ABOVE: THE NEIGHBOURHOOD
“If I had to describe it to my grandma, I would tell her that it was dark pop music; pop music that wasn’t all sunshine and butterflies.” Drummer Bryan Sammis is explaining the style of music of his band, California five-piece The Neighbourhood. “I do think it’s more complicated than that,” he adds. “The rhythm section is really important—a lot of sub heavy bass, guitars over it that are pretty affected. We’re big on the pedals.”
Although the band’s debut album I Love You. only came out today, their hook-heavy ode to California, “Sweater Weather,” has already put them in “ones to watch” territory. James Franco chose it as the soundtrack to his recent commerical for 7 For All Mankind and, as Sammis happily tells us, it is also in an ad for the Playboy app.
At 22, Sammis is The Neighbourhood’s eldest member. The lead singer, Jesse Rutherford, who has channeled his background in hip-hop into perfectly polished pop vocals, is 21. We called Sammis on the eve of the band’s national tour to discuss fans, festivals, first shows, and the band’s rumored idiosyncrasies.
EMMA BROWN: Do you call your fans hoodlums?
BRYAN SAMMIS: Yes.
BROWN: When did that start?
SAMMIS: We do—specifically Jesse [Rutherford], our singer—all of our own merchandise and all of the graphic design. We were making a beanie one day that said hoodlum and the “u” in hoodlum was the upside down house. Some people bought it and then it just started catching on. It wasn’t a conscious effort—”That’s what were going to call our fans.” It kind of just happened naturally, which was cool.
BROWN: How did you meet Jesse?
SAMMIS: We were both in bands a long time ago and I was a fan of his band. We weren’t really friends at first; we were like music acquaintances. Once our bands ended and he went into doing hip-hop, we kind of hung out more and he recorded at my house.
BROWN: How do you transition from being a musical acquaintance to being a friend?
SAMMIS: I think it was just me being persistent. Me and Jesse meeting was really me making that happen. I really dug his stuff and I wanted my band to play with his band. Then, when he was doing his hip-hop stuff, they were going to do a music video that never came out and he wanted me to do drums because he knew I was a drummer. It evolved naturally: We kept hanging out, and then eventually we were just hanging out for lunch and not for music. This was five years ago when we were both just in local bands, just silly little local bands like kids do.
BROWN: How old were you five years ago?
SAMMIS: I’m the oldest. I’m 22 right now, so I was 17.
BROWN: Is this the high-school music scene, or did you play at clubs?
SAMMIS: We each did some similar stuff. The other three guys were in a band together that was just playing really locally. Jesse’s band branched out a little bit I think they went Anaheim and stuff. I was in a couple different projects and we did the usual Hollywood Boulevard venues—the Roxy and the Whiskey and all those classic ones growing up.
BROWN: Did you ever consider a different career?
SAMMIS: Yeah. When this band first started, before it was really a band and we were just friends making music, I told the guys I couldn’t do it because I wanted to finish school and I went to New Orleans. I had kind of theoretically quit and then stuff started happening and they were like, “We really want you to come back and be a part of this because you were there from the beginning and we want you to be in it.” I thought about it, [but] school will always be there; these opportunities won’t. I dropped out with a semester left in my five-year college career, and I came back to do this.
BROWN: Did your parents cry?
SAMMIS: [laughs] Probably. They didn’t let on that they were, but they were definitely bummed. I was going to school for music business, so it’s not that far off. I’m still in the same realm.
BROWN: You mentioned that everyone else in the band has been friends for a long time, and you met them all a few years ago. Is it difficult to be the newest addition to the band?
SAMMIS: I think I bring something else to the table, being the oldest. For a while, I was the only who drank, and I’m the only one who smokes, really. I’m pretty responsible. Even if I go out after a show, I’m always home and the first one down in the lobby the next morning having a coffee, ready to go. I’ve had a lot of responsibilities going to college for five years and living by myself and having to take care of my own finances. I feel like I bring something unique to the table in terms of having dealt with all that stuff and being prepared.
