A NEW ENDEAVOR: Image Society talks origins & the building of community
It’s difficult for many bands to stand out in a music mecca like Brooklyn. On one hand, it’s natural to cling to commonalities between your favorites and enjoy that warm feeling of the familiar. But other times you wonder if you’ve heard it all before, if maybe every band is simply a copy of a copy of a copy. It can get tiring. Brooklyn-based Image Society certainly breaks that chain of thought, at least for me. I wanted to figure out how a band can tear away from that musical repetition, so I was excited when they agreed to meet. Image Society is unique in more ways than their sound alone suggests. This band contains over a decade of friendships, a solid work ethic and a diverse collection of musical tastes, all the right elements it takes to craft important music. That isn’t to say their sound is formulaic—far from it. Their ability to create such inimitable songs stems from strong intuition of knowing one another’s talent, of how to best work together; traits definitely made clear through the stories they tell.
If you were a part of the east coast hardcore punk scene in the early aughts, there’s a good chance you’d remember Brian Davis, Conrad Mata and Jordan Achilli performing as three-fifths of Long Island-based Encrypt Manuscript. The hardcore community brought them together pre-Encrypt when singer Davis and bassist Mata put up a posting for a guitarist on the Long Island Zoo message board. Achilli answered the post and the three met up at a show at the Local 7, a Long Island punk venue, where a handful of metalcore bands were playing. After the show they started talking and found instant common ground. They were all a little fed up with the monotonous, static and unnecessarily violent turn that local popular music had taken. Everything about it felt superficial. Their first agreement was that they were not interested in feeding that trend—or any trend, really. Before Achilli left that night, he gave Davis a CD of music he’d recorded with a friend as a sort of let me know what you think. “Conrad and I were sitting in his car and I said well, let’s listen to this. And I honestly couldn’t believe the music that I was hearing had come out of the two people I’d just met. It was amazing,” Davis says. “There was really no discussion. We were like we have to play with these people. And we never stopped playing together.”
Encrypt Manuscript, much like Image Society, was a reaction against the prescribed. “In Encrypt, when we first got together, we didn’t talk about bands we wanted to sound like, but we definitely shared the same contempt for certain bands,” says Mata. Still, Davis, Mata and Achilli eventually grew tired of writing those songs for Encrypt. “I listen to [our last record, Census] now and I’m like why on earth are half of these parts just slammed together?” says Achilli. “And a little bit of it was about having fun and trying things out, but there was definitely an element, for a couple of songs, of I just want this record over because I want this band to be over.” This isn’t to say they don’t love the music that they put out at the time. The consensus was that Encrypt Manuscript had merely run its course and left it at that.
A year went by after disbanding and each member was soon feeling symptoms of creative withdrawal. Davis contacted Achilli, suggesting they get a practice space in Brooklyn. They wrote a few songs with Davis departing from singing and now playing drums. “I really only started playing the drum kit to facilitate music writing,” he says. “I started out as a singer when I joined my first band in high school. But any time the drummer would go to the bathroom I would always sit down and play. And I could always play, I don’t know how or why. It came natural to me. So [Jordan and I] started writing songs. After about a year we invited Conrad down to show him what we’d done and I guess it was good enough to get him in the mix.”
“Well I’d told you guys I didn’t want to play anything complicated,” Mata reminds him. “Like, no million parts to a song. And they said, yeah, it’s more trimmed down and I was like, OK.”
“[At first] we were writing songs in this weird hybrid version of Encrypt,” says Achilli. “And asking ourselves, where are these going to go? What kind of reaction is this going to drive? It was awkward.” The three found that they were still dabbling in the flailing limbs and wild screaming department. They wanted to put a bit more distance between this new project and those of the past. “So that’s when we scrapped everything and started writing the songs that would become Image Society,” Achilli says. But the trio would still need a singer.
Enter Sean Auer. Also a Long Island native, Auer was a regular at hardcore shows and played bass for a few bands back then. He respected Encrypt’s music in particular. After he’d heard that they’d disbanded, he wrote to Achilli, putting it out there that he was interested in being a part of whatever came next. “We sent him a song like, check it out,” says Achilli. Davis smiles, “and that was when we found out Sean could sing. It was really different. I’d never heard music like that before with his vocal style. So we started playing with him.” Auer’s soulful vocals appear front and center on their first EP, hovering over the instrumentation on a slightly different wavelength. This slight disconnect (if you happen to hear it at all) stems from Auer joining Image Society later, after Davis, Achilli and Mata had already written those six songs. “But the fact is, there’s more flexibility with arrangement now because he’s here and he’s involved. It’s not like, here’s a song, figure it out. Which is good because it makes the song more organic that way. It makes more sense because it’s more lucid.” Now that Auer is a part of the writing process going forward there’s a better sense of cohesion and, for the three founders, a sense of completion.
The band’s EP entitled The Doom of Youth was released in August of this year. One of their most memorable nights together was their record release show at the Mercury Lounge. Friends and family came out and each felt they’d performed well, excited to share something new with loved ones. “We grew up going to shows at the Mercury Lounge and to actually headline there sounds like kind of a dream come true, you know?” says Mata. The three agreed, however, that aside from a handful of shows they’ve played with friends, the sense of community is lacking among bands in Brooklyn. “It’s not just with the other bands,” Mata points out. “We’ll play shows and a band will finish playing and the audience will bounce. No one sticks around.” Still, this is far from disheartening. They’ve experienced this lack of closeness before and learned to build new connections regardless.
Davis continues, “I think by playing with bands like Gurus and Neighbors and Bearchild, [that communal atmosphere is] in its infancy. But we need to take more control over that. You know, just make it happen.”
“And do more with it,” Achilli agrees. “There’s an opportunity here. You gotta use it and work with it. And create shows and situations that you want. It’s not just going to happen because you played a show.”
It’s possible that the difficulty in finding that core supportive group of bands stems from Image Society’s genreless sound. It might make some music critics uncomfortable or confuse some show bookers about where these guys fit on the bill. But these kinds of concerns simply don’t exist for Image Society; they’re not about to change their sound to appease the pop market. “People love a new version of their favorite band. You know?” says Davis. “When a band comes out and they sound a lot like a band that’s no longer around, people grasp it. They’re like here’s a new Joy Division record or it’s just like having a new Replacements record. I think that’s so easy. No band I’ve ever been a part of have made it easy for ourselves in that way. We’ve never sat down and said let’s play this kind of music. I still feel like we’re pushing forward. And trying to innovate and do something different.”
So what’s next? A lot more beyond The Doom of Youth. The band plans on completing its first full-length in 2015, one that will involve creative input from close friends JustinWilliams (Bearchild/Deep Pockets) and the production duo Wet Kiss. Following their recent video for “Holy Gun”, a new video for “Flavorful” is now in production. In the meantime don’t miss their shows throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan. They are one of the most important bands to come out of the area today. And they’re just getting started.
Here’s their video for “Mirror Images”. Listen on Soundcloud for more.