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Feature: High School Band Why Not is No Question

Photo By Johnny Nguyen

Photo By Johnny Nguyen

After being sent an incredibly enthusiastic email, I find myself sitting down with genre-refusing teen band, Why Not. The band is following up their 2018 album Spring Cleaning with EP, EP, out today, February 15th. Drummer Josh MacGregor has promised me that this is their “most captivating, interesting, and professional release so far.” So at the very least, Why Not is confident. Opening track “Ready 4 the World” backs that up on title alone, the band telling me that it’s the only song on Spotify titled “Ready 4 the World” using the number instead of the word.

Why Not thinks of themselves as a new step beyond punk and emo and math rock. And they aren’t wrong. EP layers autotune over a cacophony of guitar and fits a ten minute track into a four song release. Why Not, as a whole, are unique in their audacity. Singer, Henry Breen is articulate and soft spoken when I speak with him about the album. Which is a rare skill for a high schooler to possess. And it bleeds through EP. He sings about maturity, growth, and self-awareness over layered tracks. On “Thud. Dead.” he repeatedly slurs “I’m turning into ashes” as the track drifts away with a train chug. But there are no sad songs on EP. Even the feelings of being lost in your own mind and unable to properly convey yourself are undermined with energy. Why Not are cautious not to delve into the despair and self-pity of the three pieces of yore. They’re young, but just old enough to know they should care. Guitarist Isaac Dell tells me “we love our buds” while Josh chimes in “we’re wholesome people.” Part of what differentiates EP is its lack of edge. It’s not trying to be anything it isn’t, it’s refreshingly earnest. Why Not doesn’t posture themselves as the cool kids in school, and that’s what makes them so endearing. EP thinks self-righteous head nods are passe and encourages audiences to dance instead. This release is sonic; you can feel the band’s excitement of coming into their own. When asked about “Why Not” versus “Why Not?” they eagerly tell me that it’s a statement. Sans question mark is “exciting.” Isaac perks up and tells me that it’s also aesthetically better while handing me a handful of band stickers. But question mark aside, EP does stand on its own.

Photo By Johnny Nguyen

Photo By Johnny Nguyen

Sitting with the band we discuss Spongebob, Ariana Grande, and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and it becomes clear why they vie for positivity. They know their truth and they’re optimistic about it. Why Not isn’t emo, they’re not pop punk, they don’t swear in front of me. The peace and joy they find in expressing their more negative feelings is a punk mentality all its own. EP is the product of people who don’t want you to associate their music with sadness. Which may be naive, but it’s what differentiates EP from the rest. This EP is made for themselves, and if it resonates with others, then Why Not is happy. Their idealism seems young. But their desire to grow as people is wiser. Why Not is three teens making music because they love doing it and because they care for each other. And the world is definitely ready for that.

Why Not will be having their release party for EP on March 2nd at the Fall Out Arts Initiative in Minneapolis.

Keep up with the band on Facebook + Instagram

A Chat With: Gully Boys

Based out of Minneapolis, Gully Boys are a neo-emo band blazing the way for non-male bands in the DIY scene. I sat down with drummer, Nadirah McGill to discuss boy bands, “diversity,” and shifting the dialogue on local music.

Photo courtesy of Gully Boys

Photo courtesy of Gully Boys

Tell me a little about how you got started.

I started playing the drums about two and a half years ago. My ex-boyfriend had a drumkit and I would just fuck around on it. I finally saw these two drummers, Ben and Drew from POLICA. I saw them live and I was just like.. deceased. And it inspired me to start drumming. I always wanted to drum but my mom wouldn’t let me, she said it was too loud. So as soon as I was old enough, I got one, and it kind of happened like fate. My ex-boyfriend broke my TV and so he gifted me the drumset as payment.

Wait. Your ex broke your TV?

He was like “you can have this drum set, I was gonna sell it but I broke your TV. So.” And I was like “that’s fine”.”

Ok, Continue.

