Based out of what is quite possibly the epicentre of the musical world, Brooklyn, Personal Space first emerged back in 2014 with their debut EP, The Early Universe Was Entirely Opaque. Since then, in their own words, the band have been, “perennially under review”, always shifting their sound and working on whatever is coming next. Changing members and ideas, shaping Personal Space into a variety of guises, as showcased on their eclectic debut album, 2016’s Ecstatic Burbs, shared through Tiny Engines. After four years of stream-lining and development, the now four-piece are set to return this Spring with their new offering, A Lifetime Of Leisure, coming out via Good Eye Records.
If Ecstatic Burbs was the sound of the band wondering what comes next after suburban living and university education, on A Life Of Leisure, the band set their course for somewhat darker waters, both thematically and musically. It’s almost as if Personal Space have embraced the state of the world, looking forward to the future no matter how difficult it seems and refusing to give up on the dream of a brighter tomorrow. Musically, they seem to have embraced their more melodic side, their well-documented love of Steely Dan shining out, even if it’s given a more angular make-over that the likes of Field Music or Here We Go Magic would be proud of. Perhaps this is a record about growing up, of trying to find your place in the world without letting the fire inside burn out; if life is getting them down, it doesn’t show, Personal Space sound more focused, exciting and important than ever before.
FTR: For those who don’t know who is Personal Space?
We’re just buds who met playing music together in college in NYC. We appreciate complexity and contradiction, but not at the expense of tight songwriting and the listener’s attention – a bit experimental and interesting, but not unlistenable. We value finding inspiration from a range of genres and moods and seeing what works together, with the textural constants being guitars and drums. You’ll likely hear some dropped beats and odd time signatures too. It’s basically indie rock with some prog/math flavors. In terms of the name “Personal Space”, it’s kind of an overcorrection in the direction of digestible band names after the previous name, which was “The Early Universe Was Entirely Opaque”.
The first recording came out in 2014 with an EP, and Ecstatic Burbs, our first full length, came out in 2016; our current lineup – Jesse Chevan (drums), Sam Rosenthal (vox/bass), Henry Koehler (guitar), Alex Silva (vox/guitar) – came together when we were recording that record. That record got us compared to Dismemberment Plan a lot, which kind of surprised us, but I think because the writing shifts a lot between noisy/heavy passages and more melodic, and singalongable moments, it kinda makes sense. The production was also in that 90s, slacker rock vein.
LP2, which comes out in March (we’ll talk more about that later), was an effort to shift to “smoother” territory, more of a warmer 70s production, a sound which Michael Coleman and his crew at Figure 8 are really good at capturing (Fig8 is a wonderful place, highly recommended!). There’s a bit less of an emphasis on dramatic dynamic shifts and linear, “through-composed” song forms, and instead more of a focus on groove and more contained song forms (though we make some exceptions). It’s also the record where we’ve moved to a more collaborative songwriting process between Sam and Alex, as opposed to Ecstatic Burbs which was primarily authored by Sam, so you’ll hear a bit of Alex’s set of influences. Alex (and certainly Jesse) are coming from a stronger jazz/chamber music background, more like “trained” musicians than Sam, who by contrast has more of a, not punk, but maybe a “derivatives of punk” background. ANYWAY enough about us… how you doin??
FTR: What can you remember about your first show?
Our first gig with our current line up was at Union Pool, one of our favorite venues to play in NYC. The sound is always great, cool vibey room, and the staff are super friendly. There’s also a nice flow there between the bar and venue, where people might hear what’s going on from the bar and wander over and check out the music. Jesse was wearing some fresh new sneaks, the songs were hitting right, and we had a big, generous crowd. Also Sam’s future mother-in-law was kind of randomly in the audience too – cute!!
Before that show we played a lot of dual bills together between an earlier version of Personal Space and Face of Man, which was Jesse and Alex’s main project together before joining Personal Space. We played a lot of places from the halcyon days of BK, places like Glasslands, Palisades, Cameo Gallery, etc. Cakeshop was another great place we played together that’s gone now too. Sad! Can we haz public money for the arts plz??
