In Session: Side-B
ALBANY – Over the course of last weekend I had a chance to acquaint myself with Albany’s Side-B. A band steeped in various sounds – and never seeming to pigeonhole themselves – some of the better tones I picked out came from genres such as indie-rock, funk, and alternative-folk-based music.
Between working on their first full-length record, planning live performances, and never seeming to be off their social media game, they certainly have a lot going on. It was my pleasure to sit down with the band and discuss their musical journey up to now, their creative influences, and more. Continue reading to catch the discussion. You can support the band by following the links at the end of the article.
Lucas Garrett: Thank you, everyone, for sitting down tonight! Why don’t you introduce yourselves; who each of you are and what you do in the band?
AJ Horton: I’m AJ Horton, the guitarist of Side-B.
Dylan Travison: I’m Dylan Travison, the drummer.
Eric Mitchell: Hi, I’m Eric Mitchell. I play bass in this fantastic band.
Ian Justino: I’m Ian and I sing.
LG: So, how’s it going, guys? I really liked the sound. I hear a lot of influences, but why don’t you tell us who you like listening to?
IJ: I try to listen to everything. My favorite thing right now is exploring world music – specifically funk music from around the world. I’ve been listening to funk music from the Middle East, the Arabic world, and also from parts of Europe – France and Italy. There’s some really cool movements in funk music that I never knew about that happened in the 70’s and 80’s that I’ve been diving into recently.
AH: A lot of our influence comes from rock music. I’d say that’s at the core of our sound; we love to pull from everywhere. We love Led Zeppelin – we cover a couple Zeppelin songs – but everybody likes Led Zeppelin.
DT: A lot of our music is rock-based, but it’s also pop and indie-based. You’re going to hear stuff like Wallows in there…
AH: Vampire Weekend…
DT: Vampire Weekend, yeah. There is that classic rock influence – especially with the newer things we’ve been putting out. But, it’s mostly been more of an indie-rock type of sound. “Mountain Song” explored more of an indie-folk type of sound. The new stuff we’ve been working on I’d put around the sounds of Wallows or Peach Pit. It’s more modern, but still rock and driving.
EM: The stuff I write for the band is more folk-y until I bring it to everybody. I write completely on acoustic guitar and it’s pretty much just a folk song until we add those indie-pop sound…
DT: As far as the beats go, I like to think about everything you can do besides play the two and four. I keep the two-and-four pocket most of the time, but I do pull from a lot of different backgrounds. I’m really into funk music, as well. I’ve been reaching more into modern jazz and fusion and Afro-Cuban rhythms. Things like clave – you can play odd meters over it. I’ve also been listening to a lot of hip hop, like J Dilla, and stuff like that where it’s about simplicity and keeping things going. It starts kind of folk-y, but there’s a lot that goes into it.
IJ: I would say Dylan gives us the special sauce and defines what style we’re going for in the song. He’s a very technical drummer and he draws influences from the funk and jazz world. We often have more indie-pop melodies and guitar riffs; they’re punctuated and syncopated by these really interesting rhythms and beats that Dylan can come up with. It’s a nice contrast between something that is easy to listen to and sounds good to your ears, and something is more interesting and technical. It’s what makes me love our music.
LG: I was listening to your music and nothing jumped out at me as far as, “Holy crap, how’d they play that?” What did jump out at me was how every texture was interwoven with one another. There’s a lot of engrained parts that are running around and filling the empty pockets. I liked that quality about your music.
IJ: Thank you very much.
AH: Thanks. Especially when we were working on “Mountain Song” – and what I hope to do with future releases – we took a lot of influence from Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys.
LG: He’s an amazing artist.
AH: Absolutely… Making an arrangement that just ties everything together really well; great big picture with all different contrasting elements.
LG: I think it’s almost imperative if you’re a songwriter – and this might be snobbish of me – but if you’re going to write music, you should listen to Pet Sounds.
DT: Oh, yeah.
LG: You talk about funk; you talk about world music. I also heard a bit of Paul Simon in the music.
DT: I love Steve Gadd. There’d be no way of pinpointing whether or not I’m putting Gadd’s stuff in there – it’s just been engrained in to me at this point – but it’s definitely there.
IJ: That’s not a conscious influence for me, but I love his music. I’ve been listening to him since I was so, so young. I remember when I was really little, we had this concert film of Graceland…
LG: Amazing album…
IJ: Fantastic album… The live performance he did in Johannesburg; I was obsessed with that concert film. I’d watch it and try to air-guitar with it.
IJ: I was like five, but that’s been so deeply ingrained in me.
LG: You’ve got great music going; you seem to be quite active. What’s next; what are you guys currently working on?
AH: Since COVID broke out, we’ve really put in the work toward putting together an album. We’ve been doing a lot of songwriting. Recently this winter, we got into the studio to start recording what will be our debut album.
