At this moment, Williamsburg might reign supreme as the current indie-rock capital of America, spouting a torrent of nicotine-stained bands into the big time while cornering the market on broken-arm tattoos and art-nerd superiority, but contrary to popular belief, the nabe does not lay claim to every exciting indie band in New York. Dear David Byrne: if you want to discover the next big alternative act, you might try skipping the Bedford Avenue stop. Outside the usual music hotbeds of New York an outcropping of talent is taking root in places like Astoria, Queens, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn and the West Village. What explains this growing diaspora of creativity? We asked eight bands and artists who create vibrant, unconventional music in spite of living outside the center of the cool New York.
Band Name: Freelance Whales Hood: Astoria, Queens Who you are: We’re a group of strangers-turned-musical companions that like to use an absurd number of instruments to create unique rhythms. Our music—like our selves –is serious and cerebral while still maintaining the important childhood memories of playfulness and experimentation. What drew you to Astoria? What initially brought us there—to be wholly unglamorous—was the fact that Doris had a practice space all set up and ready to go when we began playing together. But over time, we realized that everything we do together now as a band embodies Queens’ classically “New York” gritty intensity.
Band Name: Buke and Gass (pronounced “byook” and “gace”) Hood: Bed-Stuy and Columbia Heights, respectively. Who you are: We’re a duo that makes as much sound as possible live, on instruments that we built—a Buke (a modified 6 string baritone Ukelele) and a Gass (a hybrid between an electric bass and guitar). What drew you to Bed-Stuy and Columbia Heights? I, Buke, can afford Bed-Stuy, and Gass found his place about 10 years ago. Neither of us really factored in any inspirational values to either neighborhood besides that they’re just great places.
Name: The Prigs Hood: Ditmas Park (Flatbush/Midwood area) Who you are: We’re a runaway delivery truck blasting through a monkey cage. We are what happens when Huey Lewis and The Who eat a plate of Irish bangers and a drink a case of Baltika on a space ship to R. Kelly’s house. You’ll find tight harmonies, hot horn lines, slick dance grooves, and sweet makeout jams. The Prigs’ foundation was built with members of St. Vincent, Kaki King’s band, The Spring Standards, Via Audio, and Tigercity. What drew you to Ditmas Park? Ditmas is a very ethnically diverse neighborhood, and there are many children, trees, homes and driveways. We can stop into any of our favorite local spots—Fisherman’s Cove restaurant, Gyro King, Club 773 Lounge—and feel this lovely sense of community, and a deep connection to the history of Brooklyn. There are also, however, plenty of places to go wild and plenty of thrills lurking in the shadows.
Name/band name: Chris Thile/Punch Brothers Hood: Prospect Heights Who you are: I’m the mandolinist from Punch Brothers, a progressive acoustic band. What drew you to Prospect Heights? The food (Franny’s, James, Chavella’s), the drinks (Weather Up for cocktails, Milk Bar for coffee), Prospect Park (practicing in the park is heaven), and the diversity that gentrification has graciously refrained from destroying so far. There is no better place to think and work in New York.
Name: Clare Burson Hood: Cobble Hill Who you are: When people ask who I sound like, I usually say a cross between Lucinda Williams and Feist. What drew you to Cobble Hill?: I spent 4 years living as a musician in Nashville before moving here. In Nashville, I was totally immersed in “the scene,” which was both wonderful and, in the end, fairly oppressive. So part of my decision to move to Park Slope and then eventually Cobble Hill—as opposed to Williamsburg or the LES—was a desire to live outside of a scene for a while. More specifically, being in Cobble Hill alleviates a little bit of the pressure I tend to feel when surrounded by the hustle of other musicians who, like me, are trying advance their work. I don’t know if it’s inspiring musically per se—I tend to turn inward for that—but the space and the quiet facilitates creativity.
Artist/Band Name: Hooray For Earth Hood: West Village, Manhattan Who you are: We make fantasy pop. We like noise and electronic, but we mostly make pop songs or occasionally drone out on something. What drew you to the West Village? Rent controlled apartments drew me to the neighborhood. I get to hang out around the same places as indie film stars and awesome old gays. Honestly, the best thing about that area, from a musical standpoint, is that I feel secluded.
Artist/Band Name: William Brittelle Hood: Red Hook Who you are: Composer at the crossroads of modern classical and adventurous pop/rock. Sounds like Beach Boys mixed with Basquiat mixed with Prince mixed with Ravel. What drew you to Red Hook?: Unlike Williamsburg and the LES, there are actually people over 35 that live here. My studio is in North Red Hook, across the BQE, and the area reminds me of Alphabet City around the turn of the last century, before it was totally invaded by hipsters. Because of the lack of subway service, it seems to retain a hometown feel and a rawness that much of the city lacks, though remaining relatively safe and fun.
Artist/Band Name: Michael Roi Hood: Park Slope Who you are: I’m a singer/songwriter from Jupiter, Fla., influenced by Neil Diamond, Neil Young, Nick Cave, Tom Waits, and George Jones. What drew you to Park Slope?: I never thought of Park Slope as a musical hotbed. I was drawn more to the culture, the artist community, the lack of noisy tourists and especially the tap water. While I live in Park Slope, I enjoy crashing on couches all over Brooklyn. Some friends asked me to write a parody Beatles tune that paid tribute to Sheepshead Bay. While it’s probably as far from the epicenter of the indie music scene as you can get, it’s one of my favorite places to hang and play music. I guess inspiration is where you find it.