things going on, words, melodies, phonetics, and you just have to make it work as a puzzle. And it’s why I stopped focusing on guitar so much, because it was like, “wow, this is a real challenge that I love.” It means so much more to me.

It’s especially useful when you think about the intention behind every word.

Totally, yeah. And also having a general idea of what you're going to write about. Like for “Spirits.” like I don't like indie, gatekeeping culture, you know, as I've been meeting some, like, what I was talking about, some lame people who were like not, don't create a safe space for people. Just having that in mind, and then just kind of, you know, going for it right there. But, yeah.

And to finish off, a question unrelated to your music, but still music-related, what have you been listening to lately?

This is a friend shoutout, but my friend dba James, who also really helped me in writing my songs in terms of pumping me up and giving me worth. He is one of my favorites, definitely one of my top favorite songwriters ever, and he releases music that’s pretty bonkers. It’s incredible songwriting. I love it so much. And probably this band called Jockstrap, they're experimental.

I’ve heard of them before. Any recommendations so I can properly get into them?

Yeah, their EP Wicked City. That is an amazing EP. Also, Jean Dawson [and] Porches, last album — it’s incredible. And always the oldies, Third Eye Blind and Tribe Called Quest. That’s probably what I go back to the most.

Cool, I’ll check out Wicked City

It’s pretty wacky.

How would you describe it, in three words?

Experimental, hip hop, classical. It’s pretty wacky, but I love it. It's so cool.

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