Rare, Rough, & Revolutionary: Nederland's Nom de Guerres

By: Will Baumgartner

The band's French name is only half the story of Nederland-based Nom de Guerres' sound.

Nom De Guerres is one of the most interesting bands I’ve ever encountered. There is so much going on within their often deceptively simple-sounding music that any discerning and attentive listener quickly realizes they’ve got to dig deeper than the surface to get all of the gifts this group has to offer. The impossible-to-pigeonhole trio is the brainchild of Maus Nomdeguerre, an intelligent and eminently likeable guy well-known to local music lovers and the community in and around the quirky mountain town of Nederland. In an effort to get more insight into the band’s songs, and the man behind them, I recently grabbed Maus for a little chat, which turned out to be the most fascinating and instructive of any we’ve ever had:

I know the term nom de guerre means “an assumed name used by a soldier to mask his true identity”, but I’ve also seen definitions that apply it to fighting, writing, painting, or “a fictitious name used when a person performs a particular social role”. I’ve noticed the Guy Fawkes mask appears in a lot of the band’s artwork too. What’s the significance of all of this?

Nom de guerre is used in modern French to designate any form of an alias. In medieval times, it was a name assigned specifically for warfare in Arthurian romances. There’s a bit of an inside joke [for us] in the grammatical incorrectness in French with the band name. [Our artwork with] Guy Fawkes can be interpreted in a variety of ways, but he himself plotted to blow up the British parliament and was tortured as a result.

How, when, and where did Nom de Guerres become a group?

Nom de Guerres was formed from jamming at the Pioneer Inn open mic night in Nederland, which I hosted for three years. Eventually, I merged it with some players I was using from my fusion project and Nom de Guerres was born.

You’ve got a couple of great local players in this trio, including drummer Zach West and bassist Christopher Merz. What qualities make these guys perfect for your group?

Zach is probably the most consistent and versatile drummer I have worked with in Colorado, and possesses the ability to seamlessly transition between styles, something I need from a drummer. Chris really brings in the tone of the band; he’s definitely got that SoCal pre-grunge mentality when it comes to the bass, and can play a solid line or jam with a great rock-feel. He’s also a great singer, which has worked out well for expanding [our] harmony vocals.

You describe the band’s sound as “dirty folkabilly western swing”. Care to expound on that?

I am a jazz-trained musician, primarily on saxophone, in the Chicago tradition: essentially everything I do has the swing 8ths feel, but we reinterpret musicians from Willie Nelson to Leonard Cohen to GG Allin to Nirvana. I also spent a lot of time playing in the Midwest punk scene. We couldn’t come up with a genre that actually fits what we do, so we made up our own.

When you bring a song to the band, does it ever change as a result of the group’s interactions and ideas?

I wrote all of our originals, but I trust the musicians I work with to fill out their parts with a little direction; one or two bass lines Chris and I have sat down and written together. I also write all the chordal reinterpretations we do as covers, but things evolve in rehearsal and live performances. There’s a point when it sounds right to all of us and it just works. 

Maus Nomdeguerre.

Maus Nomdeguerre.

While you primarily sing and play guitar in the group, some of your great sax playing can be heard on NGD’s recordings. Do you ever play sax with the group in live performances?

Rarely. I usually rely on a fourth musician [for that]. I use a few horn players depending on who’s available: Paul Stadler, Prasanna Bishop, occasionally Jeremy Mohney- they’re all great saxophone players with different approaches and great ears. On the EP and on our work-in-progress pieces, I play all of the saxophone parts.

Have you ever considered expanding your current lineup by adding other full-time players?

Besides the sax players, I have used female vocalists, harmonica, trumpet, and lead guitar players. In an ideal world, Nom de Guerres would be a seven or eight-piece band.

What do you hope listeners will get from your music?

I hope people get a political and social message from it, as well as an artistic lyrical experience. I try to bring energy and passion to every show.

This Saturday, June 4th, you’re playing at the Pioneer Inn in Nederland. What can audiences expect at a Nom De Guerres show?

We will be debuting new songs all summer, as well as playing my social democratic song “Bernie’s Theme”. I will also be using a guitar with a body made entirely from cannabis.

Yikes! It might be worth it to some local stoners to come out just to hear you play that thing. So what’s on the horizon for the band? Any special plans for the coming year?

We have two recording projects in progress, one which will be primarily political songs, with a few covers, including a particularly heavy interpretation of “Masters of War”. The other record is called Hanging Songs, and is new originals written in the last year. We will be playing around Colorado most of the summer.

Check out Nom de Guerres’ show this Saturday in Ned, and keep up with their tour schedule and new releases here.

-Will

All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.