With origins dating back as early as 2010, the Ocean County-based alternative quartet Semiotics started out a blooming, emotive creation that was crafted by songwriter and guitarist Nick Rapon right after he moved down to Florida for school.
While the band experienced various lineup changes and walked down many directional avenues along the way, the band’s current state finally began to come to life once they set their sights on New Brunswick—a lively town that receives much acclaim and notoriety for being the central command for underground music to thrive in the Garden State. Drawn by the heartfelt sincerity and gritty DIY esthetic of New Brunswick’s legendary basement scenes, the band took a lot of initiative to keep the fire burning by putting on shows at their house—which has received a lot of buzz in the scene under the moniker The Banana Stand.
Also releasing their debut EP, Simple Requests, this past summer, it goes without saying that the band still holds true to the mission statement of being a passion project. Taking influence from the likes of Brand New, Cursive, Motion City Soundtrack and Weezer, Semiotics consistently brings to the table an experimental approach of songwriting where the term “concrete genre” does not limit their expressive creativity.
Recently, I had the chance to talk with Nick Rapon and Seth Blissenbach, who both take on the duties of songwriting together. In the midst of catching up and cracking a few jokes here and there, we also talked about what the band has been up to lately, their current role in the New Brunswick music scene and their desired plans to branch outside of their home base for the new year ahead.
For the readers, could you ever so kindly state who you are and what your musical responsibilities are in Semiotics?
Nick Rapon (guitarist and vocalist): Okay, so my name is Nick Rapon, and I’m here to say that I play guitar and sing in Semiotics every day.
Seth Blissenbach (guitarist and vocalist): I’m Seth, and I play guitar and sing in Semiotics… five days out of the week (laughs).
Now, Semiotics has been a project that has been in the works for quite some time. With all of the different musical avenues and lineup changes you’ve experienced in the past, can you tell me a little bit about the band’s current lineup and how guys came together as a group?
NR: When I first started off this project, it was more of a “passion project” because I moved away to Florida. Living in Florida, I wrote the song “Just Words,” which is probably coming out on our next demo, or our next EP, or whatever we’re calling it. I wrote that song and I told my drummer from a previous band. I was like, “Yo, I have this song, I really want to record it,” so that’s what happened.
Then, we got a bunch of different members. Like, people weren’t really committed where I was and I just couldn’t find the right feel for the lineup. It wouldn’t be a band if people didn’t like playing music together, you know?
But then I knew Seth through RUTV at Rutgers and we’ve always tried to go forward with the idea of being in a band together, but it never really worked out. The only time it really worked out was when we weren’t across the hall from each other, but when he was at New Paltz, in New York, and he would drive down to fucking play with us in the basement.
So, Seth joined the band last winter and ever since he joined the band, this has been the best lineup, the best feel. Like, everyone is super committed. We have Andrew Crispy on bass now; he just joined a couple of months ago. And me and [drummer] Alex Manoski have been playing since we were 12, so we have that chemistry. It’s great, it’s actually a team effort, which is really cool. I am not used to that.
Who are some of your main influences and musical idols that you draw inspiration from?
NR: It changed over the years definitely, but there are some bands that just stick with you—like, obviously Brand New, Cursive and that shit. Me and Alex used to really like those bands; they’ve always been prominent in any band that we were ever a part of in any kind of genre.
But now, I would say mainly what is coming out in New Brunswick. There’s a small wave of bands that we’re all friends with and hang out with like Romp and Deal Casino.
SB: Yeah, like what Nick said before about the local bands definitely. I really like Weezer as well.
NR: … And Motion City Soundtrack …
SB: Yeah… (laughs) And Laura Stevenson also goes in as a really big influence on me as a songwriter.
You have been playing a big role in carrying the torch for the New Brunswick basement scene. I am actually curious, what was your earliest memory of attending, playing and/or booking shows in New Brunswick?
NR: It’s actually a really cool story. One of the first times that me and Seth hung out, we went to a basement show. It was actually called ”Punx in Brunswick,” but it was actually a hip-hop show with like, GDP. We were drawn by just the fact that people were just interested in watching live music. I grew up listening to Lifetime and Thursday and Saves The Day and that’s how I knew about the “New Brunswick basement scene,” which is a huge reason why I went to Rutgers, so I can be a part of it.
