The Neighbourhood+ Interview with Bryan Sammis
images courtesy of The Neighbourhood
“The beautiful thing about music is that you can find what you’re looking for even when nobody is asking”
There’s an intriguing, enigmatic energy about The Neighborhood – can you talk to me about the vision that went into the creation of the band roughly two years ago?
BS: When we got together, we wanted to provide a whole package in the sense that we didn’t want to just focus solely on the music. Music is the most important groundwork, but we also focus on creating audio and visual content, making our own album art, posters, etc. and which is why our videos are so important to us. We set out to be this entity that creates content, not just a band that makes music.
How do you all know each other?
Zach, Mikey and Jeremy were friends in elementary school. Jesse and I met a few years ago when my old band played with his old band. We all come from a similar area just north of LA.
You are a young band. Has that worked for or against you?
We are super happy with everything that has happened so far. It’s a little defeating sometimes because some people think we’re young and haven’t put in the work but I’ve been playing since I was 9 and I am 23. The reality is that we’ve all been in countless bands that have failed, which is so disheartening. You use that to fuel your fire and keep working. We all just decided to write music together and it turned out to be the best thing we’ve ever done.
I saw an interview with you guys when Jesse said he was heavily influenced as a songwriter by boy bands like ‘N Sync growing up… How did you get into drumming, and who were your influences?
We all have a very eclectic background – I was influenced by a lot of old school R&B – Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gay, Otis Redding, etc. My father got me into drumming. He had this idea in his head that we could jam out Beatles songs in our garage, so he had my brother learn bass, me learn drums and he played guitar and sang. I never was like, “Dad I want to play drums.” He just signed me up (laughs).
I hear a combination of rock and hip-hop, but moodier, on I LOVE YOU. Talk to me about the musical genres and influences that went into this album.
We all listen to a lot of hip-hop. It kind of naturally comes out of us. 90’s hip hop records have drums and beats that are so engulfing – huge, fat sounding beats that aren’t necessarily complicated, but you get into that groove and you find that rhythm and we all love that. So our songs usually start with a rhythm section – drums and bass – which is heavily hip-hop influenced. Adding guitar to anything inevitably has people saying rock. But our goal was to make guitars that didn’t necessarily sound like guitars – a lot of times we’re trying to push the boundaries of what instrument is supposed to do what – get our guitars to sound like organs or church bells or whatever. And then inevitably Jesse writes pop melodies – that’s his background. So that’s the groundwork and then you put the pop vocals over it and you have the bare bones of a Neighbourhood song.
How collaborative is the creative process, from the songwriting to the instrumentals? What is the sequence of how the songs come together?
It depends. We’re ever growing. Sometimes someone shows up with a complete song, at least for the instrumentals (Jesse handles all the lyrics). Ever since we’ve been on tour, we’ve found new ways to start writing songs. We’ve been writing a lot of songs at sound check for shows. We have 4-5 new songs, which we’ve never even heard outside of a Neighbourhood sound check. So I’d say we’d never rule out a way to write a song. We all look up to and respect each other as musicians enough to give each other the freedom to do what they want.
Is there an unspoken agreement that you all have about how a Neighborhood song sounds?
Yes. We all just live and breathe it everyday so we know what we want the songs to sound like. Sometimes we’ve completed a song and then decided it didn’t fit the sound right now. We recorded a lot of songs that didn’t make the cut for the album.
What is your favorite song?
Whenever we put out something new, that inevitably becomes my favorite. But on the album, my favorite is “Afraid.” It’s a great vibe and I think it’s the best representation of our band.
All of your music videos, and graphics are done in black and white. Why? How does that affect the experience for your listeners?
Early on we realized that black and white was The Neighbourhood. It’s just as much a part of the band as the music. I am a firm believer that visuals affect how you hear things. If all of our videos were in neon colors, I think people would get a different view of our band. Black and white imagery sets the stage for our music to be heard and it sets the right vibe – angsty, monochromatic and melancholy. We’ve stuck to it religiously and when we are writing our music, we picture it in black and white.
Is there an overall message of the album I LOVE YOU that you hope listeners will get?
