BOBBY’s Psych Studies



The musical project BOBBY is not just one person—or even a real person, for that matter. Instead, BOBBY is a figment of lead singer Tom Greenberg’s imagination. With his bandmates, a few of whom you may also know from the band Mountain Man, Greenberg has been getting around; BOBBY has most recently toured with Thao and Mirah. The seven-or-so-person musical project is very much influenced by psychedelia, but also has some more remote, mellow qualities to offer. Greenberg spoke with us about his made-up language, BOBBY’s persona and just trying to make rent.

ILANA KAPLAN: How did BOBBY’s members come together?

TOM GREENBERG: Everyone else in the band went to school at Bennington, which is a liberal arts school in Vermont, except Paolo went to Hampshire, which is sort of similar. Me and Martin, the drummer, were in a band called Twigz that we started. It’s sort of a play on Twigs. So, we just started as a house show kind of band with very rock-oriented stuff. That was pretty much the extent of our collaboration: just really drunken rampage jams at four in the morning. Other than that, it wasn’t too serious. After we graduated, I started working on some more stuff of my own, which turned into BOBBY. I invited them to be a part of it. We all kind of went from there.

KAPLAN: Why the name BOBBY?

GREENBERG: It actually came from this language that we adapted to, especially me and Roby from the band. He and I started as roommates back in 2006. We never really played music together, because we had pretty different opinions on what good music is. That can be a pretty big stick in the mud for collaboration. After a while we started getting over that. Anytime we talked to each other we would call each other by a different name, like, “Hey Jeff!” I got into calling him Bobby a lot. Eventually I was trying to think of a name for this project. We got a deal from Partisan before we were officially a band or had a name or anything like that.

KAPLAN: That’s pretty impressive, to get a deal before you have a band name or anything.

GREENBERG: It was definitely kind of a shock in a way; working backwards is how the process usually goes. You work hard to develop a name, and then eventually that usually gets you somewhere. However, in this case, we got somewhere and then we got a name. The BOBBY thing just kind of took off. We weren’t sure if we should call it BOBBY for a while because we weren’t sure what we exactly wanted it to become. BOBBY is a very generic name. We felt like partly because it allowed for a kind of characterization of what BOBBY is: some kind of figment of an imagination. We could play with it in other contexts. It’s definitely still in the works, what the character of BOBBY actually is. It takes a lot more effort than you think to get that across to the general public. The way we communicate with each other, and our language that we’ve sort of adopted in our house in Massachusetts, are inside jokes, and we eventually want our listeners to become a part of those inside jokes. Right now, we’re so new that it’s difficult to get across. We’re trying to get it more proactive.

KAPLAN: How would you describe your sound?

GREENBERG: Every time someone asks that question, it gets more difficult to answer, because nothing ever feels right. I think it’s really important for any band to want their music to speak for itself. I try to keep it as generic as possible, like, I’ll say “indie rock” or something like that. Or this electric combination is appropriate. I try to avoid the genre thing because it can really define the music before it’s actually digested by anybody. If I say something like “folk,” which I really don’t see any of or hear any folk in our music, but there’s a lot of people that have described it as that. So if I say that to someone that hasn’t heard it before, they might be like, “Well, I don’t like folk. I’m not really into it.” I haven’t found an adjective that describes our music yet. I’d say that it’s somewhat abstract, but accessible music, depending on your musical tastes. I think for the most part, most people don’t hear it and want to shut it off.

KAPLAN: Would you consider your music to be somewhat psychedelic? I saw you guys play with Thao and Mirah, and I was like, “Whoa! This is so trippy.”

GREENBERG: I don’t think we’re as extreme as many psychedelic bands out there, but I think that completely appeals to us. A lot of the bands we’re influenced by come from a psychedelic frame. Psychedelic isn’t something I would deny at all. It’s been a big influence on our band. Therefore the product is probably psychedelic.

KAPLAN: I’ve heard some of your members are interchangeable at shows, like Broken Social Scene. Why is that?

GREENBERG: Well, it’s actually only two of the members: the Mountain Man girls. Molly, who sings on the record, made the decision to go back to school. She still had a couple of years left. Basically, in order to push this record, we needed to tour with a female vocalist to play these songs live. Amelia, from Mountain Man, offered to be a part of it for touring purposes. That’s pretty much the only interchangeable side of the band. It’s not like people are dropping left and right. However, that definitely could happen. I think we’re taking more of a collective approach rather than to strict band members.

KAPLAN: What are your future plans for the band?

GREENBERG: Really… trying to pay rent at this point. I think we’re going to try and tour in the fall. I think we might have to just take a mini-hiatus from BOBBY, not like it’s dying or anything like that, but just as a way to put money in our pockets, as it’s a long-term project. It hasn’t been established when that’s happening. I’m writing new material. Right now, I think we’re going to focus more on the publicity side of BOBBY, through video and other mediums like that.

KAPLAN: What do you think BOBBY would do if he was real?

GREENBERG: I think he probably wouldn’t say much, and he would get freaked out. I think the idea of BOBBY comes from the feeling of intense anxiety. I guess, back to the psychedelic thing, he’d be on a bad trip his whole life. He’d be trying his best to tell himself that everything is fine, though everything’s not. I think he’d make a lot of plans, but then get distracted and want to go to the beach or something.