Artist: Jonathan Nido
Featured Work: Coilguns – Watchwinders
Website: Hummus Records Bandcamp
Featured image photo and Millennials cover artwork: Noé Cauderay
Swiss metal and hardcore guitarist Jonathan Nido found a silver lining in the cloud of 2020, and he found it early. After deciding to write much of the next Coilguns album alone in his own apartment, he built an in-home studio. He had planned to spend March and April holed up at home, planning riffs and songs while taking the time to manage his record label, Hummus Records.
Three weeks later, Switzerland went into lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
I recently had the privilege of speaking with Nido, who goes by Jona, over a video chat between my home, outside Washington, D.C.; and his, in the Neuchâtel canton of western Switzerland, just a few kilometers from the French border. I called him just after he had put some dinner in the oven. We looked back on his own musical career – which includes a past gig touring and writing for The Ocean before founding the acclaimed hardcore band Coilguns – and the philosophy of entrepreneurship and relationships that he’s brought to Hummus Records. He spoke very good English, his second language, with a noticeable but easily understandable French accent. I left our conversation impressed with his professionalism, his drive and his commitment to those around him.
And I almost made him burn a sheet of baked potatoes.
—Switchback | Fully Brutal and Chaotic
Jona Nido’s father, who retired in 2019, owned a music shop, making it easy for a young Jona to get his hands on his first instruments. However, he didn’t start on guitar.
“I think my parents made me learn flute, like a wood flute, but that’s something you do anyway,” Nido said. “And I think I had some kind of a hip-hop period between when I was like 9 and 12 or something and I started wanting to be like, a DJ – like a hip-hop DJ. It didn’t work out; I wasn’t good at all.”
Around age 12, Nido saw a documentary on TV about students and one of them was playing a Nirvana song on an acoustic guitar by a fire – “like some super cheesy, by-the-fire, love song shit,” he said. Shortly afterward, his sister, who was already a major fan of the famous grunge band, got him the Nirvana Unplugged songbook and Nido approached a guitar teacher with it and said “I want to do this.” Even now, more than 20 years later, Nirvana Unplugged remains one of his top three desert island albums. Silverchair’s Neon Ballroom is another.
He discovered heavy metal shortly before the turn of the millennium, citing Slipknot’s self-titled debut, Deftones’ White Pony and Marilyn Manson’s The Last Tour on Earth in the same sentence as seeing Converge and The Dillinger Escape Plan for the first time.
“That same year that I discovered metal, that friend took me to Dillinger and Converge, where they would be playing to like 50 people in Switzerland back then,” he said. “I was a kid and when I saw Dillinger – I saw Ben Weinman and I was like ‘Fuck; I wanna be that guy on stage,’ y’know? I don’t think I clearly understood their music but I understood that I wanted to go to some more extreme playing.”
At the same time, Nido began to discover American bands like Unearth and Norma Jean and European bands like Heaven Shall Burn and Meshuggah.
“They’re fucking brilliant,” he said. “I’ve put Dillinger Escape Plan, Converge and Meshuggah at the top of my list, and as soon as I was able to understand a little bit of their music I started incorporating elements of these bands into my first band, or my first songs that I wrote.”
That first band was Switchback, a metalcore band formed in La-Chaux-de-Fonds in 1999 – not to be confused with the American duo of the same name. Switchback’s catalog is highlighted by a full-length release – 2006’s Angel of Mine – and a split EP in 2008 called Wrong Path to Evolution with Tedh Secret. Nido said that Angel of Mine wears its “really melodic kind of hardcore” influences on its sleeve, including In Flames and the aforementioned Heaven Shall Burn and Unearth.
“And then the second EP we did was just like fully brutal and chaotic,” he said. “I remember because our drummer was very good, super young but like crazy good, we wrote some songs but then wanted to change our style and go more extreme and chaotic and stuff so basically we asked him to improvise his drum parts and we just recorded it and then we puzzled it together and then we wrote guitars on top of it. It was very hard then to figure out how to play it properly, but we did it eventually [laughs].”
—The Ocean | All That You Never Dared
Nido said that since he was 14, he spent ample time playing guitar and hanging out with older people, so everyone knew he wanted to be in a touring band. Despite growing up in a small Swiss town that gives the appearance of few opportunities, a friend of Nido’s introduced him to The Ocean, a critically-acclaimed German post-metal collective headed by mastermind Robin Staps, and encouraged him to audition.
“That guy told me […] they have kind of a collective and they’re always looking for live players, so I checked out their website,” Nido said. Realizing it may be his chance, he reached out and was asked for a video audition – which ended up making its way onto The Ocean’s triple DVD release Collective Oblivion.
