Bay Faction On Why They Brought Their Cult Classic Debut Back To Streaming — And Why They Pulled It In The First Place

Bay Faction On Why They Brought Their Cult Classic Debut Back To Streaming — And Why They Pulled It In The First Place

So I called the girl
That I’m currently having sex with and I said I loved her
But it was over Facebook
She came over that night
We started having sex and it felt fine
Up until she fucking left and I realized
That I tell a damn good lie.

This is a verse from “Sasquatch .22,” a track off Boston band Bay Faction’s 2015 self-titled album released on Counter Intuitive Records, which some emo fans call a cult classic. The band pulled it from streaming services a couple of years after its release; “I felt like I like ran over someone’s dog or something,” James McDermott says about the reaction of devastated listeners. In 2018, the trio (McDermott on vocals, Kris Roman on bass, and Alex Agresti on drums, who all met at Berklee College of Music) returned with Florida Guilt, an LP of polished indie pop songs about money, drugs, and sex. The songs were still wonderfully weird, but they traded clamorous guitars for tame synthesizers, much to fans’ dismay. They broke up in 2020, saying they “decided to no longer continue the project.”

Bay Faction was reissued on Friday, exactly eight years after its initial release. “Happy anniversary to this record. Thank you to each and every person who allowed this project to live. This is yours,” the band wrote.

The aforementioned scene on “Sasquatch .22” is narrated by McDermott against soft drumming and subtle guitars, his voice practically naked, like he’s explaining the situation to a friend. It’s even more intimate as he confesses his worry that when he’s 30 he’ll buy a gun and “waste myself in the back of her Camry/ Put it to the back of my mouth and scream out your name/ Pull the trigger and realize that the seats aren’t easy to clean.”

Though Bay Faction were aligned with emo, the vocals are clean, the guitars boisterous and jangly at times, the melodies catchy. The opener, “Bloody Nose,” is massive; McDermott proclaims, “I keep having this dream where you forget about me/ Go to bed with some guy/ Then my nose starts to bleed.” “Captive Cows” is anchored by playful riffs. The light drumming that opens “Beach Book” has a striking similarity to the PornHub theme song that I can only assume is intentional (another song has the title “Casting Couch.”) High Snobiety described them as “From Under The Cork Tree-era Pete Wentz ghostwriting Modern Baseball songs.” Sure, they have Pete’s horniness and angst, but MoBo’s sound was never this upbeat.

Coyotes, burning houses, razor blades — the imagery scattered throughout the album is sharp and jarring. The artwork of two naked girls encapsulates the Tumblr-ness of the record; it serves as a kind of soundtrack for Skins. Every song is an intense escapade, overflowing with youthful melodrama: “I crumbled like old coffee grounds/ When I tried to break into your house,” McDermott sings.

Sex and death go hand in hand; deep bass and mathy guitars imbue “Cutter” with mischief as McDermott paints more graphic scenes of murder: “Jasper told me you’re a cutter/ So there’s not much for you to explain/ When you put a gun in my mouth and pull the trigger/ Blow my skull wide open like broken windowpanes.” Later on the track, he sings, “I was expecting a love note on the mirror but/ You wrote your own name in blood.”

On “Coyote,” he repeats “I would kill to be yours again” over and over, growing more and more convincing. What makes this life-and-death texture of the album even more alluring is the building, whimsical instrumentation that McDermott’s voice seems to lead, like an orchestra taking cues from a conductor.

As a teenager, I opened up my YouTube app to listen to the album while I drove, tapping my screen every few seconds so my phone wouldn’t turn off. At liberal arts college, a boy on my floor who was in an emo band invited me to his dorm, and with a smug smile, pulled out his Bay Faction vinyl to impress me (it worked). It had been practically unattainable at that point, until they repressed it in 2020 for the five-year anniversary. A reply to that tweet sums up their legacy: “Holy shit it’s been five years… Fuck. I can remember finding the reddit post by @CIRecs on the front page of r/emo while eating taco Bell. Now I have a tattoo of your lyrics on my right side. May your music never die.” Another tweet from Friday also captures the band’s vibe: “Just got so excited about Bay faction being back on streaming I dropped my joint and almost lit myself on fire.”

