If you haven’t heard of Nervus yet, that’s about to change. The indie-punk four-piece from Watford have built up a cult following since the release of their debut album Permanent Rainbow in 2016, but the cult is about to expand. That record’s follow-up Everything Dies is released today and it builds on the cathartic outpourings of the first record, this time with a little more hope and a hint of optimism.
We caught up with vocalist Em Foster, who talked about everything from fans following her to the toilet to maintaining sanity while on tour. What’s most striking about her is her refreshing attitude to the music industry. She’s well aware of the ridiculousness of the “machine” and cares far more about creating than building a business. Saying they “don’t care what anyone thinks” is a classic bratty rock star move, but when Em says it she’s sincere and the way she talks about Nervus’ fans is endearing.
If you love rock n roll personas this band won’t be for you, but if you prefer your artists down-to-earth, honest and a little self-deprecating – meet Nervus.
How did the idea come about for The Way Back video with fans sending in clips with signs calling themselves “legends”?
“It was just an idea we had because of the fact we were going to shoot a video for another song but it fell through. So we decided to do The Way Back and we were kind of short for time and short of money so we thought it would be a good way to celebrate queer and trans identities in a positive way and in a way that loads of people wanted to do.”
Were a lot of people interested in it when you put the call out?
“Yeah, loads. Everyone who sent a clip ended up in the video, but the email address that we set up had hundreds of emails initially so it became quite a lot of work quite quickly, trying to reply to everything. I didn’t think so many people would respond but it was great, it was awesome.”
Have the second album nerves sunk in yet?
“No, I’m feeling good about it, to be honest. I mean, we’ve all been in bands for forever so we’ve all done our second albums and they all sucked! So the first Nervus album wasn’t any of our first records but yeah, we’re really excited about it and we’re super proud of it. I think part of the reason that we’re not super anxious about it is that we don’t really care what anyone else thinks (laughs), which sounds stupid. If people like it that’s the best, if people don’t then yeah whatever, who cares.”
As long as you’re proud of what you’re putting out, that’s what matters to you.
“That’s it, yeah, for sure. It’s only when you’re not proud of what you’re putting out that other people’s opinion on it really matters, I think.”
Did you feel any pressure after the first album (Permanent Rainbow)? Especially since it was so well-received.
“No, not really. I mean, a few people have said that and to be honest, it sounds dumb but we don’t necessarily see the reception that it had. Just from our perspective, we don’t necessarily engage so much in that side of things, the opinion stuff because we’re focussing on writing and touring and playing, but it’s been good. The people who like it seem to really like it and we’ve met people who love it. If the reception was great outside of that then that’s awesome, but we don’t necessarily feel any pressure from it because it’s almost like we exist outside of that… it sounds bizarre but I feel like we almost exist outside of that press machine.”
Do you think that’s a good thing then because it keeps you grounded?
“Yeah, for sure. We don’t expect to get any coverage in the press so when we do, it’s cool but realistically we don’t need that for us to exist and if a magazine decides not to cover us, that’s no issue. We’re still doing what we’re doing and we’re not trying to follow any set path or whatever, we’re just doing us so anything else is a bonus.”
Your fans seem very loyal and dedicated – is that how you see it?
“It’s weird because I wouldn’t even say – this sounds ludicrous too – I wouldn’t say that they’re our fans. They’re like, people who also like our band and we have people who come down to more than one show but I feel like saying they’re our fans, it almost feels patronising. Without those people, we wouldn’t exist and I feel like – I don’t know! Obviously, they are our fans and that’s a thing, but I think that the way the fans get talked about a lot is quite patronising and it makes me feel uncomfortable. The people who like our band are really cool.”
You interact a lot on social media with fans – is that something that’s important for you to maintain?
“Yeah for sure. I think keeping it accessible is important and making sure that people know we’re not special for doing what we do – we just do it and they can do it too if they want to. That’s the truth of it and a lot of people want to mystify it and make it, ‘oh it’s really difficult to do this’ but it’s not. Anyone can pick up a guitar and there’s no reason to feel like you shouldn’t. The more that we can get that message across, the better.”
So you don’t seem like the kind of band that’s going to start charging ridiculous money for Meet and Greets then?
“No! I mean, to be honest, I do actually see… (sighs) with the charging for Meet and Greets stuff, I think it sucks but equally, I feel like people shouldn’t be expected to just give up their time, so I guess it’s a way to monetise downtime. There are definitely times where I’ve wished I could’ve been paid for talking to some people I’ve met!
But generally speaking, the people we meet are brilliant. We’re all quite anxious people generally so sometimes we will hide because it can get a little bit – what’s the word? It’s easy to get a bit overwhelmed I think, sometimes. Definitely more recently than before, with people who want to chat.”
Do you think fans’ expectations of meeting an artist can sometimes be too high?
“Yeah, 100%. Some people more than others but I think it’s really important to meet people who support what you do, to chat to them but it’s difficult. I don’t necessarily always feel like talking after a show. If my mental health is in the toilet, which it regularly is, or if I just feel really tired, which I often do because I drive the van as well.