We would have friends who would throw shows and I was like, “Oh… all I have to do is buy a house… and have a basement in it, and I can just throw shows? … Cool.” So I did that. We leased here June Fourth. Our first day, we didn’t have any furniture, and we booked Avely and my band and a few other ones and threw a show with nothing in it with like, no furniture (laughs). And ever since then, we kept booking local shows a month. It’s crazy… we have a spreadsheet and a contact list of over 100 bands, like touring bands that we can hit up.
Outside of frequently playing basements in and around New Brunswick along with college shows and coffee shops, has the thought of touring as a full-time act come into discussions amongst the band?
SB: I think at the moment, we’re content and you know, we all have our obligations and stuff, but… it’s kind of like, we always talk about this and how it’s like a “passion project” and it’s nothing that we assume is ever going to be some sort of gigantic mega-force that internationally tours, but it’s something that we definitely want to take as far as we can go. I mean, right now, we’re trying to expand outside of New Brunswick.
NR: We played in Philly, we have two shows in Brooklyn coming up… we play in Asbury and we’re playing Howell too now, so, we’re getting out of New Brunswick, which is nice, you know? And fans are driving, which is weird, but it’s cool—like, people are driving 40 minutes to see us. That’s nice.
So, I’ve heard that you were hard at work with recording a new EP very recently. Could you tell me a little bit about the writing process of this record?
NR: Yeah, we recorded with [mastering engineer] Ian Pritchard—he used to intern at Jesse Cannon’s Cannon Found Studios. He did the Romp record [Sorry, Not Sorry], actually; he helped out with that. So he said he’s doing his own recording and shit and he would love to come by and record at our house so we didn’t have to drive, and we recorded in our attic. We planned for it to be an EP, but we might release it as a demo or just have it as pre-production because we’re in talks with studios right now about doing a full-length for May.
Last summer, you put out your debut EP, Simple Requests. Musically and personally, what are some things that stood out to you the most when you were working on this EP compared to the writing process for Simple Requests?
NR: Yeah, so the new record… what is it like? Every song is different, which is why it doesn’t sound like a “concrete” EP. It goes from crazy guitar like… I don’t know, man, and then it goes into “country-esque.” Like, yeah, seriously.
SB: The first thing with the new EP is… it contains “Just Words,” which is the first song that Nick wrote down in Tampa by himself. And altogether, it’s kind of a collection of songs I guess that we’ve made—not with the mindset of putting them together on a single release, but it’s kind of stuff that we’ve had and we’ve been playing live. And it’s at a point where people are coming to the shows and they know some of the words to the songs.
NR: Yeah, like there’s this break in the song “I’ve Known You Since I Was A Kid,” and we played that in Rahway. And people, some got louder than us, and that’s a part where we both yell… and that was weird. Cool moment, but it’s like, “Damn, this isn’t even recorded yet. Like, don’t you have jobs? Why are you seeing us so much?” (laughs)
Now that we’re well into a brand new year, what are some of your biggest goals as a band that you would like to accomplish in 2015?
SB: So, I guess in 2015, our “big plan” is… we’re not trying to get too micro about it, but we definitely would like to do some sort of touring this year. Hopefully record and release a full-length.
NR: Don’t forget the acoustic EP that we’re doing.
SB: Yup, we’re doing an acoustic EP in January… recorded live. Umm… are there any other goals?
NR: Yeah, the other goal is to branch out more. Like, you know, go to more shows outside of New Brunswick. Our first “goal” last year was to stop playing our own shows at our own house. And then, by the end of the year, we had 11 shows in 13 days where it was like, we only played like… we played Philly, we played other basements, we played Rahway, we played Asbury a bunch. Like, it was really crazy—that was a “mini-tour,” so that was in New Jersey (laughs). So, I want to do that again, but like, not in my basement.
Semiotics will be playing at Tumulty’s Pub in New Brunswick on Feb. 12 and at GameChangerWorld in Howell on March 6. Their debut EP, Simple Requests,is out now. For more information, go to facebook.com/SemioticsNB.