The raucous closer “Jasper Wildlife Assoc.” is unforgettable. Bay Faction’s fluctuation between quiet and loud is masterful, and McDermott is screaming by the end — a satisfying reward. As the hook rolls off of his tongue addictively, the syllables come quick but each word is intelligible: “I guess I never really knew how cold this house could get/ Without the alcohol and people helping me forget.” It’s a fitting note to end on; the party’s over and he’s alone, the magic gone.

Below, McDermott explains why self-titled was pulled from streaming, why it was put back, and what making the album was like.

Why did you pull the album from streaming?

JAMES MCDERMOTT: There’s a lot of reasons. I’ve actually had a lot of practice with this question, just because as soon as we did, we got page-long DMs from people who were like, “How could you do this?” I had to delete Instagram from my phone for a week. We were on tour; I think we were in Texas when we pulled it down. There’s a lot of reasons.

The main one is I wrote most of that music when I was 17 and hung onto it for a long time. That’s the thing about rock music is that sometimes it can take years and years before your music finds the people that it’s supposed to. By the time it did, I was 23 and a huge part of our careers was playing. It was very grassroots. We weren’t really online that much. Over the course of a couple years, playing those songs and revisiting those moments constantly did a number on my mental health. It’s really difficult because I think the entire point of playing is to channel something and be able to deliver that channel to the people watching you. Being a conduit for that type of content is not the most sustainable. I probably wouldn’t have taken it down had we not been touring so much and playing every night for like months and months. That was kind of the start of it.

Then I had the privilege of being able to start doing music full-time. So my writing developed a lot. My perspective developed a lot; I wanted to be a songwriter instead of a band member. I got into producing and started to know more people in music and write for other people. I felt like having that representation as the first thing people see was scary for me because it was the most honest I’ve ever been until this year, in terms of writing. It was so gut-wrenching to know that my 17-year-old brain was just running around the internet. And obviously, taking it down off Spotify doesn’t take it off the internet, but it really affected me personally. That was the catalyst for it being removed, among wanting to develop as a songwriter anyway.

Fast-forward to this year, we’ve been thinking about putting it back up because, and I hate to go back and forth, I hate to go back on my conviction, but there’s something that was kind of telling me that you don’t have to live within the songs so much. If kids connect with these songs — people get “Sasquatch” or “Tuesday” or whatever tattooed on their sternum or something — there is a point where you have to be like, “Okay, this music isn’t mine anymore, and to take that away from people is ultimately selfish and kind of cowardly.” For me, that’s a worse feeling. Also, I don’t have to play the music anymore. So it’s much easier to be disconnected from it.

But this year, I was listening to old Kurt Vile songs [that aren’t on streaming], and there’s this group called Shed Theory, a rap group, and they ripped all their music down off Spotify for the new year to do a restart. And it really hurt. It really was like, “That’s mine. What are you doing? You guys probably don’t even listen to this music.” That’s the thing about artists, a lot of them don’t listen to their own music. So we put it back. I wanted to put it back up just to close that karmic loop a little bit and just give it back to people. I don’t really have to bear any responsibility for it, because I don’t play it live anymore.

Do you think part of why it’s developed this cult-following is because you were 17 and it is super gut-wrenching?

MCDERMOTT: That’s exactly why. With my new project [dba James], I have to be quiet for a few hours and be alone for a certain period of time to get to that place that I could just immediately access when I was a teenager. I think the purity of that execution is why it got that kind of cult following, and it was also supported during the time of the first emo renaissance. I think it was carried a lot by that, like the Hotelier and the Counter Intuitive Records scene.

I was curious how you felt about that emo label because I can totally hear it, but also that album doesn’t like really fit into the stereotypical idea of emo.

MCDERMOTT: Yeah, not at all. I think there’s emo purity and then there’s emotional music. We’re definitely not like a Mineral or one of those American Football bands, but there’s a lot of crossover in terms of taste, and I think it comes down to the thesis of the music. Emo music is written by people who are experiencing, like, ennui or pain or loneliness or disconnection, separateness in general and there’s a lot of music that expresses separateness. We’re not an emo band — like, we’re not twinkly and not that screamy — but yeah, it was adopted by the crowd.

What would you say the influences were? Did you have any emo influences?

