An Interview with DC based band Boon by Taylor DeBoer

Boon is a new band out of DC lead by principal songwriter, Brendan Principato. Along with friend and fellow American University student, Jesse Paller, Principato just dropped his debut EP, Rome. The record is a blend of rock, pop, electronic, and folk — sometimes all at once — creating soundscapes that are so potent at times that they’re visual. While Boon’s earlier recordings are far more ambient, this release takes those feelings and expands them with catchy melodies and harmonies. Don’t get tricked into trying to classify this record; enjoy it for the wide range of feelings that it captures and evokes.

Taylor DeBoer: I gotta start with asking you about the Tiny Desk Concert Contest vid you guys did. First of all, that song is rad and that video is even better. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few weeks checking out those videos and, while the professional ones are cool, yours captures a spontaneity and youthfulness that I get from the EP too. Tell me about that video.

Brendan Principator: Thanks! Our decision to do that video was pretty last minute actually. I had just finished writing that song and a friend tipped me off to the contest. Jesse (who co-created Rome with me) wrote the electric guitar part and we practiced playing it together in the attic of my house during the days leading up to the video. I had the idea to create a desk of curiosities and went around my house looking for shit to cover it with. I manage a juice bar in DC and my boss let me borrow a whole box of fruit to decorate with. After the video came out everybody’s first question was, “Where did you get all of those bananas?” Hahaha. The day of the video we strapped a desk to Jesse’s girlfriend’s balcony and our friend Drew (who also plays in Boon now) ran the mixing board from inside the house. It was the final day of our fall semester and that was the only day we had to shoot. Our friend Cameron does a lot with video so we were lucky he was free that day. We got a late start and were racing against the sunset to finish up in time. It was super fun to make and we were totally blown away by the wave of support that it received.

TD: I hear a lot of different influences on this album. Some mid 2000s freak folk i.e. Devendra Banhart to early Animal Collective and James Blake. Did these songs start on acoustic guitar and expand from there?

BP: Going into this as a debut EP I knew that there were diverse moods and a ton of influences. It was a balancing act to really figure out what worked and what didn’t, sound-wise. At first I was unhappy that each of the songs has a slightly different feel to it but now I’m glad that I didn’t mutilate them to try and fit them into one super specific aesthetic. Most of the songs talk about indecision, confusion, and fickleness, so I think the different sound environments are a realistic way of depicting what inspired the songs to begin with.

The artists in the vein that you mentioned have definitely left a heavy impression on me. I think it’s the way that they blend the organic and the synthetic. I obsess over that when making music so naturally, I’m most inspired by artists who are doing that in really unique ways.

Most of the songs started as melodies I recorded into my cellphone. I lived in Italy last year and didn’t have a guitar with me so I would just hum any ideas that I had so that I wouldn’t forget them. It drove me totally insane that I had no instruments with me.  When I moved back to parents house, I began piecing the voice notes together and finding chords for the melodic ideas on an acoustic guitar. ‘Play Along’ was built around those really simple piano chords and ’Go’ was built entirely around that percussive loop that plays throughout. It’s funny because I came upon that sound completely by accident. In late July I was putting together some demos using an old synth module my dad gave me. Tired of working, I decided to scan through the shitty sound fx presets and happened to stop on one that sounded like a goofy cartoon trumpet hit. When I went to play it though, I had forgotten to turn off the arpeggiator latch from when I was working on a different demo and that pulsing abrasive beat came out of my amp. I immediately recorded the sample to laptop and worked out a vocal melody. All of the synths and atmospheric layers came much later on.

TD: Do you consider your music to be “folk?” That term has almost become a dirty word amongst indie musicians (indie is kind of a dirty word too, right?) and I’m just curious as to how you classify yourself if you even do? Folk, to me, is more of a feeling than a genre so that’s why I ask.

BP: In terms of “folk as a feeling,” that’s definitely something I go for. That feeling is similar to what I meant in the last question when I mentioned blending the organic and the synthetic. I love music when it feels like a natural fusion of tribal and alien or acoustic and electronic. That organic feeling is definitely one of the most important things to me. A song that comes to mind that has the perfect blend is “Plans” by Grizzly Bear. The way that the glitchy electronics grow in that song doesn’t seem computerized, it feels alive and melds with the acoustic instruments to become something that sounds otherworldly but also really primal and human. Personally, I use a lot of layers, loops, and atmosphere to try and accomplish this.

