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Interview: NGHBRS talk 'Twenty One Rooms,' being compared to OK GO

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Long Island blues-rock band NGHBRS have been gaining a lot of attention recently. Their video for single “Hold Up Girl” has gone viral, with The Wall Street Journal calling it “" the cleverest DIY video since OK GO.”

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“Hold Up Girl” is from the band’s debut album, ‘Twenty One Rooms,’ released on July 16 through Paper + Plastick Records.

NGHBRS is vocalist Ian Kenny, drummer Jordan Schnieder, guitarist Thomas Fleischmann, and bassist Eric Vivelo.

I had the opportunity to speak with NGHBRS members Ian Kenny, Jordan Schnieder, and Thomas Fleischmann after their set at Sullivan Hall on October 18 during Big Picture Media’s evening CMJ 2013 showcase to discuss the band’s formation, recording ‘Twenty One Rooms,’ making the “Hold Up Girl” video, and being compared to OK Go.

How did the band form?

Ian: The band formed in late 2009. All of our old bands kind of broke up around the same time, and we knew each other through the Long Island music scene… and we just kind of found each other and started jamming, I happened to be in a band with our bass player’s little brother at the time and we just kind of found each other through mutual friends on Long Island, and started jamming, and NGHBRS started. We recorded an EP, and then that turned into a record, and now we’re the band that we are today.

What inspired you guys to start playing music?

Ian: I came from a very musical family; my grandfather was a musician. And I inherited a lot of instruments. So, when I was very young my parents put me in piano lessons, and then started writing music when I hit my early teens. And then started listening to bands, started getting into rock music, and then that’s how I started… how about you guys?

Tommy: My brother actually started playing drums when, I don’t know, I was probably, like, 10. And so, naturally, I was like “Oh, I want to do something now!” So, my dad tried to get me to play bass but I was way too small to pick up a bass because it was freaking this long. So I decided to pick up guitar and just haven’t stopped. I loved it ever since. Got into… I’m sure I was listening to Nelly at the time. Then I got into rock music and I just can’t stop now. I love it.

Jordan: The Red Hot Chili Peppers are the band that got me. When I first heard the Chili Peppers, I just got hooked right away, and I was immediately drawn to the drums. I was air-drumming in the mirror and I felt like I kind of knew what the drum parts were and I just naturally gravitated towards the drums…

Ian: He also just liked to look at himself…

Jordan: I still do that. I drum in the mirror all the time.

So you released your debut full length in July. Could you tell me a little bit about it?

Ian: We wanted to do something different for our record and we wanted to make sure that we did it live because a very big part of our band is playing together at the same time, a live rock band. So we moved into an abandoned mansion, which was the former estate of the poet William Cullen Bryant. We moved into his estate on Long Island and lived there for two months and tracked our record, completely secluded; we didn’t have internet, we didn’t have TV. And we just kind of focused on the record. And it came out. It’s called ‘Twenty One Rooms,’ and it’s completely live. Yeah, that’s kind of what the record’s all about. You know, just four dudes in a room making music.

What was it like to work in that mansion?

Ian: It was inspiring. Like, it was creepy at times, it was around Halloween, and then we had Hurricane Sandy happen in the middle of it. But it was weirdly inspiring and very beautiful. [Even] with all the weird stuff going on outside the house, it was one of the best experiences of my life.

Tommy: I was just going to say that.

Ian: Tommy agrees. Say it Tommy…

Tommy: I don’t know. Just can’t believe we did that. It’s such a weird thing to get into. It feels like it never happened.

Jordan: We had no internet; we had no TV, no anything like that. So we were pretty much focusing on the music and just making an album. That was really the only thing that was on our mind at all times, you know. Even when we went to dinner we were talking about what we were going to do when we got back to the house. And it was just really kind of refreshing to just be able to focus on one thing. Normally, we’re like “what’s our next video,” you know, “when are we going to update this.” You know, it’s all over the place. That time we just let everything else go and just focus on the record.

Speaking of videos, “Hold Up Girl” is everywhere. How did you guys come up with the concept for it?

Jordan: We wanted something that was very share-worthy and, sort of, viral. When you put out a music video, the main idea is for people to see it and share it around. So we kind of thought about a bunch of different ideas; brainstormed a bunch. Then one day Ian was like, “dude, I got it, Instagram.” We just wanted to take advantage of the whole social media obsession of today’s age. It was pretty difficult to pull off, but…

Ian: It was like a two month long process where we just failed a lot. There was a lot of discouragement at times, but we really pulled it off. It was a lot of pre-planning. We wrote out a whole map of how to upload everything, we had to shoot all of the little videos. Then Jordan the whole time was learning the technology of actually how to capture what we were doing. And once we kind of put all those things into place, really shooting was only, like, an hour. It just took forever to pre-plan everything. But we’re super pumped with all the press around it and that fact that so many people are sharing it. It’s crazy. It’s surreal. Like, once Instagram retweeted it, it was like, wow…

Jordan: Yeah, that was the holy s*** moment.

How did you choose the clips for it?

Ian: Well, we wanted to do things that kind of like encompass Instagram. We wanted to do things that were generally typical, but still had that “how did they do that,” like the camera trick kind of stuff. So, that was a lot of the inspiration, like, the levitation stuff, we had a lot of stop motion. So, yeah, we wanted to do stuff that was very Instagram-esque. That kind of fueled a bunch of stuff. Like, meme-worthy things.

I read that it was being compared to OK GO…

Tommy: That was really cool because personally I love those videos. So for me, that was a big bonus. I just thought that was a very cool comparison.

Ian: Going into the video, that was one of the bands that we said that we were kind of modeling our idea after. Them and a band called MUTEMATH that we both feel like have awesome videos. So the fact that that’s kind of what we were going for and then we were kind of put on the same plane as that was really…

Jordan: To get recognized like that was really encouraging.

Twenty One Rooms’ is available now. You can watch the video for “Hold Up Girl” on the NGHBRS’ YouTube page. For more information, and to find out when the band will be playing next, visit their website.

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