He kept trying
But he couldn't find out
Why he couldn't stop crying
Only so many songs can be sung with two lips, two lungs and one tongue
—"Two Lips, Two Lungs, and One Tongue"
Nomeansno (sometimes written as NoMeansNo or No Means No) were a Canadian punk band formed in 1979 in Victoria, British Columbia by bassist Rob Wright and his younger brother John on drums and keyboards. Later on they were joined by guitarist Andy Kerr, who left in 1992 and was replaced by Tom Holliston. Second drummer Ken Kempster played with the band from 1993-1997 before they went back to being a trio.
Nomeansno’s sound was characterized by Rob’s groovy and darkly melodic basslines, John’s precise and powerful drumming, and—especially during the Andy Kerr years—screeching, rhythmic guitar. Their lyrics were often bizarre and surreal, sometimes violent and horrific, but just as often (if not simultaneously) humorous or comedic. Their genre-bending ways, musicianship, and use of atypical rhythms and time signatures often gets them categorized as jazz punk, and they are widely considered forerunners of math rock.
The band formed in 1979 after Rob and John saw Vancouver punk rock legends D.O.A. play a chaotic show at the University of Victoria on March 23 of that year; from then on, John was enamoured with punk rock. Taking their name from an anti-rape slogan, they rehearsed and made home recordings in their parents’ basement and released their debut single, a surreal synthpop song called "Look, Here Come the Wormies", in 1980.
They began to play live as a drums-and-bass duo in 1981. Their debut full-length Mama was released the following year, and the year after that they persuaded guitarist Andy Kerr (John’s former bandmate in the local group Infamous Scientists) to round out their lineup. Around the same time, the band began moonlighting as a Ramones cover band called The Hanson Brothers—named after characters in the movie Slap Shot—for which they eventually began writing their own hockey-themed Ramones-esque songs.
Nomeansno’s second full-length, 1986’s Sex Mad, featured the minor college radio hit “Dad”, in which the teenage narrator details an evening of horrific domestic abuse. Around this time, Rob developed nodules on his vocal cords, leading Andy to take over as main vocalist. The band signed with former Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra’s label Alternative Tentacles and released the EP The Day Everything Became Nothing and the album Small Parts Isolated and Destroyed. By the following year, Rob’s larynx had sufficiently healed and he resumed lead vocalist duties in time to record what is widely considered the band’s greatest album, the 1989 LP Wrong.
In 1990 Biafra recorded a song with Nomeansno, “Falling Space Junk”, for the soundtrack to the low-budget dystopian satire Terminal City Ricochet in which Biafra played a supporting role. A full-length collaborative album, The Sky Is Falling and I Want My Mommy, was released in 1991 and led to the band's enduring popularity in Europe. The same year they released 0 + 2 = 1, the final album to feature Andy Kerr, who left the band to emigrate to The Netherlands. In 1992, The Hanson Brothers (now featuring drummer Ken Jensen to allow John to focus solely on singing) recorded their debut full-length album Gross Misconduct and John produced D.O.A.’s comeback album 13 Flavours of Doom.
Nomeansno carried on as a duo for a time, recording and releasing the album Why Do They Call Me Mr. Happy? in 1993, with Rob handling both guitar and bass, before joining forces with guitarist Tom Holliston (who had already been playing with Rob and John in The Hanson Brothers) and second drummer Ken Kempster. In 1994, Sepultura cancelled an appearance at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark and Nomeansno were brought in to replace them; they ended up playing for 60,000 people immediately after Peter Gabriel.
Tragedy struck in early 1995 when Ken Jensen died in a fire caused by a discarded cigarette in a house with no smoke detector. Jensen had also been drumming for D.O.A., and John handled both production and percussion duties on the band’s next album The Black Spot. Later the same year, Nomeansno released their first album with Tom Holliston, The Worldhood of the World (As Such), the title of which was inspired by Rob’s interest in the writing of existentialist philosopher Martin Heidegger.
The Hanson Brothers released their second album Sudden Death in 1996, with Ken Kempster taking over for Ken Jensen on drums. The album featured a cover of Canadian troubadour Stompin’ Tom Connors' classic “The Hockey Song”, the music video for which became popular on MuchMusic.
Touring with two drummers had become a logistical and financial headache for Nomeansno, and the band was a trio again for their next album Dance of the Headless Bourgeoisie. The album took a much more experimental, avant-garde approach than previous records and featured some of the band’s longest songs to date. Reception was mixed, and John later said it was “not our greatest effort”.
