When Nate Flaks and Noah Longworth McGuire tell me they just left the bowling alley before our interview, I can’t help but picture their night out.
It’s an imaginary scene, but neon lights illuminate the bowling alley, the smell of cheap french fries and the scent of squeaky shoes filling the room. A man stands in front of his lane, tapping his foot anxiously; an audience of friends watch his every move. There’s no bumpers on this lane, not like when he was a little kid. He adjusts his stance, swinging his arm back, bowling ball in hand, and then, bringing it forward, he lets go. Woosh. The ball flies down the alley. He’s sure it’s going to be a gutterball, just like his last-round. But he underestimates himself. The ball flies down the alley, and BAM! all ten pins fall to the floor. He jumps up and down. The crowd cheers. It’s a strike!
A bowling alley. It feels like the appropriate place to celebrate an accomplishment – especially the release of the duo’s third single “Hurt Nobody” off their upcoming album Most Improved, out this fall.
An intimate track that harkens back to their humble beginnings, “Hurt Nobody” is both nostalgic and refreshing, as equally an emotionally-vulnerable ballad as it is an upbeat, electro-dance bop.
“Hurt Nobody” was started back in 2017 in our small Boston apartment,” said Nate, one-half of Sleeping Lion. “I had been going through a really rough breakup and came home drunk one night to find Noah going through fake free-to-use movie quote samples. One sample was of a man going “I DON’T WANNA HURT NOBODY” and in my inebriated state, I thought it was hilarious, so we started trying to write a song around it.”
Unfortunately, the duo hit a writing block after finishing the chorus. However, a few years later, during the COVID-19 lockdown, they picked up the song, and with the help of co-writer Alex Vengas, finished the track in less than an hour over FaceTime.
During the writing process, it helped to reflect on a film-noir-inspired music video concept the duo had conceptualized with their friend Noah Sellman over the years. The video encompassed the song’s exploration of post-breakup selfishness, a tension that shines through most vividly on the opening verse.
“I don’t mean to be selfish and worry about myself / Going out with a death wish, I’m getting over someone else”
Beginning with confessional lyrics over minimalist acoustic guitar, Nate and Noah invite you into the world of their romantic lives – capturing the overwhelming fear of hurting people in the process of protecting yourself. As the song progresses, that hushed confession grows into a booming roar during the chorus, complete with a groovy bassline and glittery instrumentation that juxtaposes the song’s thesis.
Interestingly, before the final chorus, the duo places an entirely made-up movie sample, inspired by the previously mentioned music video concept:
MAN: I don’t wanna hurt nobody
WOMAN: …But you shot me.
“The story was about a “gritty detective” who keeps getting killed by a classic “femme fatale”, but then wakes up the next day to investigate his own body, unaware its him,” said Nate. “Finally, after a montage of murder, he catches the femme fatale about to stab him and fires his gun! In shock he says ‘I don’t wanna hurt nobody’ to which she coyly replies ‘…but you shot me’. We felt the scene reflected the theme of the song (hurt people hurting people in the gray area that’s neither intentional or accidental).”
Nate and Noah will be continuing this thread of interspersing fake dialogue throughout their Most Improved album, creating a cinematic feel that transforms each single into a scene in a larger film.
In the case of “CTFO,” the single released shortly before “Hurt Nobody”, the duo selected a conversation between an arguing couple (“What are we even fighting about?!” / “What AREN’T we fighting about?!”) inspired by a turbulent moment in one of Noah’s relationships.
“I had reached a point where I just wanted the tension and the fighting to go away and I channeled all my frustration into this song,” said Noah. “I wrote the bulk of it on a bus from New York to Boston, producing it when I got back to my apartment.”
Similarly to “Hurt Nobody”, Nate said that “CTFO” came about from revisiting old songs that they had been sitting on for years. After rewriting the second verse and punching up the production, he said it ended up one of the proudest releases with the project.
While the songs on the project all vary in sound, Nate added that each track is connected through their songwriting detail, production style, and cinematic influence – with the final outro track “Winedrunk” being an acapella medley of the record that will feature 50-100 individual artists/voices.
“Overall, the record is about what it means to be “Most Improved,” said Nate. “It doesn’t mean starting at the top, it means beginning in a bad place and growing towards something better. It’s about how hard it is to go through transitions, tensions, endings, and artistic cliches only to find yourself missing what you once had and begging for more time to just appreciate mundane things. It’s about laughing, and forgetting, and, ultimately, bowling.”
Bowling. It all comes back to bowling. It feels odd to say, and yet, it makes perfect sense.
In bowling, we learn to go with the flow. To embrace the ebbs and flows of existence – the strikes and the gutter balls, the wins and the losses – and be one with the moment.
>> Read the poem Nate and Noah wrote below to catch the overall vibe of the record <<
“Most improved doesn’t mean starting off strong
No skyrocket success or beautiful debut
No luck from the jump when you first wanted it, asked, and begged for it Most improved means steady growth
Sic Parvis Magna
Beginning from the bottom, bad but eager to get better
Planting, constantly planting, heartbroken, heartbreaking, winedrunk, and planning Closing the gap between where you are and where you swear you could be Learning hard lesson after hard lesson after hard lesson and finding the message you kept missing
Finding that no path is the right one
Every road has been taken and if you look closely at the patted dirt you’ll find the scattered bones of kings & beggars side by side
And broken shrubs where people left for reasons you can’t understand (but one day might) But if you listen carefully, each path is scored by the din of millions of instruments If you look up from your feet you’ll see the endless communities of tents along the edges of the path, troubadours and traveling circuses, echoing laughter
We shouldn’t have to worry so much so young
We shouldn’t have to care so much so old
We should feel good about getting better and give each other that room to grow
We are meant to do nothing but laugh, love, sleep, eat, and drink water
We should be laughing, we should be loving, we should be sleeping, we should be eating, we should be drinking water
Really, we should be bowling
Gutter balls slowly gravitating closer to the center with every frame
Counting downed pins, one spare, one strike, and eventually, some wins
Improving, together, until we’re most improved
Laughing more, loving more, sleeping more, eating well, hydrating
We should see each other more
We should be bowling
Why aren’t we?”
Story: Kiddest Sinke Photos: Mallory Turner
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