Band To Watch: Geese

Daniel Topete

Band To Watch: Geese

Daniel Topete

“It’s been so long since there’s been a New York band with this kind of buzz around them.”

That sentence, in various iterations, is uttered time and time again tonight. The young Brooklyn band Geese are headlining Berlin, a club beneath the old Lower East Side bar 2A. After a mostly friends-and-family gig on a Brooklyn rooftop the preceding week, this is something of a soft opening for the band but also a grand introduction. In recent months, more and more word-of-mouth hype has swirled around Geese within the music industry. Tonight, for the first time, a lot of people are able to go and see them for themselves, to see what all the fuss is about.

Also: The band hasn’t even played 10 shows yet. You wouldn’t really know it from the scene at Berlin. The room is packed, and Geese — all 18 or 19 years old, and visibly so — may still look like recent high school grads, but they don’t play like that. Onstage, Geese are a little rawer, a bit more volcanic, allowing the barely controlled chaos in some of their songs to bleed and boil over a bit more than in their recorded counterparts. This is a band that almost nobody had heard of this time last year. And already there is a room full of people, dancing to simmering beats in one song and nodding along to ferocious post-punk crash landings in another. Geese close the set with “Disco,” the only single officially released under their name at the moment. As it reverberates around the walls of Berlin, it already sounds like a calling card, an opening salvo — the one song everyone in this room knows and loves, and the song that’s addicting enough to keep you coming back wondering what else this band has in store.

None of this was supposed to happen. In the early days of 2020, Geese were planning to drop an album online, the fruits of what was essentially a recording project undertaken together while in high school. After that, they’d break up and go their separate ways to college. It was going to be a moment in time, just one little chapter in their lives. Instead, after they uploaded a song called “Low Era,” they got an email from someone interested in managing them. Within months, they found themselves warding off the usual senioritis at the same time they were fielding meetings with all their favorite record labels. A bidding war of sorts festered around this band who, again, had barely ever played live and who had barely any name recognition. Eventually they landed a record deal and everything changed. Their debut album would get a proper rollout. They were in this.

Some weeks before that Berlin show, the five members of Geese — vocalist Cameron Winter, guitarist Gus Green, guitarist Foster Hudson, bassist Dom DiGesu, and drummer Max Bassin — are gathered at Bassin’s house in Brooklyn, in a lower level apartment above the practice space where Geese’s music was born. Some of the friendships at the core of Geese go back to middle school — all of them were born in NYC, with only Hudson having decamped to New Jersey for a stretch of years — so the group has the sort of band-as-gang dynamic that’s grown less common in the digital era. While Winter leads the songwriting, you get the sense the band functions as an organism, musically and personally. In conversation, they all trade off quick answers, finish each other’s sentences, everyone’s viewpoints and experiences clearly filtering into what the band has become thus far.

At first, Geese were really a studio concern. Bassin and Winter put together a setup in the former’s basement, which the band now calls the Nest. Today, it’s a subterranean room packed full of gear, including a busted sitar. Years ago, they were just figuring things out. Some of them came from musical families — Winter’s dad is a composer, and Green’s is an engineer — and there was leftover gear to be harvested and figured out. In general, they had parents that pushed them to play music early on. “We were all brought up to play instruments, and in high school we started to seek it out on our own,” Bassin explains.

But contrary to what you might expect by the band being mostly born and raised in New York, it’s not like they are where they are now because they spent their youths sneaking into DIY venues and embedding themselves in the scene ahead of time. The original premise stayed mostly true, with the band focusing on writing and recording music in the Nest and only occasionally playing a gig. As a result, the band doesn’t feel of a piece with any particular New York sound of this exact moment — to the extent one could even argue there’s anything cohesive about indie rock in New York these days. Instead, they bonded over Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin and Radiohead. “Lots of 8th grade rock,” as Winter jokes. Later they discovered new music together, whether proggier (Yes), more experimental (Animal Collective), or of a new generation of fried psych-rock: Ty Segall, Oh Sees, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard.

A lot of that might not be obvious from “Disco.” As young, voracious listeners and growing musicians, Geese’s focus has already shifted a couple times over. In recent years, they’ve become more infatuated with a new generation of guitar bands in the post-punk or art-rock vein, name-checking the likes of Black Midi and Squid. “It was mostly hearing those bands and how based within their instruments they were, how many new sounds they could eke out from that,” Bassin explains. “It was an inspiration.”

“At its best it’s music you really feel, but there’s also all this guitar stuff your mind could chew on,” Winter adds.

