In a dive bar in Jacksonville, Florida, Cody Nicolas stands at the edge of the stage, one guitar strapped around his neck and another clamped horizontally onto a piano stand. He takes a sip from his beer and sets it down on the horizontal guitar. His band, Narrow/Arrow, has been on their Fall tour with Cave Paint for nearly two weeks, but you wouldn’t know it. The energy on the stage was extraordinary as Cody’s lyrics and harmonized guitars filled the room.

Cody’s play style is unique, to say the least1. He plays two guitars simultaneously, playing root notes and chords on one, while sliding and “noodling around” on the other. The jazzy and mathy sounds that come out are reminiscent of 90s emo bands (think American Football and Braid).

The morning after the show, we met up with Cody to grab some coffee and chat about life, music, and ghosts.

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Perversion Magazine: Could you tell me a little about how you grew into your guitar technique? I mean, it’s really unique, and there are the obvious 90s emo influences, but…

Cody Nicolas: That was kind of an evolution. I saw this YouTube video my freshman year of high school of Erik Mongrain. He plays this song called “AirTap!2” I don’t really follow his discography or anything. I don’t even think I’ve listed to his albums actually. But this one video, I watched it on dial-up internet, waited like two hours for it to load. He plays an acoustic in an open tuning on his lap. It blew my mind. I’d spend hours noodling. That’s how it all came. I mean, I grew up in fucking a small farm town. There’s like three things on TV, and they all happen between 4:30 and 6:30, and then you have the rest of the day to do whatever. I just sat in my room and fucking noodled. I’m a born noodler.

PM: Were your parents musical at all?

CN: Yeah, a musical family. Nobody’s ever pursued it professionally other than my great grandfather. He was a piano player. A bar player, and also clarinet—all the marching band instruments. I think actually my grandparents on both sides did the whole piano/bar thing for money.

PM: It’s in the blood. So you were doing this in bands before Narrow/Arrow?

CN: The first band I ever did the tapping thing with was called For the Bridegroom. It was a Christian high school rock band with my older brother. There were five of us, and I would sit down and put the guitar on my lap and tune it open—it was a real pain in the ass. We got more experimental when they went to college and heard music for the first time out of our country-ass fuckin’ town. From that band, we lost two members, and from there it was called The La De Les. We started that my junior year of high school. My brother was a sophomore in college in a Christian university but was becoming an atheist. So faith and Christianity were always a big part of the “oppression” and also the “enlightenment” of growing up [regarding] my music. With The La De Les, I didn’t want to sit down anymore. Our band room was right next to my dad’s workshop, so I had a piano stand and went into the workshop, and I found a c-clamp and then wrenched [my guitar] down. That wasn’t even the first idea: I would duct tape it on.

PM: It was a table, too. At the show last night, you kept your beer on it.

CN: Yeah, it’s always been a table for me to set drinks on.

PM: Did you study music at all?

CN: I took lessons from my uncle and in middle school, but from then on, I was pretty much noodling. But I wanted to go to a music school. I didn’t even really want to go to a music school, but I needed to go to school, and I didn’t want to go to “normal” school. I went to Berklee for like two years. Berklee Factory of Music. So in order to prep for that, I had to put the noodling aside for a second and get educated. I always loved flamenco music, like Spanish guitar. I thought that’d be a real cool niche market to get into, as a white hipster dude. You know, let’s be honest, if white America could have a white Latin American guitar player, they’d rather hire me to do that job. I started studying with this dude who was 45 minutes away. He taught me some classical stuff, and I was just the worst student ever. I probably showed up maybe for like two weeks in a row ever, and then I was like, “This is fucking dumb. I’m gonna try and get into Berklee with my noodling.”

PM: Did you audition with two guitars standing up?

CN: Well, I did my regular audition with a proper one.

PM: Right, the flamenco.

CN: But you have to do a second audition so they can give you a rating, and for that, I just straight up did that. And the one dude told me I shouldn’t be at the school because I didn’t know how to do anything else. He was like, “You’re gonna be fine, dude, just show the world that thing.” “I don’t think this is really what you want to do” is what he was trying to tell me, and “You could do what you want to do and not need us at all.” I was like, “I’m not leaving,” but I probably should have taken his advice.

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PM: What do you find compels you to make music?

CN: It’s just always been that way. What originally started it was that I wanted to be like Michael J Fox in Back to the Future. I wanted to rock out, dude. I think that “Johnny B Goode,” that was one of the first songs that got stuck in my head, and I would try and sing it, and I’d always sing it wrong. I was four years old watching that movie, and for Christmas, all I wanted was a guitar. I remember being discouraged when it wasn’t the red fuckin’ ES335 that he has in the movie and doesn’t look anything like it. They got me a starter acoustic. My uncle down the street knew basic guitar stuff, but I thought he was like a genius because I was five. So I would go down there—and even then I was real shit at lessons. I never practiced. I remember learning “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and thinking, “This is dumb.”

PM: Yeah, until you start getting distortion on the guitar and jamming out—

CN: Exactly. I don’t even know what kept me with it, but I think it was, honestly, that I just wanted to be cool like Michael J Fox in the beginning.

PM: What do you think it is now?

CN: I mean, I think it was always supposed to be this way for me. I’ve never wanted to do anything else. It’s one of the few things that I always know is gonna fuckin’ be there. I don’t have to worry about anything else. Ever since my adolescent age, when we’d go on a vacation and didn’t have enough room for a guitar. Three days in, and I would just be like a lunatic until they took me to a guitar store and I got to spend a couple hours on one. It’s just always been that way where I’ve settled myself, where I’ve always just shut the world out. Also, the affirmation you get with that as a kid, especially in a small town. “Hey, that kid plays the guitar!” You get asked to play everything. Everybody’s like, “Woah you must be a genius, you play the fuckin’ guitar. You must be very talented.” So those things keep you doing it. Then my brother got a drum set one day, and we started bands. Won the middle school talent show when I was in fifth grade. It was awesome.