The band’s next album, One, was released in 2000 and was much more well-received. It featured two cover songs: a slow, plodding rendition of The Ramones’ “Beat on the Brat” and a 15-minute-long cover of jazz legend Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew”.
In 2002, Nomeansno left Alternative Tentacles and The Hanson Brothers released their final full-length album My Game (the cover and title song of which parody Black Flag’s My War) on Mint Records with new drummer Ernie Hawkins. Nomeansno’s output slowed after this, and it wasn’t until 2006 that they released what turned out to be their final full-length album, All Roads Lead to Ausfahrt.
The band unceremoniously announced their retirement in 2016, shortly after Tom Holliston announced he was leaving the group. Their last show was an acoustic performance in their hometown of Victoria the previous year celebrating their induction into the Western Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
Post-retirement, John Wright has kept himself busy musically writing and recording songs for the Berlin-based all-robot rock band Compressorhead.
- Mama (1982)
- Sex Mad (1986)
- Small Parts Isolated and Destroyed (1988)
- Wrong (1989)
- The Sky Is Falling and I Want My Mommy (1991) — collaboration with Jello Biafra
- 0 + 2 = 1 (1991)
- Why Do They Call Me Mr. Happy? (1993)
- The Worldhood of the World (As Such) (1995)
- Dance of the Headless Bourgeoisie (1998)
- One (2000)
- All Roads Lead To Ausfahrt (2006)
- Betrayal, Fear, Anger, Hatred (1981)
- You Kill Me (1985)
- The Day Everything Became Nothing (1988)
- The Power of Positive Thinking (1990)
- Would We Be Alive? (1996)
- In the Fishtank 1 (1996)
- Generic Shame (2001)
- Tour EP 1 (2010)
- Tour EP 2 (2010)
as The Hanson Brothers:
- Gross Misconduct (1992)
- Sudden Death (1996)
- My Game (2002)
Nomeansno's music provides examples of the following tropes:
- A Cappella:
- The American release of Sex Mad features a vocals-only mix (not counting the jazzy hi-hat cymbal intro) of the song "No Fkuigcn".
- The Dead Kennedys tribute album Virus 100 features the band's a cappella rendition of the song "Forward to Death".
- Affectionate Parody: The Hanson Brothers side project is one of The Ramones. The members adopt Ramones-esque stage names (diminutive of their real first names + "Hanson"), John wears a leather jacket onstage, and their album titles and covers parody those of other punk bands (detailed below under Shout-Out).
- Band of Relatives: Brothers John and Rob Wright were the band's core creative duo and only constant members.
- Black Comedy: In spades.
- Bowdlerise: The Hanson Brothers released a rewritten version of Nomeansno’s “Dad” as a single; their version is retitled “Brad” and is about the narrator’s little brother trashing his bedroom instead of his father going on a violent rampage.
- Careful with That Axe: “Stop It” off You Kill Me begins with a blood-curdling scream.
- Country Matters: The song "No Fkuicgn" packs the line "All I see are cocks and cunts!" six times into 31 seconds.
- Cover Version:
- The band played covers of The Ramones throughout their career; side-project The Hanson Brothers evolved out of the group moonlighting as a Ramones cover band, and some of Nomeansno’s final gigs were as a Ramones tribute act. Their 2000 album One ends with a nearly four-minute-long cover of The Ramones' "Beat on the Brat", immediately following a fifteen-minute long cover of Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew'.
- You Kill Me features a cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Manic Depression".
- The 2005 CD reissue of Wrong ends with a cover of the melancholy 1960s Skeeter Davis hit “End of the World”, performed solo by Rob on vocals and bass guitar.
- During the Wrong sessions, the band recorded two covers of Vancouver-area hardcore punk bands they were fans and friends of—“New Age” by D.O.A. and “Oh Canaduh” by The Subhumans—they were later released a benefit single for the Prisoners Rights Group.
- The Wrong sessions also produced an a cappella cover of their then-label boss (and future collaborator) Jello Biafra's old band Dead Kennedys' song "Forward to Death", which was later featured on the DKs tribute album Virus 100.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: Not that their entire output isn’t weird, but the A-side of the band’s first single, “Look, Here Come the Wormies”, is a brooding synth pop song that bears little resemblance to their later output. The band’s status as a drums-and-bass duo wasn’t solidified until sometime later, after they decided that setup made for easier gigging. The band’s full-length debut Mama contains some lingering notes of synthpop, but the addition of guitarist Andy Kerr and follow-up releases You Kill Me and Sex Mad established them as a full-on punk band.
