Rising New York City bands you need to know

From brainy MCs to guitar-wielding indie-rockers, here are the best bands and artists making noise right now



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Photograph: Melissa Sinclair; Speakers and amps courtesy Studio Instrument Rentals

Psalm Zero

The new project of NYC scene vets Charlie Looker (Extra Life, Seaven Teares) and Andrew Hock (Castevet) is the kind of thing that the heavy tag now encapsulates: serious, metal-influenced music that’s not necessarily about corpse paint. The duo has been championed by NPR and Pitchfork, and its debut album, The Drain, came out March 4.

You’re about to go on tour. How do you think people are going to react when they see it’s just two guys onstage?
Andrew Hock: It’ll be interesting. A lot of the shows that we’re playing are more traditional metal. We’ll be one of the only bands with someone singing in the traditional sense. I’m prepared to see a lot of baffled faces. But the bottom line is, I’m down with what we’re doing, so it really doesn’t matter.

Does the drum-machine setup make live shows more difficult?
Hock: Well, it makes it easier in the sense that when we get paid, it’s for two people; and we don’t have to lug a drum set around and a third guy. But it makes it difficult because we’re dealing with backing tracks and sound guys in different systems. Monitors and PAs each present their own challenges.
Charlie Looker: It’s a weird mind-set to go into gigs where if there’s a technical fuckup, you can’t do the set. If there’s a drummer, worst-case scenario is you can do some shitty ramshackle version of the set.

Do you think New York has the best scene for heavy music currently?
Hock: I think Finland has a great scene right now, and Trondheim in Norway—there’s great scenes everywhere. Because of what New York is, it has a lot of musicians that have backgrounds in academia or approach music from an interesting compositional standpoint—musicians who are into heavy music where they’re really thinking about composition. That, to me, doesn’t really exist much outside of New York, right now at least.
Looker: I feel like New York is always so big and people are always coming here, so it’s like, there’s no time period where there would be no one for us to hang with. I feel like we’re part of a little community here.

You’re playing the Pitchfork metal showcase at SXSW, right?
Yeah. It seems like the last five years or so, metal has entered the general indie-rock lexicon in a more acceptable way, which has its positives and negatives for me, as someone who grew up on metal. If you told me when I was first getting into metal that Pitchfork would be doing a metal SXSW showcase or there would be panel discussion on what’s happening with the black-metal scene, I’d say no fucking way.

It’s interesting how black metal has crossed over to indie rock in ways that other metal hasn’t.
Looker: In the world of indie music, the irony and lack of conviction has reached a point where a lot of people are so tired of that, and people thirst for anything that has insanely serious conviction.
Hock: But by the same token, people are just checking out Burzum and stuff, and not getting into Morbid Angel and Immolation. It’s very black-metal-specific, and I think that has a lot to do with the harmonic quality of black metal, which is ultimately very palatable, where the washed-out guitars and stuff can accidentally appeal to fans of My Bloody Valentine.

New York seems to have these spaces like Saint Vitus that host heavy bands that aren’t what you traditionally think of as metal. In your experience, is that unique?
Hock: I actually don’t find that true at metal shows in New York. Outside of maybe a few select bands that we really connect with, I find that it’s generally very traditional, stock regurgitated stuff played by people who could do better and know better. But they’re choosing to be like, Let’s do an old-school-style death-metal band; it’ll be so fun! While I’m very happy a place like Saint Vitus exists and there’s a place for metal, it almost brings down the level of seriousness. It’s like, Let’s go eat our vegan kimchi and sausage buns and look at novelty upside-down crosses and watch satanic metal. It almost sucks the danger out of it. On the other tip, there’s a lot of great shows that happen in New York.

Interviewed by Andrew Frisicano

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