And so that’s kind of how Gully Boys started. Kathy came over and we covered “Boyfriend” by Best Coast. And then she showed me one of the songs she had and it was called “Hymen Honey.” She invited her best friend Natalie, and we jammed together one time and we became a band. It was nice because none of us had really played our instruments before so there wasn’t a level of power difference or hierarchy. We all learned our instruments and grew together. We all have a musical background in different things, so it’s really fun to kind of take that and smash it into a different instrument. Our first gig was in 2016, and we had started playing like maybe a month before that. We said we wanted to be a band, and came up with a name, and then just never practiced because we were like “we know how to do this.” And then we booked our first gig and we were like “oh shit we need to figure this out.” We pulled it together. And it’s really funny because my friend brought my mom, and I didn’t know but she recorded our first gig. My drumset was next to the stage, it was so awkward. We were so nervous and were just shaky little babies in the video. It’s kind of embarrassing that it’s on the web. My sister was actually at our second gig where we covered ‘Burning Up’ by the Jonas Brothers and she posted it on Facebook. Now it’s always there.

Music is undoubtedly dominated by men. The drums are especially an instrument we don’t often see non-men play. What’s that like for you?

So when I was on tour in Chicago this last New Years Eve, this guy walked up to me and he was like “you’re actually a good girl drummer! I see all these good girl drummers online, but when I see women drum in person they’re never that good. You’re actually amazing!” And I know he meant that as a compliment but it was so fucking rude because I know that people don’t say that to men. It sucks. If you’re femme-presenting or just not a dude and you play the drums, or are just in a band in a predominantly white male setting, it’s hard. But with my drums people patronize me in small ways. They don’t assume I know what a drum kit is or how to set it up. Someone told me once, when we were backlining the drum kit, I was like “oh what do I need to bring? My pedals and my breakables?” and they were like “oh you know what breakables are? Usually we have to say cymbals and snare.” I’m not an idiot. It sucks so hard to exist in this space and to just have to not take it personally. I know I have to have tough skin because. I had a girl come up to me and tell me that she wanted to start a band because of our band, and she had never played an instrument before. And that’s all I want to do. Because I never had female rockers to look up to, especially queer rockers of color. And I don’t play the drums to show off, I do it for me. Drummers were always my favorite in bands. And Katherine from Lunch Dutchess is like, my idol. Every time I see her band play I’m so inspired. It’s just so good to see women drumming, and she’s such a badass, so when men do question her about stupid shit she can just tell ‘em to go fuck off.

Have you ever had that chance?

Yeah! It was so funny. So we had a gig at this space, and right before I was shooting a music video for someone else and I was playing the drums in it. And in this one part of the music videos I was purposely getting frustrated with one part on the drums. And this guy walks up to me and goes “if you just raise your snare stand, just a quarter of an inch you’d get it every time.” And I just looked at him and said “you fucking asshole, I’m doing this on purpose, I know how to play the drums. Thanks even though I didn’t ask.” He was so confused, and I’m like dude, nobody asked. Why do men think they can just insert themselves and give me unsolicited advice?

Do you get that “advice” a lot?

All the time. And it’s so annoying. It feels like they’re trying to hold my hand and go “oh, silly girl you don’t know what you’re doing.” But, I love when they do that before I actually play and then I play and they’re like wow, you know what’s up.

You recently posted a meme on Instagram with you and other non-male bands in the Twin Cities as the Breakfast Club. Which was hilarious. But do you find that you all get lumped into one category?

I just ranted about this recently. As non-men bands, we get compared to each other All. The. Time. Especially in write ups. Like, when we played the main room we got compared to Scrunchies. And we don’t even play the same genre of music. In write ups, if there’s another girl band on the bill we get compared to them. Whereas there will be like eight boy bands and none of them ever get compared to each other. But there is some solidarity because when we [other non-male bands] do play with each other, we’re all like fuck all this, it’s ridiculous. We get tokenized, guys literally ask us to come on the bill and open so they could check their diversity quota of being diverse like “we have one girl band.”

Is that tokenizing or belittling behavior is pretty blatant?

