The music industry is filled with people pursuing to serve their self-interests only; Josh Nermon is not one of these people. The gifted pianist for Autonomix has built a life based on a love for music and community. If you’re a concert goer in Denver, he’s probably had a hand in promoting some of your favorite shows. Not only has Nermon helped spread the word for countless acts, his upbeat personality and passion for music is instantly illustrated within minutes of your first conversation with him.
We had the honor of sitting down with Josh to talk about his background in music, the time he opened for Hodor, and his band Autonomix.
Compose Yourself: Hey Josh, thanks for taking the time to speak with me today. To get started, tell me a little about where you’re from originally.
Nerm: Southern California. I grew up in a town called Tustin in Orange County. It was twenty minutes from the beach, and a couple hours from the mountains. I could go to the ocean or go ski or snowboard all in a day’s drive. It was really cool. When I lived there, it started out as a bunch of orange fields as far as you could see. As I grew up, it gradually became overpopulated. It became overdeveloped really quickly. When I moved here (Denver), it reminded me a lot of where I grew up. A lot of people moving to a new place with all the over-development and a sense of native pride happening. So, I’m kind of used to it. Tustin is a really be a cool place to raise a family, but not to pursue music… it doesn’t have the same opportunities as Denver.
So when did the move from SoCal to Denver happen?
Nerm: Two years ago in December 2017. Before, I was living in Santa Cruz and taking piano lessons and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I felt like there was some kind of next step that I needed to take, but didn’t know what. Finally, I made the decision to move out here after my friends from Sound Tribe convinced me. They were like, ‘look, if you want to do this, this is the place to be.’ They wanted me to come out and make music with them and their band. That was the deciding factor for me – when I knew I had an opportunity. I wasn’t just going to come here and spin more wheels. I was doing my solo project at the time, but I never really wanted to do it in the long run. I wanted to be part of a band, but I felt like I didn’t have the skill set when I started the solo project. I was thinking in the meantime, I’ll make electronic music, produce and just develop my chops. I’ll figure out how music works, and then when I join a band, I’ll be ready.
Tell me a little about your relationship to STS9 and their fan base.
Nerm: STS9 got me into music; David Phipps, their keyboard player, is the reason I even started playing piano in the first place. So I followed them throughout the country. Like for years, since 2007. I’ve been to tons of places in this country just to see this band and have seen well over 150 shows. That was my family…that still is my family. Without them, I wouldn’t even be making music. Through doing that, I became a part of the community and made a lot of friends and most of them are here in Denver.
So what was your first experience playing/producing music?
Josh: Well, my parents tried to get me to do piano lessons when I was four or five, but I hated it. Hated it so much. I kicked and screamed every time it was time do a lesson. It was because my teacher kind of sucked. It’s all about who’s teaching you; it was too much of a drill. It was like ‘alright, play Mary had a little lamb’ over and over again.’ I was like, ‘Well, this song doesn’t really speak to me.’ *laughs*
Everytime I would start to play, I would want to add my own thing, and she wasn’t ok with that. She was never able to say, ‘if you learn the basics, then you could be better at the creative part.’ There there was none of that. And that’s why I really value jazz piano; jazz piano is so focused on expressing yourself and taking a variation of what’s already written – when I took a jazz piano class in college, that’s when the doors blew wide open for me. This is exactly what I resonate with; I can play something super simple, and then do a rendition of it that’s my own, and then go back to something super simple. And it’s paying respect to the person that wrote it. But then you’re also giving your own take on it.
What sparked your interest in giving music another shot later on?
Josh: STS9. One hundred percent. My friends brought me to my first STS9 concert at my hometown venue, The Galaxy, and that changed my world. Also, the first time I took [psychedelics], my friend and I were in the the Palm Springs desert and one friend played Artifact for us. It changed the way I thought about music. The fact that you could have music without lyrics, and it could actually be interesting, really blew my mind. When I saw them live for the first time, they opened with “Ramone and Emiglio” – I remember halfway through the first song, I was like, ‘what the hell is happening here?’ And from then on out, it just got better and better and better. This was some of the best music I’ve ever heard in my life. I didn’t know that the type of music even existed. It just blew my perspective. I kept seeing them. And then after seeing them for so long, I thought, ‘you know what? I’ve got to be a part of this.’
