For as long as anyone can remember, Boston bands have struggled with this notion of leaving town in order to “make it.” The opportunities 200 miles south in New York and the bright lights and easy connections out west in Los Angeles have provided countless bands with an excuse to hightail it. Passion Pit formed here, then pretty much ghosted for Brooklyn once the buzz took hold. Dom left Worcester a few minutes after we all downloaded “Living In America,” and the press — myself included — still can’t figure out where the fuck Hooray for Earth are based.
But what if the biggest band in Boston right now declared that they’re not going anywhere? What if they were the ones from out of town, and they came here to form a band, united in Boston not just by attending Berklee College of Music, but by bonding over late-night drunken-mess house parties and basement shows? What if they were skeptical of major-label seduction and decided to start their own label and create a network of artists based around their home Brighton studio, determined to put Boston on the map?
Then you would have electro-pop sextet Gentlemen Hall, voted Best Boston Act in this year’s Phoenix Best Music Poll, two years after being named Best New Band.
Over beers and falafel last week at the Middle East in Cambridge, my conversation with the band quickly shifted to the scene in Boston and the constant lure of bigger cities. “We’ll be repping Boston, always,” said singer/guitarist Cobi Mike. “It’d be a gamble to move somewhere else. It’s always been a strength to be from here.”
His wording is important, because Gentlemen Hall’s members are not from here. Individually, they’re not even from the same part of the US. They came from Cleveland, Minneapolis, Indiana, Vermont, and Albany. “We all met through girlfriends and bonded over drinking too much,” quips fellow singer/guitarist Gavin McDevitt. “It was a shitshow, and we were a party band.” That led to the formation of Gentlemen Hall in 2008, and, over the past 24 months, things have exploded.
Having returned from a one-off gig in Virginia Beach earlier this month with Civil Twilight, Gentlemen Hall — who have already played with everyone from Muse to Estelle — will share stages with the likes of Nas, Pretty Lights, and Paul Oakenfold later this summer at festivals in Wisconsin (Summer Set Music & Camping Festival) and Chicago (North Coast Music Festival). Last year, a few months before their glossy When We All Disappear EP dropped —
featuring two pulsating crossover-appeal radio hits, “All Our Love” and “Take Me Under” — they won a Billboard Battle of the Bands competition and performed live at the awards party in Las Vegas. What followed has been relentless touring and fan-embracing, months at a time on the road, building tours around SXSW, building fanbases in other cities. “You have to play outside of Boston to survive as a Boston band,” McDevitt says.
Part of that survival includes a DIY approach that will find Gentlemen Hall slowly rolling out various bits of media — from videos to photos to new music — each week during the summer. It’ll all lead to a new record through their newly minted Realmtown, which will serve as not just a record label but also a network for like-minded artists and writers to collaborate and support one another. Already on the roster are two Boston acts, indie psych act Clifflight (with members of Re-Up) and West Coast transplant rapper Rebel, who Cobi Mike currently works with in experimental side project Into the Alpha.
“People want to make music and create art here,” McDevitt says, reeling off names of bands like RIBS, Bad Rabbits, and Art Decade as fellow Bostonians poised for a national breakthrough. “Right now we’re using everyone together like a super writing team,” adds Cobi Mike. “We think it’ll eventually expand into something bigger.”
And that benefits everyone, especially those who decide to stay in Boston.
RUNNERS-UP: Bad Rabbits, Girlfriends/Bent Shapes, Quilt