boyscott talks house shows, goose bumps, and vampire weekend
Playlist curator Kiera O'Harrow sits down with Boyscott's Scott Hermo Jr. and Emma Willer to reflect on the re-release of their 2015 LP, Goose Bumps.
HS: How’s your 2020 been so far?
Scott: It’s been a weird year so far. It’s funny because we've already been hibernating and forcing ourselves to stay at home because we've been recording. We were really stoked to not be home anymore and to go on tour, so now we’re continuing our hibernation. It’s not ideal, but we can’t complain. We're totally safe, totally healthy, and just eating a lot, watching a lot of TV, and recording.
HS: Do you think this social isolation/quarantine has changed your creative process or the way you move through the world as an artist?
Scott: Well, it’s definitely affected us creatively. I think a lot of it is just situational, too, because we had already been recording and we were kind of expecting a break— sadly, that break never happened. A lot of times we’ll go on tour and it will inspire us again, so when we get home, we're ready to create. But because we didn't have that break in-between, we’ve just had no motivation, and it’s made us realize just how important it is to get out, be social, and play shows. It really does affect you; it’s affected me, I know it’s affected Emma, too. It’s just made us realize how important shows are to our creativity, along with being around people and seeing our friends.
HS: So, your debut album Goose Bumps was first released back in 2015. What was the motivation to re-release it last year?
Scott: Yeah, so we had released that back in 2015. Then, for like two years we did just a bit of touring here and there, doing it all by ourselves. We took a break for a year, going between different band members and figuring it out. Then, this opportunity came along where our buddy in D.C., who runs this label with his friends called Babe City Records— really wonderful people— reached out to us wanting to release a new album. They ended up offering a re-release of Goose Bumps. I kind of forget how it happened, but they basically came to us with Top Shelf Records on board, too, and offered to put the record on vinyl. That was the big thing— they put it on vinyl, CD, and tapes. It was a chance to be able to distribute it to different record stores. So, really, it was just an opportunity, and it was fun. We’re learning about how long the lifespan of an album or a song is. It's already been almost five years since that record had been put out, and yet, just from putting it on vinyl, it’s kind of had this new life again, and we've toured on it a couple of times already. It was an opportunity, and it was really great because it got us excited about the album again.
HS: Very cool. What was the creative process for that album [Goose Bumps] like?
Scott: It’s a weird one. A lot of those songs had been written prior to us actually recording them. I had been recording songs for fun in late high school and early college— I never really took it too seriously. I took it seriously in that it was all I wanted to do when I got home, but I didn’t think that it was going to be a band or anything; I guess I hoped it would. Then, I finally found the right people, or just, you know, people that were into it. We brought these old songs to life again. The creative process though, it’s tough to say, because all of the songs were written at such different times. Some of them were made when I was in high school, some of them were early college, and some of them while we were recording the album, trying out ideas. All of them are pretty different; all were written in very different parts of my life in very different mindsets. I think that’s what makes the album interesting, I hope. All the songs have their own feel, in a way. I'm honestly surprised that it worked so well and that it made a cohesive thing— I'm kind of shocked that that happened.
HS: It sounds like it [Goose Bumps] was recorded in a pretty DIY setup— what was that like?
Scott: Yeah, that was really fun. I had just moved out of a dorm at my school, into a house with a couple of people that I actually didn't know very well. We ended up becoming really good friends, and the house was secluded enough that we could play music as loud as we wanted to. So, we recorded just about everything in my bedroom; the room was this little dungeon, it was very dark in there. Then, when we recorded the drums, we did it in a really bright living room at our drummer’s house, really close to campus. We were pretty much just winging it the whole time. We used four mics on the drums, which is actually pretty decent. But considering that we didn't know what we were doing, it was surprising that it worked out so well. But to answer your question, yes, a DIY [setup], one hundred percent. I'm really proud of that fact, and it was just so much fun to do it while hanging out with our friends at home.
HS: Goose Bumps, as an album, paints such a specific picture and vibe of the outdoors. I guess now that you've said it was recorded during all different parts of your life, I'm curious; when you were putting the album together, would you say that was intentional or did the album just sort of come out that way?
Scott: Yeah, it just kind of came out that way. At the time, I would come home from school, and I was in high school and I would just work on ideas for fun, not even thinking they were songs. I was just making stuff for fun, just making sounds. Then, by college, I started having more fun trying to make songs. When I met the rest of the core members of the band, they were like “Oh, let's record this,” and we took it more seriously. But, again, the songs were made in very different mindsets; "Sleepwalk," most of that song, was recorded when I was in high school. Some of that we didn’t even change— it was already recorded. I don't know, I wasn't depressed, but bored and making something of interest to me. "Marco Polo," I made that song in just one day in my dorm room in college. [As for] the rest of the songs, we tried to feel how it would be to play them live. So, yeah, it differs for each song. It's really weird— it wasn't intentional at all. I'm just really glad that it worked out, and that they work together. Everyone always says that it seems like a cohesive album and that it all goes toward the same image and sound, but [for] me, I'm just shocked that that happened [laughs].
