Necessities' Debut Album Be Kind Simulacra Pushes the Boundaries of Indie Rock


There may be no science to fully predict the half-life of a local band, but a few metrics can be used to measure a group's overall stability. Bands can get scuttled by normal life events (marriage, children, the long-delayed arrival of adulthood) or interpersonal dynamics, but a number of bands call it quits after having achieved a measure of success while stalling on shifting into the next gear.

Necessities, a spiky trio that finds a foothold between harmony and cacophony, formed from the ashes of three beloved and promising local bands. Stephen Baier led the indie-pop/glee-club mashup Dots Not Feathers; Chris Phillips sang lead in polyrhythmic pop trio Bear Hive; and Jon Ryan was half of the abrasively danceable duo Volcanoes. But with Necessities, the three musicians have merged their interest in spindly, kinetic guitar riffs and jerky but propulsive rhythms. More importantly, it's a project informed more by the bonds of friendship and the thrill of creation rather than any big-eyed dreams of indie-rock stardom.

"I think all three of our bands had gone down the route of which you're supposed to — we had all made full-length records, we had all talked to labels and tried to do the touring thing," says Phillips. "We were all around the same age of 27 when it was stopping. We were pretty fatigued by part of that process."

A few years away from steady gigs and a lot of time in the band's practice/hangout space served to refresh these musicians and reorient their priorities. "We have hung onto the idea that if it's not fun and enjoyable at all times, it's not worth doing," says Phillips.

For Baier, whose time at the helm of Dots Not Feathers burnished his abilities as a nuanced pop songwriter, Necessities is a pronounced pivot away from his old group. As this new band was getting its legs, he found inspiration in another local trio known for wrangling guitar tones and rhythms into something unfamiliar.

"In that early state I had a deep revelation moment at a Yowie show where I was thinking of how and why to be a band," said Baier, "and the end goal was just to be the best band you can be.

"When Dots Not Feathers was ending, I was still writing, but for some of it I wanted to do something completely new," continues Baier. "I really wanted to be a guitar hero — I want to embrace writing a bunch of riffs. That culminated in a moment of leaning into bands like Don Caballero and Fugazi — it all came together in one moment when I was just in love with being an angular guitarist."

Baier's riffs drive most of the material on the Be Kind Simulacra EP, a five-song introduction that finds the band pushing against the interplay between interlocking patterns and the sometimes-ethereal detachment of Phillips' voice. The EP's second track, "Opti-Mystic," demonstrates this balance best; the song begins in medias res, as if we've walked into the middle of a practice session, where Phillips' voice traipses along a riff that hits like pneumatic rockabilly. Its pop-forward, one-for-all chorus finds all the pieces aligning, for a moment, before unspooling again.

"The sound is what really leads the body of work," says Phillips. "I think the three of us found that it sounds like its own thing. Off of that we wrote songs very collaboratively and do the arranging together. We all three had a very defining place in the process."

In Ryan's last band, he was only an occasional drummer and was normally stationed on bass and synth; so to prepare as Necessities' beat-keeper, he sold off some old gear, bought his own kit and began woodshedding in earnest.

"In Volcanoes the drums were as loud and fast as possible — there was not a lot of technique involved," says Ryan. "I wanted to do more nuanced, technique-driven kind of drumming rather than just smashing loudly. The songs are pretty complicated and have a lot of parts, but if you listen to the kick and snare pattern they will be the same throughout the entire song."

For a band made up of players who were friends first and bandmates second, navigating the machinery of the local music scene is both new and familiar — but it is never the end goal of Necessities' vision.

"We want to get piped back into some of the larger music community ... I feel like when I stopped gigging as much I became an old person," says Phillips. "Since we have that very open-ended goal of enjoying our time together, our band practices can evolve or devolve into awesome hangout sessions."

Still, Phillips says, the band continues to write and record, despite having just released a cassette version of Be Kind in December. "There definitely will be new material at some point this year. I love the recording process; that's where a large passion of mine exists."

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