A lot of it is micro-aggressions. Just small little pokes. Like when people say we’re so good for a girl band and not just… a band. Boy bands don’t get that. Or after our sets they’ll be so surprised that we make music that men like. It’s stuff like that.

I notice you’re using the term “boy bands”, which is great. Is that a term that comes up or do you consciously categorize all male bands as boy bands?

That’s what’s really funny. I don’t know when we started doing that ‘cuz everyone’s like “all male bands” and we’re like, no they’re boy bands. They’re not grown men. They’re boy bands. But, we also want to fit in that space too. We’re boy bands. We make different kind of boy band music, and we’re actually girls, but we’re a boy band. Also all of us were fucking weird tomboys when we were kids. And now we’re all hyper femme and reclaiming that aspect of our dirty, reckless childhood in boy bands. But all the local male bands are boy bands to us. They would be offended if we said that, I’m sure.

I like that. So Metallica is a boy band, Led Zeppelin is a boy band? Big Black is a boy band?

Yup, we call ‘em boy bands who make “butt rock”. Butt rock music. We have a boy band butt rock song. But we look at Led Zeppelin and we’re like yeah, that’s butt rock. It’s a genre of music.

Has Women Bands(™) become a genre?

Yes, and it sucks. That’s why I feel we get compared to other bands. Because even though we make music that’s completely different from Scrunchies and other local bands, we get compared to them because Women Bands is a genre now. It’s baloney sandwich and I hate it. Because we’re girls we get pinned against each other, and you can feel that misogyny in the music scene. And then it gets kind of fucked up because I’ll be honest, I find myself comparing myself to other female bands because of my own internalized misogyny. But then I’m like, “why?”— I want them to succeed and I want them to have good things, and I want to support them as much as I can and as much as I want them to support me. But we’re lumped into one genre; if we’re women and a three piece, we’re a “Punk Woman Band.”

Do you feel safer or more confident when you’re on bills like tha-

Yes. When we get to play bills of just non-boys, it’s so good. It’s definitely just more safe and more fun hanging out backstage, and just naturally clicking. We both do this really hard thing for this thing that we love and have to go through more B.S. than boy bands do.  

You just played First Ave, a big historic venue. So there’s no denying that we’re seeing a shift in who makes music. Do you feel like we’re seeing an influx of more non-men in the scene?

Yeah! In some aspects, yeah. Recently I’ve been seeing more calls for non-men. There’s a DIY festival for non-men that we’re playing in Fargo, North Dakota. But I feel like we’re also very supported in this scene. During our tour we talked with other women and their DIY spaces. It’s hard for a lot of people to find their space and acclimate. A lot of spaces are male heavy. But there is definitely is a wave of non-men coming. Stephanie Jo Murck [a musician in the Twin Cities] is kicking down doors and making space for women in DIY spaces. We’re seeing non-men take up space they should have and not be confined to being a Girl Band Playing in a Basement. There’s so many DIY bands now that are comprised of mostly women, or at least fronted by them. It’s becoming more normalized and more accessible. And it feels good and welcoming, like we’re moving away from tokenization because it’s not something unnatural. It’s not super groundbreaking anymore to have women in music and rocking. There’s also so many non-binary artists. There is space for non-men musicians to just exist and do what they do best, and get supported!

If you were dictator of a venue, what would the rules be, what would it look like?

It would be a mixture of touring bands and baby bands. Bands who just started and want to make music, and just picked up instruments for the first time. I’d want space for them to open up for bands on main stages, just making space for young people of She Rock. There would be a lot of space for non-binary folks too. I feel like there’s a lot of space for women. But queer and trans folks, especially trans women, get the short end of the stick when it comes to DIY and that doesn’t sit well with me. There’s so much space and so much room for everyone to succeed and everyone to do well and support each other. I wouldn’t have it be a competition. It would be more of a collective, co-op type thing. I would like more of this. We’re like thinking of opening up our own space in a friend of ours’ house. And that space would be run by musicians with disabilities, and musicians of color, and non-male musicians. It’s in the works. There might be that utopian space coming soon.