HS: So, you guys play a lot of house shows in the DIY scene. How is/has that been for you? Would you say it has been a supportive environment?
Scott: Oh yeah, it’s been absolutely amazing. It’s like my dream come true. I never thought that we would be accepted into a scene like this at all. Being able to play house shows is the best feeling; they're the best kind of show, so supportive. It has really been the main thing that’s kept us going. I don't know if we didn't have such positive shows that we would have been able to keep going so excitedly and keep playing these old songs. So yeah, it’s been really wonderful.
HS: That’s really great. You guys had mentioned that you prefer playing shows where you’re on the same level as the crowd, could you elaborate on that?
Emma: It’s definitely the most rewarding atmosphere. When you’re up on a stage you feel kind of distant from people and it’s kind of hard to see them.
Scott: It’s hard to judge the crowd’s reactions from up there.
Emma: I feel like the audience just feels a little more weird or distant when you're on stage. In a house show, I don't know why, but everyone’s just more comfortable and willing to dance.
Scott: I think it really has to do with the space. We've played some house shows that have a really great sound. So many people are like “But venues have such good acoustics!" Generally, yes, that is the case, and we can hear ourselves better with monitors. But there's just something about the setting— people come to this house, and it’s very casual, and relaxed, and not intimidating. It’s not like you’re looking up at a band. It’s much more of a community feel. Whereas at a venue, as much as we have really enjoyed leveling up to play some venue shows, in a way, we still miss and try to play house shows whenever we can, because of that casual feel. It’s also really easy to talk to everyone afterward and [it] just seems like such a big celebration. It’s just the best thing. It’s been really sad to see that a lot of places closed down after that fire in Oakland. At the same time, though, I think it was a really huge awakening to realize that we need to make these spaces safe. We have played in some spaces that were very sketchy— so many sketchy basements. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s more of a party than a show; we don't love that. There can be a lot of drinking involved and sometimes people are a little reckless. We like when it’s a show and people are there for the show. I'm fine with people drinking, but it’s better when it’s not a party. When people aren’t there for the music, it’s not the same. Sure, that can be fun at times for different kinds of bands, but for us, I just feel like our songs aren't really meant for that kind of atmosphere.
HS: Yeah that totally makes sense. I actually saw you guys at Mystery Inc. [a basement spot in DC] like a year ago.
Scott: Oh no way, that was a fun and weird show, too. That space is awesome— where the shows are is kind of like a little dungeon. It seemed like a really great community. I actually remember that show pretty distinctly. We ended up sleeping in the basement room that we played in. We had a ton of fun. That was one of our first shows on that tour and we hadn’t played in a year almost, so we were really nervous for it. But it’s awesome that you were there— thanks so much for coming out!
HS: Yeah, totally, it was a great show. Being based out of Connecticut, what would you say the music scene there is like?
Scott: So, we have been here for about a year and a half. It’s been really great to be in a new scene and learn about it and all the bands and people involved. Let me tell you, we are very impressed with the scene in Connecticut. I’m pretty blown away honestly. We had started in Nashville, which has just this absolutely wonderful scene with so much going on, almost too much going on [laughs]. That’s not a bad thing, though, it’s amazing. It was so easy to get a show in Nashville, and people always came out. When we were moving to Connecticut, we had known some people and heard of some bands here but weren't totally aware of what the scene was like and just imagined it wasn't too great. Thankfully, it turned out to be wonderful. There were a bunch of house shows a little while ago, and it’s basically all because of this one promoter, Brandon of Tiny Box Booking here in Connecticut. He has literally just killed it. He’s the reason so much is happening here right now. It’s nuts, though, because even as a small state, you have to drive like an hour to get to any show, or at least we do. People here are used to driving that long. When we were in Nashville, there were shows we didn't go to because they were more than fifteen minutes away. It’s been really cool just to see how dedicated and loyal everyone in the scene is. We're huge fans of it, and we feel really lucky to be a part of it.
HS: Are there any bands we should be listening to?
Scott: Ooh, yeah, let me think. Our roommate plays in a band called Woozles. Our old drummer plays in a few bands, his main project is called King Bongo. There are just so many bands. Let me think of one that we are always stoked to go see, I'll check my Facebook [laughs]. There’s this band Crag Mask, one of them is in the band Vundabar, too; the bassist lives in Connecticut and has that project. There’s also this band called The Knife Kickers, who are really great. They kind of have similar guitar sounds to the band Pile. Shawn Henry is another good artist here, I've actually not met anyone in that band yet, only in passing. Anyway, though, I can't express enough how surprised I am that the scene is so strong here in such a small area.
