[Interview] The Last Names

We’re thankful to (husband and wife) Justin Rice and Darbie Nowatka from indie pop band the Last Names for offering up some time to us during what is a very busy year for them. Busy doing what I hear you say, well, read on…

Hugger: What is it like to live and work with your spouse? Do you ever need to go for walks alone?

Darbie & Justin: This question reminds me of something Joan Didion writes about in The Year of Magical Thinking. In her forty-year marriage, she and her husband worked from home, and were together all the time, “a fact that remained,” she writes, “a source of both merriment and foreboding to my mother and aunts. “For richer for poorer but never for lunch,” one or another of them frequently said in the early years of our marriage.”

Part of what makes living and working together work for us is that we each have our own space. We spend a lot of time near each other but working separately. When one of us needs help, advice, or a second opinion, the other is at hand, but we’re not always sitting side by side at the same desk staring at the same computer. We can work anytime — whenever we feel like it we can slip upstairs to record a vocal — and that gives us the freedom to try different things and to take on more ambitious projects.

Hugger: We were really impressed when the Wedding Present released 12 singles in one year back in the 1990’s but you are recording a new song every week. Given that it is more than the middle of September are you not exhausted by now?

Darbie & Justin: Exhausted: Yes. Fifty-two is a much bigger number than we thought it was. But we’re still learning a lot about songwriting and recording, and so it’s still interesting. Now that you mention it, maybe we should look into a Wedding Present cover…

Hugger: What gave you the idea in the first place for such an audacious endeavour?

Darbie & Justin: We lived in New York City and needed to move, but we couldn’t find a decent place that we could afford. We ended up getting a house 100 miles upstate that was bigger and older and weirder than anything we could find in Brooklyn. Not only did we suddenly have space to work — we spent a few months turning the attic into a ramshackle recording studio — but we were also immediately inspired by our new surroundings. We’re ten miles from Woodstock and a stone’s throw from Big Pink. Endeavoring to record a cover every week suddenly felt possible and natural.

Hugger: You are also releasing your debut album in October, will that contain any of the covers or is it purely new material?

Darbie & Justin: The album is called Wilderness, and it’s all new material. Like the covers, we recorded and mixed the whole thing ourselves, and we’re really excited with how it turned out. You can order it at our bandcamp (thelastnames.bandcamp.com). The vinyl comes in a handwoven paper sleeve.

Hugger: Given your hyperactive release schedule in 2012 we can’t help thinking that music must be your full time occupation?

Darbie & Justin: Justin works on music full time. In addition to The Last Names, he also writes and records music for movies and commercials — this year, for instance, he did a lot of the score for a documentary called Bully — and sometimes records and mixes other bands.

In addition to music, Darbie restores art and runs Field Guide Design (fieldguidedesign.com), where she designs jewelry and paper goods.

Both of us also play in the band Bishop Allen.

Hugger: You are really liberal in giving away free tracks. What is your reasoning behind this and do you think that new bands that don’t do likewise may be harming their chances of reaching new fans?

Darbie & Justin: Sharing music is exciting. When you make a new song, you want people to hear it far and wide, and it doesn’t feel right to worry over its market value. It’s impossible to keep people from downloading songs for free, and so, especially in the beginning, I think it makes sense for bands to give away recordings. You’ve got to get the word out.

That said, we struggle everyday with the need to survive, so we’re always hoping for some kind of balance. Hopefully, if you give to the world it will, at some point, give back.

Hugger: Have you planned 2013 yet, apart from the copious amounts of sleep you need to catch up on?

Darbie & Justin: We’re planning on touring in 2013. Stay tuned for details!


The Last Names – The Blackest Night On Earth

The Last Names – Dignified and Old (Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers cover)


More Info: Official
Buy Songs: The Last Names
Year: 2012


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