How Nothing Left Something on a Bushwick Building

Domenic “Nicky” Palermo of Nothing has certainly paid his dues. Early in life, he was a rough-and-tumble punker who spent two years in jail for stabbing a guy during a fight. Once he got out of jail, he spent some time discovering the meaning of his life and returned to an old passion: music.

He had been in the bands Horror Show and XO Skeletons and returned to writing songs when he discovered music he could relate to, like defunct Los Angeles rootsy post-punk legend Gun Club. Palermo recorded his first demos for his next band under the name Bad America, which is also the name of a song from Gun Club's monumental 1984 album The Las Vegas Story. Before anything was officially released, Palermo changed the name of the band to Nothing.

Nothing garnered considerable attention for its 2014 debut, Guilty of Everything. Going left field of any hardcore roots, its mixture of dream pop, punk, gritty noise rock and post-punk seemed to be ahead of the curve. Palermo admits to being very inspired by Slowdive, but you hear as much Dinosaur Jr. in the band's sound.

In 2015, Nothing parted ways with Collect Records, the label funded by now-infamous hedge-fund manager Martin Shkreli. Palermo says he had been through enough in life and didn't want something so very important to him, his music, to be tainted by the association to Shkreli. This year, Nothing's Tired of Tomorrow emerged on Relapse Records.

Prior to the recording of the album, Palermo had been assaulted while on tour in California and sustained a brain injury that resulted in some loss of hearing and bouts of vertigo. But those strained and troubled times forced him and his band, as well as former XO Skeletons bandmate and producer Wesley Eisold of Cold Cave, to focus in on new ideas, including a title track that doesn't feature any guitars. For the striking record cover, Palermo stumbled into a bit of unexpected inspiration.

“I was trying to come up with ideas for cover artwork, which is one of my main concerns after a record is finished,” recalls Palermo. “I was going through all these different things and walking through New York City, going to galleries and museums trying to get inspiration. And I fucking hit a dead end so hard."

For reasons he can't explain, Palermo began looking at satellite images of his friends' houses. "Brandon [Setta], our guitarist, lives in Brooklyn, and I went over his address and saw that his roof already had graffiti all over it, and I zoomed out, and it seemed like this massive grid. Block by block, it looked the same. The houses in Bushwick are four stories high and full of people. And I thought, Oh, my God, this is the most depressing thing ever. That's what the record was about."

He says he started playing with the idea of painting letters on Setta's roof. 

"I hit up our manager at 11 o'clock at night. I told him, 'I got an idea. On the city block, I'll go up and paint the letters. I'll figure out the measurements. Can you hire a drone photographer?' He said, 'I guess, if it works.' A day later, I was calling up the dudes in the band, and I asked if they were free the next day."
Palermo went to Home Depot and bought fifteen gallons of custom pink paint and some paint rollers and tubes. The band spent twelve hours creating block letters, each 25 feet by 25 feet, that spelled out the name of the album. 

"We went back the next day to get a picture of it, and this is my bad luck: The building-maintenance guy, as we got there at six in the morning — the drone photographer was supposed to get there at six thirty — was carrying all this tar up on the roof."

Before too much tar was applied to the roof, the photographer launched the drone. 

“As the drone's coming down, the maintenance guy yells down at us, 'You guys fucked up the roof! We can't even lay tar down!' I told the drone guy to load up all his shit in his car and drive off right now. We didn't even know if we got the shot."

But they had. "Our manager asked how the fuck we did that," says Palermo, laughing.

Nothing will play the Marquis Theater, 2009 Larimer Street, with Wrong and Culture Abuse, Tuesday, June 14, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $14 or $16. All ages are welcome.
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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.

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