The morning after the Cubs won the 2016 World Series, Jason Narducy got a call. It was Metro owner Joe Shanahan. The venue was hosting a party for the team the next day and needed a band. Narducy frantically wrangled musicians and performed two sets of covers with a group that had never rehearsed together. He even persuaded Smashing Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin to join in on a Pretenders song and got the whole crowd singing to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “The Waiting.” “I needed to deliver rock for extremely drunk athletes,” Narducy recalls, laughing. “It was a moment in history.”
Narducy has dozens of stories like this, thanks to his almost four decades — and many roles — in the music scene. The Evanston lifer, 50, is perhaps best known as the cofounder of the rock band Verbow and the bassist for Bob Mould’s band and the touring version of Superchunk. But before any of that, as a preteen in 1982, he and his friends started Verböten, a punk-rock band that Dave Grohl has credited with inspiring him to pursue music. Narducy’s experience with that group spawned an excellent musical of the same name that ran at the House Theatre of Chicago last year. He wrote the songs for the show, which was nominated for an American Theatre Critics Association Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award. It’s no wonder one of his friends calls him a Swiss Army knife: “I do a lot,” Narducy says with a shrug.
His personal passion these days, though, is Split Single, the side project he’s been fronting for nearly 10 years with a rotating cast of musicians. In June, it released its long-awaited third album, Amplificado, a radiant burst of power pop that showers listeners in sanguine vocal harmonies and fireworks-like guitar riffs. This time around, Narducy, who handles lead vocals and guitar, is accompanied by R.E.M.’s Mike Mills on bass and Superchunk’s Jon Wurster on drums. The album captures the energy of a live performance, and songs like “Adrift” reveal a more unguarded side of Narducy. “To be as vulnerable as possible? It’s never easy,” he says. “The first few times I listened to it [‘Adrift’] back, I was shaking, because it’s just right there.” Narducy will perform that song and others from the album on his solo tour. He’s playing an outdoor concert in Beverly on August 7 and at Hey Nonny in Arlington Heights on August 25.
Political pushback, too, features prominently on Amplificado, like in the deceptively cheerful “95 Percent.” That shouldn’t come as a surprise considering what Narducy has been up to between albums. The last Split Single LP dropped days after Donald Trump was elected, and Narducy soon found himself creatively drained. “Because of the political weight I felt, anytime I picked up a guitar, I couldn’t write songs. So I got involved.”
He began working with Sister District Project, a San Francisco–based group that helps drum up support for Democrats in purple states. What started with six friends at SPACE in Evanston ballooned into weekly events with 180 people penning 4,000 postcards to voters a night. “It was awesome, and all of our candidates won,” Narducy says. It also solved his writer’s block. Shortly afterward, he started drafting ideas that would eventually become the backbone of Amplificado.
After our conversation, Narducy and I walk around an empty Metro, which at one point he feared would not reopen after the pandemic. “It might sound like hyperbole, but this is our church,” he says. “This is where I come to celebrate life.” Now, with the club scheduling acts again and his own tour calendar filling up, Narducy feels a sense of relief. But he will never take his busy schedule for granted again. That much is clear when he climbs onto the stage to pose for a photo. Narducy looks right at home.