In Three-Part Harmony, The Powerhouses of Boy Band Stun and Surprise
Joseph. The Wild Reeds. HAIM. The list of female-led harmony groups certainly doesn't end here, but you might say that it begins again, reborn with a new vibrancy, with Boy Band. Composed of HaleyJane Rose, Jen Fischer, and Ana Dratz, the New York based folk-pop group have burst onto the music scene with their at times poignant, at times upbeat, all times addictive singalongs.
We had a chance to talk with these harmony heroes about their debut EP (and brand new single!), the musical variety you'll find in NYC, sushi songwriting sessions, and so much more. First, though, we need to talk about the tunes.
Last summer, Boy Band dropped their debut EP, Begin, five tracks coated in carefully curated folk-pop treatment. Opening the record is "Think Things Through," a bubbly singalong and dancealong that offers the very first indication of Boy Band's collective talent: swells of vivid harmony seem to rupture in the ether, making way for the best damn kazoo and glockenspiel parts we've ever heard. Sure, you can hear the song sparkle, but somehow you can feel it too. This, then, is already the power of Boy Band: they shimmer, they twinkle, they glitter, and through it all, they prove their talent from the get-go.
Next comes "King Lear," a heavy, moody track built by harmonious crescendos, theatrical percussion pulsing away in the background, and moments of desperate vocal play. On "Sorry (High & Dry)," the band's harmony is at its most skilled, sharing the space with an insistent piano rhythm before percussive thumps join the arrangement. Suddenly, the song unfolds like magic, each component shining solo but merging, finally, for a radio-ready folk-pop explosion.
"Up From The Mud" follows, an emotional power anthem that finds the group sharing an important sentiment: "I am the strongest flower rising from the mud." Here, we get less of their already signature sanguine ways, but more of the quiet strength that guides each member. The honesty we get on this track feels almost like a gift, one we accept graciously. Begin ends with its title track, a soft, haunting song that progresses with great care, plodding along among stunning swells of orchestral arrangements and dreamy harmony.
On Begin, the women behind Boy Band reveal unending talent, mostly in the form of colorful melodies and decadent harmonies, but also in their own band camaraderie and storytelling bravery.
Luckily for fans hungry for more, they've just released "Still," their brand new single, and it'll knock you out. "Still" vibrates with a sugar high, decked out in candied melody and the sweetest pop-perfect composition. The track takes you back to unending summer nights you'll never forget, sticky with the blood of a red icepop dripping down your chin and buzzing with the songs of bugs settling down in the late hours. "Still" is the soundtrack of your summer, designed to be blasted at full volume with the windows down.
As promised, read below for our exclusive interview with Boy Band!
The Music Mermaid: First, can you tell The Music Mermaid a little about yourselves and your music?
Ana Dratz: Hi! We’re Boy Band! We are a trio of ladies who love using our voices as our main instruments. We came together at a friend’s backyard BBQ where we sang an impromptu cover of “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” and loved the way our voices blended together.
TMM: Describe each other in just a few words.
According to Boy Band... Ana is bubbly, fierce, loyal, kind, creative, and positive. Jen is soulful, gentle, surprising (x2!), polished, and a moon-child. HaleyJane is quirky, sassy, confident, a comic, a wordsmith, and a rockstar.
TMM: You’re situated close to NYC so you’ve scored a lot of gigs in that area. What do you love most about the New York music scene?
HaleyJane Rose: There are no limits. We’ve played shows on exclusively punk bills, we’ve gotten paid to play in a subway station... in New York you can play to a room of strangers who just wandered in hoping to hear something new.
Jen Fischer: Every artist is unique and has their own style, genre, voice, look, instruments, etc. It’s awesome being able to watch other performers do things completely different than us -- it makes the scene feel really diverse and interesting. I know I can go out any night and no two acts will be the same... for example I don’t think we’ve ever played on the same bill as another 3-part harmony girl group.
AD: The variety! We always find ourselves on bills with no other artists like us (I’m talking exclusively punk-rock and hip-hop) and it somehow works out! New York is very accommodating for artists in that it showcases so many different types of art and we’ve been fortunate enough to perform in places where people pay attention and we are not just background noise.
TMM: What was the production process like for your debut EP, Begin?
HJR: We were very lucky to have both Jack Hoffman and Dalton Deschain, who had to interpret our gibberish of trying to explain the tone, the sound, and colors we were trying to emote in each song. We wrote these songs acoustic, just imagining a full band sound. In some cases the guys pulled the exact sound we were thinking from our heads... in other cases, their ideas totally shifted the way we thought about our own music. We fell in love with “Sorry (High & Dry)” when Jack put his suggestions into play; I don’t think that song would be what it is without his mind.
JF: Relatively easy. Jack was a dream to work with, so luckily it wasn’t too stressful on our part. We all had a lot of fun together!
AD: It came together so smoothly! We were fortunate enough to work with two incredible producers [Jack and Dalton] who knew just how to take three girls and a guitar to the full sound we imagined in our writing. We shouted out all sorts of ideas and they knew how to make sense of it all to give us a great, cohesive EP.
TMM: Is the songwriting process collaborative? Where does inspiration tend to strike?
