by Julia Leiby
Last week, on January 10th, No Friends, a Hudson, NY-based four-piece slowcore/lo-fi band quietly released their new EP, I think we’re alone now. The band’s members, Jack Barham (vocals), Stephen Appel (guitar), Tim Wells (bass), and Ben Opatut (drums) attend Bard College and are young college students – Jack turned 21 the day after the record was released. The EP touches on themes of nightmares, disorientation, dreams and feeling numb while exploring drugs and drinking. The band has recently played a handful of shows in New York and Philly with bands like Shelf Life (Scotty Leitch of Alex G’s live band), What Moon Things, and Skull Kid. I think we’re alone now is the follow-up to their previous EP I’m not real, released in May of 2015. I contacted Jack Barham and interviewed him over email about the new EP.
Julia Leiby: What kind of music were you listening to when you were making the record? What was the recording process like?
Jack Barham: I was personally listening to a lot of emo bands that I was into in high school like Indian Summer and Snowing and similar bands. At the time we were writing the songs we were listening to a lot of Slint and tried to take influence from how distinct/singular their song structures are. Also we all really loved the recording the eyes sink into the skull by peaer, who we’ve played some shows with and are tight.
Our friend Paris Watel-Young recorded the initial takes of the songs in the Root Cellar at Bard College over the course of a day but we spent a few weeks with him mastering and doing overdubs. He recorded us on cassette but mastered it digitally and then bounced it back to cassette. We spent a lot of time working with Paris and he really put everything into it. It was the first time we worked with someone outside of the band and it turned out so well. He was like a fifth member on this recording. Shouts out to him.
JL: How do you feel like the band has grown since I’m not real?
JB: A lot of songs on I’m not real were old songs I wrote that were then fleshed out as a full band. They followed more traditional emo song structures, whereas now the process is a lot more collaborative and a lot of the songs came out in the process of jamming on different riffs. I feel like on this recording we began to understand intuitively what our sound is.
JL: A lot of the record talks about certain things like eyes, the mall, being a ghost/dreams, can you tell me about any of these things?
JB: Yeah, a lot of the lyrics are taken from a journal I would write in back in 2013. I can’t remember exactly what I was thinking at the time but I was really fascinated with the idea of being separated from my body and I was having thoughts about dreams and transcending consciousness. I was interested in the idea of disintegrating and becoming something intangible, as well as being haunted by certain recurring themes.
JL: How did the band form? Do you write all the songs?
JB: It started with Ben (Opatut) and I in 2014 after having played together in a couple other failed bands/projects. We were feeling pretty bummed out/hopeless because none of the projects we started worked out and we ended up being super unsatisfied. We recorded two songs and had our friend Jackson play bass with us for a bit. Stephen came in the fall of 2014 in his freshman year — Ben and Stephen knew each other from high school and had both played in a few bands in New Jersey so they hit it off. Tim joined in December of 2014. It definitely took a while to find people we clicked with musically/socially and we admittedly weren’t great in how we dealt with past members of the band.
As for songwriting, I usually will come up with the initial chord progressions of the songs but from there the process is pretty collaborative. We all will make little contributions in terms of structuring the songs or adding additional melodies or little chord progressions. I don’t think there’s a specific formula we follow, a lot of it just comes together through practicing and working on different songs over time.
JL: A lot of the songs are really spooky and atmospheric but still melodic. Do you consider the band slowcore? How would you define it?
JB: We initially wanted it to be like a true slowcore band but I feel like we’re influenced by a lot of emo music that we grew up with and to some extent we see ourselves in a similar vein. At the beginning we were really trying to play very restrained/sparse but sometimes noisy songs that portrayed a feeling of weakness but also of control.
When we started off recording demos to tape, we were working with a four track and as a result of only having four tracks we were very conscious of each instrument as having a distinct voice and limiting the songs to those separate parts, and that approach was a direct influence of the genre. We still typically play very slow/restrained and still like the idea of each instrument performing a certain role or voice.
JL: I wanted to ask you about drugs and how they affect you / your music, tell me about that.
JB: Yeah, it might be apparent that I’ve experimented with substances in the past, but I'm not interested in them anymore because they're dumb and don't make you creative. They're only a vehicle to allow what's inside you to come out with less effort, but I feel like the subject of drugs has an important role in some of the lyrics. They're a thing someone could care about when it seems like nothing else in life holds value. But they also make you, in the most fortunate situation, a really boring person.
JL: What would you consider the record's main themes/feelings to be? A lot of the content is a little scary and you mentioned invasive thoughts - does putting it into music help get rid of negative feelings you have?
JB: It's definitely helpful to purge myself of negative feelings through music, otherwise I'd probably confess them in person to people I know, which wouldn't be great.
I think one of the main ideas, lyrically, is this lingering feeling I had at the time I wrote a lot of the lyrics a few years ago, which is this feeling of wanting so many things that seemed abstract and not understanding what they were. I felt that once you have something in your grasp, it becomes real and then you're left an empty person because there's nothing left to search for. Sincere pleasures didn't seem fulfilling. I'd say the lyrics are sort of about pursuing something endlessly and wanting to leave the physical world to turn into something greater than oneself.
JL: What’s in the future for the band?
JB: Right now we have only one show coming up, but we’re working on new songs, and we just want to continue writing a lot of new stuff and pushing our sound into new territory.