The Neighbourhood are a product of the Internet age. Their oft-spotted black & white imagery has cloaked social media outlets for the last couple of years, with breakthrough track Sweater Weather truly cementing their status as viral sensation. The only problem, though, is that this is 2015. We live in age of socially conscious people who have one eye on the outside world, and another on their screens. Have The Neighbourhood outlived the hype which surrounded just one song, or are they still powering on stronger than before? All Things Loud spoke to guitarist Zach Abels and drummer Brandon Fried ahead of their sold-out show at Amsterdam’s Melkweg.
As I write this, Neighbourhood frontman Jesse Rutherford is busy soundchecking his vocal effects in the Melkweg’s seldom used Rabozaal. A piano version of Beach Boys classic God Only Knows is playing faintly in the distance, whilst a spate of young fans are already bearing the cold for a good spot. Melkweg’s Rabozaal is essentially a theatre which is allowed to be used for gigs five times a month. Upon announcement, the band sold out the venue’s 750-capacity Oude Zaal. With The Max room being used by Vintage Trouble, it meant that the band’s intimate and sparse indie pop had to be transferred to the spacious, 1,500-capacity theatre. Not that this is too much of an issue, though, as the band seem in awe of the room they’ll be closing out their current European tour in. As we sit down with Abels and Fried, one thing is instantly clear – they’re tired. Fried spends a majority of the interview bending down and sighing heavily, whereas Abels spends a lot of time playing with his hands. Halfway during our discussion, All Things Loud’s camera dies and we have to (in a rush) restart the chat altogether. They start off by talking about how the recording process for new studio album Wiped Out! came about. According to Abels, the majority of the record was written and recorded in a studio in Malibu, with bits and pieces being finished off in Santa Monica, and at the house of Abels’ mother. Going into the studio, they didn’t really have a predetermined idea of how the record should sound. “We didn’t really have any ideas of how we thought it would sound, but we wanted to experiment” explained Fried, with our discussion particularly centring on two of the album’s standout moment – opener Prey, and title track Wiped Out! The latter was a song which the band first started in Malibu, before eventually getting back to it and finishing the track at Abels’ mother’s house. Prey, on the other hand, was written and recorded purely at the end of the whole process. Abels had written a catchy riff a while back, “which we’d used in some jams before”, although nothing had really materialized of it until the band got hold of the riff this year. “We all came together and finished the track”, with it eventually receiving an extremely fresh, guitar-based feel.
The whole of Wiped Out! flitters between indie pop, RnB, psychedelia and hip hop, most genres intertwining and crossing paths at one point or another. How does the album stand out in comparison to their debut, I Love You, and its accompanying EPs and mixtapes, though? As Fried puts it, The Neighbourhood was (for most of them) the first group they’d ever played in. “It’s the first time we started writing actual songs together” adds Abels, stating that it was quite a new thing. The earlier I’m Sorry EP saw the band start becoming songwriters, with them all learning their craft over the course of following releases. “Wiped Out! kinda showcases how far we’ve come since those early EP days” concludes Abels. He’s not wrong either, with the new album sounding more diverse and imagery-worthy than ever before. For The Neighbourhood, imagery is very important. From the start, everything they’ve ever put out has been laced with black & white filters. Abels tells us that the reason behind this is to stand out. “We tried black & white and thought it really complemented our music very well. Imagine if we’d put out a picture of a rainbow with our music – it wouldn’t work”. The idea of making black & white their thing was essentially a reason for standing out. This time round, though, the black & white imagery has been accompanied by a running water theme. Next year’s European tour has been dubbed the Underwatour, whereas the Wiped Out! album artwork also depicts a beach (there’s also a track called The Beach). The reason for this mainly stems back to where they recorded the album. “We got this really sick place in Malibu” explains Abels, adding that the band lived there whilst recording. Every day, they would go out and become inspired by beautiful views of the ocean which opposed their studio. This stuck, and what followed was an album laced with themes of water and the sea. An album which sees The Neighbourhood literally reach into the very depths of their musical experiences and see what they pull out.
The reason The Neighbourhood are where they’ve gotten, though, is down to one track – Sweater Weather. As of this week, its video has a stunning 95 million views on YouTube, which is quite an achievement for a band who have generally been pushed into an indie/hipster corner. The track, which garnered tons of hype back in 2012, has been the one song which stuck to the band’s identity wherever they went. Have they managed to cope with its ongoing success, though? Abels tells us that they’re in a very fortunate position to have had a song like that take them so far, but that they’re “always gonna strive to do better”. You do get it that, with some artists, their biggest hit becomes their most-loathed song. However, this isn’t the case with The Neighbourhood. It’s the song which made them new fans and friends the world over, especially in the US home cities and Eastern Europe. Both Abels and Fried seem rather baffled at themselves whenever they mention how dedicated fans in countries such as Russia and Poland have become. Holland is no different. Tonight’s show sold out so fast that they upgraded it to a venue double the size, which subsequently sold out too. Whether or not the band are going to sustain this for a long time remains to be seen, though. When asked where they see themselves in five years, Fried jokes “Amsterdam”, both band members laughing. They don’t give a concrete answer, instead going on to one of our fan-submitted questions: what music have you been listening to while on tour? From the moment that Abels mentions The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, Fried tells him to not mention that record, sounding almost embarrassed at the thought of it. “Don’t say fucking Pet Sounds, that’s Jeremy’s shit” he half-heartedly proclaims. The likes of the Aquatics, Kurt Vile and John Frusciante’s “heroin-infused” solo work all get mentions, suggesting that what the band listen to offstage isn’t always what they create onstage. As our interview comes to an end, Abels promises us that 2016 will be a busy year of writing and touring for The Neighbourhood. Whether or not they’ll repeat the successes of Sweater Weather remains to be seen, however it does seem as if the band don’t feel reliant on one song to sustain their success. They’re content just the way they are, even if it means that they’ll always be a child of the Internet Age.
Wiped Out! is out now via RCA/Columbia. You can listen to RIP 2 My Youth below.