In tracking down the band The Adventures of the Silver Spaceman (TAOTSS), whom I’d seen play at a Papercut Press event and who were playing at SXSW, I was confused by the ephemera on the internet which alternately claimed that the bandleader Zach Ellis also played in Brooklyn band Haybaby, also playing three different showcases at SXSW on their tour with Whiskey Bitches.
I caught the TAOTSS show at Holy Mountain in Austin — in the back, on a tented sloping driveway, a set that drew most of the crowd out of the bar to listen — and was even more confused by the appearance of Haybaby members Sam Yield and Leslie Hong joining Zach onstage. I found out later that the drummer was a guy Ellis had just brought into the fold earlier that day.
Downstairs at the Austin Convention center (because no matter how many unofficial showcases a band plays, they can’t get into the convention center proper) I chatted with Zach, Sam, Leslie, and Haybaby drummer Jeremy Duvall, to try to get some clarity about what the heck was going on with these two bands. I succeeded in clarifying that it’s just not very clear. The affable gang talked on top of each other and traded barbs like a close-knit family.
“We can’t stay away from each other,” Leslie said by way of explanation.
“We all were Haybaby, and then Zach wanted to pursue his solo stuff–”
Zach interrupted. “Hey baby was the three of us,” meaning not Jeremy, the current drummer. “I pretty much wanted to do solo thing, which was a bedroom recording project, that’s how it started, and then it started kinda turning into a band, also I just wanted to travel with it, solo, do more traveling–”
Leslie jumped back in:”More traveling than our lives allowed for.”
Zach added, “They wanted to do more of the New York thing, I wanted to get out more.”
“Leslie turned wistful. “Now that we’re on the road, I don’t ever ever want to go back.”
“See?” Zach needled.
“It sucks,” Leslie said, almost to herself. “I hate my job.”
“But meanwhile,” Sam said, “as Silver Spaceman became more of a full band, I started playing bass again…”
Leslie: “Silver Spaceman is like a rotating cast of like eight people. And we’ve always played music well together, it’s like walking downhill, it’s easy.”
“The point of being in a band is that you play with people that you love,” Zach said. “When Haybaby started, Leslie wasn’t really a guitar player and I wasn’t a drummer.” Leslie was a drummer, however — she played the Warped tour with Sharkmuffin. As the parade of people in the convention center filed by, the band(s) noticed someone they knew.
“Is he the one who left his underwear at our house?”
“One of several people.”
The underwear conversation led back into Brooklyn, where Zach had been for eight years and Leslie for eight or nine — “Bush-WICK!” she hollers. Sam is a native New Yorker. Obviously as Williamsburg has changed, venues have closed, and Leslie said she’s “definitely sens[ed] the slow crawl over from Williamsburg to Bushwick.” She added, “at our subway stop – at the same corner – I first moved to New York where there were like literally blood and crip battles, and people running in the street with 2x4s, now there’s a gay bar and a French bistro.”
Zach: “But as far as identifying as a Bushwick band, I don’t necessarily–”
Leslie jumped in, “You lived in Greenpoint for a long time.”
“Oh, you’re a Greenpoint band?” Jeremy, the drummer, with the rimshot, to wild laughter.
I noted that Haybaby may not be as “crunchy” as some Brooklyn bands, as some of their recorded music is more minimal, almost dreamy. “On both projects,” Sam said, “we’re not trying to identify with the sound of some kind of scene.”
“There are a few songs of ours,” Leslie added, “I feel like we’re shouting out to a different [Brooklyn] band. And then there was a long time where we strictly avoided anything that sounded like it — the anti-reverb.”
“Not using reverb,” Zach said.
Leslie: “That was a big deal, like we wanted to be super dry, because we were so sick of everything being washed out.”
Zach: “But now after years of feeling that way, I’m like, ‘Actually, I really like reverb.'”
Leslie: “Subtle reverb.”
“It’s like when you’re a kid and you just start to rebel against whatever your parents have,” Zach said, “and then eventually, ‘Actually, it wasn’t so bad.'”
Sam said, “That’s been one of the biggest ways we’ve tried to not participate in that sound, is – it’s very important to us to preserve a lot of space in the songs.” And it’s true — in the TAOTSS set, there was a lot of space, and Zach and Sam wove their guitar and bass lines in and out of each other, allowing presence for two distinct sounds. “If there is a Brooklyn sound, a big part of it is taking up a lot of space.”
“A wall of sound,” Leslie said.
“And actually,” Zach said, “I think a lot of that started because we didn’t know how to play our instruments.” Wild laughter.
Leslie, putting on a fake announcer voice, said that Haybaby had been listed on “top 10 female-fronted fuzz guitar bands,” not sure if they would have been on the list had it not specified “female-fronted.”
Zach said, “I even think that about my band now, it’s like four white dudes… I don’t like that it’s four white dudes.” More group laughter.
Speaking of the two shows they’d played the day before, Leslie said, “The sound guy at the first show saw me setting up the guitar, so he’s like – oh, there are two guitars in your band, right? He assumed that I wasn’t the lead guitarist. And then at the second show, the sound guy comes over to me three times: ‘Do you need any help? Are you sure? Do you know what you’re doing? Where do you want to set up your keys? Who’s girlfriend are you? Do you need help with that?’ — that being a mic stand, like I can’t fucking adjust a mic stand by myself.”
“From my perspective,” Sam said, “if I’m the first person to talk to the sound guy, 1,000% I’m the guitarist.”
“But it’s fun to get that—condescending whatever, and then getting on stage and just ripping their faces off.”