Under the moniker Current Joys, L.A.-based musician Nick Rattigan uses mellow, minimal melodies as a vessel to express and evoke complex ideas and emotions like love, art, nostalgia and friendship as well as the anxiety that constantly afflicts him.
But the 25-year-old singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist doesn’t use his songs to romanticize or distract from his anxiety. Instead, he uses them as a way to work through it.
Rattigan, who is also one-half of surf-rock band Surf Curse, released his self-directed visual album, A Different Age, on March 2. The 9-track project was inspired by European art-house directors like Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Chantal Akerman and serves as a sonic and visual examination of the loftiness of the future and the liberation of living in the moment.
College Times caught up with the Nevada native to chat about his new album, why Sonic Youth is an acquired taste, music as meditation and his upcoming set at the Flying Burrito Festival at Crescent Ballroom on Saturday, March 10.
Who did you grow up listening to and who are some of your musical influences?
When I was still a fetus, my mom would play me The Beatles in her stomach, and that was my musical upbringing until 8 or 9 years old. Then I started listening to a lot of nu metal and pop punk: Slipknot, System of a Down and Simple Plan, until I was about 12 or 13. I had a cool aunt — you always have to have a cool person show you the good stuff — and I was showing her a Slipknot music video and I was like, “Aunt Debbie, this is like, the coolest band,” and she was like, “This is wrong.” She went to her car and got me the first Violent Femmes album. She gave me that and was like “Listen to this” and I went down the hole of better music from there. I specifically remember her telling me to go buy Sonic Youth’s Goo so I went to Best Buy and I bought Goo and I remember not getting it at all because I was like, 13 and I just made myself listen to it until I liked it.
How long did it take for you to like it?
I had a walkman and I would walk to school and listen to Goo over and over again. It probably took like a month for me to finally get it. The first track was the one I could relate to, “Dirty Boots.” It’s the most normal-sounding song but to actually like “Cinderella’s Big Score” took me a really long time, but now I love it.
What was it about that album that you were drawn to?
It was “cool.” When I was like 14, I was just trying so hard to be cool. I was in Vegas and I finally met people that were listening to that kind of music and I just needed something that didn’t sound like Godsmack or crust punk… or anything that wasn’t on MIX 94.1 or in my parents’ collection of CDs. I remember that was also when I started getting into Dead Kennedys and punk music. I got super into the Pixies and the Buzzcocks. But for some reason, I just remember desperately trying to appreciate the artistry of Goo because I knew there was something there, but I couldn’t hear it; I just wanted to find out what that was. I remember, you know when they go around the room and introduce everybody in high school, I remember going around the room and it being like, “OK say your name and your favorite band” and everyone said The Beatles and I was like, “Daniel Johnston.” Of course, that was just a desperate attempt to look cool because everyone was like, “Who’s Daniel Johnston?”
The word “nostalgia” seems to be a reoccurring theme when people discuss your music, but your name, Current Joys, suggests and argument for living in the moment. What’s the story behind your name and what does it mean to you?
The name is from a song by Liam the Younger and the song is pretty much a short poem and the poem is: “I’m glad I know I had it good, so when I’m old and sad I can say I understood it was easy being free.” I’ve always loved that song and that poem and that sentiment. Everyone’s either trying to live in the past or live in the future, but with my music I’m always trying to almost create a meditative presence. I’ve been going to therapy a lot. It’s been a year since I started going to therapy and I think, if anything is unifying or provides clarity, it’s being present and existing in a moment and I think music is something that can help you do that. I think that “current joys” is just a poetic way of stating that, of being present with music and with yourself and what’s happening around you.
You’re pretty open about your struggle with anxiety and mental health. How does that relate to your music?
I think everybody has anxiety, like, “I’m anxious about this test” or “I’m anxious about whether I’m going to get this job or not,” but there’s some people that have anxiety on a completely different scale. Like, every time you leave the house, you think your room is going to catch on fire and you’re going to kill everyone in your building and you’re going to spend the rest of your life in prison, and then that thought doesn’t leave your mind and you can’t get it out and it just gets worse and worse. In the past few years, I’ve sort of spiraled into that level of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and I think one thing that constantly grounds me is being able to write music or play music so I just kind of use it as a vessel to communicate that anxiety. When I first started having anxiety, it was constant panic attacks and these crazy intrusive thoughts… There’s a lot of physical pain attached to it and I had no idea what was happening. I felt very alone and scared and was afraid to talk to people about it because the thoughts that I was having were so crazy, so I think it’s just an important thing to communicate. A lot of people experience these sensations; it’s OK as long as you understand them and communicate them in a healthy way. The way that I try to communicate it is through my music and my performances and that’s where I try to take it all out instead of beating (myself) up and having panic attacks or ruminating thoughts.
Would you say that making music distracts you from your anxiety or serves as a way to sort through it?