HS: As for a sophomore album or new releases, is there anything in the works?
Scott: Yes! We have something very currently in the works, actually. We have been working on it for a really long time, and it's going to be a new album. We pretty much started working on it immediately after the last album finished. We've just grown so much, especially after touring and hearing all these amazing bands— we've learned so much from them. We keep going back and redoing stuff and our band members are always fluctuating. So we'll have a new drummer or something, and start playing with them, and then they bring a new flair to a song, and we'll just be like “Oh, oh my gosh, we have to redo that in the song." So, it’s been a very long process, but we're finally narrowing it down and on the verge of finishing it. We're hoping to finish it this spring while we're just here doing nothing and to have it out by late summer/early fall. That’s if everything goes well, so we’ll see. But yes, we are working on new stuff.
HS: Are there any collaborations you guys are looking forward to?
Scott: Well, yeah, I mean, in this album we have collaborated with a lot of people. We have gone through so many band members since starting this thing. We’ve counted and it’s like just over twenty members.
Scott: Yeah, literally just the week our tour was canceled, we got this new drummer we've been friends with for a while. We are so stoked to play with him. He was up here in Connecticut with us, and once we learned the tour was canceled, we started doing some more recording and he jumped in on some stuff. We’re really stoked to be collaborating with all these new band members. We have this new bassist that's been with us this past year and he’s contributing to a song, too. We’re kind of all collaborating with each other. They’re my songs, but at the same time, I feel weird saying that. I'm not sure how I'm even going to put the credits on the album, because Emma here has just helped me tremendously, too, whether it’s with recording or writing. The album will definitely have some interesting credits at the end. I'm excited to see how that works out…many paragraphs [laughs]. We're just excited to be making it with each other and bringing new people into it.
HS: Yeah, that’s really exciting. It sounds like you guys play with a really varied group. Do you think that adds a unique element to the way songs are performed or created because of the opportunity for so many people to leave a mark on a project?
Scott: Oh, yeah, one hundred percent. I think a lot of it just has to do with the fact that when we get a new member, like a drummer or bassist, we have to teach them the songs from the beginning and run through everything with them. We have literally been playing these old songs for almost five years, but every time we go on tour, it feels like a fresh new thing. It’s nice, because when we're teaching it to someone, we realize “Oh hey, we could make this part more dynamic” or just have more fun with a section. It’s also more fun for us to play with new people. It’s exciting when we get a new person to play with and we find new ways to play the song based on what works with them and what they can bring to it.
HS: Very cool. You had mentioned learning a lot from other bands while touring. Do you think your sound has changed a lot since the last release? Should fans expect something in the same lane as the last album or would you say you guys have shifted significantly since then?
Scott: Hey, that’s a good question!
HS: Thank you!
Scott: You're welcome! All of the questions have been good [laughs]. But yeah, definitely.
Emma: I’d say they're definitely more dynamic.
Scott: Yeah, we've put a lot of work into the production. That’s a really good question. It’s tough to say because, truthfully, since I've been listening to our old songs so much and playing all these new songs, I don't even know what our sound is anymore. Working on this new album so much— it’s really been a struggle to tell. Sometimes I’ll do something weird and I think “Oh, is that us? Is that something we want to do?," but then I try to shy away from even thinking about that and just try to make what I want to make. But, yes, I think there is a bit of a difference in sound. We tried to add a lot of dynamics to our sound and make the songs really interesting and kind of ridiculous at times. We've had a lot of fun with the production on this one with a lot of new percussive stuff and trying to make it interesting. I keep going back to the word dynamic— because it’s true. We've kind of gone crazy. I think because we've listened to the songs so much, we get bored and are just like “Oh, we’ve got to make this part more fun." Hopefully, that adds to the album; I hope it’s not too crazy. But, yeah, I think it’s going to be a nice follow-up to the last album. I think it’s going to be just as interesting, but with different types of songs. It’s got some more upbeat happier ones and some mellow ones. I'm excited to finally get it out there and see what people think. If they don't like it, that’s okay, I'm excited either way. I'm sure there will be something on there they will like, especially if they liked us before.
HS: Great answer, that was really insightful. What are you guys bumping right now? Do you think it’s influencing your current project?
