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Members include David Chalfant, bass; Dave Hower, drums; David Nields, guitar; Katryna Nields, vocals; Nerissa Nields, guitar, vocals. Addresses: Record company--Rounder Records, 1 Camp St., Cambridge, MA 02140. Management--Patty Romanoff, Bulletproof Artist Management & Booking, 116 Pleasant St., Ste. 3111, Easthampton, MA 01027. Website--The Nields Official Website: http://www.nields.com.
Take a couple of sisters with gorgeous voices and throw in three Daves with a knack for fun and folksy music and you get The Nields. The band started as a family affair but quickly blossomed into a long cross-country adventure with an exceptional mix of musicians and an endless well of energy. The sometime band, sometime sister duo has shown the kind of legs that many bands strive for. And if they have their way they'll be making music together the rest of their lives.
Nerissa and Katryna Nields were born to John and Gail Nields in New York City. (John was one of the lawyers involved in prosecuting the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980s.) Their parents noticed a musical affinity in their daughters from a young age. Nerissa would sing along with her dad in the car, always making sure her younger sister contributed the harmonies--or some semblance of them.
Nerissa showed a desire to write her own music when other girls were playing with their dolls. "I knew I wanted to be a singer and songwriter from the time I was 7," Nerissa is quoted as saying on the band's official website. "I remember I wrote my first song that I was really proud of when I was 13, and right away I had a harmony for it, so I dragged Katryna out of her room and taught her the harmony. It was instinct--I knew that my sister should be there." That song was called "Don't Say Goodbye."
As Nerissa's musical abilities blossomed, she and her sister became an impromptu singing duo. The family was certainly entertained by their talent but Nerissa was shooting to move beyond the living room. Katryna, on the other hand, wanted to be what many young people dream of--a Supreme Court justice. She took a semester off from Trinity College to study in Nepal, where she spent a lot of time with her friends and her guitar. She was such an incredible singer that everyone just assumed she was a musician at heart. So when Katryna told a professor that she wanted to be a lawyer when she got out of school she got an unexpected response. "He just looked at me incredulously and said, 'Aren't you going to be a musician?' I realized then that I had permission. That, of course, I wanted to be a musician. I wrote to Nerissa immediately and told her that I was ready to commit to trying to do this crazy career ... She says that the day she got [the letter] she cried and jumped for joy."
Nerissa, meanwhile, met and fell in love with fellow student and guitarist David Jones while attending Yale. Jones' other love, his guitar, was always by his side with an electric pedal board in tow. Their mutual love of music was a strong bond and they were married in 1990. Nerrisa's husband decided to take her last name, making him David Nields. Now a trio, the couple and Katryna moved to Washington D.C., where they played in cafes and anywhere else they could find an open mike.
The Nields weren't going to wait for the world to recognize their talent. They wanted to make music and get it out there. So they released their first album themselves and called it 66 Hoxsey St., their address. The songs were a mix of folk and pop with some catchy tunes. "There is a reason that it is out of print," Katryna says. "I knew how to sing loudly and how to sing quietly. There was not a lot of in between. But there is a song from that first record that we liked so much we included it on [our latest release] Love and China."
The debut caught the attention of the local music scene in their new home of Connecticut and that was just fine with them. They were getting better with each performance and appeared to thrive on the vibe they got from being in front of a crowd. "Getting up in front of people was just something I realized would be part of my life," Katryna says. "I think Nerissa and I are both suckers for attention." Katryna and Nerissa would riff off of one another, commenting on how their day was going and the audience loved it.
After the release of their second self-produced album Live at the Iron Horse they finally secured a bassist they had been eyeing for years. David Chalfant, a native New Yorker and fellow Trinity student, helped them get some local gigs and agreed to play with them whenever they were in town. Soon enough he was filling in at every performance and so the second "David" was now a part of The Nields. But it wouldn't end there. David had a friend named Dave Hower, a talented drummer, who was also asked to join the band. Dave said yes and the Nields, with three guys named Dave, was born.
The band's mailing list was growing into the thousands and they took the show on the road as often as possible (in their trustworthy van that they called Moby). The band clicked. They all had a say in the crafting of the music but it was mostly driven by the sisters' songwriting, epsecially Nerissa's deeply personal lyrics, always delivered with wit and humor. The work they did together could be tough but even the friction brought out their best. "When we do an arrangement for a song, we sit nose to nose and hammer out harmonies," Katryna says. "Sometimes we fight about it and sometimes we agree, but we always do it together. It is sometimes clear which one of us will sing the lead in a song and sometimes we'll try it one way for a few months and then change it." Starting in 1993 the Nields spent most of their time together, on the road more often than they were home. Though this was what they wanted it was also a tough life without a label to back them.
