Churches frontman Caleb Nichols’ early childhood in Los Osos was tolerable, but when he entered middle school, his life became a living hell. Maybe it was the geeky “Lion King” T-shirt he wore, his ear piercing or the Breeders patch on his backpack. But his classmates bullied him, Nichols says, “and had all these superfluous reasons that I was gay, which turned out to be true later. I could have hid in the library with the D&D kids and played ‘Magic: The Gathering,’ but instead I just dealt with the abuse.” He left high school early, joined Bay Area bands including Port O’Brien and Grand Lake, and, with his majestic trio Churches, is exacting sweet revenge with the ebullient new single “Lovelife” backed by “Save Me” (both on a new EP). The group’s purpose is making music that Nichols’ younger self would want to hear.
Does “Lovelife” deal with larger issues of prejudice, like Proposition 8, or the microcosm of you and your boyfriend just wanting to get married?
When Prop. 8 passed, I was living in Oakland — we live in Santa Cruz now — and it was such a surprise. Everyone was like, ‘WTF?!?’ So John and I are engaged, but we can’t get married here, we’d have to go somewhere else like Washington, which is very frustrating. The song also touches on the existential frustration that when you spend your whole life having this integral part of yourself constantly being debated by other people, as to whether it’s OK or not, I think it’s really damaging.
You just turned 30 this Thanksgiving.
Yes. And being 29 sucked because I was just thinking about being 30 a lot, then having an existential crisis about death. Which I had when I turned 20, too. But as soon as I turned 30, the next day I was like, “Oh. This is fine.”
A death crisis? So young?
Well, if you listen to any of my music from the past few years, you’ll hear it — I’ve had a pretty severe struggle with death anxiety, and it’s informed the way I live my life and certainly informed the kind of music I make. But I’m getting over it now, now that I’ve recognized it.
Is “Save Me” about music saving you?
It’s a little more nebulous — it’s more about a feeling, and it’s the first song I ever wrote for this band. So it evokes a lot of nostalgia — my alternative-rock heyday, when I really started getting into music, was ’95, ’96, ’97, so that whole MTV ‘Buzz band’ era really brings out some strong emotions in me.