The night LA’s NO debuted their first EP, Don’t Worry, You’ll Be Here Forever, was the night they debuted as a full band. They had only released one single off the EP, the emotional and heavy “Stay With Me,” and played in front of a well attended crowd of people in the know. Soon, NME and LA Times would tip them as one of the most promising young bands to come out of Los Angeles and they spent the majority of 2012 on the road, touring in support of heavyweights like Best Coast and Father John Misty, winning fans across North America and Europe over with their expansive, dramatic sound that’s more at home in magnificent cathedrals than it is in dingy dive bars.

NO had originally come together as a way for vocalist Bradley Hanan Carter and bassist Sean Daniel Stentz to trade ideas and work their way through their respective heartbreaks, which seemed to follow them as they uprooted and moved to Los Angeles. In particular, both Carter and Stentz were looking for something to fill the hole in their souls after their previous lives fell apart — Carter was going through a divorce and bankruptcy, while Stentz was navigating a messy breakup.

“Most of the lyrics are written by Bradley and there are a lot of moments where we were feeling out this new relationship,” explains Stentz. “There was stuff that he would write that would sort of jar me. It was like, ‘Oh god, you too?’ We spent a year writing to get all of these ideas out that you may not necessarily use, but they guide you to where you end up — what you like about what you’re writing, where your sound is going, what your ethos is, what your vision for the songs will be.”

What emerged from the emotional wreckage is a huge, gospel-tinged, orchestral pop sound is befitting of the band’s sprawling six members. Where many bands are opting for a more stripped-down, economic approach to their sound, NO layer hook-filled hymns on top of more traditional pop structures, creating something akin to the resplendent stained glass windows that adorned their childhood churches. It’s the sound of simultaneous longing and hope, of both working through the pain and testing to see how far you can push yourself in this new environment.

“Honestly, both him and I were struggling with just where we were fitting in with things. The end of a relationship displaces you so completely, you have this giant hole in your life… where ou kind of wake up and you go to that place you always do, but something’s a bit different,” says Stentz. “For me, I had just moved up to LA following a breakup that had sort of followed me, so to speak, up here. I had a hard time letting go of that. So, I was just figuring out where I fit into all of that, playing music. That goes into the next part, which was, ‘What am I doing musically?’ and all those questions.”

On their debut full-length, El Prado, released by stalwart indie label Arts & Crafts, NO don’t necessarily come up with all the answers. Instead, in the vein of classic songwriters, like Leonard Cohen, they let the emotions run raw and see where they lead. On the immense “Hold On,” near the end of the full-length, the band rises together as a chorus while the song builds up to its breaking point, a crescendo that barely manages to hold itself together — you can feel the band come together as one and “it just sets everything up and everything falls into place,” as Stentz explains. That moment where everything feels interconnected is the moment from which the band draws their strength.

“We like to think of ourselves as hopeful romantics… There is that romanticized notion of these hymns and having everyone singing along… We really wanted that passion, that voice where everyone is joined together and having the words ring true. We wanted this sort of communal rejoicing.”

Catch NO at Union Hall (Winnipeg) on March 29, at the ARTery (Edmonton) on April 1 and at the SAIT Gateway (Calgary) on April 2. 

By Sebastian Buzzalino

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