WORDS: WILLA NIELSEN '17
(WITH HELP FROM SOPHIA JENNINGS '16)
IMAGES: WILLA NIELSEN '17
Wet Leather do not have a publicist. Meeting me in Williamsburg for their first interview, the band of five sounds like the grown up version of WestCo hall mates. They mumble. They fidget. It’s not all their fault though, our corner table is pretty cramped. But, eventually after ambling through twenty minutes of “ums” and “uhs,” I got the boys talking EPs, thesis downloads, twitter beefs, and studio time.
Made up of Jason Katzenstein (’13), Dylan Bostick (’13), Dema Paxton-Fofang (’13), Matt Bernstein (’11), and Barry Marino, Wet Leather is a Bushwick based band that plays self-described “anxiety pop.” During the day they cartoon for the New Yorker, assistant produce Vice’s HBO channel, and bartend in Bushwick. They’ve played everywhere from pianos to Rockwood and Paperbox, and last month released a music video for “Feel,” where they donned pastels.
Formed in 2013, Wet Leather are in no way new friends. From 2009-2013, there wasn’t one concert on campus that didn't feature a Wet Leather member. But it was the annual pilgrimage of Wesleyan grads to Brooklyn that threw this group together. “I moved here in October because Dylan called and asked me to,” says Jason. “Good decision.” In December, they found their drummer. As Barry described, joining the band was like walking on to a winning team halfway through the season. “I was able to just step right in and play with the band already. The dynamic was there.”
With a history of playing with (and against) each other, Wet Leather’s sound is fine-tuned. As Dylan notes, “We know our strengths and how we write and how we play.” As Jason points out, “having band practice is a great excuse to see all my friends. Otherwise I would not see anybody ever. It’s the only thing I do that’s not work or hanging out with my girlfriend all week.” Matt adds, “Jason works from home.” “It’s my everything. It’s like comic books and wet leather. Nothing else.” The balance between musician and friend definitely plays into Wet Leather’s image as the lovable party band, crush-worthy and endearingly confident. It also seems to play a part in the creative process. “We arrange everything,” Matt says. “It’s very collaborative. Once the first idea’s on the table, we all work on it and change it a lot… everybody writes their own parts.” “Matt will have a demo” Dylan elaborates “and then sends it to us where we say ‘that sounds great’ or like, ‘send us a different one.’”
As they keep up momentum with live performances, Wet Leather is working on finishing up their first album. “We’re working with a really exciting producer,” Dylan says. “He’s really into the same influences that we’re into. It’s a collaborative, exciting, mutual relationship.” A huge step up in production and equipment, “the results have surprised us,” says Matt. Dylan insists, “The record is gunna sound like a 3D version of us.” This quote might make him the band’s new PR rep.
Forced to closely examine every aspect of a song, Jason explains the band’s thought process, “because when you’re in there and you’re putting it down and you’re committing it, then you have to think ‘does this work?’ ‘Is this the best version that we can play?’ ‘Is there something else that can go here?’” A new experience for Wet Leather, recording has pushed and pulled the band. And to their delight. Dylan says we can expect a “grander, more psychedelic, crunchier, larger sound that we didn’t know we wanted or liked.” “There’s a lot of creativity that’s happening in the room,” Jason adds enthusiastically. “Which is really exciting for the record and also really exciting for live performance.” However, the role of producer cannot be overlooked. Barry explains his encouraging yet watchful eye. “He’s there with an open mind. He’s not afraid to try things and he’s not afraid to shut us down on ideas too. To have that is huge.”
You can patiently await the album by checking out their new music video “Feel,” which highlights the band’s upbeat tropical pop sound, rooted in simple but strong guitar lines. With thoughtful vocal harmonies, bright synths, and catchy melodies, the sound is similar to early Phoenix and a strange marriage between The Virgins, OK GO, and St. Lucia. It’s a video you’ll play over and over again, whether because of Paxton-Fofang’s dancing (3:28) or how persistent the song is to get stuck in your head. Directed by Sam Mohney ('11), produced by Emily Pontecorvo ('11), shot by Gabe Elder ('11), Art Directed by Andrew Gladstone, and put together with Lila Murphy, Nora Christiani, Augustin Vita, Hanna Vogel, Spencer Burnham and Stephan Skirpak, the video was very much a Wes Takes Over NYC production. As Matt said, “We try to keep it in the family as much as possible.” Nice to know that when we stumble out of here with few plans and lots of ideas we can look to each other.
With a year under their belt and an energy perfectly balanced between carefree and serious, Wet Leather moves toward bigger and better things, aiming at a release date for their album early this summer.
Wet Leather’s Best show:
Matt: We booked Rockwood. They booked us to play at 1 am so our set basically started at 1:15 and went till 2 o’clock in the morning…. We showed up late.
Dylan: We had gone to a party before… It was a mess. It was loose.
Matt: Everybody was just out of their minds. It was raining. We just played the best set we’ve ever played.
Dylan: We played a Fleetwood Mac cover.
Matt: It was just really loose. Very loose.
Jason: They invited us back for the same time slot.
Matt: They invited us back and we were shocked. They’re clearly not paying attention.
Wet Leather’s Worst Show:
Matt: That Rockwood show.
Jason: Everything went wrong at Paperbox.
Dylan: Our one train wreck.
Matt: That was a train wreck show. But it was still pretty fun. That was a good show.
Dylan: That was the first time we had to stop a song. We were playing in three different keys.
Barry: I don’t think we’ve played our worst show yet.
Matt: There’s still time for us to really blow it in front of a big audience, so we’ll get back to you on that.
If we weren’t Wet Leather we’d be:
Jason: I mean it’s...
Matt: Or we’d probably be another band. Some kind of other band. Where we all switch instruments. We’d be a wedding band.
Jason: Wedding Leather.
If you were stranded on an island, who would be eaten first:
Everyone looks at Jason.
Jason: I’m not offended. But I don’t think I would lose the hunger games of our band. I do think Barry would win the hunger games of our band.
Barry: You do what you have to do
Jason: I might lose the hunger games of our band.
Best skill in the hunger games:
Matt: I feel like archery is involved.
Jason: She shoots arrows and she’s really good at it. Josh Hutcherson’s skill is nothing. Getting saved by Katniss. He’s not cute though, he’s got a big stupid face and he’s useless. Not even the character. Yo Josh, you hear this? You’re probably a nice guy, but fuck you.
Celebrity to start twitter beef with:
Matt: We’ve tried.
Jason: Rupert Murdoch. I’ve been tweeting at Hoobastank for a year. I’ve invited them to most of our shows.
Matt: They haven’t shown up. Yet.
Jason: To our knowledge.
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