Many of Dig Nitty’s songs were written while Erin McGrath was working as a national park ranger, surveilling birds at the beach in the Rockaways. “Walking in a straight line while monitoring birds would free up my brain and melodies would float in,” she reflects. The birds sneak into many songs on the record: an accidental motif of starlings, swallows, snow geese, and plovers.
Reverse of Mastery explores core themes of friendship, trauma, love, and death, with frequent nods to the freedom and fleetingness synonymous with the birds. The album’s title is borrowed from an essay by Durga Chew-Bose that reflects on solitude. McGrath notes that “many of the songs mention streets, rivers, and sights from my childhood and from my time living and doing field work in coastal California, the Mojave desert, Montreal, and the Rockaways”. The songwriting documents places in time, focusing on the dangers of hanging on too tight to memories (“Oleander”), the feeling when you float outside your body and are looking down upon yourself (“Angel”), and modern love (“Blue Bard”).
McGrath (guitar/vocals) and Reggie Bender (drums/vocals) first met while both were working at Brooklyn’s late great DIY venue, Shea Stadium. Through mutual friends they linked up with Bernardo Ochoa (bass/guitar) and Nick Llobet (guitar/vocals) and the band was formed (they have since moved on as a trio without Llobet, who does play on the record). The band came together just as the venue was closing, but played their first show at Shea. McGrath shared, “We have been so influenced by the amazing DIY scene in Brooklyn. It feels like a family that raised us. Reggie and I have since booked and run shows in our basement and we soak up the sounds of our friends.” The collaborative record features additional contributions from Adam Brisbin (Buck Meek, youbet, Sam Evian), Chappy Hull (Shell of a Shell, Pile), and Sabrina Rush (State Champion, Country Westerns).
Dig Nitty’s record, while impeccably cohesive, can be heard as a collection of related stories, each taking a different tone and structure to make their points. There’s a wide depth of dynamics in the band’s collaborative songwriting, blending together elements of spooky folk-country, frenetic surf/punk rock, and what McGrath describes as “churchy sounds”. While the opening track “Curd” lands somewhere between a nursery rhyme and a Pixies-esque screecher, the album closes with slide-guitar playing over warped percussion in the eerie “So Longer”. Pulling influences from artists such as Michael Hurley, Sibylle Baier, and Leonard Cohen to Cindy Lee, Grass Widow, and Juana Molina, Dig Nitty recorded their debut bit by bit in different places, left to sit, with layers added over time that allowed the album to breathe. Recorded together with Alex Molini (Pile, Philary, Stove) both at his former Brooklyn home studio and his current Nashville home studio, the band then brought the project home and added overdubs during quarantine isolation, piecing together the final touches of a stunning record.
It’s as confident a debut album as they come, with songs that thread between everyday life and the childhood experiences that shaped who they’ve become. Dig Nitty expertly shift between breezy folk and surfy beauty, threading between everyday life and the childhood experiences that shaped who they’ve become. The band navigates the marriage of macro and micro, their gentle style presenting “lo-fi moments that expand out into fuller hi-fi moments”, as McGrath describes it. The small things, the ordinary things, are the big things. Reverse of Mastery simply presents it with a smile and a ribbon.