According to Chicago-based three-piece No Men, Sartre was right: Hell is other people.
“You know what you did, you know how I feel,” vocalist/drummer Pursley chants over a menacing beat. “Heaven knows how much I hate you / Hell is real.”
Lyrically, it’s a deceptively simple song (in a state of cold rage, sometimes only the most basic emotional descriptors will do). But its driving pulse and sneakily catchy riffs (not to mention Pursley’s powerhouse of a voice) make it one of most viscerally satisfying moments on the band’s 2016 record, Dear God, Bring the Doom.
No Men — which also includes drummer Eric Hofmeister and a six-string bassist who goes by DB — are by no means a hateful bunch. But the band’s music has, in recent years, developed a sharper post-punk edge, a shift that can be pretty directly linked to Pursley (who just goes by Pursley) and DB’s move from Austin to Chicago in late 2015.
The Austin incarnation of No Men, then a more traditional four-piece was, musically, a looser, slightly amorphous entity: Recordings from that era evoke a range of archetypically chill indie rock. In Chicago, reborn as a three-piece, any of the jangly excesses that one might associate with Texas sunshine began to be pruned back.
Part of that shift is regional — Chicago winters have “inspired some bitterness, for sure,” DB laughs, over the phone. But the band’s sound has also been influenced by the bleakness of the current political climate, though it might not always be immediately obvious. “Even though all of us espouse radical, feminist, progressive viewpoints, we don’t usually make it so explicit in the music,” DB says, noting that the members avoid sounding “preachy” as best they can. “It’s more about conveying the emotion and letting the listener pick up on it for themselves,” he adds. “I don’t want to describe us [as] a ‘political band,’ but I think that sort of feeling goes along with listening to our music.”
Of course, the name No Men in itself carries political weight, as does the band’s self- description of “queer, femme-fronted, the androgynous opposite of ‘yes men.’”
“We do get interest from people who just like our name and what we’re about in general,” DB says. “Even if our music isn’t necessarily their thing, there’s still the appeal that, ‘Hey … you guys are queer and trying to empower women.’”
And for whatever weather-related aggression Chicago has inspired in No Men, that city has also inspired a lot of positive feelings. “[Chicago] is such a fertile breeding ground for a lot of awesome, creative musicians and artists,” DB says. “It’s such a good art scene that it’s inspired us to be better, I think, just by being around such a large concentration of talented people.”
Navigating and learning to write for an unconventional two drums/one bass setup (especially considering that DB plays his bass more like a guitar), has also been inspiring. “It’s been a learning process … you start to think more in terms of writing for our three voices specifically,” he says. “It’s like when I make up a bass riff, I’m immediately thinking … how will it fit with Eric’s drumming and Pursley’s vocal styles. We want to sound like one unit instead of three separate musicians.”