After a show a few weeks ago, a girl came up to me and said that our sound felt like a musical synesthesia; like the music had saturated colors and shape to it and felt both disorienting and intuitive. I’m not sure how to classify that in terms of genre but that was the best compliment she could have given me. That’s exactly what I’m going for.

TD: You guys are based in DC–are you pretty active in the scene? I live and Baltimore and am pretty familiar with our scene but know very little about the music of our southern neighbor.

BP: Boon in it’s current form is a really new thing. We have some shows coming up and hopefully that will help us to find our place in the DC scene. I don’t know of too many other bands in our area playing the kind of stuff that we do so it’ll be interesting to see how we’ll fit into the landscape.

TD: How much has your college experience at American University (where you still attend, right?) influenced the album and the music?

BP: It was influential in that it brought all of us to the same place, but I wouldn’t say that the music is at all inspired by the experience of attending college. Most of us don’t really like school at all … hahaha. We’re glad to be finishing it up this spring.

TD: I listened to some earlier Boon recordings and while I dug them, they’re totally different. Almost ambient, dissonant soundscapes — these songs are way more in the pop/rock realm and certainly have a more traditional song structure. Was this a conscious choice or did it just kinda happen?

BP: It was a little bit of both. They strange way this set of songs was born I think resulted in the more polished sound. They definitely started out ambient but they sat in my head for a long time. I turned them over for months before I even had instruments around to actualize them and when I did they felt almost larger than life. They had been stewing for so long they evolved without me realizing and something told me to just keep working and reworking the ideas into more structured thoughts. They weren’t nebulous or ambient thoughts so it felt odd to translate them into ambient music. This also gave me the chance to explore the other side of the spectrum. I think that the debut album will be a heavy synthesis of both styles and definitely when we perform the line between both styles is blurred.

Rome Album Cover

Rome Album Cover

TD: Toward the end of the EP it starts to get really atmospheric and then you close with a pretty basic acoustic guitar track in ‘Another Life.’ I think my favorite part of the EP is this track, it’s a perfect closer. Tell me about this song  — I’m guessing it sounds very similar to it did when you wrote it?

BP: Thank you, yeah that was definitely a conscious decision. The EP has a pretty specific narrative thread to it and ‘Another Life’ sort of acts like the departure from everything that you hear before it.  We recorded it in this tiny room at The Silent Barn in Brooklyn and tried to make it sound like it’s being played inside of a spaceship with the earth fading from view out the back window. Not literally, but we wanted it to feel as though the atmosphere, the chaos, and the dense layers of the rest of the EP were totally left behind. It’s a reflection and it’s a mental and sonic step away from everything else while still existing somewhat in that reality.  I wrote the song as I was falling asleep and it sort of just came out of me like a breath. I didn’t want it to lose that simplicity and fragility. The original demo was just acoustic guitar and the hum of my air conditioner but it needed a little more to close the EP sufficiently. Live though, the song is a whole different animal. It’s super lush and layered and definitely one of the most fun songs to perform.

TD: What’s next? Any shows in DC or a tour coming? You should come to Baltimore and play a show.

BP: We have a few shows coming up in DC over the next couple of months but we’re constantly looking for more. I would love to do a Baltimore show! If you or any one reading this knows of anywhere we could play, we would all be super down for that. Also, I have a ton of new material written that I’m just sitting on. We’re workshopping the songs in practice and building the sound. I want to get working on our next release as soon as possible.

Boon is playing a few shows in the DC-area throughout the spring, check out their Facebook page for info. Full disclosure: Brendan Principato is a contributing writer for manikmusic.net, the site I founded in 2012.

Author Taylor DeBoer grew up in the Baltimore area and studied Writing and Sociology at Loyola University Maryland. He is a local writer, music lover, and edits a website that he co-founded, Manikmusic.net.  Follow him on Twitter at TayDeBoer23.