What kind of conversations do we need to have to create more inclusivity in the DIY scene?

One thing I don’t like is people who claim to be woke and have all these inclusive thoughts and then just take up space from the people they claim they’re fighting for, that’s what drives me absolutely insane. It’s the well intended white people. They inadvertently take up space they talk about giving back. I’m black, and queer, and in punk music, and making music that is predominantly run by white males. We need to remember that that music came from black people. Inclusivity for that would be having those conversations and realizing where you stand and how much space you take up. You need to ask yourself if what you’re doing is uplifting and making room for more people or if it’s self serving. I would just like a space where I could feel safe at all times and make music at all times. It’s, y’know, simple things.

Is Minneapolis an especially white city to play in?

Oh yeah. When we went down to New Orleans it was cool to see that space because everywhere there were just black musicians owning that city. But here it’s… really white, yeah. I have to tell my brothers that sometimes I do struggle being in a band with two white people, because sometimes small microaggressions will happen and they don’t notice it. Like on tour we went to Birmingham, Alabama and I was a little nervous being a queer black woman in the south, and Trump is the president right now, so it’s dangerous to exist. And I was trying to explain that to them and they just hadn’t considered it. There’s those times where I can feel that their bubble is only so big. And sometimes my realities exist outside of their bubbles. And that’s within the whole scene as well. But I am starting to see POC come into the scene too. And when I see them it’s like, I’ve been waiting for this. It’s good to see people who look like me playing this kind of music.

Re: creeping on your Instagram, I notice you hashtag “women in music.” Is that for irony? Just in case people search that tag? Or is it how you would describe yourself?

I do that because it’s how I found bands on tour. I mostly do it so other women bands can find us. I go on it and reach out to bands on tour and make friends with other women in music and find solidarity. Sometimes I do do it as a joke, but I’ve just found that tag to be useful for networking with other women. And of course it’s ironic too because we do call ourselves a boy band- we’re all brothers.

Do you feel like this wave of non-male bands is paving the way for the baby bands out there?

I feel like that bit of credit is true for most female bands. Any non-male bands have had to go through some bullshit so the next wave of musicians can have a smoother ride into the space. One of the things I always try to say at our shows, to whoever needs it, is to just start a band if you wanna start a band. Just pick up and instrument, because we need it. There are so many non-men and POC who have such amazing things to say but nobody has pushed them to say it or made them feel safe enough to just step into it. And I know I needed that. If I hadn’t have seen Tony Peachka, I don’t know if I would’ve been inspired to just do it. All of these bands kick down a door so someone else can walk through it.

Keep up with Gully Boys on Facebook + Twitter + Instagram

Get to Know: DEM YUUT

It's a Friday night in July, and Chicago's trademark humidity hangs in the air as Minneapolis band Now, Now are set to take the stage in Chicago for one of their first performances in over three years. Supporting the duo, fellow Minnesotans DEM YUUT will take the stage first to perform their experimental, alt-electronic tunes. Although the members of the quartet are each seasoned veterans in the music business, the DEM YUUT project only kicked off last year.  "We’ve all been in a lot of bands," says lead singer and songwriter Danny O'Brien. Elaborating on the band's formation, O'Brien continues, "We’ve all been friends for a long time. It was just kind of--I had this thing that I was gonna do as a solo project. I wrote a bunch of songs while my kids were napping, and showed them to everybody. They were like yeah you should make a band out of this thing, so that’s the gist of it." O'Brien also reveals that the origin of his musical inclination dates all the way back to young age of eleven years old, remembering that his song-writing father gave him a guitar and a chord book for his birthday. The rest is history. 

Bandmate Jef Sundquist interjects with his memories of the band's creation, saying, "My favorite thing is [Danny was] like 'I don’t wanna play guitar', and I was like 'I don’t wanna play bass', and that kind of changed the organization of the band. To where he was just singing, and I was playing samples and synth." Sundquist and O'Brien further demonstrated their adaptability as musicians when they later took the stage again to back Now, Now after their support slot. 

