Back in the 1960s people used to ask, “The Beatles or The Stones?” in an effort to categorize musical interest. What this did was force people to pick sides, confine themselves to the image of which group would represent them and abbreviate their interest in an art that’s multi-faceted by nature.
Well, it’s 2011 and a brand new era. This generation has been accustomed to huge quantities of musical intake through the Internet via illegal downloading and social networking.
Listening to The Beatles leads to Sun Ra which could lead to Kraftwerk which could lead to Sly & The Family Stone with just a few mouse clicks.
It’s easy, effortless, and modern. Nowadays it’s not as much about whose side you’re on as it is about shattering the wall between the differentiations.
Festivals exist where hippie jam bands share the bill with rappers and DJs. Musically, the world is an increasingly integrated place.
All things considered, more and more bands are surfacing that pride themselves on genre-less ideologies.
Bands don’t have to please record labels as much anymore because they can rely on the Internet and local shows to distribute their sound. Of these bands is Keene State College’s own Northern Sea Robin. Stylistically equivocal and collectivist by structure, Northern Sea Robin operates under an improvisational and groove-heavy framework.
“It’s beyond the music; we all got something to say,” Kyle “Mitch” Michaud, guitarist and vocalist, said. When Michaud and the rest of Northern Sea Robin – Josh Hallengren on bass, Dan O’Rourke on keyboards and Jordan Cusano on drums – first started in November of 2010, they instantly meshed. Their first gig came at the 6 a.m. slot during the 24-hour Music Festival at Keene’s Starving Artist.
“There were about maybe a dozen people in the crowd and we definitely woke up three of them,” Michaud said.
With influences as scattered as Phish, Damien Rice, The Punch Brothers, David Byrne, Radiohead, and Local Natives, it comes as no surprise they have a hard time explaining what they sound like.
According to Michaud, describing Northern Sea Robin’s style is always a challenge. “It’s kind of tough to do. But ideally we’re going for a genre-less band. A lot of styles and genres and not trying to keep it down to one specific mode, and just taking from a lot of influences.”
Similarly, Hallengren finds it hard to pinpoint their sound. “I have a hard time explaining our music. I guess I just tell people it’s a lot like Phish, but without all of the acid,” he said. Just like that “Beatles or Stones?” question in the 1960s, it’s apparent that classifications are important predominately to audiences and journalists who are quick to pigeonhole an artist simply to categorize; because to the musicians themselves, labeling isn’t the important part.
Cusano lets listeners decide for themselves. “I don’t usually explain our music to people to be honest. It is what it is,” he said.
Finding time to rehearse has been a looming issue for the Northern Sea Robin. Being a college band has its inherent ups and downs. On the one hand, all the members are in the same town on most given days. On the other hand, class and work schedules conflict with practice times and potential shows. But despite each member being busy in his own respect, Michaud explained they try to practice at least once a week.
Their song writing approach is democratic and all of their songs are written in relative spontaneity in practices.
“Somebody might have an idea, a riff, a couple of lines or lyrics and we literally build off that. We present these ideas here and there in practice and playing with each other it just blooms and blossoms,” said Michaud.
After practicing and evolving, Northern Sea Robin has managed to create a genre-less concoction without having to define themselves under anyone else’s standards. With his guitar-work, Michaud aims for a “straight up, straight in” style of lightly distorted and high tempo strums, while avoiding bogging down his sound with effects.
O’Rourke adds to the melodic ebb and flow by laying down complementing keyboard licks.
Hallengren holds down the low end while Cuasno drives the rhythm with intricate snare work and rim shots.
Northern Sea Robin keeps it sharp and straightforward in terms of sonic space – the more intimate and direct, the better.
In regards to effects and electronics, “Like anything, there are ups and downs, positives and negatives, goods and bads to it,” Michaud explained. “But I would say personally I do like having that more personal connection to it. From the actual person, from the actual instrument.”
Michaud pointed out the importance and influence of the relationships and connections between the band and the crowd.
In particular, a small and intimate basement show the band played on Proctor Court in Keene showcased the tight-knit intensity Northern Sea Robin shares with the audience.
“The highlight and best show we’ve ever played with any band was at Proctor Court. Moments in music when a band and crowd is engaged that much and the energy is just cyclical, going back and forth, it’s mind blowing,” Michaud said.
From here Northern Sea Robin looks ahead to booking more shows and trying as hard as possible to “Get this out there and spread it out and get as many new ears in as possible. Spread the good energy, vibes, good time; whatever you want to call it,” Michaud said.
Aaron Mitta can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org