Along the way, Geese have already released some music. There was an album in 2017, and an EP in 2019, all of which have been scrubbed from the internet to make way for the “official” era of Geese. One could imagine the growing pains and explorations that would’ve been evident there as the band’s tastes changed, but by the time they got to recording their proper debut all these disparate interests were cohering.

That album, Projector, is due out later this year. It’s a wiry, mesmerizing thing. Geese’s songs are packed with hooks both vocal and instrumental, but at the same time the songs will rise and fall and combust, sputtering into dead ends or bursting into unexpected colors. The immaculately constructed “Disco” — a wildly ambitious lead single with various passages carefully arranged for a handful of cathartic payoffs — sits at the core of the album literally and spiritually. It captures the breadth of what Projector digs into, but also represents a sort of synthesis from which the other songs shoot off.

Maybe some New York comparisons are inevitable: There’s a song called “Fantasies / Survival” that recalls the Strokes before unspooling into a spastic guitar outro, and the interweaving guitars echo Television throughout Projector. But at the same time Geese leaned into angularity and percussive melodies, they didn’t lose the psychedelia that first inspired them. Across the album there are frayed but also cascading, shimmering guitars, like Geese looked to recent guitar bands and old post-punk but filtered it through Radiohead. In Rainbows is collectively cited as a massive influence on the band, though Green remarks they were thinking about the string arrangements more than the guitars. In Rainbows came out when the members of Geese were like, five years old — for them, it’s almost indistinguishable from the other classic rock touchstones they draw upon.

All of this music has a feverish quality to it, a young band full of ideas and figuring out how to position them just so but also when to let things run amok. The sound is assured, smart, and infectious. But it did also arise from somewhat feverish circumstances. “In terms of getting songs done, we had such a crazy time constraint,” Bassin explains. They’d go to school and then on Friday nights gather to record as long as they could, before they had to stop tracking drums at a certain point in the evening. He adds: “There was an urgency involved in recording.” All of it was driving towards that one simple goal, to finish this document of their late teens and put it out into the world before they moved on. There was a deadline in mind, the album came together, and a year and a half ago that’s as far as the plan extended.

When it comes to the thematic content of the album, Winter doesn’t go into a lot of details. “Looking back on it, the lyrics are a little angrier than anything I had done up until that point,” he offers. “I was focusing on making them more abstract than usual.” While he says many of them are short stories adopting a character, there’s still ways you could potentially read into Projector as a narrative glimpse of where Geese were in their lives, too. They admit there was probably some high school angst in the mix, but you can also catch certain young adulthood reckonings. In one song called “Exploding House,” Winter sings how “some are meant to leave the nest” and “this house is freezing cold these days”; on the other hand it’s “all I have left and I can feel it breaking apart.” At the time, he was purging childhood possessions as he got ready to leave home, while feeling like he’d be toiling away on music for 10 years before realizing the pipe dream of anyone paying attention.

It happened much faster than that. When labels got a hold of the album, a lot came calling. Suddenly, the band found themselves in the disorienting position of, in the thick of the pandemic, being stuck at home dealing with Zoom classes at the same time they were taking meetings with Fat Possum and Sub Pop. “I just remember it being three in the morning pacing around the room on FaceTime [with the band] like, ‘What’s going on!?'” Winter recalls. “I would sit at school just playing my DS through history class like, ‘I’m outta here.'” Maybe, in that sense, the lockdown helped Geese out. At the same time everyone’s lives went into upheaval, Geese felt their near-term expectations blow apart and rearrange. They eventually signed with Partisan — the same label that in recent years has pivoted to young beloved artists like IDLES and Fontaines D.C. — and began devising an actual future for themselves.

An album that once could’ve been the ending of an insular local band story now seems destined for one of the more out-of-nowhere anticipated debuts of 2021. In the meantime, Geese wrote a ton of new material — Green estimates they have close to 30 new songs in the works — and have been plotting tour dates for the fall and 2022. Green reflects on how committing to the band and, accordingly, most of the members deferring school, was a big decision amongst the chaotic, uncertain times of quarantine in 2020. Now, they’re making music in a completely different context: not as if a concrete end destination is readily in sight, but with the potential to continue evolving together.

From the roiling, mutating sounds of Projector, you can already imagine various new directions the band could further delve into. At least in the abstract, that seems to be the point of whatever comes next. They don’t want to get “pigeonholed,” nor make another album that is in the same exact stylistic territory of their debut. Now, there’s a whole different plan coming together — and it’s ambitious beyond Geese’s already strikingly impressive debut. “We’re going to be a pretty different band by the time the second album comes out,” Winter hints. “For the better.”

Daniel Topete

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