NY/SF duo Magik Markers have been a live favorite for a long while. After dropping a member and releasing the excellent Lee Ranaldo-produced BOSS, vocalist/guitarist Elisa Ambrogio and ten-men-in-one drummer Pete Nolan are proving equally compelling (albeit calmer, less bloodied) songwriters. Full disclosure: I’m a pal of Ambrogio’s. Even if I wasn’t, though, there’s no denying they’re one of the smartest/in-your-face groups to emerge from anywhere in years — fascinating to see where they’re heading with the new one.
I bugged Elisa a few months ago about doing a Day Job piece, but despite the album title, she recently quit the longtime 9-5 to focus on the band/her move to California. Lucky for us, Nolan’s still punching the clock along with his toms. We caught up right before the band went on tour to discuss his role as a Special Education teacher. If you need a quick pre-chat fix, check out the video for BOSS’s “Taste” from a few weeks back. Then, after the discussion, listen to “Bad Dream/Hartford’s Beat Suite,” a gorgeous torch-punk ballad, also from the boss BOSS.
STEREOGUM: What do you teach?
PETE NOLAN: I’m a reading, math, and comprehension tutor for a private Special Ed company.
STEREOGUM: So is this for an entire class or one student at a time?
PN: Just one at a time.
STEREOGUM: How long have you been at it?
PN: I’ve been doing it off and on for four years. I started out in Kentucky and have since worked at centers in Long Island and Manhattan.
STEREOGUM: Do you have a teaching degree?
PN: No, I have a degree in Interdisciplinary Humanities. I studied Comparative Religion, Philosophy, and English at Michigan State. My main interest was Comparative Religion, especially Hindu Tantric Mysticism and Buddhism.
STEREOGUM: Are you a teacher because you get summers off or is it something you pursued as a job calling, or whatever?
PN: I actually worked full time this summer, and man did it suck. Now I’m on jury duty. As far as regular jobs go though it is the most rewarding one I’ve had.
STEREOGUM: Do you normally work year ’round?
PN: I have worked year round, but I spent a lot of time touring last year and just worked the summer.
STEREOGUM: What’s on your syllabus right now?
PN: I’m actually done for now. We’re going on tour this week. I’ll probably pick it back up in November. I ended up teaching math mostly, which involved coming up with countless multi-step story problems involving decimals and fractions with Harry Potter and the Fantastic Four. I think one problem involved Mr. Fantastic getting into a fight with the Invisible Woman and smashing the Thing into 387 pieces. I could really work the fraction angle on this one.
STEREOGUM: Ha. In general, what kind of teacher are you — strict, funny, Dead Poet Society?
PN: Most of the kids are very badly behaved and I find barking commands at them as though they were retarded puppies seems to be a pretty effective teaching method. With some of the older kids I can take the “you’re right man, this is bullshit, my summer is fucking ruined too” sort of stance. This lays the groundwork for a sort of mutually dissatisfied camaraderie, which is really the only effective working relationship within the confines of a three-foot office cubicle. I think this is probably good training for kids who may well have a future in menial office work. But if I was gonna use an archetypal Robin Williams character to pattern my work self after — as I strive to do in all areas of my life — I would probably be most like his “stalker” character from One Hour Photo. I’m less verbose though and I bring it across mostly through creepy smiles and limp handshakes.
STEREOGUM: So … what are parent/teacher conferences like?
PN: Sometimes the parents just come sit in on the sessions. They’re usually overly tanned super rich ladies who spoil the fuck out of their kids. So every time I ask the kid what a word says, they would be like: “Darren, if you don’t feel well you don’t have to read that nasty word … Darren’s not feeling too well today, don’t make him read that word.” So I guess a huge portion of illiteracy must be caused by rich ladies spoiling their kids.
STEREOGUM: Do the kids know about Magik Markers or your other projects?
PN: Some of the kids. The teenagers who seem really interested in music and who are always downloading stuff from iTunes. They’re pretty stoked when I tell them. Most of the kids wouldn’t believe it though. One kid refused to believe that I could ride a skateboard and thought I was talking straight bullshit when I said I could do a kick flip.
STEREOGUM: Did you prove ‘em otherwise? Maybe bring a board to school and casually do a kick flip as you leave the building?
PN: I stopped trying to impress little kids. Although I have brought a yo yo and that seems to keep them distracted for a good five minutes. (I know a lot of tricks.)
STEREOGUM: Know any other rock ‘n’ roll teachers? I feel like I’ve interviewed enough to start a separate rock ‘n’ roll teacher school.
PN: I once had a boss who claimed to be a “Dada style” poet. I got the distinct impression that this meant something different to him than it did to me when he told me how liberating it was to be able to get up in front of crowds of Long Island open mic nighters and spout off such non sequiturs like “penguin” and “typewriter.” In retrospect, I probably should have gone to check out one of his readings. Generally speaking, I haven’t ever worked with anyone that I could relate to on some kind of artistic level, and I try to keep what I do outside of work under wraps.
STEREOGUM: What’s been your favorite teaching moment? Any star pupils?
PN: One time I had this little kid who would go to the bathroom in the middle of session for like ten to fifteen minutes. He would do it every day, and it got to be a problem. He obviously wasn’t going to the bathroom, so I started hassling him to come out. This didn’t really work to well, so one day we had to bust in on him. He had taken a bunch of liquid hand soap and thrown it on the floor. He was standing in the puddle and doing some kind of twisty dance on the slippery floor. It was pretty weird. This same kid was really genuinely shocked when I did the pull your finger off trick. He almost lost his mind: “How’d you do that?!” … “Magic finger?!”
BOSS is out now on Ecstatic Peace.