The sought after post-punk duo Have A Nice Life provide a musical window into anxiety, depression, and the mixture of the two where boundaries become irrelevant on their aptly named new record Sea of Worry. The band’s Tim Macuga explains the album’s themes as resting in “anxiety, from the global, to the interpersonal, then simply personal level.” Strikingly, they make their album’s exploration of this unsettling territory captivating, thereby elevating their’s music’s pieces into an ambitious new vision. Their new album feels like a subtle celebration of life, or at least musical ambition, firmly planted in that musically expressed, familiar anxiety.
Reaching This Album
Macuga and collaborator Dan Barrett explain that their music reflects their shared personal commitment to the artistic collaboration of their friendship as exemplified in Have A Nice Life, which at this point has been active for almost two decades.
“For me, it’s as much my relationship with Tim, and with the process we use to create music, than it is with any specific genre,” Barrett explains about what keeps him coming back after all this time. “I feel best when we have a project to work on, when we’re planning something, when I can daydream about how it will turn out. Tim constantly challenges my preconceptions about writing music, and it’s never not fun.”
Macuga thinks similarly. “We chase other muses in other venues, but yes, HANL is our friendship manifest in art,” he adds. “A recent interviewer asked if we had made marriage-like vows to each other, which I thought was touching. If a year goes by and we’re not creating, rehearsing, and/or imagining things together, a horrible divorce must have taken place. I agree about the unimportance of the kind of music. If, I dunno, Roger Whittaker-type schmaltzy music-hall stuff became what genuinely lit our brains on fire, that’s where we would go together on the next album.”
Recently, Macuga took the lead on developing some especially challenging tracks under the moniker of Consumer — whose full-length album In Computers came out just last month via The Flenser — but at the same time, the two have kept Have A Nice Life publicly active in between albums with standout moments like their two performances at 2019’s Roadburn Festival, where they performed their 2008 Have A Nice Life debut full-length Deathconsciousness in full.
The Sounds of Sea of Worry
On their latest album, Dan and Tim amplify their dynamics. The first part includes some very driving tunes that deliver the experience of anxious moods, while in the latter portion, they ease into more spread out, sonically contemplative territory. The final track — the thirteen-minute long Destinos — includes a jarring, minutes-long audio sample of a preacher pronouncing fire and brimstone right alongside the duo’s slowly building, introspective music.
“That’s been a part of that song for a long time,” Barrett explains of the sample. “For me, the inclusion is because I find it a perfect example of backwards, anti-human thinking… and in general, I feel like the anti-human strains of our culture are at their peak. It’s a profoundly difficult time to be alive, to simply be a person. I find it fascinating that there are people for whom that’s the goal.”
Even with the sonically and emotionally heavy components of Sea of Worry, the band’s intent to craft musically captivating experiences always shines clearly.
In the many years that the duo have been collaborating, they’ve had the chance to witness decades worth of developments of the “experimental” music community and their collective creations that don’t quite fit anywhere familiar.
“It’s inspiring that there is so much out there… I just barely have my head above water with older stuff that captivates my interest to follow much of it, beyond what’s in Flenserland orbit or folks we end up with on bills,” Macuga shares. Other artists with recent releases on The Flenser include the Portland-based shoegaze project drowse, the anxiety-riddled soundscape artists in the L.A.-area Wreck and Reference, and the menacing Texas industrial group Street Sects. Earlier this year, Have A Nice Life actually performed at a NYC showcase of artists on The Flenser, including Consumer, Wreck and Reference, Pennsylvania’s Planning For Burial, and the Boston-area Elizabeth Colour Wheel.
“I’m still getting over, like, Ornette Coleman. Or Stockhausen. Or the item room music in Metroid,” Macuga continues. “It’s not that I don’t want to better understand the zeitgeist, I just get lost in the library stacks. There’s no excuse – sometimes I feel like one of those myopic 78 rpm collector guys in Ghost World. With that said, it’s motivating to see highly original peers like Wreck and Reference tear across the map or drowse collaborating with other projects in a prolific way. I’m just some guy ripping off Christian Death; they’re breaking actual ground.”
As for his own project, Macuga shares: “We have the Voor Trilogy, and my St. Francis tapes have continuity, but outside of that, we rarely think in terms of “OK, next phase…” We release material that we really like, that feels like it represents us in the moment, and it’s awesome if other people connect. It never ceases to surprise us that anyone cares.”
Photo via Emily VanGraafeiland
Listen to some of the album ahead of its official full release via The Flenser on November 8.