Saturday, October 22, 2016
The Bowery Presents South: Highly Suspect + Slothrust at Gasa Gasa
8PM Doors | 9PM Show | 21+
It happened in Brooklyn. In 2011, the members of Highly Suspect arrived in the borough from their native Cape Cod, MA. The next four years became a whirlwind of sex, drugs, and more rock ‘n’ roll than most people could ever handle. Then again, Johnny Stevens [vocals, guitar] and twin brothers Rich [bass, vocals] and Ryan Meyer [drums] aren’t “most people.” Those chemically-soaked nights, hazier mornings, broken relationships, and cathartic realizations leave residue across Highly Suspect’s full-length debut album, Mister Asylum [300 Entertainment], and it’s inebriating in the best way possible. The boys moved into a studio apartment with “no electricity yet,” getting a cheap rate as Rich promised to add an elevated loft with five bedrooms. He made good on his promise and even launched his own contracting company that would fuel the band’s exploits for the foreseeable future. As they slowly but surely made a name for themselves locally, Johnny cataloged experiences in the moment, either putting pen to paper in his notebook or using his phone’s memos. “This album is a collection of everything that happened from the time I moved to Brooklyn onward,” says Johnny. “I met Lydia the first week we were here. She was the only girl in the building. It was Lydia and her roommates and us. She kicked everything off for me. The album is a reflection of our experiences. Shit, New York is the dream. On Cape Cod, I’d wake up at five in the morning, work out, surf, and smoke a ton of weed. In New York, you’re staying up until five in the morning, and the weed is now cocaine. It’s a nocturnal life and a totally different thing. I lived it pretty fucking hard and had to write about it.” “It all felt meant to be in a weird way,” adds Rich. “We moved into the first building we looked at, and there was this plane flying overhead that said, ‘Last Chance.’ There were homeless people everywhere and a broken down minivan. We weren’t on Cape Cod anymore.” While busking in the subway, Johnny caught a woman’s attention who introduced the band to producer Joel Hamilton [Black Keys, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello]. After hitting it off with the band, and interested to hear more, he hooked the band up with some studio time, recording their new EP as a passion project. “We didn’t have a genre or aesthetic we were going for,” explains Ryan. “We simply wrote what we liked. It was really natural, and Joel captured that on our first EP.” Their D.I.Y. music video for the drowsy, dirty, and dirge-y blues rocker “Bath Salts”—which Johnny penned after “overdosing on a huge combination of shit”—drummed up a major buzz online and attracted the band’s current management. They cut another independent EP with Gojira singer and guitarist Joseph Duplantier behind the board. Continuing to slug it out live, they eventually caught the attention of 300 Entertainment in 2014 who signed the trio as its flagship rock outfit. Following the signing, Highly Suspect entered Studio G in Brooklyn with Hamilton and cut Mister Asylum to tape. They tapped into something real, rigid, and raw that instantly resonated.
Few bands wading through the colossal inundation of music in the ’10s manage to release three full-length albums that progressively challenge themselves by raising the stakes artistically. Slothrust achieve this feat masterfully on their third full-length, Everyone Else, which follows 2014’s sophomore release Of Course You Do, and their 2012 debut, Feels Your Pain.
Composed of Leah Wellbaum (guitars/vocals), Kyle Bann (bass), and Will Gorin (drums), Slothrust have crafted a veritable fireworks display in Everyone Else—visceral, bone marrow cutting anthems that grab your ear in the short term and sustain their appeal over the long haul thanks to the sheer complexity and originality of the arrangements and lyrical depth.
“People have always had trouble comparing us to other bands, but someone recently described us as Nirvana meets Wynton Marsalis, and I loved that,” says Wellbaum. The band, who studied music and honed their sound while enrolled at Sarah Lawrence College, are obviously worthy of such a lofty compliment. “We all studied jazz and blues, so I often use chords and voicings that aren’t quite as conventional for contemporary rock,” she states. “Certain harmonic movement can get stale, so I try to incorporate colorful notes to give it more depth. The improvisational spirit of blues music is also something we try to always keep with us, even in more composed playing.” She goes on to say, “I am drawn to musicians a bit further outside of the rock tradition, such as John Fahey, Elizabeth Cotten, D’Angelo, and Portishead. Growing up I listened to a lot of r & b and classical music. And musicals.”
The record also finds Wellbaum hitting an arresting stride lyrically, as water motifs abound, which are oddly off-kilter and rarely morose, reflecting her uniquely frivolous yet erudite writing style. This is evident on the slow-burn of “Horseshoe Crab,” as Wellbaum quixotically observes, “I don’t have anything in common with myself, except that I came from the sea, like everyone else did,” over storm cloud riffs and a white hot low-end rhythmic rumble. On the hyper-adrenalized “Rotten Pumpkin”, Wellbaum sings in a rapid fire vomit burst, “l’ll make you sick because I’m soft water/Reach inside of me, and scoop out my seeds.”
The third crown jewel of the album is “Like a Child Hiding Behind Your Tombstone.” After its nursery rhyme intro gives way to a stylish, extemporaneous instrumental tour de force, its funky, locked-in rhythm section exhibits just how tight and talented this band is. The glue that holds it together is Wellbaum’s distinctive, brilliantly androgynous vocal delivery, as she vulnerably appeals, “Hold me under the water/My lungs are filling with plankton/But the lake is not lonely/No need for you to come with me.”
The last line belies the overriding ethos of Everyone Else—its sense of inclusiveness. Slothrust are truly one of the most unique bands to emerge from the protean indie musical landscape of the past decade, and Wellbaum feels as though this is the first chance for their ceaselessly inventive sound to be heard by a mass audience. With the divine fire Slothrust play with throughout Everyone Else, many likely will.