Naptown Heroes: A Conversation With Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s

Margot & The Nuclear So and So's founding member Richard Edwards reflects on the legacy of his group just as Joyful Noise Recordings releases
Margot & The Nuclear So and So's
The Bride on the Boxcar - A Decade of Margot Rarities (2004-2014)
Joyful Noise

I’ve lived in Indianapolis since 1997 and in that span of nearly 20 years, I’ve watched the city grow and change. Some of that growth is related to sports, the success of Peyton Manning with the Indianapolis Colts was a factor in Indy hosting a Super Bowl, as well as the expansion of the convention center.

There’s also the political side of things, under the guidance of Mayor Bart Peterson and Mayor Greg Ballard, Indianapolis transformed into a more worldly city, one that could entice graduates of Indiana University and other state schools to stick around after they got their degrees.

I’ve witnessed tremendous change: the Cultural Trail, the growth of the Fountain Square neighborhood, the booming craft beer business, and the music scene. And if you were looking for a thriving live music scene in Indiana, your best bet was Bloomington, a college town.

When it came to Indianapolis, most of the big names were ones from the past. Wes Montgomery, Scrappy Blackwell, and Leroy Carr all made an impact in Indianapolis. The chitlin circuit stopped here. And in the ’80s, there was even a punk scene, best documented by the Zero Boys. There’s also my beloved Vulgar Boatmen, but after that the group that made the biggest impact was Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s.

I didn’t come to indie rock until I was a college freshmen, but I remember seeing Margot records in the collections of friends. I thought it was cool that a band from my city, dubbed Naptown due to its alleged boringness, was drawing interest and buzz outside of it.

Part of being a Midwesterner, a Hoosier, and an Indianapolitan, is an inferiority complex. You see it how we respond to sports stars. Is Paul George actually good or is this a fluke? We expect the worst, because people from glitzier regions refer to our home as flyover country.

Considering all that, it’s a real triumph for a prominent label like Joyful Noise Recordings (based in Indianapolis!) to release The Bride On The Boxcar, a 58-track compilation of Margot rarities, documenting the 10 years of the group’s existence. Those 58 songs are spread over five LPs that correspond to the group’s albums. The first disc, Hybristophilia features rarities from around the time of The Dust of Retreat. Some of the cuts are previously unreleased album tracks or demo versions of songs on the album. 

PANIC ATTACKS (Low Level Bummer) covers the band’s tenure with Epic Records  and features demos and unreleased album cuts. Now, Let’s Risk Our Feathers features rarities from Buzzard. Dark Energy in the Spotlight mirrors the time of Rot Gut, Domestic and features a duet with Lily & Madeleine, another group with a strong Indianapolis ties, on the Margot classic, “Broadripple Is Burning”. The final disc, You Look Like the Future, Baby features demos and rarities from Slingshot to Heaven. A standout track on this disc is a cover of “Ziggy Stardust”, one that captures the spirit of the original while channeling the haunted atmosphere of the Bauhaus cover.

It’s a well-curated set, balancing the need to sate the hunger of rabid fans with the wisdom of not scraping every last bit of tape hiss and crackle out of the Margot vault. It chronicles the growth and development of a band, as they go from indie and Indy darlings, to chafing at the yoke of major label ownership, to finding their way back to their core values and desire to make music on their own terms. It’s a nice capstone to a decade of music and clears the deck for what is to come. 

To celebrate the occasion, founding member Richard Edwards spoke to us by email.

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What has the experience of revisiting work from your younger days like?

Oh man. It was not very pleasant for me. I’m not prone to going back through my own stuff very often. In some ways it was a portal back to an exciting time or two, but mostly it was just reliving a nightmare, basically. I’m very honored that there was enough interest to force me to do it, though.

Was there anything you were surprised by when you went through your back catalog to put together this set?

I didn’t hate nearly as much of it as I expected to. Honestly after that first record, it all holds up pretty well for me. Buzzard and Sling Shot To Heaven still felt like the high water marks. A lot of it I thought, “Oh yeah, that was a halfway decent bit of work,” which beats the alternative. I’m sure there are many, many people who hold that alternative view.

How has your songwriting approach changed as you’ve gotten older and more experienced?

Hmmm. If I had to take a stab at it, I’d say over the past few years my writing process has become slightly less abstract or free associative. I’ve tried to tackle specific fixations more directly, maybe? I moved back to Indiana at one point and went out to a little dive bar I used to love to see a reunited band that was one of my favorites. It was such a bummer of a night. Everyone was old, there were no girls whatsoever. It was joyless. There was no trouble in the air. Everything was sucked out. I remember feeling really overwhelmed by that experience. Maybe people have had that feeling when they run into an ex or something. It’s a very specific kind of bummer.

I think that started me out on a mission to figure out how to capture absence. Missing this thing that’s gone. A very unsentimental, painful to your core kind of nostalgia. Nostalgia for past lives, imagined or otherwise. Other planets. A woman you met at a bar when you were 23. A whole life full of missing. In Scientology they ask people, “Tell me something you haven’t lost lately.” I can understand why that would be hopeful, but I’ve been trying to basically do the opposite of that.

