All good things come in wrapping paper.
An electro-acoustic band from western New England premiered its debut album on Cinco de Mayo at The Knitting Factory. Leading up to this performance, our only grasp on who BOBBY is came through a curious introduction.
The band bio on Partisan Records’ website mentions one more member than the six who appeared in Brooklyn that day. Missing from this assortment of students and recent grads of Bennington College was the namesake himself, a tap dancing polymorph.
Tom Greenberg, the guitarist, singer and mastermind behind BOBBY, put it obliquely. “He is the Jesus breaking bread at our table at the end of every day, in a very spiritual way, for all of us. But we don’t really know how to approach him. He’s inside of us but feels guilty a lot; he means well, he’s just not very friendly.”
Sitting together at a cafe not far from the venue, it became apparent by the knowing look on their faces that Bobby is not real and probably never was. Instead, his character anchors the artists and listeners to music fused with imagination.
The album, “BOBBY,” is low-tempo and a singular texture of light guitars, drums and ambient wisps. Soft and warm vocals from Greenberg and Mountain Man’s Molly Sarle accompany the songs with a mellow tone and lines that draw back to childhood. In one song, Sarle sings about, among other things, going to Chuck E. Cheese’s.
They sound mellower than BRAIDS and not far from The Moldy Peaches, but not close enough in one way or another to place them within a specific genre aside from experimental indie rock. Many times an association to folk is mentioned in writings about BOBBY, but they were quick to dismiss this handle when it was suggested to them at the cafe.
“You know, I kind of don’t see that,” said Greenberg. “We don’t think of ourselves as ‘folk’ in any way. [We are] definitely on the experimental side, way more on that. But every time we read something about us being called folk, we wonder where it’s coming from. Is it the guitars or something like that? It spawns the interesting question of what do people consider folk now. The fact that we don’t consider ourselves folk says a lot.”
And it should say a lot. They want to avoid the common pitfall many up-and-coming bands have fallen into by treading too close to a popular movement. It has the danger of encompassing artists in a time and place, cutting their careers short. For example, in an interview with Toro y Moi on his latest album, Chaz Bundick described having to create an album that is wider in spectrum and “more enjoyable in a live setting,” shaking off the stigmas attached to his given “chillwave” modifier.
With this already in mind, the group planned to govern their own publicity and connection to listeners and writers, wary of elucidating signs that could pin them to something prematurely. Roby Moulton, who plays keys for BOBBY, said, “I think labels in general are just detrimental to the way that anyone can really experience the sound of a band, because they instantly provide a preface to what you’re going to be hearing. I just don’t think that’s how music should be listened to.”
The six extant members of the band completed “BOBBY” under the cover of small-town isolation, in a house in Western Massachusetts. Guitarist Paolo Menuez said that workshopping happened in the property’s shed. And for “Sore Spores,” a single off the debut, Sarle mentioned, “I had never played with drums before, so my mind was playing with the drums and I started singing. That song come together in about an hour in Paolo’s room.”
The months in Northampton put the added touches on what began as Greenberg’s senior project. As he added friends to the mix, the more it seemed that BOBBY had legs. One year on, the album will be released by Partisan Records on June 21, 2011.
Picture by Organic Mobility