PM: Those things propelled you. What about now, are you working on a new LP?

CN: Yeah, so the full length is done. It’s in the “testing of my patience” part of the process. That’s the other thing: being on a label is like, your shit gets put on a big timeline that I’m not used to because I’m sitting on a mountain of riffs. And I want them to flourish, but I’m still fucking with this shit that I’ve been sitting on for two years. It’s also kind of affected me. I’m being more nit-picky about the way our sound’s coming out and what I’m saying, lyrically.

CN (cont.): But right now, ever since Middle Children, my life has gotten real chill. There’s a couple lyrics still on the full length that are a perfect extension of that EP. I wrote them right after it, but this new stuff I’ve been writing is focused a lot on percussive sounds. Because I’ve been making a lot of pop music with my buddy—he’s a rapper. I put out a rap record once for fun.

PM: Really?

CN: Yeah, I’ve always been into spoken word and shit like that. I’m done with poets now. You can’t trust poets anymore. But the way a phrase sounds when I’m singing it is even more important than what I’m saying. But it also makes what I’m saying need to be more important because it catches your ears.

PM: Could you give me an example?

CN: So a new song we played last night is called “Roof Is on Fire.” The first verse is really busy, lyrically, “Obsessed with purity / when my robes are white as smoker’s teeth / if my left hand’s on the bible / shove the right one down my jeans / Put some pleasure in an oath / there’s something clever in my notes / Another writer, toss the lighter / My pen’s dripping kerosene / ‘Cause nothing’s ever fine / when I’m happy, scraping by / A little resin in my nails / as a couple failed attempts to try.” And it’s kind of very rappy.

PM: It definitely has that sort of flow to it.

CN: Yeah. Flow, I guess, is what I’m good at.
brantman_narrowarrow_web_005 PM: Oh, do you believe in ghosts?

CN: Yeah.

PM: I was expecting a “no,” and then we’d pack up and go take some photos. But a “yeah?” Give me some more.

CN: You know, I live in Mansfield, which is where they filmed The Shawshank Redemption. It’s kind of what it’s famous for. And they have the prison there, and it’s like a haunted prison. You can go do ghost tours, and it attracts every sci-fi ghost hunter bullshit. It’s pretty cool, but it brings around a lot of people in the area who were into it. There’s this one guy, specifically, in town who was helping me move into my first house there. I was living with my brother and sister-in-law, the band broke up, and I went and got my own place. I could only afford a really piece-of-shit “Paper Street Soap Company” fucking house in the ghetto, but I knew the dude and he was totally cool. So I just moved in, renting this three-bedroom, two-bath house for like 250 bucks a month.

CN (cont.): The catch was that he had inherited the house from a gentleman who had just passed away and used to collect a lot of things. His name was Dennis. He unfortunately died of HIV at 45, but he was a nut for collecting all kinds of shit. So my house had wooden horses and piles and stacks of things. It was very much still another man’s home.

CN (cont.): And this guy who helped me move in goes, “Do you believe in energies?” “What do you mean energies?” [I asked.] He says, “Well, you know, like post-life energies like ghosts and shit?” And I was like, “Well, yeah.” Because I grew up in the church and I had run-ins with the devil. And evil spirits. Addressing that there is a spirit world is not a weird thing for me. Even though I don’t relate to a religion now. But yeah, I liked the way he broke it down because it took a lot of the wind out of your sails in what you want to believe [regarding] the negative connotation that comes with evil spirits. But he’s like, “Now, I’m a skeptic.” He’s not a skeptic. “I’m sensitive to energies.” He said when he walked into my house, he got an image of a woman standing in the kitchen cooking for five children. And when he walked into the living room, he got a flash of a soldier standing in the doorway. He says, “You need to know when you’re living in this house, there are energies in this house still. Dennis is still lingering here. It will settle down once all this stuff is gone.” Which took months for them to get all the shit out of there, so I put up with it and just kept to the one room.

CN (cont.): He said, “Not all energies are bad. They’re just forces, and you’ll feel them if you’re paying attention. The thing about energies, though, is that it attracts other energy, and enough energy could come in, and some of those could be bad.”

CN (cont.): I’ve always thought about it that way ever since. Yeah, it’s very vague, but there’s something there. I’m not saying it’s like dead people. I’m saying that there’s such a special thing about human existence that it could linger on past this body. Not having an explanation for it is okay with me. But yeah, I acknowledge totally that it’s there.

CN (cont.): Then there’s weird shit that happened, like my record player just turning on when I unplugged it. It shuts off, and then I wake up and it’s plugged back in. Another time, my buddy, Mahoney, is sleeping in his room. He said he was reading and passed out, but he turns over and shuts his eyes, and all of a sudden, somebody crawls over and pushes him off the bed. He stood up, turned on the light, and just yelled, “What the fuck?” So yeah, he left the light on for a minute. But we actually did have a dead-head hippie friend come over and do, uh, smudging? He burns sweat grass and the like.

PM: And that took care of it for you?

CN: Yeah.

Interview by Sam Bilheimer
Photos by Jesse Brantman

Listen to Narrow/Arrow’s EP, Middle Children, on Bandcamp and follow them on Facebook.

  1. Here, have a listen: “Amy to Your Right,” by Narrow/Arrow
  2. Check it out.