When Em Foster, songwriter-in-chief for Watford-based rock band Nervus, began to write songs in her bedroom, she did so purely as a means of personal catharsis, a way to exorcise her demons through rapturous melodies. Chronicling Em’s struggles with addiction and gender dysphoria, those songs became Permanent Rainbow, the 2016 debut album that emerged out of nowhere to become one of the most deeply affecting and personal collection of songs released that year.
If it hadn't have been for her band mates and close friends Paul Etienne (Keyboards) and Karl Woods (bass), Nervus may have stayed confined within the four walls of Em's bedroom. So personal and confessional were the songs on Permanent Rainbow that Em never had any intention of releasing them for public consumption. But Paul and Karl were convinced that something extraordinary lay within these songs; 10 self-cathartic confessionals that sounded jubilant, effervescent and laced with pop hooks on the surface, but revealed hidden, intricate depths upon further scrutiny. Jack Kenny, another one of Em's close friends joined on drums and the line-up was complete.
If Permanent Rainbow looked towards the self, the follow-up Everything Dies deals with exterior forces and how they play on the mind of someone dealing with gender dysphoria. Like all great sophomore albums, it expands the bands horizons without compromising on their original ideals. To this end, every instrument on Everything Dies (bar drums) was recorded in Em's bedroom in order to retain the home-grown DIY ethic the band adopted early on. It's far more direct than its predecessor, with a confrontational edge, as Em’s vulnerability turns to anger at a 21st century society still unwilling to accept that gender isn't simply defined within two restrictive parameters. Opener ‘Congratulations’ is a case in point, dealing head on with the societal expectations placed on us based solely on the sex we’re born with.
“I wrote Congratulations as a way of trying to address my issues with the way your life is planned out for you, the expectations, the social implications, all the way through to what kind of haircut you should have - all these expectations are placed on children before they’re even born. Well odd. People are weird.”
Everything Dies comes as a result of Em trying to navigate a path through her life in a world that still struggles with acceptance. The album has a loosely themed structure, split up into three separate acts; birth, life and death.
“I think the theme of the album is actually quite positive, with each and every point made about the shit that you face in life and in death, there’s an offer of hope. Fighting to keep things in perspective, that’s what Everything Dies is about. It’s not easy, it’s not pretty, and it’s not always possible on your own or even possible at all, and it’s about grappling with that.”
A characteristic that has become quickly synonymous with the Nervus oeuvre is dressing up personal dilemmas in elusive metaphors, an approach that rewards those willing to look deeper and unlock the mysteries that lie within the prose. In a postmodern twist, Em addresses this adoption of metaphor on the song ‘Skin’.
“‘Skin’ is - aside from being an absolute banger - probably the most meta song on the album. I don’t want my lyrics to be too diaristic or autobiographical, and I think the beauty of writing songs is that they can change meaning for a listener or even for the songwriter over time.”
Other themes permeate throughout Everything Dies and give indications as to where Nervus might go in the future; album closer ‘Fall Apart’ details our impact on the environment, the need to consume and fill an emotional void with plastic distractions and material possessions which, in a bitter twist of irony, only serve to increase the strain on the world’s resources and lead to our eventual destruction. On ‘The Way Back’ Em explores the West’s moral code, broadly garnered from Christianity and her own place within a society that adopts such archaic principles in a contemporary world .
“‘The Way Back’ is for anyone who has struggled with who they are. It’s about reconciling societal ideals with the reality of who you are, and striving for self-love and self-acceptance in a world that largely would rather you be dead. ‘Fall Apart’ is the closer and offers perspective on the whole album. It’s about the devastation that humanity is wreaking on the planet and our collective unwillingness to address that.”
In the past 12 months, the four members of Nervus have enjoyed great spoils as a result of Em's personal demons. In June 2017, Nervus co-headlined an 10-date DIY UK tour with Riot Grrrl fuzz rock duo Kamikaze Girls as well as garnering much coveted slots at Manchester Punk Festival and Brighton's Washed Out Festival. Most impressive of all, in October 2017, Nervus played their first show overseas at Fest in Gainesville Florida. The show was so packed, some punters were refused entry due to the venue being filled to capacity. They've also been handpicked as one of the bands to support Southampton horror-punks Creeper during their 'The Theatre of Fear' tour, which includes a date at the prestigious 2000-capacity Shepherd's Bush Empire.
Everything Dies is the product of a woman comfortable in her own skin, yet uncomfortable with certain sections of society’s out-dated prejudices. If Permanent Rainbow was Em hiding, Everything Dies is her screaming for acceptance in a sometimes cruel and unforgiving world. These are songs that simply must be written as a form of personal catharsis. Nervus make music that isn’t simply written but purged, a means of awakening vital to the author.
Nervus - Everything Dies
BSM 226 · March 2018