Interview – The Narcotix
by Maria Bobbitt-Chertock on November 3, 2019
Posted in: Interview, Music, Uncategorized
This summer, I met Essie Quoi and Becky Foinchas at Devoción Coffee in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. As founding songwriters of Afro-psych outfit The Narcotix, they share a sisterly familiarity, often giggling at inside jokes and finishing each other’s sentences. Essie (guitarist, bassist, and vocalist) rolls a joint as I pull up my chair. Becky (drummer, keyboardist, and vocalist) compliments my outfit—high praise, considering just the week prior I saw her leap from C’mon Everybody’s mainstage in a stunning army green dress, torn and laced back together with criss-cross ribbons. The three of us chat as Essie finishes rolling, but soon the two are riffing off each other in phrases at first difficult to follow—then, moments later, their fragments coalesce and form a clear story. The Narcotix’s self-published album Mr. Weberg builds upon itself in this way, in cascading and disorienting currents that flow into a larger sound. From their conversation and their music, I can tell Essie and Becky have a co-constitutive history, that they’ve spent a long time developing mutual language.
Read our conversation below:
I heard you all went to UVA. Is that where the Narcotix started?
Essie: No, actually. Where would you say it started? Where did it start… In a car…
Becky: In Alexandria. (laughs) I mean, it’s a weird thing because we’ve grown up together since we were eight. In every school we were always in choir. So it naturally progressed.
E: We were always faux-writing songs, nothing official, but throughout life creating stuff together. We definitely did formalize it in college, maybe second year.
B: Yeah, I remember when I got the drum set. It felt more real. And we wrote the song “Argentina,” which we still perform now.
E: And even at that point, we had a really funny name. We weren’t even The Narcotix.
B: Let’s not talk about that.
We were Les Moustaches.
E: That was during the whole mustache trend, ya know?
B: The dad ‘stache? The porn ‘stache? I don’t know what we were thinking.
So, you all grew up together? Where?
B: Virginia… DMV is different from the rest of Virginia. It should be its own state. We grew up there [in Alexandria] and then we moved to the Woodridge area, and then we went to college.
E: We met in the fourth or fifth grade.
B: She was the new kid in class. I was like, ‘Ugh, this tall-ass bitch.’
E: And she was bald. It was a dope look. I kinda want [her] to go back to it ‘cause she has a perfect head.
B: I’m gonna do it. Britney Spears circa two-thousand-something. It’s coming.
How did you begin to introduce other band members to the project?
B: Esther didn’t move to New York ‘til four months ago, so we were remotely working on music for, like, ever.
E: It was the two of us writing music in a vacuum. We’d play shows every now and then with friends that we’d ask to play with us, but it was never a band format until just recently, when I moved here.
B: We went through different drummers, two drummers till we finally found a sexy guy. And a bassist, who I had sex with last night.
E: They were both introduced to us through Adam, our guitarist. Actually, he went to college with us too, and he’s been playing with us since we formalized this whole thing.
B: It’s a Virginia band. Even the drummer, who’s from New York, seems like he’s from Virginia. He’s slow-going, he takes his time. I was talking to Garren [The Narcotix’s bassist] last night, and he said, ‘Why does it feel like John Joe’s from Virginia?’ And I was like, ‘‘Cause he moves slowly.’
Is that good? Is that the pace that you’re looking for?
B: I’m not looking for any pace, personally. There’s no pace. I just take it as it comes. There’s a level of ridiculosity that people have to be at… If only you saw the audition [blurb] that I wrote on Craigslist: ‘You gotta be able to roll with the punches. You need to be able to stomach the wordplay, and the fact that we’re all attention deficit.’ We were very honest, which hopefully weeded out the lack-of-crazies.
Did you smell horse when you walked in?
E: I didn’t smell it either, don’t worry.
B: It doesn’t smell like horse stable to you?
I don’t know, I could be totally desensitized.
B: It doesn’t smell like horse?
E: I mean, ‘horse stable’ is a very strong smell. You’d know it from miles away.
You said that before you moved here, you were writing remotely. And on your website it says that you created your album Mr. Weberg over five years. Was that all done remotely?