IJ: The songs are great; they get a great response when we play them live – the new stuff. Based on what we have so far, I’m really excited. This project has a lot of potential that I think we can realize. We’re aiming for ten songs on the album.
DT: I’d say we’ve finished recording about 50% of the meat and potatoes of it. Since we’re all in school and everything we’ve had to take a break. It’s been a long time coming, but I’m glad it’s taken as long as it has. Now we’ve really figured out a good, solid idea that we’re all pretty excited to get our names behind.
IJ: It’s marinating!
LG: When did Side-B begin?
IJ: Eric and I should speak to this: Side-B has been a band since, oh my god, 2016? Towards the end of Eric and my eighth-grade year. This current lineup – it’s been chopped and changed over the years – is what has seemed to really stick: us four. We’ve been playing together for two-and-a-half years, now.
Our first project we released was fairly soon before the pandemic began: The Low Budget Romance EP. That came out in October of 2019. So, we’ve been playing together a long time; we’re really familiar with each other. One thing I love about being in a band with these amazing people for so long – first of all, they’re all like brothers to me – is our songwriting process. That’s the most fun thing to be a part of. Someone can bring any idea into that space and we’ll just try to make it work. Sometimes it does; sometimes it doesn’t. We have a really solid, really collaborative way of working. We understand each other’s language for communicating what we want. There’s something very special about how our brains mix artistically – I can’t wait for that to be expressed with the maturity we have as adults.
AH: Dylan and I started a band together in 2013 before either of us played instruments. We kind of developed together.
DT: I think AJ and I have played together once a week since freshman year of high school. We definitely fed off each other. For me, whenever I heard AJ go to the next level of playing, I’d go, “Oh, man! He’s doing this…” I had to move with him to keep up. We pushed each other in a very healthy way.
IJ: Everything is a competition!
DT: If it was, it was very subtle! It was more like, “AJ’s doing something weird and I can’t figure it out!” First of all, we were hanging out so much so we listened to the same stuff for a very long time. I wouldn’t be half of what I am if it weren’t for AJ. Now, I have the ability to sit down and hear anything just [snaps] jump on it. That’s something I’ve worked on for a long time; it’s a very important part of Side-B. For a good amount of our shows, we’d just jam in the middle of them. If we’re playing a two-hour set, Ian’s been singing over us in a small bar for an hour. If he needed to take a break…
IJ: Drink some tea…
DT: Yeah, drink his gallon of tea…
DT: Just speaking to that writing process, we’ve done it live!
IJ: We wrote “Circles” live in front of a few people. We’ve written whole songs live at shows, it’s funny.
LG: That can be a bit risky…
DT: Oh, yeah.
IJ: Gotta break a few eggs, you know?
LG: Hopefully not a few dozen. What else would you like to discuss before we wrap the interview up?
AH: There’s a lot of production that went into the “Mountain Song.” In 2020, going into the making of that song, we had been wanting to get into the studio; wanting to record. As soon as COVID hit, we couldn’t get in a studio. So, what we had to do is set up in my garage; set up the drum set; set up the mics. We had a lot of help from our good friend, Kevin Goldberg. We recorded that song over the summer of 2020. Then, we went off to school and realized that there was so much work left that we needed to do for the song.
AH: COVID rates were getting worse that winter. Trying to figure out how to schedule recording sessions… Eventually, we got it done.
DT: It’s a funny story. We tracked drums first, then added guitar, bass, and all this… The second half of the song is one scene, then everything builds up. There’s a mini guitar solo, then it breaks off and there’s a bass riff. Then, there’s a jam section. We didn’t take the time to go into the parts and realized the drum part did not work with our overall goal – it was our first time doing it by ourselves. I’m glad it happened – it was a big learning curve – but it was definitely a pain.
So, we called up Kevin again. He FaceTimed us for three hours while AJ and I tore my living room apart and set up a drum set in the middle of the room. It’s honestly one of the better drum sounds we’ve gotten – it’s a very good drum sound.
AH: Then, I spent the next few months adding layers on my own in my room. There’s organ on the song; a hundred layers of guitars; tons of backing vocals…
DT: AJ likes the wall of sound…
AH: I played trumpets on it; tons of percussion.
DT: Cellos and violin.
AH: My sister played the violin on the song. My dad came in and made some bird sounds.
IJ: I didn’t know that! Jungle Jimmy is on the track? Why haven’t we advertised that?
LG: Sounds like you guys are doing great. I can’t wait to hear more. Let me know when your stuff is coming out.
IJ: We will! We’ll be trying to make sure everybody knows.
LG: That’s the goal, right? Good talking with you…
AH: Thanks for talking with us!
DT: Thank you.
IJ: Thanks so much, Lucas. It’s nice to meet you.
LG: Nice to meet you, too. Peace.