FTR: Why do you make music? Why not another art form?
Well by his own admission, Sam’s a “shitty painter and can barely write his own fucking name, like the worst small motor coordination”, so it was process of elimination there with the artistic disiplines I guess lol. But more seriously, maybe one way for us to explain “why music” is that it was kind of the middle class culture of like, having a thing to pursue and work on outside of school, taking lessons, being “well rounded”, that kind of thing. And since none of us were excelling at a sport or the “fine arts” or theater or whatever else kids around us were doing, we came to music.
But maybe an even stronger force pulling us to music was the social aspect to it, like in CT (where Sam and Jesse grew up) there was The Space, which was a great place for young people to meet up, showcase our musical skills or interests, size each other up, form a community, find an identity, etc. With Alex in Chicago, it was places like Old Town School of Folk music, which ran a popular all-ages open mic night at their spot on Webster. You got to do your best mimic of like, Green Day or whatever, maybe get to talk to some girls, become part of a “scene”, it was fun, it was cool. And obviously our parents had a role to play too. Like Jesse’s dad’s a musician and he basically grew up playing with him, and Alex’s dad exploited his 10 year old obsession with the Tom Delonge Strat by promising it to him if he took 6 months of guitar lessons.
FTR: What can people expect from the Personal Space live show?
Our songs are faster and heavier live, so there’s definitely a thrashier quality to it. We also tend to be a bit more improvisational in person than on record, we try to have moments where what happens isn’t exactly known ahead of time. When we have to banter, we try to debase at least one local politician or power broker. Usually that’s a fun move, but there was this one time we played a house show in Knoxville, where we did like two hours of research in the car about the politics there, and we did the bit, I think something about their corrupt mayor at the time, and everyone just kind of stared blankly at us. So yeah we can definitely misread your room, but it’ll still be a good time(?). Ideally we’re like the Mark Tom and Travis show but less cancellable.
FTR: What’s next for Personal Space?
Our LP2 is out in March 2021 on the Good Eye Records. It’s called A Lifetime of Leisure and features a mix of earnest and cynical portrayals of bougie millennial characters and situations (avail for preorder now!). It’s been a long time in the making and we’re super excited to see it out soon. We’re really happy to have linked up with Michael and his crew at Good Eye, they’re really good people, very good at what they do and truly dedicated to music and music making. We have two singles out now, Supine (And Feelin’ Fine) and Grateful for the Firm, and be on the lookout for some more in early 2021.
Beyond that we’ve love to figure out how to do some kind of live stream event in lieu of a proper release show. We also tracked a 4 song EP this fall Allen Tate of San Fermin, not exactly sure when that’ll be out but maybe late 2021. We’re also thinking of tracking another EP this year seeing as covid restrictions will likely persist for a while.
They Listen To…
Steely Dan – Peg
Michael McDonald the GOAT. Tortured by Fagen and Becker into creating this masterpiece. Love how cranked his vox are in the mix.
Scott Walker – Hero Of The War
A great track from Scott 4, an all-time record, right before Scott dove into the void with his discography. A jolly, rollicking song about a quadruple amputee, like a superior version of Metallica’s One. Plus he scats at the end.
Corridor – Domino
Very catchy, robotic rock song, especially good for driving to. There’s lots of great post-punk, krauty bands active right now, and Corridor is one of the best in the game. Honestly the whole record is great.
This Heat – Health and Efficiency
Such a creative group of artists. Love how many distinct sections in the form they cycle through, all the industrial sounds and noises they layer on, and the whole rhythm section is just grooving so hard. Really fun music.
Hypoluxo – Nimbus
Another example of a great post-punk track of our time. These guys have been in the scene for a while and we’ve liked watching them do their thing. Tight production and songwriting, and super danceable.
Andrew Hill Trio – So In Love
Spooky first track off a frequently played record on tour, a certified fav in the “van”.
A Lifetime Of Leisure is out March 26th via Good Eye Records. Click HERE for more information on Personal Space.