Stay Inside Are Glad Their Band Name Is No Longer Timely

Austin LoCicero

Stay Inside Are Glad Their Band Name Is No Longer Timely

Austin LoCicero

Perhaps the most damning indictment of American current affairs is calling 2018 the “good ol’ days.” Around this time, Stay Inside were starting to link up with the likes of Good Looking Friends, Answering Machine, and Cold Wrecks, building a “Brooklyn emo” scene in a city that has never been particularly welcoming to the genre. But that was before Biden vs. Trump II, Dobbs, the encroaching possibility of World War III, the dismantling of music media… and, of course, the pandemic.

COVID-19 made Stay Inside the most tragicomically relevant band on earth upon the April 2020 release of their debut album Viewing. It also scattered their flourishing social circle towards upstate New York and Long Island. Four years later, bassist Bryn Nieboer sees Stay Inside as a veritable Last Band Standing on their long-awaited sophomore LP, Ferried Away, out today. “The album ended up being about that loss of community and friends,” she says, “where you thought you had a real thing going and then something catastrophic can happen and end it.”

Both Nieboer and guitarist/vocalist Chris Johns swear they’re going to live and die in New York, and they’re the first to admit that they embody a certain stereotype of the very online thirtysomething in Greenpoint. Throughout our Zoom call, we hit a veritable bingo of talking points – podcasts (Nieboer was the featured guest on the “audiophile guys” episode of the excellent Guys), lefty politics, and of course, mid-aughts coke rap. “I saw Clipse play at Highline Ballroom 10 years ago, I had this XXL tall T with ‘I Got It 4 Cheap’ in giant letters and Pusha T sees me rapping,” Johns recalls. “He points to me and he goes, ‘There’s some real ass fans here.’ And that was the coolest moment I’ve ever had in my entire life.”

These are the kind of moments that inspired the elegiac tone on Ferried Away, a tribute to a bygone New York, though not in the LCD Soundsystem or Velvet Underground sense where the city’s art-punk musical lineage is a main character. Nieboer and Johns fondly look back on going to and joking about Kent 285 and hearing “Welcome To The Party” blasting out of every passing car in 2019 — the sort of spontaneous moments of musical connection that people have in mind whenever they encounter the latest Atlantic or Slate piece about why people in their 30s have such a hard time making friends.

It’s a despairing record for sure. In Ferried Away’s central metaphor, Coney Island is transformed into a netherworld between the living and dead, while the East River becomes River Styx. Yet, with its horn sections, gleaming guitar leads, and near total lack of screaming, Ferried Away is also a far warmer and more melodic record than the strident and severe Viewing, an evolution that Johns and Nieboer feel is more in line with the blog-rockin’ beats they’ve loved since college – think Microphones and Matmos, Wolf Parade and Xiu Xiu. “Interpol’s my favorite band of all time,” Johns proclaims, and not necessarily because their original drummer was in Saetia. “Everyone else was like, ‘This is a post-hardcore band’ [with Viewing], and I don’t really listen to post-hardcore. This was an indie and screamo band.”

Stay Inside didn’t start out that way. An early incarnation featured Bartees Strange, who had recently left his lobbying job on Capitol Hill and bonded with Nieboer over their religious upbringings and Tooth & Nail bands. “We met on Craigslist when that was a socially acceptable thing to do,” she jokes. But even before that, Johns viewed Stay Inside as a more hip-hop and R&B focused project: “There are two albums that were kind of secret, kind of like Das Racist/2010s Brooklyn hip-hop,” he confesses. Being named Stay Inside was the equivalent of cybersquatting on a small gold mine in 2020, and when there were “stay inside-type beats” emerging at that time, “so many of my friends were just like, ‘Oh, Chris, you’re doing rap again.'”

Stay Inside aren’t the first example of transcending an evocative, and then unfortunately timely, band name – just look at how Explosions In The Sky excelled after releasing their breakthrough album in 2001. But even if they were one of the few artists that might have been materially (if microscopically) boosted by lockdown listening tastes, Stay Inside weren’t about to do something as crass as capitalizing on their odd virality; while the 2022 EP Blight helped bridge the gap, Ferried Away is an album that really needed four years for its analysis of social distance to truly gestate and resonate. Or, just to get enough distance and perspective to avoid whatever temptation there is to see April 2020 as the “good ol’ days.” “Can I just tell you how awesome it is that people don’t just associate us with the pandemic now,” Johns says. “The fact that I can tell random people that the band is called Stay Inside and I don’t just get some awful answer, it’s one of the best things going on in my life.”