There’s a real sense of place in many Margot songs, as a songwriter, how do you capture the essence of a place?

Well thanks. That’s something John Congleton would mention about my stuff a lot. Started thinking about it then, I guess. I do try to add details as much as I can, which is probably the most important aspect of any writing endeavor (or one of the most important, at least), but mostly it’s kinda hippie shit. I try to really bury myself in the location of a song and try to live there for awhile. A good example of that would be “Bleary-eye-d Blue” off that Sling Shot record. That was about a very specific place and I sat in it for months and months of mental grime to try and capture it, all the way down to the actual sounds on the recording. Not saying I succeeded, but I gave it a go.

What effect did starting a band in Indianapolis have on you?

Well, it was cheap, so we were able to tour all the time without needing to make too much dough. That was the main thing. I’d say you can get bigger, faster, locally in a town like Indianapolis, but breaking out of there is more of a challenge. There’s a little Indy bias I’ve noticed (Florida probably has that problem, too), but maybe that’s going away as the Internet sort of makes all cities more alike-ish.

What are the pluses and minuses to working as a musician in Indianapolis?

Pluses: it’s cheap. There’s great food, great musicians, few killer studios. Minuses: everything else. Once you get to a certain point in a career, you have to go somewhere else to do the work. I’ve gotten this thing happening over the past couple years where more people want to write with me, god help them, and besides doing it over email, that’s a job I could do much better elsewhere, for obvious reasons. But for the first time in my life, Indianapolis is actually a badass city that I would recommend with complete sincerity. Maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough before.

How has the music scene in Indianapolis changed since you guys started up?

Oh yes, changed tremendously. Think IUPUI becoming kind of a “real” college has changed things. Don’t seem to bleed quite as many young people to Bloomington/Muncie etc. It’s amazing what’s happened in Fountain Square since we all lived there. So many more 20-somethings making music. When I was young it seemed like a lot of grownups. Maybe they were young then, but have grown up since? I don’t know. Seemed like more of a AAA radio scene back then. There’s brattiness and recklessness and youth now, bringing with it all the inherent complications. I think the kids are alright.

With some hindsight, how do you feel about your time signed to a major label?

Well, I basically never think about it, but I’m fine with it. We went, as did our dear friend Andy Gershon from V2, for morally justifiable reasons and we left for morally justifiable reasons. We got to make music without compromise, even if the release was compromised. That’s all I’ve ever asked. I don’t care about money or success, just making records that are mine. As Orson Welles said, had others intruded they may have been better, but they wouldn’t have been mine. He probably said it much more beautifully. AFI tribute (I think). Also, if someone wants to give me money, I don’t mean to imply I’d turn it down. I would graciously and enthusiastically accept.

What appealed to you about Joyful Noise as the label to release this set?

I’ve greatly admired what Karl has done with that label for a long time. I respect people that are so passionate about something that they kick down any door that meets them with resistance. Karl decided he was a label, and fucking made it so by sheer force of will. Everything they make has love put into it. When they brought this project up it was a no-brainer. You can’t help but want to be involved with a company that is so loving with your life’s work. It’s amazing.

What do you think is Margot’s legacy?

Legacy A: Oh, that band who fought with their record label! Hey, have you heard the new Lana Del Rey single?

Alternate Legacy: Badass motherfuckers, underrated as all shit, but good that they’re under the radar so you can feel exclusive.

What is your proudest accomplishment as a musician?

My proudest accomplishment is also the one I’m the most embarrassed by, which is longevity. I made a deal when I was a little kid, and I’ve stuck to it. I’m very fortunate to have a small pack of rabidly enthusiastic fans who allow me to continue. I’m a songwriter, and I make records, and I will never stop doing that. I’m a lifer, and proud of it. I’m out in California, sick as shit, gearing up to start another one tomorrow. Rinse and repeat. I’m also still pretty proud of sling shot to heaven.

Where do you see Margot going from here?

Graveyard. Not sure. It exists. Kids keep discovering it. It’s not for everybody. I’ve spent ten years, really full-time with Margot. Might be time for a break, but sure I’ll take that back if we get really popular out of the blue. I’m making another record, but I don’t know what it is yet. Trying to take my hands off the wheel a little more.

What are your hopes for the box set?

I just hope the kids who like our band like it. Maybe some new ones will get hip. This band has quite a story, perhaps more people will learn about it. Maybe it’ll make enough money to pay off this next record.

What are your hopes for the new year?

Health! I want to put my stomach trouble behind me and release another record. Maybe some 7″s too. I want to work, work, work, no time in bed. Make music. Release music. Write, write, write. Hang out with my wife and daughter. Fix my basement into a music room. So I need to find a little money to do that. I have so many things I want to do, just need my body to cooperate.