We’ve released two EP’s and one album, entitled “I am sorry…” “Thank you,” and “I love you.” respectively. The overarching theme is a comment on society and the way the most important words get thrown around – we wanted to put some meaning back into those oversaturated words. “I love you.” is an outpouring of emotion for all of us and we wanted it to sound like us 5 from beginning to end. As far as what listeners will get from it, the beautiful thing about music is that you can find what you’re looking for even when nobody is asking.
What is the camaraderie like between band members?
The minute we get back from tour, we are calling each other to hang out. We’re not typical rock stars – we’re pretty reserved in that way and we like to just get together and have good conversations. Really, we’re pretty funny guys.
The Neighbourhood appeared online and created fervor of interest with people wanting to know more. Now that you’ve earned all this recognition, how has this entire experience been for you?
It’s everything you’d think it would be – the good and bad. Opening for bands was and always is a learning experience – we can always learn from the guys who are older and more experienced in the industry. But nothing beats a headline run. You get to set the mood for the show and make it The Neighbourhood from start to finish.
Do any particular moments stand out for you from touring?
Yes. When we got to Australia, I walked off the plane and it all hit me. I was thinking about all the good stuff that was happening: here we were in Australia for music! Australia was number one on my bucket list and to go there for my job was insane. It was so emotional.
Another was when we played Coachella, which had been a huge reason we started this band. A few years ago, we’d been at Coachella watching a band play. They were having so much fun and we saw how the band mates looked at each other and smiled. And I remember Jesse said, “We’re going to do that” while looking at the stage. Two years later, we’re on the stage and I remember he turned to us and said, “See? We’re doing it.” That was surreal.
Anything you would do differently?
The album came out and we love it, but as a musician, if you gave it to me today I’d make some tweaks. And if you gave it to me 6 months from now, I’d make some tweaks. That’s just how it goes. But for the most part, I think we’ve done things the way we should. Even those things that sucked at the time end up making you feel like you earn it. Those hard times make the good times that much better.
How has your life changed since you guys took off?
For some of the guys, this was the longest they’d been away from home. Friendships from home are made from years and years together. It’s hard to make real friends on the road. You meet so many cool people and musicians, and then you leave immediately and you’ll see them when you see them. I’m such a social being and I love meeting people and getting to know them. So being thrust in and out of the situations can be tough. And some of us started out the tour with girlfriends but being on tour ruined a couple of our relationships. You have to learn to manage your time well when you’re home. It’s all part of it.
Which legend, dead or alive, has influenced you the most?
Personally, Otis Redding. He’s just my favorite from the words he spoke to the melody he chose to the sound and timbre of his voice to his songs – it was a milestone for me growing up and shaped who I am.
For The Neighbourhood, the legend that inspired us is Jeff Hardy, the pro wrestler for WWF in the early 2000’s. That stuff was cool, from their theme songs to their clothes and dances – everything was so tight.
If you could ask Otis Redding one question, any question, what would it be?
How did you stay so positive? A lot of his songs are about heartbreak, but he’s always optimistic. He seemed to have a lot of wisdom, which I don’t have now, but I hope to achieve. His music had a purpose and a meaning and this positivity to it about love and unity that I really admire. I grew up quite an angry younger man until I found that music and got to dig into it and those guys saved my life – not physically, but saved me from turning into something I didn’t want to become.
Do you remember the first time you heard an Otis Redding song?
Yes, from the movie Sixteen Candles, I heard the song “Try a little Tenderness.” I remember I wanted to be that cool guy dancing to that song. I thought it was the best song I’d ever heard – I was maybe 13.
When you perform the songs in concert, do you reconnect with the experiences/moods they are based on?
It’s a little different ever time. We try and represent the album properly live, meaning we want you to come to a concert and be happy about how we sound from the album. But overall our live experience is a little different: more energetic, with the lights, visuals, and smoke machines.
What can you tell me about the master plan for The Neighborhood?
Some people think we are indie, or alternative or rock…we don’t really want to be an indie band that only the cool kids know or whatever. We want to be a band that everyone can enjoy all over the world. Popular songs, pop music, has gotten a bad stigma whereas if you look back, The Beatles were a pop band. But it was cool pop! We want to be a band that everybody can hear- at a level where people know who we are. That’s a definite feat we are trying to accomplish and we are always striving for bigger and better things. We are young and hungry for all of this. The idea is to strike while the iron’s hot, keep adding to our momentum and eventually make those goals a reality.
Their debut album, I Love You is out now!