Born in South Philadelphia during the Reagan Administration, Nick Anastasi spent much of his twenties traveling the United States as the lead guitarist for Fat City Reprise, a five-piece rock band named after Hunter S. Thompson’s bid for Pitkin County Sheriff in 1970. The band released a self-titled album in 2007 and, finding success on the west coast, relocated to California. Anastasi left the band in October of 2009 and has since moved back to Philadelphia and joined indie rock band Southwork.
In addition to his musical career, Anastasi is an avid writer, and he spent much of 2007 through 2009 covering anti-war, Prop 8 and various other protests for several blogs in Los Angeles.
In April of 2014, Anastasi released his first novel, A Better Mousetrap, a dystopian tale about questioning authority, realizing potential and following one’s heart in a bleak world.
What are your fondest memories of your time with Fat City Reprise, and why did you end up leaving the band?
The a tough question for me. I started that band with my best friends in 2003 when I was only 19 (about to be 20) and we went from playing to no one to playing the TLA, Trocadero, Electric Factory, and eventually Whiskey-A-Go-Go and the House of Blues on Sunset. I think the peak day of it all was when we played Hookahville, a festival in Central Ohio, right before the main band (əkoostik hookah) That was one of the best days of my life.
I left the band because our manager was acting in his own interest and not in the interest of the group. He was also pretty dependent on synthetic opiates and his brother, who was living with us at the time, was on heroin. Exit, stage left.
After your time in California, what brought you back to the east coast, and what do you enjoy most about living in Philadelphia?
Bread and cold weather is my usual answer but it is a lot deeper. When Mike Vivas and I decided to leave Fat City Reprise, we were faced with options. We could have stayed in Los Angeles, moved to San Francisco, or came back to Philly. LA wasn’t really our scene and SF was so expensive. A combination of an exploding Philadelphia indie music scene, an endless network of friends and family, and my eventual wife all made Philly an easy choice. It’s impossible to get a good sandwich in LA, the bread is terrible. Try celebrating a palm tree Christmas a few years in a row too. The only way you know it’s winter is by Starbucks removing pumpkin and adding peppermint to the latte list. There is something really beautiful about everything dying once a year only to be reborn in spring.
What do you like most about playing with Southwork?
I like making music with my best friends. There’s no egos in the band, everyone plays their own part — as to their strengths. I also really enjoy playing the bass. Holding it down on bass, you are building a bridge between the drums and the rest of the band. You tell the crowd where the groove is and how they’re going to dance.
What inspired you to write A Better Mousetrap, and where did the story originate?
During the tail end of Fat City Reprise, I started losing music as a creative outlet. It became more and more of a job — like homework. I always wrote, and I started writing short fiction and non-fiction for fun. After a few shorties, I decided to get a little long with it and mapped out Emily’s universe. The character was originally named Bethany Pilgrim as a shout to Slaughterhouse Five. It nods at the Giver but I think I felt really trapped in LA and sitting in my room with a typewriter was close to Emily sitting in the ICC with the zombies. A prison I could easily escape from if I would just walk out the door. I also really enjoyed the idea of a book where a child is the hero. Not only that, but the child is the hero by teaching the adults about how life really is. That is the core idea behind the whole thing.
How have you evolved as a writer over the years?
I’ve come a long way since I first started writing, but I’ve also been writing fiction since I was around 11. I’m always learning and always reading, which is an oft overlooked step in learning how to write. I think that each piece I write, the characters become a little more real. I want every reader to find a character in the story to relate to and root for. I’ve also learned from Professor Vonnegut to start as close to the end as possible.
What do you enjoy most about the writing process?
Nothing makes my day like five hours of free time, coffee, a pack of smokes, a few good ideas, and a typewriter. I don’t smoke anymore but they remain on my list of love. Getting into a rhythm is comparable to the runner’s high. When I am flowing, it’s so wonderful.
What book do you wish you had written?
Wow, I love this question. I am leaning towards a Vonnegut selection (maybe Player Piano) — although, writing Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas would have been a lot of fun because to write Hunter, you have to live Hunter. Ah! So much to choose from but I’m going to say Fight Club, final answer. It is the modern day Communist Manifesto, a fiction that cuts through you like a knife. I am Jack’s complete and utter sense of envy.
Which Philadelphia Eagles quarterback have you had the most fun watching?
This is a loaded question! I have to say my all-time favorite Eagles QB is Randall Cunningham. Number 12 really held it down back in the day, he was amazing. I remember watching games where we had the number one defense in the league and only one player on offense doing all the work and that one guy was Randall.
Who has the best cheesesteak in Philadelphia?
Anywhere but Pat’s or Geno’s, especially Geno’s. I hate those guys with a passion. Tony Luke’s is pretty great but I usually get a chicken cutlet hoagie with broccoli rabe and sharp provolone when I go there. That’s a horse of a different color.
As a child, what was the biggest misconception you had about adulthood?
When I was eight, my father told me that he worked in a place that was like a prison. He said he got paid for working there and no one liked it. Same year, my Pop Pop takes me to his small business: an advertising agency. I was going to “help” him make a print ad for a desk chair. I drew a picture of then President George H. Bush sitting on a chair and plugged it as the Oval Office chair. My Pop Pop told me we couldn’t use it because you can’t lie when you advertise something. I said, “Yes you can.” I had it pretty figured out.
What are you working on next?
Right now, I am about halfway through my preliminary draft for my upcoming novel, The Almighty Dollar. An Indiana farmer living through a drought has a dream where God calls him to be a preacher. Things escalate pretty quickly and he finds himself under scrutiny of the IRS, FBI, and Christians all around. I know how it ends but I’m not telling! I may also be dropping a collection of shorts. I have always loved short stories, especially Vonnegut’s.
Southwork is dropping our second album August 16th at Johnny Brenda’s in Philadelphia, so that is exciting; we got to record this one on a tape machine at our drummer’s house. I have been working with my longtime friend and collaborator, Tony Trov, on a rock opera of Animal Farm and I also play around Philly in a cover band of mine called It’s Marvin, Your Cousin Marvin Berry (all Chuck Berry, all of the time).