The day after this interview, I accidentally deleted the recording off my phone. It turns out that I am not tuned into the whole “backing-up” process when it comes to iPhones and the imperceptible “cloud” that floats above us all, forever invisible. But despite my proficiency in technology un-awareness, I still remember most of the provocative details of my conversation with Boston-based band, The New Review. I thank my past self for deciding to partake in post-chat pints rather than the former. Cheers!
Guitarist and founder, Jesse Baskin, vocalist, Aubrey Haddard, and tenor sax player, Sebastian (Seba) Molnar gathered around a lone stoop with me outside of the Plough and Stars, a cozy pub located in Central Square, Cambridge that they were about to play with the rest of the band. It was cold and I was confused where to start, for this was my first face-to-face interview with a strapping young group of talented musicians. As they waited for me to speak, I pretended not to notice the fat drops of rain falling onto my phone (recording device). Saving us all from awkward silence and a sudden downpour, Aubrey gallantly pointed to a glass room across the street and shouted, “Vestibule!” We all ran, ultimately seeking shelter in the dingy apartment building entrance for the entirety of the interview. Tenants came and went, passing through the fluorescent light hanging on the wall, but we didn’t budge from the dank cement space.
Jesse, Aubrey, and Seba met each other at the Berkley School of Music to form what is now The New Review, a ten-piece modern jazz, funk, and soul group. They have an impressive self-titled debut album out on Spotify that surfaced earlier last year. I became familiar with the band through a friend that took me to one of their shows last Summer at Rockwood Music Hall in New York City. I remember immediate movement; whirling around in the front row to a blowout horn section, funky grooves and vocal mayhem. I purchased their album after the show and played it three times on the car ride home where I discovered that dancing while driving tends to result in speeding and swerving.
Now – a year later – we meet once again to discuss their sound, their story and what they have in store for us in the upcoming year. While looking through some of their videos and live recordings online, I noticed that certain band members have come and gone. Wondering if this has caused a fluctuation in their sound, I asked if they could walk me through the history of the band. When Aubrey and Seba gave a quick glance toward Jesse, it became apparent that he was the earliest member; the founder, the architect.
“Well, originally,” he started, “the band wasn’t even supposed to play ‘popular’ music,” meaning music for the masses with relatable lyrics, choruses etc. “Originally I was trying to form a jazz-fusion band.” I was excited to hear this, feeling as if we were helping to excavate and uncover a hidden compartment of the group’s past. And even more bewildering than trying to picture The New Review without the same style and edge they have now, is the original name Jesse had chosen for the band: Thumpin’. Seba and Aubrey couldn’t hold back their laughter, exposing just how much the vision has changed. With three tracks already written for the first album, Jesse asked Aubrey to join in on a rehearsal and eventually play a show with them. “Time Heals All,” both the last track on the album, as well as my favorite, welcomed the first writing Aubrey did with the group, in which she added a second verse and her own “whiskey-soaked and sugar-coated” style. From then on, Seba joined up and now adds some serious power to the horn section with solos that Aubrey visibly encourages on stage, sticking her mic right up to the brass.
I was still fascinated with this wild timeline: “So, Jesse, while the band morphed, how did you come up with the current name?” Jesse then walked me through an epic day of reasoning, in which he was trying to book gigs for the band in the middle of an identity crisis, with the ultimate looming question of, “Who are we?” Heading out of the city, toward the water, he ingested some creative-energy-endorsing substances and pondered the present, future and past of the band, coming out with an idea of an image, sound, and name: The New Review. And how would they describe their “new” current sound? Without a definite quote to lean on, I remember it being a mix of certain terms, of which I will put together here to create a new genre (everyone’s doing it these days): original modern jazzy funkadelic sex-pop soul-filled big-band dance music. This seems accurate.
When I first put on their most recently released track, “Goodbye Parties,” both the new image that Jesse acknowledged comes through so naturally, as well as what I find so exuberantly original about The New Review in terms of their sound, and their underlying approach to music. A track filled with sharp soul, reoccurring climax and deep-rooted breakdowns, depicts the cohesion of old and new, modern and classic so well that there is even a quick Chicago reference: “Ooooo darling please don’t go!” wails Aubrey in the middle of a verse. For a visual description of how I view their effect, we can look back at a film entitled “Superbad.” Picture a confident McLovin strolling into the liquor store, underage, looking like “Aladdin” wearing an old school vest and winged-out pants from the 70s. The New Review share a similar, much sexier aesthetic (Sorry, Fogell). They use that classic style in a modern world; that Chicago, or Bowie, or Earth Wind & Fire in which they tweak with their own vision. This approach creates something truly authentic, a near-impossible feat in a city of millennials, ourselves included.
The New Review seems to symbolize several things. One being open-mindedness. If everyone affiliated throughout the process of forming this group had one single idea of what could and should go down, then they wouldn’t have gotten to where they are now. They wouldn’t have discovered their sound. And in terms of Jesse’s original vision, which has dramatically changed, it seems that it still exists underneath anything visible to a non-musician; it’s in the arrangement, a crucial reason why Jesse finds inspiration in Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, a group with serious soul and impressive funk arrangements. “Everything fits together,” he passionately exclaimed toward the end of our discussion. It is more than obvious that these three, along with the other members of the band that would slay onstage within the hour, share an incredible connection to and through music. It all points back to that energy I witnessed within the first five minutes of their show in New York.
Before we left the homey vestibule, the rain stopped and another thing became apparent about these band members through the admittance of that energy’s importance. It’s the glue for these cats, the fuel and the flame. “Everyone gives 110%,” said Jesse sternly, rising up a bit from his seat. Aubrey and Seba nodded genuinely in agreement and I felt that “energy” again; the unchanging heart of this band, or rather what all of these fluctuations have led to. Either way, it is there and was there during their post-interview set. In the steamy, cramped pub, Aubrey shook and soul-shouted into the mic, taunting the audience to move (!), while Seba belted sax solos, Jesse jammed and lead, and with the rest of the band holding nothing back, The New Review created their own atmosphere right then and there.
The New Review is currently working on their upcoming album.
10/20 Burlington, VT @ The Skinny Pancake
10/21 New York, NY @ Rockwood Music Hall
11/4 Worcester, MA @ Electric Haze