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How Night Court Found Human Connection Through Punk Rock

The nihilistic west coast trio check their animal instincts at the door.

by Gregory Adams

Night Court guitarist Dave-O dreamed of being a marine biologist when he was a kid; drummer Emilor similarly almost went into zoological studies, explaining to RANGE that her father imprinted an interest in insects and mammals on her pretty young. Though neither career path panned out, Night Court songs are clearly shaped by a group of ardent animal lovers.

Last year, their Nervous Birds Too collection began with a nature-set sample of songbirds warbling themselves silly; like 2021’s Nervous Birds, the album art plastered perma-jovial cartoon crows Heckle and Jeckle on the front cover. And now on “What is it Like to be a Bat, Man?” — the first sugar-jolted cut off the group’s new album, HUMANS! — guitarist-vocalist Jiffy Marx finds himself pondering the thoughts and nocturnal drive of the song’s titular wing-flappers. While on-brand, it’s not for nothing that their latest release also happens to be called HUMANS! Though it may be zoological up front, the album ultimately finds Night Court probing at the human condition.

“I love animals,” guitarist-vocalist Jiffy Marx concedes, suggesting of a thematic pivot. “I do find they’re an easy thing to write lyrics about, to a point where I’m now thinking I should stop always making these animal metaphors, because I’ve kind of flogged the dead horse a bit.”

Nevertheless, the band initially thrived as creatures of the night. Jiffy and Dave-O had previously played together in retro pop-punk outfit Jiffy Marker, but started writing new tunes as Night Court during the early days of COVID-19, eventually connecting with Emilor. Dave-O explains that they’d sneak off to their practice space at night to track “guerilla” recording sessions at the height of lockdowns. That urgency, you could argue, is reflected in a twitchily immediate, distortion-blaring approach where earworm punk hooks never overstay their welcome — as it stands, only three songs on HUMANS! cross the two-minute mark.

“When a band is doing their eight-to-10-minute jam and then everybody politely claps, it [feels] like people [are] clapping ‘cuz the song’s over, not because they actually appreciated it,” Jiffy suggests of avoiding overwrought arrangements, though Dave-O counters this with a more pragmatically playful theory: “We thought it would be funny to just do the cool part once.”

For HUMANS!, Night Court further bonded by building their own Magic Hour studio in Jiffy’s garage. The bassist explains that the space is “purpose-built,” a tracking room barely able to contain a full drum kit. Fittingly, the 16-song HUMANS! is ram-jammed with punched-and-punky beats, regal guitarmonies, and fuzz-marked vocal melodies that could easily sit somewhere on a playlist alongside Guided by Voices, Superchunk, or PUP.

Appearing mid-way through Night Court’s third full-length release, “Dead Tomorrow” perhaps speaks to the experience of making music through the pandemic best. Equal measures gleeful, groovy, and nihilistic, “Dead Tomorrow” finds the ever-prolific Night Court trying to craft yet another number, on the off-chance they’ll be dead by dawn (“it doesn’t even have to be good,” they plead with one another). As Jiffy eloquently sums it up: “You never know when the next pandemic’s going to happen, so let’s write these songs before it’s too late. Pretty morbid, but that’s what it is.”

While Night Court’s punk is more playful than panic-inducing, HUMANS! still hints at various anxieties, from the spreading of misinformation (“So What”), to matters of the heart. Both “Ladder Ambition” and a cover of ABBA’s “SOS” — or, more specifically, Nottingham group The Favorites’ jittery 1979 makeover — are classically yearning. But when it comes to the record’s “Out of Control,” sometimes the dread sets in once you get what you want.

“It strikes me as a bit of a love song,” Emilor suggests of the latter, on which she takes lead vocals. “When you’re in love, you’re out of control. You’re not thinking straight, and that sometimes leads to poor life decisions. I absolutely have a history of that, being blinded by behaviours because you care about somebody.”

Tough times have truly been in abundance the past few years, but the three humans in Night Court have at least found some solace and sanity by working through their worries together. And the way the trio see it, there’s no better way to face adversity — at least artistically — than through a brashly bashed-out punk song.

“There are all kinds of styles of music that I love listening to, but when it comes down to [playing] music, I want to be loud,” Emilor reveals. “I want to unleash and process a lot of stuff. If not, then what? Bang my head against a wall? No, this is way more fun.”

Night Court perform June 17 at the Lido (Vancouver). Full west coast tour dates here.