HJR: Sometimes it’s a collaboration between all three, or two of us, or in many cases one of us presents a song written by themselves to the group and then the arranging and musicality becomes extremely collaborative. We all have our strengths that we rely on each other for. No matter what, all songwriting sessions are accompanied by a lot of sushi. I think inspiration comes most to me, personally, riding the subway. It’s terrible and mundane, but it’s the time of day where I feel totally alone with my own thoughts and can reflect on my day and feelings.
JF: It really varies, but I think for the most part it’s a collaborative experience. Typically, one of us will come in with an idea and the other two will help shape it lyrically, harmonically, instrumentally, etc. I think the inspiration for any of the songs comes from the person who originally started the musical idea or theme, and the other two will try to help the person develop it.
AD: The writing itself varies. I do not consider myself much of a lyricist, but often I’ll come in with an instrumental part and a concept and let the other ladies run wild with lyrics. Sometimes one of us will come in with a full song written and sometimes we just start from scratch. The arranging is where it really becomes a full collaboration. Inspiration for me comes from everywhere. I’ll start humming random tunes and as soon as I find myself near an instrument, I find the chords that work with it.
TMM: What do you feel are the advantages and disadvantages of the music industry today?
HJR: Because of the easy access to discovering new artists platforms like Spotify provide, you can really find independent music and give them a spin. That combined with social media, it’s easy to put your music out there -- we’ve seen great mainstream success from artists like Chance the Rapper with no label, so the “rules” are way more malleable in artists' favor. However, because of that, there are just so many musicians! The pool is so large and easy to dive into, that you can get a little lost amongst all those people swimming in it.
JF: I think a great advantage is that anyone can join. It's not entirely exclusive. Decades ago, putting something out for people to listen to would’ve meant that you needed to be signed to a label, which tended to be predatory. It's great that we can avoid that part of the industry all together... essentially cut out the middle man and deliver music directly to our fans. The downside, however, is that because it's so easy, the market is over-saturated. It's hard to carve out a name for yourself and have people listen to you when there are so many other artists out there in your category.
AD: Accessibility is a huge advantage. As much as I love having a physical copy of our EP, I have the most supportive friends and family all over the world who might not be able to hear our music if it weren’t for Spotify or iTunes or even the snippets they catch on Instagram. It makes my day when a cousin will randomly send me a video of them listening to our music. They may not make up the majority of our audience, but it puts a huge smile on my face.
TMM: Which song off Begin do you each feel closest to and why?
HJR: “Up from the Mud” is my personal, cathartic “battle cry” to a time in my life where everyone seemed to not find me cut out for the things I wanted. I’m so grateful to the band for helping me close that chapter and bring this song to life.
JF: I feel closest to the song "Begin." All of the lyrics I had improvised on the spot while Ana accompanied on guitar. I really enjoy improvising melody and lyrics and feel that whatever comes out of improvisation (at least for myself) is true and heartfelt.
AD: "Think Things Through" has a special place in my heart. It was the first song we ever recorded with Jack and I just remember having so much fun in the studio. We pulled out tap shoes, trombone, glockenspiel, kazoo — a weird assortment of instruments, but it all came together and is the perfect first song on our EP to show you all who we are as a band.
TMM: Who are three musicians you think the world needs to hear ASAP?
HJR: Jerry Williams, an independent English pop-rock princess, and Margo Price and Kacey Musgraves - two women changing the country music scene.
JF: I think everyone forgot about Liz Phair and she was all about female empowerment, so she needs a good re-listen, specifically her album Exile in Guyville [Editor's Note: The day after we conducted this interview, I heard that Liz Phair was going on tour. Maybe you'll find Jen at one of these gigs.] St. Vincent, because [she has] raw talent and serious musicianship. AND Joanna Newsom for the same reason... but also because she has some weird and interesting things to say.
AD: We are all big fans of Joseph, whose use of tight harmonies we definitely draw a lot of inspiration from. Mree is an independent artist whose career I have followed since high school. Very ethereal, very soothing. Lastly, Skinny Lister. Not at all like our band, but I just love them so much and need the rest of the world to listen to them too.
TMM: What has been your most memorable music moment so far?
HJR: When two girls I babysit sang and played “Think Things Through” for me together. Something like that really melts your little heart.
JF: Not a specific moment, but different instances where people come up to us and say something to the effect of: “Boy Band!!! I stream you on Spotify!!!” It’s beyond cool that people actually listen to the things we’ve written and recorded. It's such a great feeling.
AD: One of the most memorable moments was a couple weeks ago when our single, “Sorry (High & Dry)”, was played on the radio. That coupled with two really fantastic shows that weekend were a great musical high for me.
TMM: You guys just released your new single, "Still." Can you talk a little about this track?
HJR: Roll down your car windows, baby! Bring up your Bluetooth speaker to your apartment roof! We want you to dance and soak in the sun. This song feels like summers off when you first got your driver’s license.
The Music Mermaid: Finally, what’s next for Boy Band?
HaleyJane Rose: Recording our debut album, getting to other cities, continuing to find our unique, collective voice. I’d also really like to work up the courage to change up my sushi order during our next songwriting session.
Jen Fischer: We’re really looking toward eventually writing, recording, and completing a full-length album... we’re so close?!??! Kind of?!
Ana Dratz: Working on that full-length album! We have been hard at work in the studio and can’t wait til we have that all out together. Otherwise, stay tuned for more shows!