It’s mid-July in Brooklyn and James McDermott is tapping his fingernails together, painted black to match his cotton turtleneck, pants and boots. Bandmates Alex Agresti and Kris Roman, dressed down in black tees and jeans stare up Manhattan Avenue, assessing the neighborhood. A cloud of cigarette smoke hangs overhead and Agresti checks his phone. They’re on in 30 minutes.
Boston’s Bay Faction is moving to New York in September, and we couldn’t be happier to have them closer to home. Sure, they’ll technically be in Brooklyn but they’re an arms reach for us Capital Region folk, and they’ll be bringing their tightly knit indie rock sound to Poughkeepsie’s Darkside Records to round out their recent tour on Sept. 9.
The trio was born out of Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass., and it’s telling. The timing of Roman’s bass and Agresti’s thumping drums run the show. They’re incredibly precise and the brief pauses of silence between beats are mere milliseconds, but the smooth staccato rhythm is enrapturing—like holding your breath before diving deep into water.
Bay Faction’s self-titled, eight-track EP dropped back in 2015, and aside from their May 2017 single “Pendulum,” the group has been laying low on production, preparing for what is to come. They’re expected to release another single, “Are You In The Mood,” in September.
Drawing from influences that range from rap’s Top 40 artists–as well as some underground contenders like SquidNice, Noname (previously known as Noname Gypsy), Swedish house tunes from Baba Stiltz, and the alt-rock gospel that is Arctic Monkeys–there’s plenty of inspirational words and beats weaving their way into Bay Faction’s head.
“Not listening to the genre that you play is probably the one of the most important things,” McDermott said. “Rap is the only genre these days that actually making huge leaps and bounds of true progression.”
“I think with rock music–especially with guitars–you’re so prone to fall into these patterns that are already put out so you’re always drawing from the same ones,” Roman explained. “It helps to find out where we can draw the things that we like from a lot of different genres.”
Ideally, the band has two albums on the way, to be released over the next few years. “I have a lot of stuff and working with Alex is great because it’s all in house,” McDermott said.
The band produces all of their work independently thanks to drummer and recording engineer Agresti, who has been mastering the band’s sound on a recently acquired tape machine. “Are You In The Mood” and two following singles will have been recorded on the old-school tech.
“It’s a daunting machine. It’s kind of ridiculous,” McDermott laughs. The permanency of their recent recordings has lended its challenges, the band agrees. There’s no going back to cut and paste pieces on the computer. A mistake is a mistake. But the benefits far outweigh their fears. With tape, Bay Faction has learned to let go.
“The funny thing about recording is, even though it’s crazy–with all these complexities and whatnot–the simpler you think about it, the better something is gonna come out. It’s more natural and you can mess with something too much, you know how that goes,” Agresti shrugs.
“You can’t mess with the song,” Roman said. “I think it helps a lot that you don’t have as much control over each note. You can’t mess with things as much so you have to commit to what you’ve recorded.”
“It’s like, ‘OK. Where do we go from here now?’ Instead of, ‘I want to change the fundamentals of this track.’ The fundamentals are relatively unchangeable,” McDermott adds. “It captures the energy of sound so differently than a digital interface would. You can have a much louder, more bombastic recording with tape.”
It’s this ability to let go and watch their music unravel that McDermott tries to uphold in his songwriting.
“I want to lose most of my inhibitions that I have with songwriting and get to something that is catchy and objectively listenable but is also just entirely unheard of yet,” he explains. “I think we’re in the age of the remix. A lot of people have sort of accepted that, well, everything has been written. Everything has been done. I would like do something that… at least thinks it hasn’t been done yet and leaves that effect and feeling.”
Bay Faction’s songs might just break your heart if you let them. In songs like “Cutter,” his songwriting feels like ice in your bones. Paired with the velvet of his vocals and the strength of band’s interplay, their work so far feels eerie and stimulating–as if Bay Faction has written the soundtrack to the woeful reminiscence of love lost and the pain that is left in its wake.
“My chest is made of toothpicks and it splinters when I cough / You got me messed up / I gave you just a part of me turns out you took it all / Now I’m stuck between a coyote and a cement wall,” McDermott groans longingly in “Coyote.” “I would kill to be yours again.” Around his words, the steady instrumentals mimic accelerated heartbeats and clenched fists.
But these pensive, heavy emotions are what leave the songwriter with reservations. Despite writing such brooding songs, McDermott isn’t looking for listeners to feel pity. For a group who has dedicated their future to playing shows and making music, life could be harder, and they’re quick to check their privilege.
“I want people to listen to this music for the catharsis of listening to sad music, realizing that anyone doing this has to be privileged enough to do it,” he explained. “Just to take these really sad songs with a grain of salt and use them to, I guess, better themselves personally and not get sucked into what it might be. I want people to take it seriously but also be aware of where it’s coming from because these aren’t real problems. These songs are meant to make you think, ‘Oh, well I’m glad I’m not this person.’ But I’m not that person either.”
It’s a heavy responsibility to bear, but Bay Faction does it well. Right now, the band is taking the time to explore, to stretch their tendrils in phrase and sound.
McDermott’s words are incredible relatable–and whether he likes it or not–piercing and powerful. Musically, they’re technically tight and shred onstage. In tracks like “Sasquatch .22” the trio is aware of the moment a word or chord is allowed to enjoy alone, the moment their sounds swell together, and the moments left void. The crowd holds their breath with brief and significant anticipation, waiting for Agresti to drop the beat. In the very next second, they release, reacting to the seamless melding of their sound with satisfied grins as the crowd sings along.
With such a strong start, it will be a joy to see what this band does next. “These next few years are gonna be crazy,” McDermott says with a smile, his fingers tapping away.
Catch Bay Faction at Darkside Records in Poughkeepsie on Sept. 9 at 7 PM