Below, stream Ferried Away and read excerpts from our conversation.

I’ve talked to bands who put out records right before the pandemic in 2020 and were devastated when all of their plans for touring and promotion were immediately snatched away from them. Even beyond the bump that came from being named “Stay Inside,” I’m curious how releasing an album a month into the pandemic impacted your expectations for Viewing.

BRYN NIEBOER: That’s the thing, it was so early that we didn’t actually know we were releasing [Viewing] into a pandemic. We had started hearing rumblings, and we just made a decision to start cold emailing labels and being like, “We’re gonna put this out on this day, do you want to help?” And No Sleep was like, “Sure!” Then the pandemic happened within those two weeks, so it wasn’t a planned thing, it was sort of just like, “We’re gonna put this out because we can’t wait anymore.” We didn’t have a calculation of, “Oh no, we can’t tour this,” because no one knew it was going to last a year or two years or forever.

Similarly, I’ve talked to bands who privately admitted that they were relieved that touring was off the table, because they didn’t have to choose between trying to keep whatever stable job they had and barely breaking even on the road. How does that prospect sit with you now that four years have passed since Viewing?

CHRIS JOHNS: I feel like a child so often, like with the recent tour we did with Common Sage for a month and a half. It was awesome. I wanted to get right back out there, for the reasons that I did when I was 22, where it’s just like, “Yeah, I get to hang with my friends, no school!”

NIEBOER: I’ve been a little less positive on touring than Chris…actually, a lot less for some of it. But the one we did with awakebutstillinbed was well put together and I had a lot of fun. We’re all in a sort of place where we don’t have to make too much money to make it not terrible. We can do it as a hobby, and it’s OK that our hobby is leaving for three weeks at a time to do shows.

JOHNS: It’s really tough to do in New York. A huge part of the reason that the scene isn’t as big as 9 million people should be supporting is just because it’s really tough to be in a rock band without having, like, trust fund indie money, you know?

NIEBOER: I grew up real poor, and for a lot of the beginning of Stay Inside, I was the very poor one in the band. But we all have pretty nice jobs now, and we’re all getting to a point where we’re pretty stable in our lives.

Even if Stay Inside remains more of a hobby, have you allowed yourself to indulge fantasies of how an album like Ferried Away that leans into the more melodic side of the band might open up new opportunities?

JOHNS: We were just like, “Yay, we get to go outside again!” And then we just wrote an album that sounded happier. I feel like I’ve been playing with house money. I never thought anyone would listen to any music that I was ever a part of, and now people are. It would be sick if we could tour and just sell out small venues and just do this for 10 more years. But you have to do a little bit better every time to make it happen.

NIEBOER: I think any band that doesn’t dream pretty large in their quiet moments is lying to you. I would love if Ferried Away came out and people really resonate with it. I think it tries to get at emotions that a lot of people are experiencing right now, but people don’t write about. But I have my life and my job and my friends that I feel very comfortable and very happy with. So you know, I’m not trying to be rich or famous off of Stay Inside, but I would like it if lots of people enjoyed it.

JOHNS: If it makes enough money, we’re going to buy Cam’ron’s Range Rover.

All of the songs on Ferried Away have parenthetical dedications, and I imagine they’re all real people. Did you have to do any sort of recon beforehand, like, “Hey, should we check in with this person to make sure they’re okay having their name be used?”

NIEBOER: Not legally.

JOHNS: I think a lot of the lyrics and the dedications, at least for me, were feelings that I wanted to express but couldn’t. The whole concept of the record is centered around these people where you no longer have a relationship where you can just call them and talk to them. The day “A Backyard” came out, the person who it was about texted me and said, “Wow, this song really spoke to me.” And then he realized the next day that it was about him, without me saying it. He came into Brooklyn, we had dinner together and the song did everything that I was hoping it would do. And then there are these other ones where I’m just like, “Yo, this motherfucker might hate me.”

What about the song dedicated to your drummer?

JOHNS: Yes, yes…Vishnu [Anantha] knew that was for him. Every now and then, he says things about having dreams of moving out of the city. And the storyline was about what that would feel like, a lot of it is just him having an argument with his mom in a parking lot.

