Friday, July 19, 2013

When I Wake Up, I'm Afraid Somebody Else Might End Up Being Me, My Interview With The Neighbourhood, by Allison

When I wake up
I'm afraid
Somebody else might take my place
When I wake up
I'm afraid 
Somebody else might end up being me
Haunting, fear of being rejected ?
Cast  aside? Forgotten?
Those emotions, the snake and slither of dread that envelops that primal fear?
It does not automatically bring to mind the burgeoning relevance, the furiously rising success of an alternative, indie rock band. But those raw emotions, that gripping nightmare?
Lyrics from "Afraid," by The Neighbourhood.
The immediacy of emotion, mood, feeling is what struck me the first time I heard their music, and continues to be what draws me in.
I am a huge, crazy, super, extra triple fangirl for The Neighbourhood.
I heard their song "Female Robbery" on alt nation satellite station, immediately raced home to hear more, and do some pleas to the universe that they tour and I can see them live.

And it worked!
Both finding more awesome music from them,
 AND magic music summoning:  they were opening for Temper Trap in Chapel Hill and Passion Pit in Charlotte last fall, so traveling for shows mandatory.
The Neighbourhood is a band out of California, lead vocals from Jesse Rutherford, guitarists Jeremy Freedman and Zach Abels, bassist Mikey Margott and drummer Bryan Sammis. I have written, raved, waxed poetic about them ( and
Their sound, their vibe, their emphasis that they are a collective group, with a vision - literally and figuratively black and white.
Minimalist, simple.
And if done poorly, it could be a trite gimmick.
It's not.
They can smoothly pull you in with a crooning, dream-like melancholy, then flip to rap and raw pain. The sound, the imagery, the lyrics - they don't so much tell you a story or build defined, structured songs.
Instead, they almost pull away, so that what you experience is sensation, or feeling.
The stark black and white actually contains grit and blurs of grey and layers, retreat into shadows.
And their choice to hold back, lurking in the greys, vividly creates the unpredictable, the unknown. 

And seeing them perform live, small venue?
It was fab, their collective sense as a band and the urgency of the music? Awesome.

And they are the coolest - and in a smaller crowd, we got to talk afterwards,
and what struck me the most was  all of the guys had a shared vision, a point of view, on what they were doing musically, artistically with their videos (all of them shot in black and white), everything they were putting out there.
All five guys talking about their songs, what they were developing, even the T shirt design - clearly, style and their purposeful air of mystery - smoggy and cloudy - are significant choices.
And my bullshit detector did not start blaring.

No publicist, they all were talking about their ideas and their goals for the music and everything they do.
They were just starting out, and they had a defined sense of their sound, their ideas, and were solid on their band as a collaboration. And videos, any visual they put out there were meant to evoke the same feelings and mood as the music.

And in our current extreme, media saturation, instant gratification climate, it was super cool to hear and see The Neighbourhood as they chose to retreat into the smoky noir they were creating.

Their EP, "I'm Sorry," is a swirl of smoke, menace, lust, angst, fear, and anticipation.
"Female Robbery" is chilling, wicked, sexy, and jolting.
"Sweater Weather" is gorgeous and mixes up a faster, hip hop feel, drifting into lustfully swoony lyrics ("One love/ Two mouths/ One love/One house/No shirt/ No blouse") with a meandering, dream-like croon, slinky and slow.

The corresponding videos convey the chill, the want, the lust just as the music does.

 "I Love You" released this Spring keeps building on their stylized, noirish, lurking, unsettling fear as well as sorrow and pulsing want.

And songs like "Afraid" and "W.D.Y.W.F.M?" weave in the constant angst of being replaced, being rejected, the constant strife to create and be.

Since I am totally, ridiculously into The Neighbourhood, and their manager is way cool, I got the chance to interview Bryan the drummer, and meet up with the rest of the band to get to say hey and take photos (black and white, of course) before a recent show.
I was absurdly excited about this glorious rainfall of total awesomeness, and really had two goals:

 1. Remember to ask questions,  but do not go off the rails on tangents and basically, shut up and let them talk

 2. See Goal Number One.

As a professional, I had my thoughts/questions written out in my seven year old daughter's purple notebook,
but my ideal was for me not to need them, for the conversation to flow.
Matt brought his old-school doctor Dictaphone so I could remember whatall was said afterwards in case my brain melted from joy and proximity to band that rules.

And guess what?
It was fab.
And I was supposed to have ten minutes but we talked for over forty minutes, ran the gamut of the things that make this band so intriguing to me, lyrics, style, influences.
Was Fab.

Bryan was totally cool, thoughtful, and very open sharing insights into their trajectory so far, what inspires them, their creative process, was phenomenal in delving into their music, lyrics, style, inspirations, it was abundance of yay whee tra la la. 