E and B: Yeah.
B: That’s our only (fake-)body of music that we have. It’s a collage. We wrote it in multiple different places in multiple different time zones. Multiple different—
E: Times of our lives. Sometimes we’re together in the same place—
B: Usually we’re not.
How did that process work?
E: We’d record independently and send the file back and forth, add to it, edit it.
B: It was quite a learning experience, to be honest. I learned Logic very well.
Since you’re together now, do you feel that your writing process has changed? Have you been writing together since you moved to NYC?
B: We’ll take shrooms sometimes on Saturdays and fall into a rabbit hole.
But personally, I write the drums, and that’s something I need to be alone for—because first off, I’m crazy and start knocking stuff over if I don’t get it right, and I don’t want anyone to see that part, that side of me. I start foaming at the mouth and rocking back and forth in the corner, just crying and then laughing hysterically. And then crying again. Yeah, it’s bad. So that I do alone, the drums. I think it’s a confidence thing.
E: I guess we have kept the remote feel about us, ‘cause I also will write guitar and bass alone for the most part, to lay the groundwork. If there’s nothing there, it’s really hard to come up with something out of nothing together. Usually one person will do one thing, and the other person will be like, ‘Oh, that’s cool, I’ll add something to it.’ Then it materializes into something.
B: I never really reckoned with that question before. How do we create?
E: Word of the week.
B: From Virginia. (laughs)
E: When we are together, it’s always been a stream-of-consciousness kind of thing. We’ll sit in a space—we call it having a ‘listening party’—we’ll just listen to the music and get re-inspired all over again. Then that creates new streams, and we record. There’s no sitting down and pre-planning—
B: We just throw it out there. It’s very informal, go-with-the-flow kinda vibes.
Do you feel comfortable writing in this playful way because you’ve known each other for so long?
B: I was just gonna say that, absolutely.
E: It’s like finishing each other’s sentences. It’s the same idea, but using different tools to do that. Like, something I never could have conceived on drums—she’s here to do that. And it marries the bass part, or the guitar part, or whatever.
And also because even though we’ve grown up together, we’re so fucking different. We’re opposite ends of the spectrum, so it’s always interesting mashing our ideas together.
Do you think to some extent you taught each other how to play music? Or did you take lessons growing up? In other words, how did you go about learning your instruments?
E: I had classical training on piano when I was seven, but I had to relearn. That was a lot of reading sheet music and learning music theory and all that. When we started the band, I had to relearn music in a completely different light. Like, it wasn’t about reading sheet music or knowing what key you’re in, or the theory of it—it was really feeling the music and doing what feels right. There’s no technique.
B: Then you find out what time signature and key it’s in later.
E: Exactly. Going with the flow and not considering what’s right, what’s wrong.
B: Someone said that that made our music interesting because if we were super trained, it wouldn’t be the same—
E: It’s a lot of happy accidents.
B: “Esophagus” was an accident. “Parasite” was an accident. I feel like we make accidental music. That’s our genre: accident.
Do you feel that your lyrics are accidental too, and the themes you return to?
B: I’m not really a chatty person when it comes to making… I’m not the lyric person. Esther writes much more than I do. I don’t write poems or anything, it’s just a thing, it’s just a feeling—I find myself talking about something that has to do with consciousness and the mind’s eye, or spirituality in some backdoor way. That’s my natural thing. But I don’t really write lyrics personally.
E: It’s always the music comes first, and then the lyrics come after. It’s like, ‘What feeling does the music evoke?’—and it’s always some kind of narrative. Like, ‘Suzy’s sleeping in the bathtub.’ And who the fuck is ‘Suzy’? It’s never sensical, but a story is created all of a sudden.
B: It’s not a priority, I don’t think, for our music—lyrics. Some people, that’s their bread and butter.
E: We’re not singer-songwriters.
B: The sound comes first.
What do you want people who come to your shows to get out of the night?