“I sent them this video, I was playing their song in my room at my parents’ house – I had a shitty camera and I was in this shitty room with shitty furniture and I was rocking those songs, and I sent the songs pretty late before that first tour that I did with them [for 2007’s Precambrian]. And the guy was like ‘Well we have someone else already for the tour, but you’re good; how should we do this?’”
One of the defining moments in Nido’s career came next.
“I made this big e-mail where I was like ‘Look, I don’t know who the other guy is but I’m gonna be better than him for sure,’ and I was really pretentious [laughs],” he said. “I was like ‘I’ll come to Berlin no matter what and I’ll sleep outside if I have to but I want to do this tour.’”
The decision was made to try Nido and the other guitarist for half the tour each, and at the end of the tour, the band would decide which guitarist to pick up for future tours. In the end, Nido won out and recorded guitar parts on The Ocean’s 2010 twin releases Heliocentric and Anthropocentric, for which he was credited in the liner notes as one of the two guitarists in the band (alongside Robin Staps). Heliocentric’s liner notes maintain that Staps wrote all of its songs, but Anthropocentric is another story. There, Nido earned sole songwriting credits on “The Grand Inquisitor II: Roots and Locusts” and “Heaven TV.” He also shares a co-writing credit on “For He That Wavereth…” with vocalist Loïc Rossetti and co-writing credits on “Wille Zum Untergang” and “The Almightiness Contradiction” with Staps.
I first heard Anthropocentric on its release day, November 9, 2010. Almost immediately, I picked up on a familiar sound in Nido’s two creations. In the middle of the first verse of “Roots and Locusts,” the song picks up speed from a mid-tempo, low-tuned trudge with a triplet feel to a considerably more quickly-paced progressive sound in a clearer 4/4. Drummer Luc Hess’s snare pops on every beat, only covered by guitars for roughly half of each bar. In a quick instrumental interlude between the first and second verse, Nido’s guitar brightens to a playful ascension and descension before strumming on the backbeat, then spending time high and bright before crashing headlong into the second verse. Likewise, in the pre-chorus of “Heaven TV,” Hess fires some machinegun snare rushes matched note-for-note by the guitars before hitting a chorus with a hard backbeat in 3/4 time.
I turned to my wife, speakers on too loud, and half-shouted, “I think these guys listen to The Mars Volta.”
Ten years later, I got my answer.
“By then I had discovered Mars Volta, which I put up there with Meshuggah and Dillinger when it comes to their unique sound and technical skills and all that,” Nido told me. “I wanted to push the band into more of a rock sound, so that’s how these songs were kind of made; you can hear that I’m trying to do some Mars Volta-ish riffing. I don’t have the pretention to think that I’m any close to Omar Rodriguez Lopez when it comes to guitar but I was really inspired by his playing, yeah.
“Shit, fuck! Sorry, my potatoes – I forgot about them.”
I found myself treated to a brief tour of Nido’s apartment’s ceiling before arriving in his kitchen with a clatter.
“They’re nice; ok,” he said. “Sorry! You were saying?”
Potatoes saved, it was time to move on to one of Nido’s two largest projects: Coilguns.
—Coilguns | A Sausage of Violence
Nido founded Coilguns in 2011 with The Ocean bandmates Luc Hess and Louis Jucker (pronounced like the English “Louie”). As Nido tells it, he and Jucker had each played with Hess separately for several years before Nido joined The Ocean, but all three had never played together. Then after the Precambrian tour, the touring musicians for The Ocean went their separate ways. Nido called Hess and asked him if he’d be interested in joining him in The Ocean, to which Hess readily agreed. Their first tour together was through Eastern Europe and the U.S., and after three different bassists failed to work out for the band, Hess suggested Jucker as a replacement.
“After the U.S. we were landing in France playing HellFest and then going on tour with Cult of Luna, so Luc was like ‘Oh yeah; I have this friend; I can hook up the band with that guy,’” Nido said. “Basically his first rehearsal with the band – the first time we played with him – was onstage at HellFest in 2008. We’d just landed from the U.S. so we couldn’t rehearse or anything, so he just showed up and it was probably like 12 o’clock and we were playing to like 6,000 people.”
Coilguns wasn’t supposed to be a band, Nido said. He wrote three songs while visiting the United States in December 2010 and brought them to Hess and Jucker in 2011 and decided he wanted to start a band “where we don’t have to care about anything,” in his words – “a stupid band where we can play fast shit.” Although Coilguns sounds far from stupid, Nido’s material wouldn’t fit anywhere near The Ocean’s prog-metal and post-metal scope unless The Ocean returned full-time to the violent blasts of 2005’s Aeolian. Even then it would be a stretch.