I really wanted to hear more about their mix of sounds, their defined style and visual choices, and what was the deal with particular songs or videos on which I am obsessed.

So I started with a question about their somewhat shadowed persona versus the immediate intimacy of their music and visuals, whether the intimacy reveals  tenderness or terror, the feel is intimate.

Me: "There is this air of mystery surrounding you guys, it seems a conscious choice?"

Bryan: " It's funny, we get our emotions out through our music.
When we get interviews where we get questions like "What's the craziest thing you've done on the road?"
On paper, we aren't very interesting, we put it all in the music.  Zach, our guitarist, especially feels that way - that in person he's not an emotional guy at all."

Bryan " It goes for all of us, if you listen to our discography, you get stuff over here, and over there, because our music is changing as we're changing.
It's moody just like we are. It's happy, it's sad, it's angsty."

Me: "It always feels emotion-driven in some fashion, with so many different emotions in play - "

Bryan: "Yeah, even when I think of the song with the least emotion , "A Little Death," is the only song written as a story, which is not the way Jesse usually writes.
But even that, we've changed it up from  the demo, we kind of made it mean something to us, even though it wasn't necessarily as super personal to us."

Me: "From the beginning, The black and white, there is a point of view , it translates in your songs, your videos and trailers, it evolves but it is clearly your style, how did that come to be?"

Bryan: "We don't really even think of us as just the five of us, of just a band. (he points to Ellis, their manager, who's on a computer across the room, wearing a black and white Nbhd hoodie, I have that one!) He's in The Neighbourhood.
We want to be an entity that puts out content. I would love to put out things that aren't just music."

Me: "How do you create the videos? They are distinct and different, but very of one voice and style, what is that process?"

Bryan: "All of videos are done by two of our friends, and I consider as just as much a part of The Neighbourhood as we are, and it wasn't like we had to search for someone, to find somebody who knew what we were going for with our visuals.
They've been around from the beginning so they were always behind our thing.
The marriage between the music and the visuals is what we are, we wouldn't be one without the other.
If the music were different, it wouldn't work with the visuals, and if the visuals were different, it might not set the right platform for our music to be heard."

Me: "You're expressing yourselves artistically, not just with sound, is that kind of the way you all see it?"

Bryan: "Yeah, that's what it is about for us, everything, the album art, merchandise, videos, anything visual, how we dress when you see us, everything is in a similar mindset so you have an idea of what we are putting out there, what we're doing next."

At this point, I can't stop from jumping into my particular Super Fangirl thing.
Me: "Female Robbery? I am dying to know the story behind that song. And the video?? I have my theory . . ."

Bryan: "It started out, it was about a girl wanting someone to take her away, that song is loosely based on this girl we know, who used to pray and dream every night that she would be taken away and cared for by someone else.
The video is open for interpretation artistically, with her burying something, it's open for interpretation, how we like our music to be."
I brought up what the song, and the video especially, summon in me
-   a metaphor for stealing childhood, , with the grown woman in the suit taking the little girl and her journal away from her house,  from fighting parents,  and then they bury the journal?
In my head, it was forcing her to grow up too fast, robbing her of her childhood.

Hearing how the song came to be, more of a twisty version of the fairy tale or fantasy in childhood was that someone would come and claim her and take her away from her real life into some other life - which I have thought of as the root source of fairy tales or stories of orphans so we can process fear of abandonment -
When Bryan said they were fascinated with that concept, and kind of spun the song around
 "leave every thing that is worth a single cent and just take me instead, don't tell anyone"
(Note: he totally quoted their lyrics, which of course he did, it's their song - but it was at that point that I felt like, he was having total conversation with me and also, this was clearly a developed idea leading to one excellent song)

We then start up a cool talk about their through-line stylistically and visually, the black and white images, the specific style and tone, and how there are pros and cons with their approach.

They feel that when it works, it gives them a distinctive, unique way of presenting their music and visuals, but there are times it can limit them, or restrict who they work with, even with big opportunities, they only shoot in black and white, and not every photographer or publication is cool with that.

(NOTE: Since this interview, Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O'Brien have had The Neighbourhood on as musical guests and had their segments done in black and white.
Extremely cool of those shows to go with the Nbhd's vibe, and very cool for the band to get great exposure on those shows.
Yay and whee yay all around on that!)

Next up:
Me: "Do you designate time to create, or is it an evolving thing?"

Bryan  "It's a luxury in that Jesse is good with computer programs, logic and stuff like that, so he can get ideas and start working on something if we are in the van for 8 hours, Zach has come up with a couple of riff ideas that we'll flesh out during sound checks.
It just kind of happens - we're all itching to do more, and we don't have any time, so we try and bring stuff on the road."
Me: "Who out there now, artists, bands, musician, is influencing you right now?