DEM YUUT is Danny O'Brien, Don House, Jeremy Hanson, and Jef Sundquist   Photo courtesy of Middle West Management

DEM YUUT is Danny O'Brien, Don House, Jeremy Hanson, and Jef Sundquist 

Photo courtesy of Middle West Management

Although the band have traded hats so to speak for the DEM YUUT project, their years of experience came into the play when the band recorded their debut album, tracking a lot of it live. With only one song "Dawn/Sea" officially released, the band express their itch to release more of it, but they don't have a definite timeline in place. "It's done, done. Recorded and mastered," O'Brien confirms. Talking more about the recording process and live tracking, O'Brien says, "We did some of it at my place. I have a studio in my house. We live tracked a bunch of the record, which is pretty sweet, for this genre of music cause it’s not all sequenced. We kind of went about it as if we were still a rock band, as far as tracking goes. We were all in the room together, making it happen. So the only overdubs were a couple acoustic guitar parts and my vocals. Everything else was cut together." By playing the songs out live, rather than focusing on overdubs and splitting up their parts, the group managed to save some time. "It was pretty much 9 songs in 10 days. A song a day to kind of get the vibe," Sundquist recalls. 

The recording process that the band settled on has made for an easy transition when it comes to performing their songs live, O'Brien says. Sundquist agrees, adding, "A couple of them were tricky, but it was always just like 'make it work'. It doesn’t have to be like the demo. The demo is just the idea....we get to make it work in a live setting." Speaking of playing live, DEM YUUT recently got the chance to perform at a concert that kicked off Eaux Claires Festival at The Oxbow Hotel, headlined by The Shouting Matches (You can revisit our recap of the show here). Guitarist Don House says the opportunity popped up because their manager is good friends with festival curator Justin Vernon. Remembering their time at the festival, House says Sylvan Esso's set sticks out as a highlight, while Sundquist favors the John Prine Tribute that featured countless artists from Vernon to Jenny Lewis, This Is The Kit, and Prine himself. 

It's no secret that Eaux Claires Festival evokes a strong sense of collaboration and improvisation every year, and DEM YUUT fit in perfectly with that common thread, having recently remixed The Staves. A staple of the Eaux Claires lineup, The Staves also fit right into DEM YUUT's circle. "I guitar tech for them. They kind of lived at my house last summer, and we became friends. Through that, they asked us to remix it," House explains. "That whole remix thing was just to kill time cause the record was done and we were not doing anything," O'Brien adds. As far as potential future collaborations, O'Brien says he's open to working with anyone, while Sundquist throws out Twigs, Kendrick, and Sza as suggestions. 

DEM YUUT and Now, Now's tour wraps up this weekend in San Francisco on July 16th, but O'Brien and Sundquist seemed set out to make the most of our while we chatted--both from an artistic standpoint and a personal level. Artistically, the band reveal they are able to stay creative and working on new material, even while they are still mastering their current live roster of songs. "I feel like I can write kind of anywhere," O'Brien says, while Sundquist adds in that they were both writing in the van that afternoon. The Chicago show was only the second show of the tour, followed up by a hometown performance for both bands on the bill. Despite the hiccups that any "first of the tour" show usually contains, Sundquist says, "There was a great sports movie comeback moment, where a song fell apart and we had to get it back together. It came back together and it was amazing." On a personal level, O'Brien says, "We’ve got a day off in New York City that’s gonna be pretty fun. Then like a half day off in LA. We should be able to do some fun stuff. I wanna go to a beach, I don’t care which coast. I love the ocean," also revealing that he won't get caught swimming in Lake Michigan, though.

The remainder of 2017 is still a bit up in the air for this rookie project composed of music veterans, but hopefully a new tour announcement and new music releases are just around the corner. Stay up to date with DEM YUUT by following their Facebook page, and get ready for the new music by listening to their single "Dawn/Sea" below!

Can't get enough DEM YUUT? Also check out of photo galleries of their show in Chicago on 7/7 here.