Neighbors, “Academy”

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Seattle by Philadelphia's Neighbors have won us over with “Sexy Prison“, I Love Neighbors, and tour tape Power Country, exemplifying everything we adore about the storied NWxNE connection. With tuned-in, switched-on and dropped-out alternative forms of academics, Neighbors get us educated with the chorus, “you gotta change your ideas”, on the premiere of “Academy”. Taken from the upcoming record Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? for Beating a Dead Horse Records.

From the slow chord strumming opening, “Academy” feels like orientation day on a new campus. Old ideas become challenged with the new, as the chugging guitars shuffle across the quad, making way past the student union hall, the cafeteria, humanities buildings, social studies buildings, and nearby dorm blocks. As more riffs crunch and clutter the mind, new reasons are found, with the discovery of new urges for mind-expanding extra-curricular activities. Neighbors organize “Academy” like a full school day, beginning with the lazy-hazy wake up riffs, making way through the different classes that challenge the cerebral matter to “rearrange your mind, you may as well learn how to compromise.” The academics move forward through the afternoon, skipping night school for a wild finish that throws out all the pencils, and books with dirty looks, as José yells out, “you know you'll never change, you know you'll never change,” from the mosh pit vortex eye at an off-campus DIY space.

We had the opportunity to talk to Neighbors' José Díaz about the logistics and inside scoop on the Northeast movement, Seattle's tight-knight kinship, and their new album, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?.

First up, walk us through the progression from that tour cassette, Power Country to the new brilliantly titled album, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?.

This label was set to release I Love Neighbors as a 10”. The release date they set seemed far off to us, and since we had been living with the songs for some time already, we decided to write and record some new things. The label disappeared, so our good friend John was cool and put it out on his Lost Sound Tapes label along with a reissue of John In Babeland. By this time, we were preparing for a month long tour and very excited about the songs we had written. We decided to record what we had. It became apparent that we had enough for another full length. So we decided to finish a few and put them on tape as a teaser.

What was recording the new album like?

We set out determined to not let perfection get in the way of having fun, so it was pretty breezy. We played the basics, drums, bass, guitars, live to 4-track cassette in about 12 hours total. I finished the songs in Protools. Some of them were tracked completely digital because the record button on our cassette machine broke. Jacob, who played bass on the record, is an engineer as well—it was cool to share responsibilities and get opinions from another nerd. He also had a cool Tapco (or was it Fostex) board that we used on most of the record.

How do you all describe your songwriting and development process for Neighbors?

I bring songs in and play them for the rest of the band. Most times I am very excited about what I’ve written but it typically becomes clear after a few run throughs whether it will work. From there, we keep playing it, adding and subtracting parts or sections as we go. Ninety percent of the time I'm half singing made up words that won't really get written till the day I record vocals.

Sometimes the rest of the band inspires me and I subject them to 5-10 minutes of noodling a new song idea that's popped into my head during practice.

Recently, Evan's been really good at suggesting structural edits that I wouldn't have thought of. Which is great because I'm kinda always afraid of repeating myself. I've also been more cognizant of what I'm actually playing on guitar, rather than, say, just playing variations on barre chords.

Love the opening of this, “the demonstration / gala meet and greet / you gotta RSVP” Give us the gory details on the academic inspirations behind this.

This kind of embarrassing, if only because Claire, who plays bass with us now, probably hates me for it. The song's a riff on Infinite Jest. If it were narrated by the speaker of, “Being For the Benefit Of Mr. Kite”.

With awesome contemporaries and friends in Chastity Belt, Dude York, Posse, etc, what does everyone in Neighbors make of this new Seattle phenomenon?

Two years ago it seemed like a band from Seattle had no chance of getting national attention. As far as I know, there isn’t really a presence here in terms of national press or PR/management people. At least not like in New York. And it seems to me that these are the people you need now to have a go at it. No one is really going to pay attention unless you get Pitchfork to do something with it. And a Pitchfork writer will almost definitely not be able to read or answer their 1,000th email of the day (the one regarding your record) unless it comes from someone with whom they have a relationship (your publicist).

On top of that, we're kind of geographically isolated. Getting to the Bay or LA or New York is a pretty big commitment. And anyway, getting out there doesn’t really mean much unless you’ve got a popular local band to figure out the venue and basically co-sign you as a band worth going to see. There was never a time in this (post-Strokes) era where being 'from Seattle' signified 'probably cool' like being 'from Brooklyn' did.

It seems to me like a lot of Seattle doesn't really care about the rest of the country, about 'making it.' I think that's good. I think it’s led to people creating and nurturing great spaces (Cairo, the Black Lodge, Healthy Times Fun Club, Heartland, the Funny Button), and doing great work with and for people they care about. We have three great labels putting this music out (Couple Skate, Beating A Dead Horse, Help Yourself).

We happen to be getting attention for this. Which is great!

I love too how it feels like everyone is collabing and helping each other out, I guess kind of like what SF was doing five years ago. How do you all describe this sort of communal support system you all have at work?

I don't think we are different from any other musical community in the US. We care about music. So we start venues. We start bands. We record bands. We put records out. We tour. We support touring bands. All of these activities require a bunch of people who are on the same wavelength—be it politically, aesthetically, or both.

And, uh, you know, for me I see my relationships to other actors in this community as defined by whom I can count on for favors: who will probably go to my show, who will play this show with me, who I should ask for tour contacts. And people know that if they want something recorded or want a show to happen that they can call on me.

Of course, there's a fellowship aspect as well. It's cool that I can go see So Pitted and Weed and run into Sacha from Posse and Andrew from Dude York. Or that Annie and Gretchen from Chastity Belt will come through my line at work.

Other favorite Seattle/Washington/Northwest bands/artists that you all love that few folks are talking about right now?

Besides the ones you named: Peeping Tomboys, So Pitted, Weed, Heavy Petting, Stutter, Darto, Punishment, Koda Sequoia, iji, Swamp Meat, Sick Sad World, and Marvelous Good Fortune.

Neighbors album, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?, will be available May 13 from Beating a Dead Horse Records, Bandcamp, and iTunes.

Cathch these good Neighbors on the following live dates:

13 Seattle, WA – Spin Cycle, Record Release party!
24 Seattle, WA – Heartland Funeral Festival

26 Seattle, WA – Blue Moon with Peeping Tomboys
28 Portland, OR – Foggy Notion