It’s fine when people accept that you’re having a quick chat then moving on or whatever, but when people don’t get that and they’re stopping you or following you into a toilet cubicle – which I had the other day which was weird. Also, people physically stopping you when you’re walking from one place to another, or grabbing you – that sucks. But generally speaking, people are super respectful and get it. It’s sometimes a little bit difficult to manage because I’m not particularly sociable really. I love meeting people but sometimes I’m just like, ‘I don’t want to talk anymore’.”
What about when they want to talk about more personal things? The first album discussed your struggles with addiction and gender dysphoria – do you find it hard to talk about those things with fans?
“That depends. There are people who will talk to you about it because it’s helped them through stuff and I’m happy to talk about that. I’ve opened myself up to that and that’s cool.
This is not directed at you in any way but my least favourite thing about it is getting asked questions about that in interviews because sometimes I’ll get people who are like, ‘here’s an hour of talking to you about all this stuff that I literally know nothing about, I’m using loads of the wrong language and getting you to explain it for me.’ That’s probably my least favourite bit.
If people are coming up and chatting to me like, ‘you helped me through this’ then that’s the best but I think sometimes – again, not you! – when people ask me about stuff they’re just clueless and annoying.”
Do you think those kinds of people are trying to paint you as some kind of spokesperson for gender issues?
“Yeah, I try to say whenever I do speak about it that I can only speak for myself and I don’t speak for all trans people, I don’t speak for all queer people. I consider myself to be fairly privileged, like I’m white, middle-class, I’ve got a job – I don’t face the sharp end of the oppression that a lot of trans people face and I’m quite lucky in some respects.
I’m quite unlucky in others, but yeah, I try to make it clear that I’m not speaking for anyone other than myself. I’m only speaking to my own experiences and I’m not under any circumstances being a spokesperson for a bunch of people who I couldn’t possibly speak for. I think that those self-elected spokespeople are tedious.”
So, on to touring. You’re heading out with Milk Teeth right after the album is released.
“I’m really excited. I’ve got this new pair of trainers that are the same colour as the album artwork so I’m really excited to wear them! It’s really difficult to find pink shoes in size 11 but when you do, it’s very satisfying. They were also half price, which was even better. They do say Pharell Williams on the back which is not great but, whatever, they’re nice shoes.”
You’re also playing some festivals – aren’t you going to need some downtime?
“Well, we’re going to need to give ourselves downtime but our schedule… I wrote it all up earlier and had a meeting with (record label) Big Scary Monsters and we’re not going to have any time for downtime. I already feel exhausted and the album’s not out yet, but it’ll be fine. What’s the worst that can happen? Apart from total burnout but it’ll be fine!”
Yeah, touring is fun but also exhausting, right?
“Oh, it is so fucking boring! I love playing shows but you’re only at a show for four hours of the day, that’s when the show is on. The other twenty hours, you’re barely sleeping. You’re either driving or you’re eating pasties, or you’re sitting around playing on your phone which is running out of charge really quickly because you’re not in one place at one time long enough to charge it. Touring is rubbish but yeah, I love it!”
What do you do to keep yourself sane on tour then?
“To keep myself sane I take my antidepressants every day, I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs, which is just my life in general, but on tour it’s nearly impossible to retain sanity. Sometimes we treat ourselves to a hotel rather than a floor. That’s definitely a good thing because you can have a shower and maybe even a cooked breakfast.
Realistically, the way we keep ourselves sane on tour is by… no, we don’t. It’s too difficult. You definitely get the tour madness. At one point, I was driving down the motorway beeping along to Love Shack by The B-52’s on the Kamikaze Girls tour. You just get a little bit weird. You’re driving for a certain amount of time beeping your horn to The B-52’s Love Shack because it’s the only thing that can get you through those last few miles of the drive.”
Are there any cities you’re particularly looking forward to playing on the Milk Teeth run?
*Disclaimer: I am Scottish but did not at all influence this answer!
“Scotland. I actually really, really love Scotland. We played in Dundee and that was the first date of the tour we did with The Kamikaze Girls and then we played in Edinburgh and I just love it. I mean, you can’t get pizza crunch in England!
We’re doing Edinburgh on the 17th of March – I love Edinburgh. I really enjoy playing in Scotland and I really enjoy being in Scotland. A lot of tours don’t bother going because it’s a little bit further away or whatever but I think generally people in Scotland are a bit cooler. I say cooler because generally, the crowds in Scotland are more open to enjoying things.
You’ve got some scenes that aren’t very open to openly enjoying stuff. I think the UK suffers from a real problem of – well, England specifically – people who go to gigs but don’t want to give away that they’re having fun? It’s something that you don’t see really in mainland Europe or Scotland, or even Wales actually. I think getting out of England is always good to meet people who are super excited.
Although, you know what? I think most DIY shows are fairly good for that but yeah, Glasgow and Edinburgh have always been really fun. That’s my answer for that and it’s not just because you’re obviously Scottish either!”
Well thanks, you’ve left me feeling very patriotic now!
“(laughs) I’m glad! I’ll hopefully see you at the Edinburgh show then so come say hi!”
Everything Dies is out now via Big Scary Monsters.