NIEBOER: Four of the songs are dedicated to two people that aren’t alive, so you can’t check with all of them anyway.

During the peak of the pandemic, it seemed like there was a high-profile op-ed every other week about why people left New York or why they stayed in New York, but Ferried Away is one of the first times I’ve heard it addressed musically.

NIEBOER: I decided a long time ago that I’m not trying to live anywhere else. I’m trying to die in New York City. This is my home and, you know, unless something catastrophic happens and I’m forced to leave, I’ll probably die here. I’ve just always felt a real kinship with the city; I grew up in Los Angeles and I hate to drive, so this is the only other place for me in terms of being an American and being a city person. I think a lot of people see their 20s and 30s as a time to fuck around and then you have to like get serious or whatever. And I feel like I’m trying to create my life as it happens and until I can’t anymore. For us, the record was about realizing that not everybody sees things the way you see it, that your life can go in different paths and the past is created as this other place that people either chase or flee to. And if you feel really confident and you feel really happy with who you are and where you are, it can still actually be kind of lonely and scary – unless you really try to create a community around you who share your values and your desires for your life. I’m not going to stop playing music. Like, why would I do that? I don’t know how to not play music. Even if I’m playing an accordion on the street, selling pastrami at my friend’s shop or whatever…if I become a New York stereotype, I’m still going to be fucking playing music.

JOHNS: I’m also going to die in New York. A big, motivating thing for us is that we’re on the same page about that.

NIEBOER: Yeah, it’s why our collaboration has worked out and why we’re really close friends; over the past six to eight years, we’ve found that we have really similar values and desires out of life. We both want to create something that’s stable and can feel like we trust in it, you know?

Recently, it seems like more and more bands have expressed difficulty reconciling the way they discuss politics on social media with the music they make being largely non-political; like, they have to justify or qualify making a record about emotions and such in 2024.

NIEBOER: [To Chris] You want to get canceled?

JOHNS: Yes. It’s interesting that so many people just found out about bad things.

NIEBOER: It’s so crazy that all of a sudden America became a genocide factory. Today, actually! I have spent a lot of my life trying to help politically, I have been involved in a lot of organizations and a lot of protests and…you know, you follow me on Twitter. I have pretty outspoken and known politics.

People will listen to Ferried Away and then go to your Twitter and be dumbfounded that Stay Inside is woke…like Green Day.

NIEBOER: I find it very difficult to write specifically about politics in not a way that’s very cloying and sort of feels like masturbation. And not to shame anybody who’s trying; I think the more bands try it, the more people will learn about it. Like, how to make stuff that isn’t just still riffing off of Bob Dylan from 1960 or whatever. It just always feels like, “Hey, we’re angry and I’m very anxious and please, please notice how anxious I am about all of this stuff.” So there’s very few political albums that I’m interested in…there’s a band called Gold & Youth, do you remember them from like 20-back in the day?

I feel like I’ve failed this Remember Some Guys test.

NIEBOER: They were maybe a “the xx-style” boy and girl singer. They released a record pretty recently that is insanely political, but it’s like it’s really about the Deep State and stuff. It’s actually kind of sick [laughs]. But I’d rather make a YouTube video. I’d rather tweet about it and tell you on my podcast what my politics are. You don’t come to listen to me sing to learn about what you should do politically.

I’m looking at Golden Youth’s Spotify page, and it looks like they covered the Lumineers’ “Ho Hey.” I get the sense that this type of music is coming back in a major way.

NIEBOER: Oh, it’s so coming back, for sure. It’s just gonna be more fascist somehow.

[Editor’s note: The album about the Deep State by Gold & Youth was originally misattributed to Golden Youth. We regret the error.]

Ferried Away is out now. Buy it here. Check out Stay Inside’s tour dates with Teen Suicide and awakebutstillinbed below.

04/20 – Milwaukee, WI @ X-Ray Arcade SOLD OUT
04/21 – Columbus, OH @ Ace Of Cups
04/22 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Spirit Hall
04/24 – Boston, MA @ Crystal Ballroom
04/26 – New York, NY @ Racket
04/27 – Philadelphia, PA @ First Unitarian
04/28 – Baltimore, MD @ Soundstage

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