So what was the next step musically for you after that experience?
Nerm: I took Piano One and Piano Two at community college. When I started taking Piano One, I started to produce on what Sound Tribe used, Ableton. So, things happened really quickly. I was able to make music quickly, but plateaued because I hadn’t studied enough music theory or technique to have a solid knowledge base. But it was fun, and ultimately that’s what it’s all about.
How did you get involved with Euphonic Conceptions?
Nerm: That’s an interesting story. I first got involved with EC when I was going to school in San Francisco. One of the co-founders, Josh Pollack, was throwing shows in San Francisco and they were amazing shows. All the artists that are headlining the Fillmore and Red Rocks today were playing small nightclubs in San Francisco around 2009-2011. I would go to every single one of the shows each weekend. They threw awesome shows at 1015 Folsom. San Francisco’s got a vibe for sure, and especially during that time. The Burning Man community is very heavily a part of that culture and influenced me a lot. I started doing street team work for EC at my college, and then once I graduated I moved back to Southern California to work with my family. I was in the process of developing my solo project when one of the biggest moments on my musical career happened. EC booked me to play a show at the nightclub that I was going to every single week [1015 Folsom]. They said, ‘hey, do you want to open up for Hodor?’ Which is Rave of Thrones – the guy from Game Of Thrones. He does DJ sets.
Wait, the actor that plays Hodor in GoT is a DJ?
Nerm: Yes, and apparently he’s going back on tour soon. So they brought me back to San Francisco and I remember thinking, ‘oh sh*t, EC is booking me, I must be doing something right.’ There are so many shows out here (Denver) for EC… and it still carries a lot of weight to be on an EC show, but it’s a bit of a different situation out in California because there are fewer shows and an equal or greater number of artists to choose from. So it showed me that I was doing something right. It meant a lot to me. The ironic thing about that is the performance was a train wreck. It’s one of the worst shows I’ve ever played. I thought I knew what I was doing, but apparently I didn’t. I didn’t know how to mix into a real sound system. It was weird, I was doing a DJ set, which I had never done before. Every set before had been all original music every time I played. It was one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life. Afterwards I felt like shit, but I also knew in that moment… ‘this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’ Even if this isn’t working perfectly, I want to make this work. Nothing else in my life has ever been this rewarding or this much fun. That was the decision. I was like, ‘you know what? I’m gonna take this music thing as serious as I can, and just do whatever I can to make this work.’ That was the pivotal moment for me. Yeah, so EC giving me that opportunity is the reason I’m so loyal to them.
So tell me a little bit about about the day at Jeff’s house that the band was formed.
Nerm: I was working on a project called Coambiant with my buddy Keith [K-Law of Boot Gun]. Danny, Zack, Jeff and Sean were jamming together for a few weeks before Sean quit the band because of his girlfriend. They were starting to develop their own sound, but it wasn’t refined yet. I remember listening to their jams and thinking, ‘this is ****ing cool, I wish I had a band like this.’ I quit the Coambiant project and Sean quit the pre-Autonomix band all in the same week – the timing couldn’t have been more serendipitous. I was available, and they needed a keyboard player. They were like ‘let’s call Nerm and see if he wants to jam.’ So for the first jam, we got together, had a couple beers and the first improv we played together was about fifteen or twenty minutes and never got boring or stale. We all knew where the music had to go. It was just fluid, interesting music, and you could tell everyone was listening to each other and had a unique voice and sense of joy. After three or four more jams like that, they said, ‘All right, so you want to join the band?’ And I was like, ‘f*** yeah.’
Tell me a little about the members of Autonomix.