Nido said he and Hess would write their guitar and drum parts, respectively, then record their material live in one take in the studio. This process guided the recording of Coilguns’s first EPs and their debut LP, Commuters, while they were on tour with The Ocean in Australia, Mexico and other locations.
Coilguns often delivers rapid-fire hardcore music with hints of black metal, mathcore and noise rock, occasionally drawing comparisons to names like Breach, Knut and Converge. Songs range from one minute on the dot to nearly 13 minutes in length. I told Nido that halfway through each listen of Commuters, I feel like I need to pause for five minutes and unwind.
“Then I would say, ‘Mission Accomplished,’” he said.
For the two latest Coilguns LPs, the band put themselves under even more pressure. Nido explained that for 2018’s Millennials and 2019’s Watchwinders, the band would rent a studio for four weeks and book a release date for the album and schedule a tour to follow it, all before writing any music.
“It’s not like you have time, because you have four weeks and in maybe two or three weeks you need to start recording because you still need to mix as well –“ he added that the band records, engineers and mixes their albums themselves – “and if you don’t have songs written how do you want Louis to put vocals on it? Honestly, thinking of that now, I would never do that again.
“Pretty quickly for Millennials, the idea grew of not having any dynamics either – not doing this progressive thing. So [usually] we do a quiet part and then it gets tense and then it explodes. For Millennials the word was ‘sausage of violence,’ and –“
“Wait,” I said. “Sausage? Like…sausage?” I feebly attempted a cylindrical tube shape with my fingers and held them up to my phone so he could see.
I assumed we’d reached our first language barrier at this point. He had told me between questions that he’d been listening to a lot of Terra Tenebrosa when getting ready for Coilguns’ sophomore LP Millennials, which was released in 2018, but our difference in accents made me second-guess which band he had cited so I ended up Googling it later to make sure. This, however, must have been a mistranslation.
“Yeah, like a sausage. The idea was that when we would play the record and see the waveform, it would just look like a big sausage.”
“Of violence?” I asked.
“We wanted to put everything into the red zone,” he said. “The volumes, the preamps, the analog desks – everything was into the red. We tried to compress as much shit as we could into this, to make a record that was really not pleasant to listen to.”
It was followed by Watchwinders in 2019, which came from Hess’s penchant for beats. Nido contrasted Watchwinders, which he said was inspired by Beastie Boys and Wu-Tang Clan, with Commuters, which he likened to “a bad rollercoaster that makes you want to throw up.”
That brings us to where we started: 2020. Just before the coronavirus pandemic struck, Nido had decided to build an in-home studio to write the next Coilguns record. His plans to spend the spring at home coincided with Switzerland going into lockdown, and he’s found the extended writing period to be a breath of fresh air. He told me with audible humility that by taking more than a year to work on the next album, “instead of four weeks” like the last two, he hoped the album would be “good – I mean, really good.” He, Jucker and Hess have recorded demo versions of an hour’s worth of music and Nido hopes to find a producer soon.
— Hummus Records | A Tasty Record Label
Rounding out the artistic side of Nido’s career is his side project Closet Disco Queen, a psychedelic-rock throwback band he started with Hess. After pairing a Gibson Les Paul that he owned with an old Orange amp he’d just bought, Nido realized that some of his riffing reminded him of the classic Page/Plant Zeppelin sound. Much like his work for Coilguns didn’t fit into the aesthetic of The Ocean, his classic rock was ill-suited for Coilguns, so the band was born during Coilguns’s 2014-2018 break. Nido and Hess toured for three years as Closet Disco Queen, supporting Baroness on a European tour and generally making the gimmick of the band be having fun – maybe a bit too much.
“We started not caring, playing drunk all the time, and to be honest it’s good that it’s not completely over but that we stopped that because until we started Coilguns again, Luc and I were just going crazy [at] parties and that was killing us eventually [laughs].”
Nido knew that Coilguns and Closet Disco Queen needed a safe and permanent home. To facilitate that, he founded Hummus Records in his hometown.
“I’m running the day-to-day operations and I do all the paperwork, all the release management,” he said. “So I’m deciding which bands we’re putting out, I’m coordinating with the bands, the pressing plants, the merch, the PR agents.”
