More Heart than Talent: NeverNever Refuses to Say… Well, You Know.

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Photo: Abigail Knibbe

“Some really gnarly things happened to this band,” says drummer Gavin Hoffman, gently twirling his sticks. “Things I wouldn’t wish on anybody.”  It’s dim here at NeverNever’s practice space, and I’m hoping my eyes will adjust. For a band that’s endured as much upheaval, tragedy and general misfortune, it’s a wonder that they’re back at all … let alone on speaking terms, in the same room together. I gently recline against a P.A. while the five reunited band members regale me with their personal history lesson.

NeverNever began sometime in late 1999, an immediate opportunity for friends David Darby and Patrick Bogdanich to craft music on their own terms. “We were a pretty sad duo,” says Bogdanich. “I felt like a freak.” These misfit feelings, combined with a caustic love for the clamor of Integrity and Godflesh motivated them to cobble together a two-piece unit consisting of Darby pre-recording rhythm tracks into a drum machine, and Bogdanich penning dreary and
despondent lyrics.

The group’s debut at Burt’s Tiki Lounge was memorable and involved a scuffle between Bogdanich and a rowdy showgoer pelting the stage with ice. “Patrick was wearing a dress, singing along to a drum machine,” says Darby. “No one knew what to think about it.” The duo quickly realized that their unconventional style would put them at odds with many audiences
to come.

Still, NeverNever’s distinctive approach didn’t repel everyone, and the group developed a rabid following of interested musicians in the area. “I saw them play as a two-piece at Mo’s Bar and Grill and they just killed it,” says guitarist Alex Hinton. “The passion was so there, it was awesome.” Attracted to the duo’s eccentric sonic methodology, Hinton, Hoffman and bassist Scott Darby (David’s brother) would join the band one by one, rounding out NeverNever to a full five piece.

2001 saw the band write and record their first official album, Stage Fright. Piecing the songs together, and quickly recording them in a barn, it served as a dark and unsettling portrait of the core duo’s creative psyche. “I was infatuated with drugs,” Bogdanich says, recalling a garbage bag he’d hang from his microphone stand, a makeshift receptacle for periodic vomiting during practice. “I didn’t like to hide it. The music gave me a forum for it.” Though never overtly glorifying drug use, the songs contained a palpable air of addict misery with which many users could identify, but the sentiment wasn’t mutual among band members. “It was one of the things that almost caused me to quit,” says Hoffman. “Patrick and David were on drugs and I wasn’t.”

It took the untimely death of a dear friend to send the band into an ideological tailspin. For some, the tragedy served as a welcome catalyst for sobriety, but it plunged others deeper into the throes of addiction. Relationships in the band shifted, and lyrics took on an increasingly somber and reflective tone, resulting in a spate of songs which have yet to see release.

Defeated and beaten down, the band played an anticlimactic final show in 2005 before splitting. “I made the conscious decision to end the band,” says Darby. “I knew where I was headed and I wanted to get there as fast as I could.” Within two months, he was homeless.

“The truth is that we’re a self-imposed tragic band,” says Scott Darby. “This is a triumphant return. I thought I’d be dead by now.” Time and experience have been good for everyone, and 2011 seems as good a time as any for a fresh start. Maintaining sobriety over the years has given Bogdanich an appreciation for the band as well. “I’m so fucking glad these guys are clean,” he says referring to the Darby brothers’ recent stints in extensive drug rehab programs.

Admittedly, nothing has been discussed beyond the upcoming show. It’s been difficult to coordinate things and the group’s material is far from frivolous. Many of the songs were written close to a decade ago, during emotionally weighty times. “It’s like I have to revisit them,” says Bogdanich, “and I don’t want to do that with a smirk on my face. If I can’t do it with all the passion of a memorial, then I don’t want to do it.”

Fans and friends of the band have taken the reins in promoting the upcoming show, a special and poignant outreach. “We’re a freaking Salt Lake band, period,” says Hinton. “We all take a little bit of pride in that. I’ve had people come up to me and tell me that they’ve hung on to old NeverNever hoodies. It’s weird.” Though scant, it’s a devoted fan base that’s been cultivated and nurtured, even in the creative silence of the band’s extended absence.

Ultimately though, the reunion isn’t about regressing, self-important moralizing or aggrandizing the past, and it’s certainly not for anyone but the band. “We always had a lot more heart than talent,” says Bogdanich referencing the band’s convoluted approach to music. I look around the room, noting each band member, tattooed, dreadlocked and grinning incessantly. Maybe it’s sobriety, hard work and hard times … but I can’t help but credit the thrilling prospect of some more meaningful noise, the same thrilling prospect that brought them together over a decade ago.

Photo: Abigail Knibbe