Josh Farrar + the NowhereNauts on rules that rock...and autotuning isn't one of them

The NowhereNauts play a Girls Rock Camp benefit show. Click here for more photos from the show.

When I walk into Symposium Books, Sofie Kapur is in the middle of an acoustic version of the Dandy Warhols' "We Used to Be Friends." And she's killing it. There are only about six people scattered about the folding chairs before her, but she might as well be singing to a packed house. Which is pretty impressive, considering Kapur is only 16-years-old and has passed more time doodling on notebooks in homeroom than she has performing at rock shows.

But perform at a rock show she did, along with her band the NowhereNauts, at T.T the Bear's late this past July for the Girls Rock Camp Benefit. Kapur and band-mates Anders Kapur (that would be her older brother) and Hunter Lombard performed twice, first with the Bungles, a real-life outfit brought to life from the fictional band of the same name in Josh Farrar's Rules to Rock By. Farrar, a long-time Boston resident and musician currently transplanted to Brooklyn, joined the teens onstage with his guitar. Kevin March, the NowhereNauts' producer and erstwhile fixture on the Boston music scene (he was in the Dambuilders, Shudder to Think and Guided By Voices,) manned the drums for the Bungles' opening set.

Farrar's YA novel tells the story of a 12-year-old girl, Annabelle, who starts her own band, and discovers self-empowerment through music and writing along the way. The book (released on June 26) comes packaged with a soundtrack, upon which the Bungles dominate. If it sounds like so much tween-sap, Farrar assures that it isn't. "I was inspired by the Gorillaz, you know how they have cartoon characters who stand for Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett?" he says. "I loved the idea of having a fake band, and then a real band behind it. But then I wanted to build a whole story behind the fake band, and it became this book."

That's how he first became acquainted with the NowhereNauts, who are Nowhere close to anyone's idea of a teen band. Naught at all. Kapur and Lombard share a presence far beyond their tender years. The two possess a certain composure alien to most teenage girls, so much so that this reporter felt almost juvenile in comparison. Almost. While the majority of their peers are swooning over the dudes from Twilight (these two would definitely be Team Edward, if that's the kind of thing they were into, which it isn't) and begging their parents for tickets to a Lady GaGa concert, these girls are putting in hard time in the studio. And debating over which of their influences is stronger -- is it the Dirty Projectors, St. Vincent, Arcade Fire, or My Bloody Valentine? That would be St. Vincent, according to Lombard, who makes no bones about just how awesome she believes the indie-pop songstress to be. Uniformly, unarguably awesome. Neither Farrar or Kapur try very hard to dissent.

Lombard says their band has been likened to Dinosaur Jr, though Farrar adds that he thinks their newest material has a distinctly New Order vibe. "We'll take that!" Kapur exclaims, slightly more excitable and earnest in demeanor than Lombard. "That's my dad's, like, all-time favorite band. He'd be really happy to hear that." Regardless of who they sound like and who holds the title of best artist ever (that's a battle for Kapur's dad and Lombard to duke out some other time), Farrar knew they were the perfect match for his book as soon as he heard them. Walking into a rehearsal, to which March invited him, Farrar immediately knew that Kapur's voice was the one to personify the fictional Annabelle. Just four years older and "with a bigger, fuller voice than any 12-year-old could possibly ever have."

When asked how he became interested in helping kids through music (he partnered with the non-profit Willie Mae Rock Camp For Girls in producing the soundtrack) Farrar turns the question around. "It's more like they're [the NowhereNauts] helping me. I don't consider myself a music educator at all," he says. "I share their stage and they share mine. I get to pull the guitars off and dust off the amp. So that's fun." But he does hope to help, or at least relate to, today's teens in some way. Farrar hopes his book, a far cry from the teen-centric fantasy fiction being churned out ad nauseum lately (the mention of the Twilight series makes both girls laugh, and simultaneously cringe, aloud) speaks to the kind of true-to-life fiction of the Beverly Cleary age. Or Harriet the Spy, who Farrar cites as one of the main influences of his book. "Harriet the Spy thinks she's training to be a spy, but she's actually training to be a writer," he says. "And this kid in my book thinks she's training to be a rock star, but she's also training to be a writer."

And if neither of those references work for you, there's always Mötley Crüe. Farrar imagines a series of Rules to Rock By sequels, each narrated by one main character, in the vein of Mötley Crüe's Dirt. "You know, each member writes a chapter," he says. "There's the Vince Neil chapter and the Tommy Lee chapter...." The girls shrug; it may be a reference slightly before their time. All three seem to agree that the vampire craze will soon pass, however.

What has yet to pass is a tidal wave of saccharine tween/teen bands, packaged by Disney and fed to the general public with alarming efficiency. It's a trend that Kapur and Lombard, not surprisingly, find abhorrent. To start with, they are not a girl band, they are a band with girls in it, a distinction that an advertisement for one of their recent gigs got wrong. Nor are they, in any way, a pop band. "It's just such a general term," Kapul says, frowning. " Not that it's necessarily bad, but, you know...." The girls exchange a look, and laugh. You get the feeling that, to them at least, it's pretty bad.

Lombard has a cut-and-dry theory when it comes to the popular teen artists of today. "Like the Jonas Brothers, or Miley Cyrus, are just really over-produced," she explains. "They're a product of the studio. As opposed to how we went into the studio right away but he [March] wasn't trying to make us sound perfect. We go back and listen to those recordings now and we're like 'oh my god, we've learned so much since then.' Those other bands, they're just...they're not talented!" Her outright distaste for her pop counterparts, and relative lack of articulation to relay her distaste, allows a brief glimpse at her youth. She catches herself quickly, however: "I guess you really have to have, like, a drive and a passion for it and I don't see that in a lot of today's mainstream stuff. You can tell it's been produced if you listen to it."

Kapur jumps in. It seems that one of her biggest musical pet peeves is the advent of the auto-tune (sorry, T.Pain), a studio aid she will never rely on. "I personally cannot stand having a lot of effects on my voice," she says emphatically. "If I can't hit a note by myself, I either want to work at it and have the satisfaction of getting it myself, or not at all. ... I don't want people to think I can hit a note that I can't. Because that would be, like, fooling people."

So hard work and honesty are two tropes these young artists can get down with. Which is a hell of a lot more relatable than the sugary-sweet platforms of, say, chastity that the Mileys and Justin Biebers are holding down.

Does music get in the way of their schoolwork? Kapur is clearly the more buckled-down of the two, admitting the relative challenge of balancing good grades and her burgeoning music career. Not so for Lombard. "I'd say that school gets in the way of my music," she deadpans. Kapur nods her assent.

All three attest to the vital importance of music in their lives. Farrar cites Deerhoof, Wilco, Blitzen Trapper and Autolux as his current favorite bands. "Not St. Vincent?" Lombard counters. "St.Vincent's okay," he allows, causing her to turn away in a mock pout that belies her age.

Farrar shakes his head. "But I don't want to horn in on your influences," he says. "They should be your influences." And, indeed, they are.

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