MCDERMOTT: I mostly had — and still do — hardcore influences. Growing up in Massachusetts, hardcore was a huge influence for me. When I was recording the self-titled, Nails was a huge influence for me. A lot of old Four Year Strong. I was revisiting the Warped Tour era because I was a freshman in college when we were doing it. That kind of heavier stuff was the influence, but I’m not that hardcore. I don’t think I could ever make a hardcore song. So it ended up kind of emo.

The last song on the record, “Jasper Wildlife Assoc.,” goes pretty hard.

MCDERMOTT: Yeah, it does. That’s also thanks to the engineer that we had, Andrew Odell. He’s amazing. He owns Ghost Hit Recording in Massachusetts. We recorded the whole thing in this vacant Catholic church that was in a cemetery, so I think there’s a lot of spiritual influence from that. It definitely came out darker than I thought. I love pop; my new project is pop, and it was surprising hearing everything back. We were like, “Wow, this is kind of heavy.” I saw yesterday someone on the emo Subreddit posted it and there’s a mature content warning on it. I was honestly surprised by that. It’s just a testament to how it’s really hard to tell how things are gonna turn out. I didn’t know I was making, like, mature content.

Yeah, I was actually gonna bring up R/Emo. I saw someone say that they enjoyed your music because to them it felt like it was emo but had R&B and jazz influences. Would you say that it does?

MCDERMOTT: Yeah, that’s totally true. The whole band, while we were recording, was studying jazz pretty heavily in a curriculum that was meant to produce jazz players. But we all had heavier influences. I don’t know if the intention was to be R&B or jazz, but we were so inundated with that knowledge. We were so excited because the summer before that we could have not played like that at all. We didn’t know anything about theory or real composition. By virtue of excitement of learning a new genre, we just kind of stuck it in there, and eventually gravitated away from it. I think that’s another thing that separates us from emo, just the chord extensions and the tensions that we were using at the time.

One of the reasons I love the record is because it goes from really slow and soft to really loud and noisy, and it does that for almost every song. It’s really good.

MCDERMOTT: Thank you. I think that was us learning about dynamics, and also coming up right after the first indie sleaze thing with the Keshas and that stuff where everything is totally loud all the time, the verses as loud as the chorus. We grew up listening to Flo Rida at school dances and shit. There is no — or there’s very little dynamic in music. That’s something I remember us really trying to intentionally hold onto. You can get loud and then you can get quiet and it’s still a song. Who would have thought?

Do you think that removing it from streaming made it even more cult-followed by adding to the mystique of it?

MCDERMOTT: I wonder if it did, but I wonder too if we had just kept it up what would be happening now. Like, would it have been able to speak to more people? I think it added to the frustration among fans, and that always adds mystique when you piss your fans off. I mean, that’s what Doja Cat is doing right now. But on social media, I think it did. I’ve seen some DMs on the Bay Faction page from a lot of kids being like, “It was actually kind of cool for the few years that it was down to only be able to listen to it on vinyl.” To me, that was appropriate because that’s how we started. Jake Sulzer from Counter Intuitive did our first vinyl release ever, and that was the genesis of us being able to do it professionally. It was like, “Okay, we have this thing to sell. This is how we’re going to fund ourselves.” I think it made the project what it is now.

Is it just being put back on streaming or is more happening?

MCDERMOTT: We’re taking baby steps. I don’t know how much I can say. Not that it really matters that much. I don’t think it’s going to end just with it being back on streaming.

Are you still broken up?

MCDERMOTT: Yeah, I guess we are in a way. It’s hard to say because we’re all still in contact. But everyone is doing different things within music. I think if there were ever to be a notion for me to be like, “Hey, let’s go on tour,” we could definitely round everybody up in the van again and go do it. But I think we are still broken up. I am saying that though right now with the intention that it means less than it did when we broke up initially. As long as people are interested in the catalog and connect with the music, I don’t really believe a band can break up. I don’t know if that’s a weird thing to say. The way I think about it in my head, we’re kind of in a weird hiatus moment. Mostly just because I’m focusing on this new project. I have so much music that I’ve been writing for the past couple years, like dba James and learning to write for other people. So I think I have to do that first before we really converge again.

We rely on reader subscriptions to deliver articles like the one you’re reading. Become a member and help support independent media!

more from Q&A