It’s a Tuesday in the Catskills, and Patton Magee and his bandmates in the Nude Party are making preparations for a weekly tradition: “Tiki Tuesday.” The garage-rock band, their producer Oakley Munson, and a few friends and girlfriends who’ve been quarantining with the group in their upstate New York home are mixing up Mai Tais, Scorpion Bowls, and Zombies for a night of drinking and listening to Jimmy Buffett and surf band the Waikikis. “There is always something to look forward to,” says Magee, the Nude Party’s 26-year-old singer-guitarist. “Every Tuesday is a house party.”
The six-piece band, whose members met while students at North Carolina’s Appalachian State University, succeed in recreating that college house-party vibe on their new album, Midnight Manor, the follow-up to their self-titled 2018 debut. It’s garage rock updated with a touch of 21st-century cynicism, written and performed by a group of self-taught musicians who bonded over Sixties rock & roll. “We wanted to play like the Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the Kinks. It just hit us all in a particular way,” Magee says.
Magee and his mates — bassist Alec Castillo, guitarist Shaun Couture, pianist Don Merrill, drummer Connor Mikita, and percussionist Austin Brose — went through a Doors phase too, but they were more attracted to the notion of a musical brotherhood over “any egotistical antics, Jim Morrison style,” Magee says. After meeting the producer Munson (drummer for garage-rockers the Black Lips), they fully committed to the communal idea by moving into a farmhouse together in New York. To get to gigs — in 2019, they opened for Jack White and Arctic Monkeys — they all piled into a converted church bus, which Magee says they recently sold for “1500 bucks and an old sitar.” Financially, it was a loss, he admits, but “maybe in the end this sitar will help us make a really corny psych album.”
Midnight Manor isn’t that. Rather, it’s an unabashed rock record, full of chiming guitars, sha-la-la refrains, and lo-fi production that plays like the soundtrack to an Animal House remake. In the piano burner “Pardon Me Satan,” Magee wails about falling prey to drunken temptation. The devil wears a suit in “Nashville Record Company,” a gentle acoustic number that devolves into a rowdy kazoo solo. And “Lonely Heather” is a frantic punk jam, packing a wallop in just over two minutes.
In the hooky shout-along “Easier Said Than Done,” the Nude Party — who tweaked the name bestowed upon them by fans, “The Naked Party Band,” into something Magee calls “slightly more presentable” — spell out the pitfalls of the touring life.
“That song is two-pronged. One of the prongs is that everything does sound like peaches and cream, fun and partying. But it does wear on you. It’s a weirdly sedentary lifestyle, where there’s a lot of sitting in cars. You’re always hungover, tired, and sore, and always feeling a little bit depraved,” he says, citing a classic-rock staple. “What does Joe Walsh say? ‘I can’t complain, but sometimes I still do!'”
After two years of non-stop touring behind 2018’s The Nude Party (that church bus was “a rolling deathtrap,” Magee says) — a period that also saw the end of more than one relationship — the band’s nerves were frayed. Magee channeled some of that burnout into Midnight Manor, exposing a little bit of emotional vulnerability along the way. “There’s less distance between the singer and the song. When we came together to make the record, it was at the end of a long, emotionally traumatic period,” he says. “But it felt like we were reunited — a rediscovery of the brotherhood. For all those reasons I definitely think this is the best record we’ve ever made. It’s a bummer that it’s coming out in the middle of a global crisis.”
When the pandemic began in March, the Nude Party welcomed friends who had nowhere to safely quarantine into their Catskills retreat. They raised chickens, ducks, and geese, and planted an enormous garden. Magee says they were worried.
“There were some pretty wild thoughts in your head as to what was about to happen, like a Mad Max-type future. Things have sort of stabilized, but we didn’t know how bad things were going to get,” he says. “Now we just have a ton of fucking tomatoes.”