Finally, after years of touring and promoting their four self-produced albums, a label took interest in their material. "We started playing in the summer of 1991. We signed with our first label in 1995. That was Razor and Tie," Katryna says. The group had developed a huge list of songs and Razor and Tie wanted to put all the best pieces on one album. The end result was Gotta Get over Greta. The lineup was an impressive mix of catchy tunes with a folk flavor that had the industry abuzz about the band's potential as a commercial success.
To record Greta the Nields hired Kevin Moloney, a producer who had worked with U2 and Sinead O'Connor. When the album was released in 1997 all indications were there that the CD would launch them into stardom. Touring heavily to sold-out crowds the energy level in the band and at the label was high.
And then their label shut down. It happens in the business all the time, but when it happens to your band, especially at the height of momentum, it can be devastating. The late 1990s saw many labels collapse as the music industry entered a time of change. Luckily the band had such a strong core they picked up the pieces and moved on. There was still a huge fan base out there and they had already released a number of albums on their own, so they persevered, setting up a studio at Chalfant's house where they went about business as usual.
"I think if you pursue fame for fame's sake that you will always be unhappy," Katryna says. "There will always be someone who has more than you have--more record sales. More people at their shows, more critical raves, more legendary status. But if you measure your success and your life by whether you are making music that you love and believe in, you will be happy no matter the numbers."
Zoe, a label looking for established bands, signed the Nields in 1998. This time the band members followed their instincts and got a deal they liked. The album was considered by many to be their best, a slew of folk/pop songs that saw each member stretching their talents to new highs.
Then came a turning point. The sisters were asked to perform as a duo for Lillith Fair in 1998. They enjoyed the experience immensely and it fortified their working relationship. The two did some more shows on their own, delighting fans but confusing them a little, as well. Were the Nields breaking up?
Two band members certainly weren't. Chalfant, the bassist and producer, and Katryna married in 1999. There wasn't much time for a honeymoon as a restless fan base waited for the band to hit the road again. To reassure everyone that they were still together the Nields released If You Were Here, You'd Be Home By Now in 2000 to great reviews. But, actually, the band was running into some fatigue. They had been touring together for almost ten years and there was a sense that things were winding down.
In what is widely considered the death knell of many bands the Nields released a live album in 2001 called Live From Northampton, a two-CD set that showed the band's great songs and lively, personable performance style. It ended up being the last work the entire band would record together. Though the end was sad for fans, they were getting used to seeing the sisters perform together as a duo.
The sisters released their first duo effort, Love and China. The album was produced and engineered by Chalfant who had been making a name for himself producing acts such as Eric McKeown and Ben Demerath. He put together an album for his wife and sister-in-law that managed to keep fans happy and bring in new ones.
"I don't know if the original five members of the Nields will ever play together again," Katryna says. "Nerissa and I have a great time playing as a duo and it suits our lifestyles now. I have a child and the idea of being in a van with five or six other people AND a toddler is impossible. I would like to do this for my whole life. Nerissa and I have lots of dreams in our heads, but I don't think any of them will ever replace this one."
by Ben Zackheim
The Nields's Career
Group formed in Washington D.C., c. 1991; self-produced debut 66 Hoxsey St., 1992; self-produced second CD Live at the Iron Horse, 1993; signed with Razor and Tie, 1997; released fifth CD Gotta Get over Greta, 1997; signed with Zoe Records, 1998; performed in Lillith Fair as a duo, 1998; first duo album released Love and China, Zoe, 2002.
- Selected discography
- 66 Hoxsey Street self-released, 1992.
- Live at the Iron Horse self-released, 1993.
- Bob on the Ceiling self-released, 1994.
- Abigail self-released, 1995.
- Gotta Get over Greta Guardian, 1997.
- Mousse self-released, 1998.
- Play Zoe, 1998.
- If You Lived Here You'd Be Home Now Zoe, 2000.
- Live from Northampton Zoe, 2001.
- Love and China Zoe, 2002.
- This Town Is Wrong Zoe, 2004.
- Boston Globe, April 26, 2002.
- Boston Herald, April 26, 2002.
- Detroit Free Press, January 18, 2004.
- Newhouse News Service, January 9, 2004.
- "For The Nields It's Time to Play," BerkshireWeb, http://www.berkshireweb.com/rogovoy/interviews/nields.html (March 12, 2004).
- "The Nields," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (March 12, 2004).
- "The Nields," Bandhunt http://www.bandhunt.com/artist_site/band.php/ni012/ (March 12, 2004).
- "The Nields," Ectoguide, http://www.ectoguide.org/artists/nields.the (March 12, 2004)
- "The Nields," Washington Post http://mp3.washingtonpost.com/bands/the_nields.shtml (March 12, 2004).
- The Nields Official Website, http://www.nields.com (March 12, 2004).
- Additional information was obtained from a interview with The Nields in April of 2004.
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