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The Neighbourhood Muses On Songwriting And Success

Gerri Gonzalez |
May 30, 2013 | 8:49 p.m. PDT


The Neighbourhood played The Observatory on May 24th. (via David Brendan Hall)
The Neighbourhood played The Observatory on May 24th. (via David Brendan Hall)
On Friday night, vocalist Jesse Rutherford, guitarists Jeremy Freedman and Zach Abels, bassist Mikey Margott, and drummer Bryan Sammis took the stage at The Observatory in Santa Ana and had every fan dancing and singing to their songs.

This show was The Neighbourhood’s fourth stop on the Love Collection tour. The band formed in August 2011 and since then they have seen an astonishing amount of growth and success.

In 2012, they dropped their first EP, "I’m Sorry," and it had instant hits such as “Sweater Weather” and “Female Robbery.” They recently dropped their album "I Love You." in April of this year.

The album reflects The Neighbourhood’s unique style. It is very difficult to try to categorize the band into a specific genre and it would almost be unfair to do so. They are a representation of how pop music today can distinguish itself as a diffusion of all sorts of genres.

They are heavily influenced by alternative hip-hop, pop, and rock. Everyone who has attempted to categorize the band are at a loss for words and for this reason, the band has made an effort to call the music they make, “dark pop.”

I had the opportunity to interview the lead singer, Jesse Rutherford, before his show on Friday. Our interview was not the conventional interview; in fact, at times I was getting asked questions.

Jesse's energy is fascinating and contagious, and the same spark he has on stage carries in his everyday conversation. I could not help but feel that Jesse is an incredibly genuine guy and does not act like he is someone else. It is easy to recognize the conviction and confidence in his voice, along with the passion that drives the band towards the success they have achieved and will continue to achieve. 

My best attempt to characterize Jesse is that he is the epitome of a rock star in 2013. He has a high appreciation for trendy fashion, erotic moves that grip the concentration of every youthful woman, and he captures the spotlight.

The fascinating thing about this is that the other band mates like this and they enjoy their particular roles. The band members let Jesse do most the writing, talking, and entertaining, while they focus solely on their contribution. The distribution of attention is not the main focus of this band; rather, it is their unique vision that keeps them focused. 

NT: What is the Neighbourhood? What do you think makes you guys significant and distinct in the world of music?

Jesse: Vision. I think we have a vision. I think we are taking the things that any youthful person with ability musically has and putting the formula together in the right way. I’ve been playing with music programs for a while now and we also demo out songs. That’s how we do it. We have the right idea as far as how are we going to go about things.

I am really heavy on marketing, vision, and being a complete package!  I think we are a complete package, and I think we are still figuring things out. I do not think we are the best in the world, but I think we definitely have something—our own thing. I think we are unique and special in our own way.

NT: How does it feel to be in a band with a group of friends that you have known for years? Isn’t it crazy to know that you have the opportunity to play with a bunch of friends at big festivals like Coachella?

Jesse: Oh, yeah! Definitely. The crazy part is that it is not just when we are on stage but when we get off stage. Our tour manager is like my older brother—we grew up in the same neighborhood and I’ve known him for ten plus years.

As far as the five of us go, I don’t think we take it for granted, but I don’t think we realize it a lot. I think it takes moments of us looking at each other and saying, “Can you guys believe that we are doing this right now? And we do it, you know? It hasn’t even been two years yet but there have been many moments when we look at each other and say, “We are living this! This is incredible!” 

NT: What really strikes me when I listen to the album "I Love You." is a question.  What song is emotionally significant to you as an individual and the lead singer of the band?

Jesse: Well, you know, a lot of the songs are about a relationship that I was in. Those hold significance to me because I learned a lot from writing those songs and when I listen back to my own lyrics. I was writing these lyrics when I was still with that person, and I was saying things when I was with this girl like, “I just can’t wait for love to destroy us.”

There is never a song on the album, where I say, “I love you so much, you’re the best thing in the world.” All of them are saying, “Why are you like this? What do you want from me?!” That is a perfect example, “What do you want from me?” It’s that simple, “What do you want from me?” And I think that is anything that a guy, or a boy, or a man deals with in a relationship with a woman, because that is just how humans work, you know what I mean?  

The song "Staying Up" is really family-based for me, and when my mom heard that one, she got really emotional. Everyone goes through their struggles and my family has been through our own struggle, and that song really speaks about it. Sometimes I don’t realize what I write because I just write what I feel. I’m not thinking about it that much. I’m spewing and I can’t help but to be honest. 

NT: What is the songwriting process like? Does the band write them together?

Jesse: I write all the lyrics. I write 99.9 percent of them. The other guys definitely give me suggestions, but we all know our role and have our own part. 

NT: What about your songwriting process is unique? 

Jesse: Not thinking too much. I’ve tried to think too much. I’ve walked by something and said to myself, “Oh I want to write a song about that someday.” I don’t think too much, and I really say what is on the top of my head. I just write exactly how I feel and I like to speak through melody.  

I could be talking about that wall right there, but if I sing it in a way that makes you believe something about that wall is special, then that wall will mean exactly what my melody and voice want it to. I don’t think I am the strongest writer. I think I can write really catchy things that get in people’s heads. So, I have to choose to make sure that I have the right words stuck in people’s heads. 

NT: A lot of students are striving for success and careers in the arts at colleges all over the world, they are striving to reach the success that you are achieving. What advice do you have for them?

Jesse: Ah, see this is where it is hard for me. I think that if you have your path and you know it is going to work for you, then it is going to work. The bottom line is this is my path. My truth to you that I’ll tell you or anybody else is that there was no fucking way I was going to go to college to be a rock star. That’s not how this shit works. It just doesn’t add up.  

Again, I use the “rock star” term very loosely. I’m not trying to say, “Oh look at me I’m a rock star!” No, but to be successful in music and performing you need experience—the same way certain jobs need experience. Certain jobs you need that degree, you need to go to school. I will never understand musicians who want to do what I am doing but are going to school for it. 

NT: What would be your ideal first impression for someone that has not heard of The Neighbourhood? 

Jesse: How literal we are. Honestly, just like how black and white it is. I hate saying that because it sounds so cliche, but it is the honest kind of deal we got going on. We write the music because we like it and I say the words because I can’t help but to say them. That is what I want someone to hear. Of course, it is pop music—it is catchy and I get that. That is how I naturally write things. I want people to take the purity from it. I could confidently say that we do not sound like any band out right now. 

Reach Contributor Gerri Gonzalez here.



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