Scott: Ooh, let me go to my Spotify. While we're recording, it's kind of weird— we are not listening to too much music. I think we just listen so hard to something that when we get a break, we don't want to listen to anything, we just want to watch a movie or something like that. Since it’s been such a long process, though, we've gone through so many different phases of listening to someone and being blown away and inspired. Right now, we are listening to our good friend Levi, of the band Drench Prize, they're so good. He’s working on some new songs he secretly sent us, and they are just blowing our minds and getting stuck in our heads. Those have really inspired me with the power of the melody and lyrics, he’s really strong with both of those. Most recently though, a woman we really look up to, Eliza Niemi, a Canadian artist in one of our favorite bands, Quaker Parents. She’s been releasing her own music lately and it has been wonderful to hear the stuff that she has made. She plays the cello and there's a lot of that in there. It’s really interesting and beautiful. As far as music we’ve listened to that has really inspired this album, there’s this one band called Free Pizza based out of Boston. Unfortunately, they're broken up now, but they have two albums I highly recommend checking out. Really fun albums, wonderful upbeat music, totally have blown my mind. I don't know if that inspiration really comes through too much in our songs, but, man, anytime I listen to them, it inspires me and gets me excited to work on stuff again. Also, Frankie Cosmos' stuff. A lot of stuff they have been releasing has inspired me. Also, just old Vampire Weekend albums. I really liked their new album, but when I go to listen to them, I always go back to their first album. It just blows my mind every time, I love it so much.
HS: Yeah, those are some really great bands, I’ll have to check out Free Pizza. Do you think any music your parents listened to as you were growing up affected your sound at all?
Scott: Oh my gosh, this is such a fun question. That is such a good question to ask an artist, because I am so interested in where their sound is really derived from and where the real interest sparked. A lot of my friends and our buddy Tiger in the band were just hooked up. His dad totally set him up with all the good stuff at a very young age. For me, it was not that way. I found the music that I liked and wanted to listen to on my own. I grew up listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I’d be in the car with my dad and he’d put them on all the time. I knew the Red Hot Chili Peppers before I knew the Beatles. My dad also showed me Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix and I really enjoyed listening to them when I was in early middle school. My mom showed me the Beatles. It’s really funny, I really got the classic rock upbringing. On my own, I think, by the time I was in sixth grade, I listened to some rap at some point because my friends were. I think seventh and eighth grade seemed like the perfect year for music. Vampire Weekend came out with their stuff, Dirty Projectors had their album, Grizzly Bear had stuff, MGMT; and it was just like that was where I learned about music. From all of those super cool indie Brooklyn bands. That was my music education— before that, my parents, not so much.
Emma: Well, my brother introduced me to MGMT. Same type of deal for Vampire Weekend as well.
Scott: See, I was the oldest, so I had to find the music for myself which was fun and exciting.
Emma: Yeah, I don’t know, my parents did listen to good music. I'm not sure I have a particular artist to name, though.
Scott: Emma’s got such an interesting story where she didn't start playing the guitar 'till like I fucking met her, which was in college. She was one of those people, where, at age four, she started learning the piano and has been classically trained since then. But then [she] didn't even start writing songs for fun or pursuing music 'till she got to college. She figured this stuff out in college, which was so frustrating to me. When I met her, she was in this band called Slumbers, and I was just blown away by their music and wanted to learn more about what they had been working on. But she was just like “No, this is it." I was like “Are you kidding me, I spent years learning Red Hot Chili Pepper’s riffs!" [laughs]. Oh, man. But yeah, we have definitely had different musical upbringings, but I’m happy about where we landed and that we were able to kind of find that stuff on our own.
Emma: We actually became friends because I was talking about Frankie Cosmos to someone my sophomore year of college, and Scott happened to be at that house and heard me talking about it.
Scott: I was like “What did you just say? You know Frankie Cosmos?”
Emma: That was a while ago, so they were not big at all.
HS: That’s so funny. It's crazy that you both heard Vampire Weekend for the first time in middle school. I think even though I’m a bit younger than you guys, that was also the first time I heard about them as well, just years later.
Scott: They're the perfect middle school band. For me, with them growing, it ages well with you. The more you listen, the more you hear all the production stuff they did and it's just such wonderful music. I was just about to say, what about you? How did you find the good music?
HS: Well, my parents both listen to a lot of classic rock, too.
Scott: [laughs] I believe that.
HS: But I'm still actually in high school, so I guess I’m still finding it.
Scott: No way! Oh my god, you are good to go. You have already known. That’s so awesome that you're going to DIY shows. I didn't go to those shows 'till I was a freshman in college. I was back home when I saw Forth Wanderers and Pinegrove at a house show.
HS: Those are such great bands!
Scott: Oh, yeah, it was fucked up, it was before either one blew up. I lived in the same town as them and, oh my gosh, what a great show. You're killing it, though.
HS: Well, thanks so much again for sitting down with us— I'll definitely have to see you guys on tour if you swing by D.C.
Scott: Totally! ✰
Kiera O'Harrow is a young artist and D.C. native. She spends most of her free time at basement shows and small off-beat venues, following current music trends and integrating what she likes into her personal playlists or setlists for her band.