The Neighbours Interview

Published On April 19, 2012 | By Kymbo Slice | Interviews

Photo c/o of Brian Taylor

It’s time to get acquainted with the Neighbours, and not the folks who live next door. The Neighbours I speak of are four lovely gents who hail from various musical backgrounds that have come together to form a motown-tinged rock n’ roll band. They have a vinyl release show coming up this Saturday to coincide with Record Store Day, so we decided to get the 411 on this band who is new to us here at NYO. We asked a few questions to their keyboardist/lead vocalist Michael Cunningham and Pittsburgh City Paper music editor Andy Mulkerin, who moonlights as their drummer. Both of these gents are quite eloquent when speaking about their music, so enjoy the read, and check out their show this Saturday at Gooskis alongside Iron City Sound Contest finalists The Long Time Darlings and indie front man Ben Hardt.

Kymbo Slice: Your band has a very Motown-esque feel, as mentioned in previous reviews. Your influences draw from a wide range of 60s Motown and “90s power pop” as WPTS Radio states – what are some current bands who influence you and do they have as much as an effect on your sound as older bands?
Andy Mulkerin: What’s funny is that we all have pretty disparate influences — there really aren’t many bands or artists that all four of us care particularly about. I think you could most easily compare us to new-blue-eyed soul acts like Eli “Paperboy” Reed and so on. I pick up plenty of stuff as a drummer from contemporary bands, but that’s not the sort of thing that necessarily comes across overtly. I think contemporary bands influence us more in terms of energy and ethic than “sound.” And we’re definitely influenced to an extent by our local contemporaries — bands like New Shouts, The Ceiling Stares, etc.
Michael Cunningham: I enjoy pretty much anything that Mark Ronson is involved with. I love the music of The Len Price 3, The Dap-Kings, Raphael Saadiq, Camera Obscura, and New Shouts, and I think all of these contemporary acts have a pretty similar musical worldview to ours. But, as you mentioned, in terms of my songwriting and vision for Neighbours, I’m primarily inspired by older groups like The Small Faces, The Spencer Davis Group, and The Action.

KS: And what about your British influences, which might be an obvious question, but I’m still curious to know.
MC: Other than hip-hop, traditional British guitar pop – from The Kinks to The Jam, to Blur and Supergrass – has been the music I’ve most listened to and most enjoyed throughout my life. I came of a musical age of accountability in the early- to mid-‘90s, when Britpop played a major role in the international pop music landscape. I’ve got a great deal of admiration and respect for British guitar pop music, and I do think that Neighbours exudes that influence – among many others – in its music.
AM: Obviously everyone’s way into The Beatles, but I think those other acts are the ones whose influence comes through most clearly. Mike, I’m sure, will tell you about how the rest of the band came together (before I was involved) for a Who tribute show.

KS: How did all the band members come together as Neighbours stands today?
AM: Oh, look! This question is exactly what I was just alluding to. I’ll just explain my part: I knew Ross through mutual friends in and after college (we both went to Pitt). Sometime in late 2008 he put out a query on Facebook asking if there were any drummers who’d be interested in playing in a band with him that would play stuff along the lines of The Kinks, The Zombies and so forth. So I got in touch with him, and we started meeting after that, and started practicing in 2009. (I’d previously played in one band, a post-rock band called the sea, like lead, which existed from 2004-06 — basically as far as you can get, musically, from what Neighbours does, while maintaining a basic guitars-and-drums rock setup.)
MC: Andy pretty much covered things on his end for this, but from my perspective, Ross Reilly (who place guitar, sings, and also writes for the band) and I met 10 years ago as students in the Pitt Music Department. We both moved away from Pittsburgh around 2005 but stayed in touch with one another while I was living in Georgia and he was living in Alaska, talked about music, and passed some demos back and forth via e-mail.
We both moved back to the area in 2008, and in January of 2009, Howlers Coyote Café in Bloomfield was having a Who cabaret for charity. Ross and I wanted to play this, and his brother played drums, but we needed a bass player. Ross put a call out on the Internet for someone who would be interested in participating in a one-off group, and Joe Tarowsky, who was a veteran of the local music scene and was also helping to organize the event, enthusiastically responded. We played four early Who covers to a good response, and Joe expressed an interest in playing with us on a more permanent basis. Ross brought Andy into the group that summer. We started practicing together around the fall of 2009, and things clicked almost immediately – both musically and in terms of us getting along well with one another. We’ve been playing together ever since.

