Nomeansno (sometimes stylized as NoMeansNo or spelled No Means No) is a Canadian punk rock music group originally from Victoria, British Columbia and now located in Vancouver.
The band has never had, nor have they seemed to pursue, strong mainstream success, but they do have a devoted underground following in North America and Europe. They tour fairly often on both continents and maintain a dedicated fan base.
The band was formed in 1979 by brothers Rob Wright (bass guitar, vocals, and occasionally guitar) and John Wright (drums, keyboards and vocals). Their name derives from an anti-date rape slogan. For their first four years the duo's music would seem to be influenced as much by jazz and progressive rock as punk rock. The musical press described their earliest recordings as "Devo on a jazz trip, Motörhead after art school, or Wire on psychotic steroids." Nomeansno have been credited with being an influence on, and perhaps even the genesis of, math rock.
The brothers Wright began recording as a two-piece in their parents' basement in 1979. These recordings, heard on their first two self-released 7"s, consisted of full rock band arrangements and had a new wave, warped-pop sound, different from subsequent recordings. When, in the early 1980s, the duo began gigging simply with bass, drums and vocals, the present form of their distinct sound slowly took shape. The songs they played in this period are documented on the Mama LP (re-released in 2004 on their own Wrong Records).
In 1983, they added Andy Kerr (who played with John Wright in Infamous Scientists) on guitar and vocals. Kerr preferred pseudonymity and used such pseudonyms as "Buttercup" or "None-Of-Your-Fucking-Business". He brought a distinct hardcore punk edge to the group, and stayed until 1992. He is often erroneously credited for penning the lyrics of Nomeansno songs on which he sang, perhaps due to deliberately vague liner notes and frequent vocal moonlighting (Kerr sings lead or co-lead vocals on nearly half the songs on Wrong for example). Kerr's vocals were a necessity for a period of time in the 1980s when Rob Wright was recovering from nodules on his vocal cords. While Rob Wright is the band's lyricist and main songwriter, all members have contributed songs to Nomeansno records, and nearly all their material is credited to the entire band.
Wrong is widely considered the band's best and most representative record. ("The playing is incredibly skilled, with the Wright brothers effortlessly shifting tempos and time signatures and Kerr's razor sharp lyrics clicking right into place.")
After Kerr's departure, the Wright brothers recorded Why Do They Call Me Mr. Happy? as a duo. They subsequently recruited guitarist Tom Holliston from Showbusiness Giants and The Hanson Brothers, and have continued touring and releasing records, including The Worldhood of the World (As Such), Dance of the Headless Bourgeoisie, One, and All Roads Lead to Ausfahrt, which was released on August 22, 2006. The album was released by AntAcidAudio in the United States and Southern Records in Europe.
The album One, released in 2000, featured "two stunning covers that only make sense coming from Nomeansno": a slow stoner rock-styled version of The Ramones' "Beat on the Brat", and rather authentic fifteen-minute version of Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew" (complete with electric piano and congas), featuring lyrics by Rob.
Nomeansno initially released records with seminal punk rock record label Alternative Tentacles. This relationship ended in 2002 and the band has since reissued old albums under their own Wrong Records imprint through Southern Records.
Even their earliest recordings demonstrate impressive instrumental technique ("some of the most complex instrumentation you're ever likely to find in punk rock"). Jazz has been an influence on the group; Rob's basslines have a loping, melodic quality often reminiscent of Charles Mingus, and John's drumming sometimes sounds a bit like Elvin Jones or Art Blakey. John's drumming style has been mentioned as an influence to others, including Dave Grohl and Tim Solyan from Victims Family. Nomeansno further emphasized the drumming in the live environment by positioning the drum kit near the front of the stage so that the audience may see a side view of the drummer. Drummer John Wright confirmed that this was intentional:
There's no doubt that it's more exciting for audience to see what the drummer's doing and you feel more connected to the rhythm section that way. I mean that was standard set up in the old days - rock n' roll was the oddball that put the drummer in the back.
Nomeansno's output features a seemingly endless flow of "Wright/wrong/right" puns, and significant measures of black humour, with "pointedly warped lyrics", such as on "Dad" from Sex Mad. The song was a minor college radio hit, and has been called "a bit chilling, even though it's spit out at slam-pit's pace". The first person narrator details a rampaging father's physical and sexual abuse, ending with what's been called a "killer end touch--the baldly delivered line 'I'm seriously considering leaving home.'" One critic (while noting the group's "savage intelligence") suggests that Nomeansno might well be "the secret influence on a fair amount of both early-'90s math rock and emo, what with the barely controlled fervour of the singing and the sudden jerks back and forth in the rhythm section."
During the band's formative years, they did not have a guitarist. John Wright attributed this lack to producing Nomeansno's distinctive sound:
...without a guitar player you can't rely on the standard hooks that punk rock and rock n' roll in general relies on. The guitar player - the guitar god quote unquote - was such a focus for so long that by the nature of not having a guitar player, the bass and the drums have to do a lot more. It also makes the vocals more important, or at least it makes a lot more room for the vocals. You don't have guitar solos, you don't have the wash of high end. And the things you do on the drums are different, if you just did a straight four beat on the drums it would get kinda dull after awhile. It isn't as though bass guitar hasn't been a prominent instrument at times in other bands but it made us approach things differently, our song structure couldn't just be verse-chorus-verse. It had everything to do with how our sound got off to a unique start. Then when we added guitar it was more building on top of something that had already started.
Nomeansno's alter ego is The Hanson Brothers, a quartet with John singing and Mike Branum from The Freak Accident playing drums. The Hanson Brothers play fun punk rock, reminiscent of the Ramones, as a mock group of backward Canadian ice hockey players and fans with their lyrics typically revolve around ice hockey, beer and girls. The name and band persona are both derived from a group of characters in the 1977 George Roy Hill film Slap Shot, which starred Paul Newman.
Rob Wright's alter ego is Mr. Wrong, a character who dresses as an authoritarian priest and often poses with a shotgun. Mr. Wrong is simply Wright on bass and vocals with no other instrumentation.
Tom Holliston released several albums with his band Showbusiness Giants as well as three solo albums.
Andy Kerr and John Wright played together during the early 1980s in the Infamous Scientists. After leaving Nomeansno, Kerr released a solo CD and collaborated with Scott Henderson, formerly of Shovelhed, in Hissanol. Kerr has since formed another duo with Wilf Plum of Dog Faced Hermans called Two Pin Din in the Netherlands.
Rob Wright - bass, vocals, guitar (1979-present),
John Wright - drums, vocals, keyboards (1979-present),
Tom Holliston - guitar, vocals (1993-present),
Andy Kerr - guitar, vocals, bass (1983-1992),
Ken Kempster - additional drums (1993-1997),