E: For me, it’s always been, I don’t want it to be a performance where we’re, like, on the stage doing tricks so people are like, ‘Yay, yay!’ I’ve always wanted it to feel like a collective experience, and the only way I can imagine that happens is if we’re making people feel something. Whether you’re scared, or sad, or extremely happy—we want to be able to translate that through our music. It’s not about being buttoned up, or minding our p’s and q’s so much as it is being one hundred percent ourselves onstage—the way that we feel when we’re writing and rehearsing and having so much fun. That’s what we aim to do when we’re performing as well.
B: We owe it to ourselves to be as vulnerable as possible.
Do you have ways of accessing that vulnerable space before a show? Pre-show rituals or anything?
B: Slapping each other helps.
Calling each other every five minutes and being like, ‘Are you nervous? I’m nervous!’
E: ‘Shut up. Shut up!’
B: ‘What are you wearing? Hello?’
E: Just being with each other before the show is always very comforting.
B: Eating bread helps.
Before the last show we ate fried chicken and biscuits. That helped a lot.
It helps when there’s really bright lights so you can’t see anybody.
But you come into the pit a lot when you perform…
B: Yeah, sometimes. No taste.
E: I always like the very spontaneous elements of our shows, like when Becky takes her wig off and throws it, or we both fall to the floor at the same time. It seems planned, but it wasn’t—we’re just feeling the holy spirit at the same time.
B: The vulnerability thing again.
I’ve been honored to talk to good, established bands about their process, and when we hear their issues, we’re like, we don’t have those problems because we’re really good friends at the end of the day, and no matter what we respect each other and we listen to each other. So it ends up being a sexy time no matter what. It’s literally just love. After that, nothing matters.
You said you were at “opposite ends of the spectrum,” but ultimately work better that way. What do you bring to the table as individuals? How do your tastes differ, your aspirations, themes that you come to when you write?
B: Mm. I don’t know how to use a computer.
E: True, true.
B: I’m very body-oriented. Too much body. I get that from the guys that I deal with, or the women that I deal with—I’m a leaf! I don’t have grounding at all. As far as it comes to planning or computers or looking at screens or anything… It’s all like, ahhh, a merry-go-’round. There’s no formula. I tend to find myself surprising myself ‘cause I don’t know what I’m capable of. I don’t have an identity—at all—so that ends up influencing the way that I make music: it’s an accident.
But it’s the same thing with you, but in a different way, in a way.
E: I’m definitely in a way similar—I spread myself very thin. I haven’t mastered a single instrument yet. That’s a goal of mine, but I get distracted by wanting to create a picture or a story, so I’ll play around with a bunch of different things.
But also I tend to be very logic-based when it comes to creating, just because I’m also a computer scientist, so I just kind of think that way. Like, here’s step one, step two, three, four; I build that way.
B: Which makes you really good at arranging.
E: But we balance each other out because I tend to be like, ‘Alright, let’s make this clean,’ and with Becky there’s no boundaries, like, ‘Let’s step out of our comfort zones and be weird. Let’s scream here, and let’s roll around the floor and record ourselves doing that.’
B: It’s quite a great marriage. We’re lucky. We must’ve done really good things in our past lives. I think I was a brahmin.
E: Nah. I don’t know what I was. Probably a fish, ‘cause I hate fish.
B: A headless fish.
E: A fishless head?
B: Okay. That’s weird. ‘Cause fishes’ bodies are connected to their whole head, they have no necks. So it’s like, is the fish only a face?
E: I know you’ve seen a fish head on your dinner table. Africans love to eat just the head of the fish.
B: And the eyeballs. They eat the eyeballs.
E: Fried. Fried eyeballs. (laughs)
B: A bucket of fried eyeballs! (laughs) That’s disturbing. You’re like, ‘Okay, culture!’ I don’t care, that is universally wrong.
If you could design a multimedia arts event where you’re playing music: what would the dinner menu look like, what would the visual arts exhibition look like, and what would the venue look like?
B: Surrealism. Stuff that’s gonna make people question reality and be really uncomfortable. And have to force themselves to get comfortable.
E: I see on the plates, instead of a cut of steak: a beef head. Actual animal heads on the plates.
B: Okay! What’re you gonna do with this?
E: And they’re blinking, the animal heads.
B: Like they’re still alive somehow?
E: Yeah, maybe. Just the heads though.