Nerm: Danny and Zack, who are the guitarist and bassist in Autonomix, are the two people that convinced me to move out here. I met them at Tribe shows across the country. I met Zack at a STS9 NYE run in Atlanta. Every time I came to the Red Rock shows out here, I would always kick it with him. I met Danny in 2014 when STS9 debuted Alana as their new bassist and had their 2.0 show with the new band. I remember thinking about Danny, ‘This guy is f***** crazy’. He likes to party…and I thought I liked to party..but not even close. *laughs* So I knew both of them before moving out here. They used to be in a band called Telemetry, who we’re going to be playing with on the 23rd. I actually played with them for my first three weeks in Colorado when I moved out here. But due to some interpersonal problems, I left the band. Zack quit a little while after me, and Danny was still playing in Telemetry when we all got together that day.
Zack Smith is our guitarist and he’s the musical mastermind of the band. He’s usually directing us through transitions and writes a good portion of the music…the guy is a musical genius and his knowledge of music theory is far beyond anyone else in the band. I’m the business leader, he’s like the musical leader, Danny is somewhere in-between, and Jeff is along for the ride. *laughs* Danny Littler is the bassist; he’s one of the most genuine and badass people you’ll ever meet. He’s got this funk and this tone that is prominent but supportive and he holds it down. And then there’s Jeff Pfannenstiel; he’s the drummer. He’s an awesome guy and an amazing drummer. He plays drum and bass and untzy beats really well. That’s why we can make really good dance music – he’s patient in and can hold down the four to the floor untz while we take the jams from dance oriented, to prog rock, to psychedelic jam, then back to drum and bass. He’s very versatile. Jeff’s been around and he’s played in a lot of different projects. He’s probably more stoked on this band than anyone else. And I’m Josh and I play the keys.
What can you tell me about any upcoming Autonomix releases?
Nerm: We’ve been recording at Earth One Studios in Idaho Springs, Earth One Studio, which was built, designed and is ran by Alex Ginzberg from Atlanta. He’s an audio engineer wizard, a fantastic musician, and just a really good guy. He’s been working with us for about six months and it’s going really well. We’re going to release a single this month. We want to have something on Spotify so that when people are like ‘who’s Autonomix?’, they can just pull up Spotify rather than Soundcloud. That’s the future of music. Then we have something that’s professionally mixed and mastered that is a good representation of our vibe and who we are. Then we may release one more single before releasing the album in summer, so people have something to listen to while they’re driving to and from festivals. Especially if they’re going to come see us at Arise, Sonic Bloom, or Wave Spell. We’ll be recording and producing our 2nd album at Earth One Studios, as well.
So do you have anything special planned for the show on the 23rd?
Nerm: Oh yeah. So we’re gonna debut at least one or two new songs – we’re constantly writing new music. And that’s something we’ve been trying to keep as a staple in all of our shows, at least one new debut per show. So it gives people a reason to come and see us. We’re going to have some sit-ins. It’s going to be an hour and a half of awesome, dance, have-a-good-time music. We’ll have four live painters as well. One is Dela and another is Ian Spencer, who does a lot of the RE:Search Wednesday shows. He does the soldering iron on the wood and is a tatoo artist. So we’ll have live art, we’ll have sit-ins, new music, new segs, we’ll have new interpretations on songs that we’ve already made….yeah, that should be enough to look forward to.
So you guys got any other upcoming shows you’re excited for?
Nerm: Besides our show with Telemetry and Since JulEYE on Saturday (3/23) at Your Mom’s house, definitely. So Evergreen on June 1st. Super stoked on that. It’s this little bar. We’ve got two sets and it’ll be one of those really relaxed, really loose free shows in the mountains. Then we have Sonic Bloom, Arise, and Wave Spell, which we could not be more excited for. We’re going to do those sets the right way. We’re gonna have some sit-ins at all festivals – I can’t confirm who they are yet, but I can promise you you’ll want to see them.
Anything else you wanna add or anything else you want to talk about?
Josh: Whoever reads this, if anyone does, just see as much live music as possible. Even if you’re tired, get out there. Support what’s happening here because it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in this world. The community we have in Denver, it’s really special and people go out and support each other – you never know when it’s gonna go away. So enjoy it while it lasts.