KS: You’ve been around since 2010, are there any memorable gigs that stick out in your mind?
AM: I’d say one of my favorite shows was our first, at Gooski’s, The lead-up to the show was basically a total cluster, and I got really stressed out, but then tons of folks showed up and we packed the place out and had a great time. Opening for Mike Watt at Brillobox last year was a great honor. And the Friday Nite Club shows we did last year with our friends New Shouts and DJ Jordan K were amazing – a little bit out-of-the-way at the Irish Centre in Squirrel Hill, and a little bit sweaty and stressful, but so much fun. I guess that’s the DIY punk in me talking again.
MC: Playing with Mike Watt and the Missingmen was an amazing experience, and one from which I think we learned a lot about how to conduct yourself in a band. Those guys were professionals in every sense of the word, and incredibly gracious. I also very much enjoyed our gig at the Andy Warhol Museum, with Meeting of Important People and New Shouts. It was labeled a “Pittsburgh Garage Pop Revue,” and we approached it as a revue-style show in the vein of the T.A.M.I. Show film from 1964. Each band ran onstage to play a three-song set, unplugged, and then ran off to make way for the next band, rotating throughout the evening. Justin Hopper served as a purposefully obnoxious emcee for the evening, cracking bad jokes in between the sets (often at the expense of the bands) and keeping things moving along, and there were ‘60s-style go-go dancers. It was also just an honor to be able to play at the Warhol with two local bands that I really admire.

KS: What’s your relationship with Get Hip Recordings, who are releasing your 7′? How important do you find it to be for local bands to contribute to Record Store Day in this manner?
AM: Gregg and Barbara from Get Hip are great — they were acquainted with our friend Jordan, and he got them to check us out, and they were immediately big supporters of ours. It’s awesome to have a well-regarded label like that operating out of Pittsburgh, and in a lot of ways the label is less well-known here in town than elsewhere, so it’s nice to help give a local face to the label. The Cynics, Gregg’s band, are obviously the face of the label, but their rhythm section lives in Spain, so they don’t play locally a ton. That actually is also what led to us playing Get Hip’s holiday party this year, and backing up The Cynics for a short set of their tunes, which was a great time.
I was talking the other day to Mike from Mind Cure Records about this year’s Record Store Day, and he was echoing some of the feelings I’ve been having about RSD: While it’s a great idea for a great reason, it’s also gotten a little too big for its britches lately. If the whole point is just to scoop up special edition Katy Perry remixes on 12-inch pink vinyl, then not return to your local record store for another year, then at best it’s just Black Friday for record nerds.
MC: As a person who just enjoys buying music at local stores, I love Record Store Day, in that it brings special attention to local vendors and maybe brings out some people who otherwise wouldn’t patronize the stores to buy some music that they can’t otherwise buy online or at big retailers. If that creates one new regular customer for a local vendor, then to me, it’s worth it. At the same time, if local musicians don’t operate in a similar manner to the local vendors, promoting their releases specifically for Record Store Day and making sure they get into bins with said Katy Perry pink vinyl remix 12-inch, then it completely defeats the purpose of Record Store Day. Similar to the vendors, if someone coming out to buy the Katy Perry release picks up the Neighbours seven-inch and brings it home as well, and that creates one new follower for Neighbours, it’s worth it. But in order for that to happen, local artists need to release and promote music around Record Store Day and get themselves in the mix. It’s imperative, really.

KS: What’s coming up in the near future for Neighbours? Any gigs in the works?
MC: We’re currently recording new material with Derek White, who produced our self-released EP and the songs on our Get Hip seven-inch. We’re going to release some new music, hopefully by the end of the year, in a yet-to-be-determined format. In addition to our seven-inch release show at Gooski’s this Saturday with The Long Time Darlings and Ben Hardt, we’ve got a gig at Howlers Coyote Café in Bloomfield on May 18 with Balloon Ride Fantasy and Delicious Pastries, and we are playing a WYEP Third Thursday show at the WYEP Community Broadcast Center on June 21 at 7 p.m. Other than that, we are taking some time to finish up recording, work on some new material, and potentially book some more out-of-town gigs to promote the seven-inch.

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