The Memphis-based, all-girl punk band NOTS is bound to be your new favorite group. Their sophomore release, Cosmetic, out September 9, is a catchy mix of post-punk and riot grrrl-inspired anthems with biting lyrics and slicing guitars. Motivated by the absurdity of the current presidential election and the atrocities happening across the globe, lead singer/guitar player Natalie Hoffmann focused her energy into an album that’s both effortlessly poetic and unapologetically punk.
The lead single, “Entertain Me,” is a thrashing track featuring Alexandra Eastburn’s swirling synths and drummer Charlotte Watson’s pounding drums, as Hoffmann spits bratty lyrics while Meredith Lones slays on the bass. “Inherently Low” is classic no-wave, referencing the hypnotizing guitars of post-punk legends like Magazine and DNA, with Hoffmann’s lo-fi vocals giving it a modern twist. “Rat King” brings to mind the chaotic distortion of early Bikini Kill, while Eastburn’s experimental synth in album opener “Blank Reflection” showcases the band’s range. “No Novelty” channels Wipers in a quintessential punk song that’s sure to get stuck in your head. With Cosmetic, the NOTS girls prove themselves to be not only one of this year’s most exciting bands, but also Memphis’ most authentic punks.
I called frontwoman Natalie Hoffmann to talk poetry, feminism and Cosmetic — without a doubt, my favorite album of this year.
Cosmetic is your second album. What were you able to do with this record that you couldn’t do with the previous one?
Cosmetic had a lot of time to figure itself out — all the songs were written with a lot more patience and space. We had all been playing together for almost a year, so there was that element of feeling really comfortable with each other. We were able to explore more territory with Cosmetic, and we were all pretty open to songs sounding maybe not quite as traditionally catchy.
What inspires your lyrics?
I free write pretty much every day. Then, I go through it to figure out recurring themes and things that are on my mind that are worth picking apart and critiquing, and that are relevant to what’s going on in our current state of affairs. This record — a lot of it was written while we were on the road. I would just be writing in my sketchbook and we would be listening to the news and keeping up with everything. The song “Fluorescent Sunset” is about touring, but a lot of it also is just trying to digest what was going on in the world around me during that time, around all of us. Trump was becoming a very real thing, and there’s so much just hate and violence consistently coming out of the news, so it was really, really saddening. But I also felt like it was coming out in what I was writing, so I just wanted to pinpoint it more.
What was the hardest part of making the record?
We recorded this record with our friend, Keith Cooper, at his home studio. He has a tape machine — a Tascam 388 — that we recorded everything on, which was awesome. But it also doesn’t let you overthink anything. I think that’s probably the hardest part of recording — not overthinking, so things can be more organic.
Nots is an all-girl band. Are you also a feminist band?
We are all individually feminists, and being feminist is a very big core of each of our lives, but I wouldn’t want to say it’s a genre of its own. Everything I do or write about is going to have a feminist perspective, because I am a feminist, so it comes out in the work that I do and the art that I make. I would be reluctant to put just an overarching label on it though, because I think it’s inherent in the fact that we all hold feminism as a very strong truth — it comes out in whatever we do, whether it’s music or just working in a restaurant.
Do you think making music is a form of feminist activism?
Not inherently. I think there are plenty of women who aren’t feminist who make music. But I think that it’s really powerful to see women onstage who are feminist, and are very critical of their surroundings and the world, and are doing that through a feminist perspective.
What do you think about the role the internet has played in shaping feminism, and feminist activism?
I think it's such a double-edged sword. The arguments about the internet sort of stress me out, because the internet, at its core, can be such a democratic tool. But I do become very concerned when people don't also combine the things you can gain from the internet with either what you can gain from having a conversation on the phone, or having a conversation face to face. I’m also a little bit cynical. I feel concerned that companies that are very profit driven are going to notice what is becoming interesting to teenage girls, because teenage girls have always been a market. So now really strong feminist cores and values are getting wrapped up in a capitalist ideal. Like, "You need to buy this or you need to look a certain way to be a feminist" — all these messages and all these images that have been so demeaning to women for so long, I get fearful when they get repackaged under the façade of girl power.
What’s the solution, then?
Feminism is based on critique, on being very critical — to just blankly accept anything that is telling you it’s for the advancement of women or for the power of girls as blanketly feminist, is not okay. It’s not giving women enough agency to assume that every woman who does something publicly is a feminist, because we’ve seen time and time again that that's not true. Everyone just needs to make sure to keep their eyes open and stay very critical — that’s what builds the movement. Feminism wouldn’t have waves if it weren’t for people saying, "Whoa hold on, this isn’t good. Let’s talk about it."
I hear a lot of punk and post-punk influence on Cosmetic. What is it about the genre that attracted you?
There’s always been something implicit about punk music where there are less rules. The whole mentality of punk is just super inspiring to me — specifically DIY. There’s just been a really cool "Fuck you, I’m going to do this anyway" attitude which translates really well to how I think about art and music, and how Nots as a band approaches music. There’s something super appealing about the fact that you can just really take it and run, and make it your own.
What’s it like being a woman onstage in the punk scene?
Of course people mess with us, but for the most part, I go into my own zone, and the band goes into our own zone, and we just really focus on what we’re doing together—there’s a lot of power in that. I don’t do anything if I don’t like to do it, and I don’t like to feel contrived. I just react to how I feel in the moment.
Tell me about the album title. Why did you choose Cosmetic?
I read the word in a Nazim Hikmet poem from his book Human Landscapes. He used it to describe the façade of a political system, and the word just has a really great dual meaning. There’s the obvious implication of it — that it’s covering something up, or that it’s face value. I felt like a lot of the songs addressed themes that sort of lie within the idea of having one face on, but something completely different is underneath, or implying that what you see may not be the truth — that truth with a capital T is very relative.
Who are some of your favorite girl bands right now?
Our friends in New Orleans are in a band called Black Abba — they’re really good. Vile, from Los Angeles, The World from California, and The Meltaways in New York. It’s a really exciting time right now. When Nots first went on tour, I didn’t see as many rad female punk bands or female-fronted bands, and maybe it’s just because I didn’t run into them. But lately, it’s just been really cool because we have so many female friends that are forming bands.
What advice would you give girls who want to start a band?
You have to forget everything and just do it — just go play. Get other girls to play with, or dude friends who are feminists, get them and just go for it. It sounds cheesy, but it doesn’t matter if you can’t play your instrument, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know what the hell you’re doing — a lot of times, that’s when the most interesting music is made.
Photos by Don Perry
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Alex Weiss is a New York City punk, musician, and writer.