Interview The Neighbourhood: ‘The UK Is Where Cool Shit Happens’

The Neighbourhood discuss aesthetics, festivals and their new album, ‘I Love You’.

In a world where everybody needs to know everything instantly, The Neighbourhood are somewhat of an anomaly. A quick search on Wikipedia leads you only to tedious entries on urban planning, and once you’ve hunted down the Californian five-piece in a shady corner of the internet, you are greeted by a wash of monochrome. The band are painstakingly focused on aesthetics; we’ve even heard rumours that frontman Jesse refuses – on moral grounds – to dine at any restaurant with a menu written in Comic Sans. The videos and photos are all in black and white, and as it turns out, so is their mentality. Surprisingly open about their influences and hyper-focused on what they do, The Neighbourhood rarely switch off or get distracted. They’re meant to be having some downtime in LA at the moment, but they have still been visiting the studio nearly every day.

Providing the hip hop backbone that has caught the attention of critics and SXSW attendees, drummer Bryan Sammis isn’t the mysterious, moody character you might expect from the gloomy press shots, and when we ring him, he’s just back from the decidedly un rock n’ roll task of dropping his car off to be serviced. The veil of mystery surrounding The Neighbourhood initially was, Bryan says, “a conscious effort. We just wanted people to hear the music and decide how they felt about it. We didn’t want people to have any pre-conceived notions of what our band was about before hearing any music.” The monochromatic glimpses that followed, Bryan adds, are “just as much a part of who we are as the music is. We’re really big on having a whole experience for people, the music and the aesthetics together make up what we do. We feel like when you buy a band’s album, and you see the artwork and their logo and their colour scheme or whatever, and then you go listen to the song, you have a feel for it. If everything we put out was in colour, our songs would sound different. There would be a different vibe, you know?”

For months very little was known about The Neighbourhood at all – to the extent that nobody even twigged where the band came from. The secret was let slip eventually, though, not by the American press, but by Zane Lowe, on British radio. “That was crazy,” says Bryan of the band’s first ever radio play. “That was super early on, before I dropped out of college. I left the class to go listen.” It must’ve been amazing to hear your music making people sit up and listen so far away from California? Bryan agrees. “Definitely. I might be American, but I’m familiar with Radio 1, I knew how much of a big deal it was. It’s great. I think the UK really is a tastemaker, it seems like it’s where cool shit happens. For us to be a part of that, for you guys to latch on early, it’s really cool.”

The Neighbourhood have opted for Anglicised spelling, and do seem to have been embraced heartily by our little island in return. They’ve played London twice now, and sold out both times. It’s an impressive and overwhelming response to a band with just one EP to their name. “We love playing London, so it’ll be cool to come back with an actual album out, and to see what the response is like then,” Bryan says. “Somewhere so far from home, the first time we sold it out was insane! It’s really humbling, and I’m definitely excited to come back. I think, without stirring – and not to bash on our US fans - people in the UK kind of give a s**t a little more. It’s constant; I feel like every time we play the UK - London in particular - people are huge music fans. In London I feel like people are coming out to see us excited, and it’s a little more evident. People really give a shit about the music that they like and care about over here.”

Back in the US, The Neighbourhood are building up momentum, and supported Foals on part of their US tour leg. Having previously supported The Temper Trap and Interpol’s Paul Banks, the band enjoy the challenge and buzz of converting a room there to see the headline band. “It’s always cool because it’s somebody else’s audience, so we show up and most people don’t know who we are. After the show sometimes people will come up to the merch stand afterwards and be like ‘you guys won me over tonight’ and I think that’s the whole point of being a support band for bands like Foals. We’re confident in our live show and our songs, so our goal is to win as many people over as possible. It’s always nice when we do. It’s like a little challenge. We’re trying to get as many people involved in our movement as possible.”

The band also worked hard to stand out from the sheer volume of bands at SXSW last month, and Bryan admits that, even by the Neighbourhood’s standards, the work involved in Austin was very intense. “I was really excited for [SXSW] but I really underestimated the amount of work we’d have to do! I’d really like to go back, as a fan, this time we got to see pretty much nobody. We had like two shows a day, press, promo, it was definitely a lot of work. It was fun, but I’d like to go back and have a little more time to participate in the festival.”

The Neighbourhood are constantly plotting their next move across the checkered board, and this is the band’s final chance to relax in LA before hitting the road for an extended period of time. “I keep making the joke to my friends and family like, get time in with me now, because as soon as the album comes out I’m going to be gone for a long time, like…” he laughs, “the rest of my life. It’s hard with friends, because no matter how much time you have at home, somebody always feels like you’re flaking out. You get people being like ‘you’ve changed, man!’ I haven’t, I just don’t have as much time to hang out! We like to take it easy when we’re home because we’re always going non-stop.”

With the release of ‘I Love You’ fast approaching, The Neighbourhood are off on an extensive tour, and while Bryan might be joking when he says touring will take over his entire life, it’s likely things will never be the same again. Combining genres and edgy aesthetics with anthemic pop-rock, The Neighbourhood have managed to make commercial music whilst retaining a shroud of mystery. If their work ethic and dedication is anything to judge The Neighbourhood by, the next destination is surely top of the charts.

The Neighbourhood’s debut album ‘I Love You’ is out now via Columbia.

Read the full interview in the 22nd April edition of DIY Weekly, available from iTunes now.

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