Bryan: "People influence us in different ways,
Not necessarily their music style, for example the new Travis Scott video , the video is like a short film,  - the video more than the music inspired me for music, you know what I mean? So it's not necessarily people's music that inspires our music, it can be other things.
Kanye's new album art, super minimal, interesting to look at.
I come from a poetry background, poetry club in college, so someone that is a wordsmith speaks to me.
On a music level,  the drummer for MuteMath, Darren King, he does stuff a little differently, his drums are dead sounding,  he puts a lot of tape on his drums.  Mine are kind of like that, but we need a different sound.
He has a New Orleans shuffle on a drum beat, and I lived in New Orleans for a while, and love that,
 . . .  he's in an alternative band but he doesn't use conventional alternative drum beats.
And every time I hear a good hip hop production like Mobb Deep - a drum loop but with real drums, I love that."

Me: "The previous times I've seen your shows, everyone is clamoring for "Afraid," wanting to know when you're recording it, it totally strikes a chord in a lot of different people."

Bryan: "It's funny, we've been playing that song since I think literally the very first show we played, and ever since that, People were like, what's that song? And now that it is out, it gets great response, it's total crowd participation."

Me: "A lot of your songs reference "they" or "everybody" or "people" or "you", in the lyrics you're struggling with or fighting against something, or giving in to it, those themes brought in a lot of different ways?"

Bryan: " Yeah, it is. "Afraid", is about, when all this stuff started happening for us, we first got a manager, looking back on it, that was the essential, defining thing"

Me: "That is one of my questions! When did you realize you were a thing?"

Bryan: "It's funny, that song is about, how that was the biggest thing in the world for us, like in our minds, we had won a Grammy and traveled to the moon.
So every day we woke up, like, I hope this is all real.
I hope its not a dream that's happening to somebody else.
And that is what "Afraid" is about."

(NOTE: Hearing him explain the song was super fascinating - because it is the song people are really wanting to hear and wanted to be released.
To hear that "Afraid," such an in-demand song, be about the very fear that "when I wake up, I'm afraid somebody else might take my place"  -
That it was them freaking out about the whole concept of, is this real, how long can it last?
How do we deal if we are liked and then hated the next day?
How do we cope with worrying about that?
How do we do our thing without freaking out about that in our heads all the time?
Is that possible?
The intensity of the excitement of getting to do their thing, juxtaposed with the intensity of the fear of it evaporating into the ether? It's like their audience is feeding those intense emotions through their own rabid response to the song.)
Throughout the interview, and the photos afterwards with all of the band, the "we're a collaboration" belief  was very clearly emphasized.
Both verbally, from Bryan and from me talking with them last fall, and nonverbally - they all urge everyone to be in the photos, they just give off a "we're a thing, here" vibe.

And I am a hard sell on "we're a team, all together" thing, even when I am giant fangirl for the band. But the little things, like, everybody in the picture!!! It's not just the lead singer!!!
All of us! and the consideration they give one another and everyone contributing is compelling.
It is hard to believe five guys, plus their manager, their videographers, can collaborate and make this shared artistic vision happen. 
But I buy it, in this case, with this group.
It kind of radiates off of them, not contrived or for appearances sake.

And then, and the others started filtering in, - and were all as cool and chill as I remembered, even though the place was jam packed with a sold out crowd.
And then, photos! Which we took in black and white, obviously.
And then, their show! Which?

I saw them in a crowd of maybe twenty people in October.

This month's show was sold-out, people were worked UP for this band, and I cannot imagine what a blur of emotions and being sucked into a vortex these guys must be experiencing, with their popularity, exposure, and fan base rising exponentially.

And having just talked with them about "Afraid," and feeling like all of this might be a dream, or they'd be replaced by someone else, the fear of trying to seize fleeting joy and success?

Seeing them perform it to absolutely RABID crowd, flipping OUT for the band, the song?

It was jolting. I could see, I could feel, the emotion, the fear, of having your dreams realized - because that realization is entwined with the visceral fear of it becoming your nightmare.

Or not your anything.

Or not you.

I mean, seeing them live, seeing the crowd response, seeing them get mainstream cred and their creative endeavors skyrocketing, I think they can pack that particular nightmare away.

But I kind of hope they don't.

Because, damn, these guys are on fire.

And their access to their wants and fears and emotions, and their ability to twist and weave that into the ridiculously sick good stuff they are doing?

More, please.

Another shot from recent show, because I am still whee yay tra la la-ing,, that ruled. More please again.