B: And then the art would be interactive. The walls would flip over—it’s a bookcase, and you take a book out of the case, and instead of you going into some cool room you go into a library (it just makes sense, you walk into a library). But instead of books, there’s animal heads on the shelves. And instead of the floor being, like, librarian floor, it’s mushy, and you’re pissed off because you don’t have any grounding, ‘I don’t have any grounding.’ And it’s like, ‘Get over it, look at your life!’—and it’s a bunch of mirrors, but instead of seeing yourself, you see your enemy, and you don’t know what to do with it because everytime you pass by the mirrors you just see, like, Hitler, or Mao Zedong. And you’re like, ‘Ah, fuck, my life sucks. How do I make this better? There’s no books, so I can’t distract myself from dealing with my own consciousness.’
Sorry, I’m looking at him [a barista across the room] cleaning the window, and it’s started to incite lots of feelings.
Moving to a more basic question now: who inspired you musically, growing up?
E: Who influenced me as a person, as a woman also: a lot of badass female artists, for instance Gwen Stefani.
B: Paramore was cool.
E: But music-wise: a lot of West African music was in the house. That’s what I grew up with.
A lot of the stranger, darker, weirder Classical music. In choir, we had a very creepy but amazing instructor who had us singing 17th century Celtic hymns—
B: Whore songs.
E: I’ve never really connected hard to a single artist or person, it’s always the music that I remember. Like, this style seemed really cool in this period of time.
I used to listen to death metal. My parents were like, ‘Turn off the washing machine!’, but it was a song. I was really gothic in high school, in a dark, deep-dark way.
But also, West African music—you can’t get away from it. That’s what influenced drumming for me. There’s a lot of polyrhythms that I can’t get out of. Three over four is like bending time, the ancestral affairs that go on… The boundlessness of West African music sometimes… This person is giving their heart, it’s so soulful in a different way. They’re in a tree right now, singing about their dead son, and they don’t hold back, there’s no order here.
How do you think The Narcotix are evolving or growing?
E: We have our shit more or less together now.
B: ‘Together’ is a strong word.
E: I can still remember our first show, and it was very, um, unfortunate. I feel like we’re taking ourselves way more seriously. We don’t take ourselves seriously as people, but as The Narcotix, we wake up everyday like, ‘Alright! What do we do today, do we do promo? What song should we work on? How should we style ourselves for the next show? What should the set be like?’ A lot of things people tend to outsource—we’re like, ‘Let’s do this, let’s design a photo shoot, or plan a music video.’ So, we’re really maximizing not only our time, but our creative efforts.
B: It makes it a lot easier now that we’re in the same town. It wouldn’t be like this if we weren’t.
E: We’re also being way harder on ourselves in a good way, way more open and honest. Like, if there’s a part I did on guitar and it’s trash, you’d be more likely to be like, ‘Let’s not do that one.’ (laughs) And I’d be like, ‘Fuck it, delete!’ We’re not being sensitive—
E: We’re just holding ourselves to a really high standard. If it’s not music that we would listen to—
B: Throw the whole bitch away.
E: We’re learning our instruments better too. I’ve witnessed Becky on drums… I know people teach themselves instruments, but drums it’s like, how the hell are you teaching yourself this, it’s math? How do people learn math without being taught math? I’ve witnessed you get way more explorative—
E: And technical at the same time, and very intentional with your drumming.
B: Likewise. You play guitar and bass, so it’s still math, but it’s a tonal thing too. I wish Esther had four more arms to play guitar and bass at the same time. I didn’t understand that about string instruments, that everyone can play the same thing and it can sound so different.
You said something the other day: “Let’s get weirder.” And I was like, “Oh, okay. I’m scared, but I’m down.”
E: I guess what I meant by that is: Try to think less, like, ‘This is the right thing to do now.’ Instead of just being like, ‘I’m gonna record this vocal,’ be like, ‘How do I make this vocal sound windy? What if we recorded it through a fan?’ Being weird, not thinking hard about it but—
B: Incorporating the world.
You can find The Narcotix on Bandcamp, Facebook, and Instagram.
*Photos courtesy of The Narcotix.