- Epic Rocking: Each of the band's albums feature at least one song more than five minutes long, but 2000's One takes the cake with only one song clocking in at under 6 minutes long and a cover of Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew" that's fifteen minutes long.
- Genre Roulette: Though the band is known for their signature style of extremely groovy and meticulous punk rock, they had diverse stylistic influences, and their output ranges from raucous hardcore to synthpop to progressive rock to jazz to a capella.
- Hidden Depths: Bassist, main vocalist and lyricist Rob Wright has a keen interest in philosophy; the album title The Worldhood of the World (As Such) was inspired by the existentialist writings of Martin Heidegger, and several interviews have mentioned his interest in Buddhism, Italian neorealist cinema and Irish writers like James Joyce.
- Hilariously Abusive Childhood: “Dad”, one of the band’s signature songs, narrates an evening of horrific domestic abuse in excruciating detail and ends with the understated spoken line “I’m seriously considering leaving home”.
- I Have Your Wife: The narrator of the title track off Dance of the Headless Bourgeoisie has kidnapped the listener's wife, son, and daughter.
- Military Coup: “Rich Guns” off their debut album Mama is about a counterrevolution in a Latin American country staged at the behest of a rich ruling class.
- Mind Screw: Their lyrics are often inscrutable, but fan favourite “Everyday I Start To Ooze” appears to simply be a series of extremely odd non sequiturs.
- "I guess you heard my head turned brown... I lost several pounds and juuuuuuuuust look terrible!"
- Miniscule Rocking: "No Fkuicgn" off Sex Mad is 31 seconds long.
- Motor Mouth: Many of their songs feature rapid-fire lyrics, with "Sex Mad", "Big Dick" and "I See a Mansion in the Sky" being prime examples.
- Parental Incest: The song "Dad" ends with the titular patriarch molesting his daughter.
- Rape, Pillage, and Burn: The song "Rich Guns" depicts a Latin American military coup and features the line "Rape the women, they are whores, el puta / Everything they have is yours, el puta".
- Shout-Out: The guys' stage names and personas in The Hanson Brothers reference both The Ramones and a dimwitted trio of characters from the comedy sports movie Slap Shot. In addition, the cover art for each of their three studio albums parody releases by other punk bands: the cover of Gross Misconduct parodies that of The Ramones' Road to Ruin, Sudden Death's cover spoofs that of fellow B.C. punks D.O.A.'s single for The Prisoner (with a pair of feet in skates replacing a pair of bare feet), and the cover of My Game is a send-up of the cover of Black Flag's My War. The title of their live album It's A Living is also a play on the Ramones live album It's Alive.
- Song Parody: The Hanson Brothers' "Blitzkrieg Hops" is a parody of The Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop", rewritten to be about brewing beer. (For the uninitiated, hops is an herb used in most kinds of beer to impart bitterness).
- Tongue Twister: The lyrics to "I See a Mansion in the Sky" are composed largely of ones inspired by "How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?" (Example: "How many holes can a young buck fuck, if a young buck could fuck holes?")
- Trademark Favorite Food: The Hanson Brothers, hockey-loving Canadian chongos that they are, can't get enough beer. In addition to songs like "Blitzkrieg Hops" and "We're Brewing", Johnny Hanson released a comedic instructional video about homebrewing in 2000 and the Canadian brewery Trou du Diable later released a signature beer based on one of his recipes, "Punk Rauch" (a kind of smoked lager).
- They also have the song "Pea, Pie and Pud", which refers to a dish consisting of a small meat pie, green peas and mashed potatoes. Funnily enough, it's not particularly Canadian but is most popular in New Zealand.
- Word Salad Lyrics: The band's lyrics (especially Rob's) are often quite cryptic, and John has said in an interview: "The songs sometimes don’t even make a lot of sense but they leave you with a feeling."
- Villain Song: Many of the band's songs are written from the point of view of disreputable characters, but one of their songs with Jello Biafra, "Bruce's Diary" off their album The Sky is Falling and I Want My Mommy, is sung by the villainous character Biafra plays in the movie Terminal City Ricochet.
- Zombie Apocalypse: "It's Catching Up" depicts one.