For noise rock trio Taciturn, returning from hiatus was less about making a splash—or even making waves at all—and more about setting little ripples in motion. It begins on Halloween, with the release of their eerie, seasonally appropriate found-footage-styled new video, “Playing God,” featured below. Bassist and vocalist Natasha Janfaza channels the girl from THE RING, swaying in a darkened bathroom and in the widening gyre of Nyle Hamidi’s distorted and chorused guitar, a cabinet-mounted camcorder capturing her grainy silhouette in the shower door. “I kinda didn’t want to come out with this huge bang, like, ‘Ooh, we’re back,’” says Janfaza. “I just wanted to float back into it.”
As intense and attention-seizing as Taciturn’s music is, floating on the DIY periphery has always been their M.O. Though they now split time between Phoenix and Los Angeles, they were founded in D.C. by Hamidi and drummer Kevin Ralph (I still have the hand-burned, paper-sleeve CD-R of their debut EP, THIS WILL MAKE YOU HAPPY, that Hamidi gave me at his then-home in Georgetown in 2018). After a series of temporary bassists, Janfaza joined the band and things really started to click, both internally and in that historic local punk scene. Their first release as a solid trio was a live album and concert film recorded in a Georgetown University lecture hall, and distributed by the legendary Dischord Records, as was their debut studio record, PUNK DEATH, which followed six months later in June of 2019.
In the raw spirit of punk, plus a dash of fanatical auteurism in homage to Kevin Shields, Hamidi recorded and mixed everything himself in practice spaces and living rooms. The band is still proud of what they accomplished in that phase (PUNK DEATH introduced the studio version of “Playing God” that soundtracks the new video) but the constraints of that strategy and the scene itself began to chafe. “I very fondly look back at that time because it was a very uniquely recorded album. I don’t think we’re gonna have that experience again, running around D.C. trying to scavenge a bunch of mics,” Hamidi says. Janfaza adds: “It’s cool you have total control, but then also I know you were facing a lot of limitations along the way and issues that we had to work around.”
They were feeling cramped and priced out of the area, so Hamidi’s hometown of Phoenix offered the chance to spread out, find a cheaper workspace, and be closer to Janfaza’s family in LA. Ralph, for his part, opted not to go with them. “We enjoyed the East Coast a lot, but nothing is permanent, so why not try the West? I think it just makes sense, sonically, right now,” says Hamidi. “It’s certainly not unique to the West, but I think there is a difference in culture–in, like, work life, and what’s expected of you as a citizen of that part of the country. I think that all expresses itself through music, art, communication, all that stuff, and I think I am on that wavelength right now.”
They moved in January of 2020 with plans to hit the ground running on new material. “Between January and March, Nyle and I were in Arizona really busting ass,” says Janfaza. “We wanted to record our next album, like, in February of 2020, or something like that.” Then COVID-19 hit. Because of the pandemic and other personal reasons, she decamped to LA, so the two were suddenly stuck without a drummer and without a shared practice space, sharing new riffs across state lines via FaceTime. For a band that mostly developed their style in practice room jams with live audiences in mind, it was something of a nightmare scenario. They worked together when they could (Hamidi mixed and mastered NO ONE ASKS FOR ANYONE, Janfaza’s solo black metal project under the name Solitary Vice, for example), but Taciturn’s album progress ground to a halt.
“I, at least, was not really writing stuff,” says Janfaza. “There was a lot that we were doing other than that, though. We were talking about making music videos and finding a drummer—that was a big one ’cause we were like, ‘If we don’t have a drummer, we can’t play.’ That was the first order of business.”
After trying out a handful of percussionists, they finally brought in Nate Ray of Phoenix rock band James World, who they connected with through a mutual friend of Hamidi. By June of 2021, they were practicing together as a trio traveling between practice spaces in their respective cities. They finally played their first show together—Taciturn’s first gig since the start of the pandemic—in September in LA .
Starting to play out again has been no small feat, and both Hamidi and Janfaza say they’re still shaking off the dust and finding their groove as a newly-formed three-piece. But they also say Ray’s style gels with the essence of Taciturn. “I didn’t know this was really something I wanted until I got it with Nate, but it’s so nice to have an artist behind the kit,” says Hamidi. “He’s trying to shape the feel of the song rather than just being like, ‘This is how good I can play drums.’”
Janfaza emphatically agrees. “We really did not want a macho drummer in terms of playing style. It’s not about wielding your power and like, showing that off—that’s really not what Taciturn is about, in my opinion. It’s about being subversive and playing this very aggressive music, but in a way that, like, something’s just slightly off about it so that it’s not about, ‘wow, look at me.’”
When the second studio coming of Taciturn does arrive, they say they’re less likely to try doing everything themselves, though other than that, the details are fuzzy. And besides, “Playing God” shows that the echoes of their first record still have some reverberating left to do—I maintain it would have done very well in 2021, sitting somewhere between Dry Cleaning and The Armed on axes of mystique and aggression.
“We’re still working on PUNK DEATH, if that makes sense,” says Hamidi. “I definitely think there’s untouched capital there. There’s a lot of good music, or music videos in particular. It’s just a matter of how much time we have to work on that.”