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Riding High

On the up and up: The Nields

The Nields live a world of wonder

By Greg Cahill

NERISSA NIELDS, a Yale grad with a plucky spirit and a reputation for helping to reinvigorate the oh-so-serious alt-rock scene, shows no sign of buckling from the rigors of touring in a crowded van packed with drum kits, guitar cases, and four bandmates.

In fact, she sounds a lot like a kid on her way to summer camp.

"It's been a long learning process as to how one lives a life out on the road. But it can be done," says Nields, 28, phoning from a rest stop on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, somewhere between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. "It's gotten to the point where we actually look forward to driving days because we've finally figured out just how many Wendy's baked potatoes one can eat in a given week before you can't take it any more."

Any road weariness is alleviated by rave reviews for Gotta Get over Greta (Razor & Tie), the latest release from the Nields--guitarist/vocalist Nerissa, husband/guitarist Dave, sister/vocalist Katryna, bassist Dave Chalfant, and drummer Dave Hower. The CD--which blends the Nields' acoustic-folk roots with an intense but inviting electric sound--was produced by Kevin Moloney, who engineered U2's Sunday Bloody Sunday and produced Sinead O'Connor's The Lion and the Cobra.

Musician magazine compares it to "a gentle explosion of high-strung harmonies and spare arrangements of songs that snap like cinnamon sticks." Spin lauds "the twists in the tales, the quirks and ironies that make every song a short story."

"It's really nice," says Nerissa of the praise. "It's sort of like getting A's from your teachers."

The disc is rife with quirky tales--sort of the flip side of cuddlecore. "Best Black Dress" suggests the joys and sorrows of an affair with an older man. The title track is a poignant, painful look at a childhood friendship that becomes a terrifying trap. "When those friendships break up, there's nothing in my experience that's more painful," says Nields. "It's different than a romance because there's not a lot of discussion about why things aren't working out. When a friendship breaks up there's just silence--that's the defining quality."

Churning guitars are the defining quality of Gotta Getting over Greta, a straight-ahead alt-rock outing from the one-time folk trio. "Katryna, David, and I always at some level wanted to be a full band," says Nields, who still plays acoustic guitar. "The influences that were closest to our hearts when we were growing up were the classic '60s rock bands: the Beatles, the Stones, the Who. So the dream always was to be a band, though we spun around as a trio for a couple of years."

Enter bass player Chalfant. "It was like he opened all the shades on the windows in a darkened room," Nields says. "Suddenly there was all this space, all this room, all this light. It was a pretty exciting moment for us."

Chalfant brought in drummer Hower and produced 1994's Bob on the Ceiling, the Nields' self-produced electric album. "We wanted to be more than a band," Nerissa adds. "It sounds really corny, but you do need to have a love for each other to get you through the hard times that bands all go through."

For the Nields, these aren't hard times. "The ride up is always fun and we realize that we're on the ride up right now," Nields says.

And what about the thrill of playing in a rock band after all those years on the acoustic folk scene? "It's like flying," she says matter-of-factly. "There's nothing like it. You become the song in a really wonderful sort of way."

The Nields perform Saturday, July 6. Strangewood and the Supernaturals open. Inn of the Beginning, 8201 Old Redwood Hwy., Cotati. 9:30 p.m. $5. 664-1100.

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From the July 3-10, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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