BROWN: Do you ever have, “Ugh, children” moments?
SAMMIS: No, no. Early on some people didn’t get our humor, which is just as much my fault as anybody else’s. People thought we were being rude or something. One day, we all kind of sat down, and nobody brought it up specifically, but we were kind of like, “Maybe we should roll it back a little bit because some people seem to not be getting it and seem to think that we’re being mean or something.” But, no, I’ve never been like, “Ugh, children.” I like to take responsibilities on. I’m not doing it because no one else can do it, I’m doing it because I like it. I really enjoy driving and being in control.
BROWN: Your single “Sweater Weather” has been floating around the Internet for a while now.
SAMMIS: Yeah. We wrote it probably close to two years ago. I think we first released it a year ago. That was the first song we ever wrote as a band.
BROWN: Does it still feel new and fun to play?
SAMMIS: It’s still fun. It’s fun because people still like that song and the fact that when you play a song to see people getting into it and recognizing it and singing it back is cool. I could play that song for years, which inevitably we might have to do, and I think I’ll always get pumped when the first drum beat kicks in and people are excited.
BROWN: What was your first show as The Neighbourhood like?
SAMMIS: Our first show was weird. If I remember correctly, we didn’t tell anyone about it. We played it with some friends of ours who were in bands at the time and we just showed up and played. It was cool. It was super rough because, but I feel like as far as first shows go, because we’ve been in bands before, it wasn’t that bad. I think maybe that’s a sign that we were on to something good. First shows usually have technical difficulties and all this stuff—compared to now, we weren’t as solid, but we played the songs fine.
BROWN: Were there any hecklers?
SAMMIS: When we’ve opened up for somebody on tour we’ve had some people be like, “Put on them already!” between songs. They’re not really dissing us as much as they just really want to see the band they came for, which is understandable. It’s a little bit of a bummer; it’s kind of a mood killer for us because you can think you’re doing a great job and then you hear somebody yell that and in your head you go, “Well, fuck. I might as well get off stage if you don’t really give a shit.”
BROWN: Who would you most like to come to one of your shows?
SAMMIS: At SXSW we played a Columbia showcase, it was a bunch of Columbia bands, but I know that Usher was there when we got there and Pharrell watched us play. He was standing above me. That was pretty crazy, because I’m a huge fan of Pharrell and all the stuff that he does. The fucked-up thing is that everybody knew but me. Everybody saw him except for me. I found out after we left. We had already left the place and they were like, “That’s so crazy that Pharrell was there,” and I was like, “What the fuck?” They showed me pictures. [But] maybe I’m glad I didn’t know, because I was just being myself and having fun with it rather than being nervous or thinking too much about what I’m doing.
BROWN: You’re also playing Lollapalooza. Are you excited?
SAMMIS: Yeah, I’m the odd man out because I’m the only one who has never heard of it.
SAMMIS: Yeah, that’s everyone’s reaction when I’ve been telling them. I guess I was out of the loop on that one. But I looked at the lineup and I like our day and I like the bands that are playing on our day and it seems like it’d be cool. It’s in Chicago, right?
SAMMIS: I really like Chicago. The first time we ever went there I went to a cool museum so I might go check that out again. There was like a typeface section. Our band is really nerdy about typeface and stuff like that so.
BROWN: Yes, I was wondering about that. I read an article that mentioned Jesse wouldn’t eat at a restaurant with a Comic Sans menu.
SAMMIS: Yeah, Comic Sans or Papyrus. Really, it’s a joke. But, for us, if you see a restaurant with that font they already don’t know what they’re doing with the font, so how well do you trust them with their food? [laughs]
I LOVE YOU. IS OUT TODAY, APRIL 23. FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT THE NEIGHBOURHOOD’S WEBSITE.