He said he’s hired a friend to do Hummus’s packing work and an intern to lighten the load as well, which has increased as the label has grown. To date, Hummus Records has around 40 bands signed exclusively and they also provide distribution for other Swiss bands.
“We have a proper web shop, we put a lot of money into the store so it looks good, it’s nice to navigate, et cetera, so now we’re using it and we’re making it available to other bands,” he said. “Mostly Swiss bands, because there are many other mail order [shops] in the world for U.S. bands or U.K..”
Since lockdown, he’s had time to work on the back end of the label more, which has been a second unintended benefit of the coronavirus pandemic, arriving on the heels of his extra time writing for the next Coilguns album. This year, Hummus Records has released more albums than in any year prior.
However, they don’t want to overcrowd the Swiss music industry. Nido also told me that he’s involved in a collective record store in town that’s been run by volunteers for three decades, and he makes it a point not to stock records on Hummus Records’s online store that they would carry in the shop. He scoops up distribution for more extreme metal releases and occasional off-beat releases by major bands, like live Nirvana vinyls or David Bowie imports, because he knows they wouldn’t stock them.
“I choose carefully which record I take, not to take some of their business, because we work together,” he said. “When we start working with someone, we want it to be in the long run and I like it to be straightforward and honest. I always try to, if not become friends, at least become close and trustworthy; it’s really important. The way we work, the business model we have with the bands is not like the classic one. We’re really putting the artist at the center of it; we’re not making so much money because most of the money goes to the bands because we want our bands to actually make a living. When you think about it, it makes sense – if those bands make a living then they can continue to release music.
“Anywhere in the world, you should be nice and have some ethics, but in Switzerland it’s really so small that everybody knows everybody – especially in the niche scenes – and you have to work together and you have to know your market as well.
“And in Switzerland you need to put the focus on Switzerland.”
— Hummus Fest | Genuinely Done by Genuine People
Switzerland, a country of just eight million people, doesn’t have the globally-established rock history of a nation like the United States or England. Despite their local talent, they didn’t have an Elvis Presley or a Beatles that became a worldwide face of rock. Due to this, the Swiss music scene has developed at a different pace than in other countries, but the government is making efforts to help. In an interview with drone trio strom|morts in September, for example, I examined the arts grants they received from the Swiss government to promote the Swiss arts and culture scene. As Nido spoke about his work focusing on Swiss artists, I could hear a sense of duty in his voice that stemmed from a number of his life experiences. Sure, there was a hint of national pride and patriotism there, but the prevailing tones in his voice seemed to come from his position as an established musical artist who was humbled by the assistance he’d gotten from his country and who felt bound to use his successes to help lesser-known acts get a leg-up.
And yet actions speak louder than words. True to form, Nido had a fine example of his altruism for smaller bands that he explained to me, and it started from within. Coilguns vocalist and guitarist Louis Jucker also writes and performs folk music as a solo effort, and as his oeuvre and reputation grew, the rest of Coilguns decided to help promote him and mix their audiences as much as possible. Although folk and hardcore are no obvious pairing, they worked together and even released a live album in June 2020 of Coilguns playing as the backing band for Louis’s solo project. While playing as Louis’s backup band in 2019, Nido was inspired to curate a major event for Hummus Records.
“I was like, ‘Let’s organize a label night, like in one big venue, a 1,000-cap venue, and let’s show people that we can gather a crowd of 1,000 people, only with local bands or Swiss bands and a Name Your Price entrance so families can come,’” he said.
Nido and Coilguns organized an event in the middle of their Watchwinders tour that involved seven top Hummus Records bands, ranging from alternative rock to black metal, from Coilguns to a solo set by Louis, an acoustic band and so on. They added dynamics to the event by having local screen printers turning the audience’s clothes into merch, a room screening band videos and more. It resulted in a sold-out venue of 1,000 audience members listening to acts that usually played to 200 people each. From Nido’s description – and video footage that I had the opportunity to see – they successfully channeled the eclectic, open-minded vibes of early Lollapalooza.
“We always think that you need to give people certain things that need to stay in that box, but when you expose people to something that’s genuinely done, by genuine people, it’s all about the energy,” he said. “Whether it’s black metal, experimental or pop music, if it’s genuine I want to believe that there’s a lot more you can do, actually, and we don’t trust people’s abilities to get touched enough, I think.
“I think if you just hold onto it, if you’re realistic about your ambitions and skills and talents, then it can just work, and you’re gonna find people that are just touched by what you do – you just need to find a way to be exposed to them.” And across an ocean, over a five-inch-wide phone screen, in Jona Nido’s voice and mannerisms and on his albums and with his record label, I can see it.