I think it’s a way of living with it because brains are a very powerful tool and a very crazy tool and things happen to people throughout their life that completely skew or mess up that tool. I never try and distract myself from the anxiety because that just makes it worse, so I would say music is a way of communicating it or living through it.
Do you have a go-to song or artist that you listen to when you’re feeling anxious or having a panic attack?
Every month I have a song that I listen to non-stop and I’m like, “Wow, this is the best song ever written!” I’m kind of recycling right now, the song “Kangaroo” by This Mortal Coil. That was my song of the moment like a year ago and it’s been making its way back into my life; it’s that good.
Let’s talk about your new visual album, A Different Age. What inspired the cinematic elements?
Mostly it’s from these directors, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Chantal Akerman, who are these ‘70s, ‘80s German New Wave directors. I saw one of (Fassbinder’s) movies, “In the Year of 13 Moons,” which I took the title for one of my songs… I had no idea what the movie was, I just went (to see it) because the title was so cool, and it just completely blew my mind. I did more research about him and started watching all of his movies; he’s just this fascinating guy who made like 44 movies in the span of 20 years and they’re all beautiful and every frame looks like a painting. There’s all these melodramas about relationships or life and death or these really f**ked up, sad stories that are told so colorfully and beautifully… and that was exactly how I wanted this album to feel, this melancholic story, but it’s painted really beautifully and has a texture to it. Chantal Akerman’s whole thing is that she makes these movies that are painfully slow but if you get into it, it’s not slow at all. Like, she has this one film where it’s this housewife and she makes coffee for like half the movie, it’s like three or four hours long and a lot of the shots are just her cleaning or making coffee or cooking and you kind of just get sucked into it… And I was like, “Oh my God! I want to do this with music.” (I want to see) how much I can test a listener to sit down and pay attention and listen to something that’s looped for seven minutes… but if you sit down and listen to it, you can see the tiny movements that are happening.” It’s sort of a meditative thing. It almost goes back to the anxiety; this record is something you can meditate on rather than just listen to.
If there was a theme for A Different Age, what would it be? Is there a story that you’re trying to tell or a message that you’re trying to send?
I think one of the big themes of the album is the word “rain.” I think I mention it in almost every song, and that is supposed to be a metaphor for all of the sh*t life brings you; you never know when it’s going to rain or when life is going to get hard, whether it’s coming from outside forces or inside yourself. The last line of the album says, “You and I, we’re just like the rain, we never mean to fall but we do it anyways, and just as we came, we will go away, because you and I, we’re just like the rain.” (It’s) talking about struggling over all of this sh*t and all the forces that plague us day-to-day. We become what those experiences put us through and those things just become a part of our story and a part of our life and end up being a very beautiful thing, even if it is anxiety or a horrible tragedy. I think that’s one of the major themes; these things pass and become a part of who we are.
This isn’t your directorial debut; you directed the “123” video for Girlpool. How did that differ from doing your own stuff? Did you feel more or less pressure with your new project? I’ve worked on some other videos for my other band Surf Curse, like the “Christine F” video and the “All is Lost” video, but the Girlpool one was the first one that I worked with somebody else on, which was pretty difficult… That was a lot more stressful than doing things at my own pace on my own time. With all these videos, I wanted to do that Chantal Akerman thing, where there’s just these long shots where nothing really happens until one thing happens and you’re like, “Oh, wow!” I really got to do exactly what I wanted to do. I remember pitching those kinds of ideas to Girlpool and they’re like, “Yeah, for sure, but like, no, let’s do something else.” It was really cool being able to completely have creative control over the whole thing… It’s a miracle that anything gets made the way someone wants it to get made. I used to work on movies and stuff as a production assistant and it’s like, “I have no idea how anything is made that’s good.”
Is there something that you’re exploring with Current Joys that you haven’t with Surf Curse?
I think Current Joys is a lot of experimenting with stuff that I couldn’t do in Surf Curse because of one reason or another… I’ve always loved having this project because I have complete creative control and do literally whatever I want. I can test the limits to what I can do in songwriting and recording and no one’s telling me no.
You’re playing the Flying Burrito Festival. What was the first thing you thought when you heard about the festival and what are you most looking forward to?
The Flying Burrito Fest is a really funny name. I really like that venue (Crescent Ballroom). I really like the lineup: I want to see Palm play and I like Porches and our friend’s band Moaning is really great.
What do you want to say about A Diffferent Age before I watch it?
It’s very long and very slow and I hope you make it through the whole thing but I won’t hate you if you don’t. It’s a test of patience. It’s kind of like how I was describing watching a Chantal Akerman movie… if you watch it with your phone out or at home when you have friends over, you’re not going to watch it. I think the ideal setting is you either watch the videos on a TV screen or something and really invest in it, or listen to it with some headphones and go on a walk or close your eyes and treat it as a 45-minute guided meditation.
Flying Burrito Festival, Crescent Ballroom, 308 N. 2nd Avenue, $10. Catch Current Joys at the Bean & Cheese Stage at 7 p.m.