It’s no secret we’re living in a golden age of melody. From top hits from your mainstream charts to less immediately accessible underground music even here in our underground dungeon on IDIOTEQ, I feel as though I’ve been drinking from a fire-hose of catchy pop hooks. And in this glorious abundance of American melody generators, Detroit indie-rockers BOYFRIENDERS have given us a ramshackle reinvention of pop standards on their newest record Midwest Alive in Nightmares.
Asked about the content behind the record, BOYFRIENDERS say that Midwest Alive in Nightmares is about overcoming the challenges of feeling like you don’t belong in the place where you were raised, and therefore feel stuck. “I’ve lived in the metro Detroit area my entire life, and I’ve noticed this weird sort-of morbid complacency within a lot of the people who live around here.” – they comment.
“Feeling of not belonging, feelings of dread, but with no real desire to change that or at least overcoming said zombie-like mental state. The intention of this record is to hopefully help the listener get over that mental block, and instill some confidence within themselves, while also just being a complete rocker of a record.”
Blossoming from the solo, lo-fi recording project of songwriter Poppy Morowa into a fully-realized rock group, Boyfrienders have found their niche in delivering earworm melodies on platters of fuzzy guitar tones amidst big, almost orchestral arrangements. With Matthew Stonebraker on guitar, Celeste Jones as co-lead vocalist/bassist, and Alex Gene Sorenson on drums, the band stretched themselves to explore new sonic territory on Midwest Alive in Nightmares. And the excitement from these four musicians is audible from the first note.
Opener “Key of Yellow” sets the stage for what’s to come. From the quiet whisper of the opening verse to the anthemic glory of the chorus, the song showcases Boyfrienders’ phenomenal dynamic range. “Johnny Drama” adds a new wave bounce into the mix. After these first two songs, it’s clear this band contains multitudes. The band has described the overall theme of Midwest Alive in Nightmares as “a meditation on growing up and feeling stuck in an area that will never truly feel like home.” While the lyrics certainly give that impression, the band stays consistent musically. Distorted guitar solos appear as if out of thin air, giving that feeling of discomfort. This is a band comfortable with using dissonance to reinforce lyrical themes, and the result is superb.
Midwest Alive in Nightmares, apart from being a superb meditation on breaking out of your hometown, is a love letter to rock and roll history. In the arrangements, you’ll hear the swing of 50s pop standards alongside the giant guitars of 90s alternative. This band has done their homework, and the vast array of influences is on full display. From the quiet reflection of “Halycon” to the big sound of “Post-Commune Glitch Pop,” Boyfrienders have provided us with a stellar collection of songs.
An interview with BOYFRIENDERS:
This album was recorded during the pandemic at Eureka Records. What was the recording process like there?
I must say, despite the pandemic and a couple of tense, COVID-related concerns that cropped up during the recording of this record, I must say that it was a completely professional process and I felt safe the entire time we were there! We recorded this album over the course of just about a year, from June 2020 through February 2021, and the entire time was a very collaborative, very creatively inspiring process between me, the rest of the band, and our producer Austin Stawowczyk. Austin is one of the best producers that I’ve ever worked with: they know how to get the best performances out of the band, and they don’t ever settle for less than stellar takes, which is why I believe that the record came out as strongly as it did!
The narrator of these songs feels they’ve reached a point of being comfortable with their identity – outgrowing the place where they grew up. What was the lyrical writing process like? The songs really maintain that theme in such a beautiful way.
I’ve always tried to make it a point to never write lyrics explicitly about people, situations, etc. in my personal life. Anything I’ve written, it’s almost never been through an autobiographical lens besides an older song titled Hand & Heartland, which was an ode to my grandfather. However, I like to take general themes from my life and filter them through the perspective of a fictional narrator or storyteller, and many of the themes from this record came from that. Johnny Drama, for example, is based off of the character of the same name from the TV show Entourage, and is about the idea of not knowing or feeling that you deserve better for yourself personally and professionally, and therefore losing motivation because of that, which is something that I’ve been dealing with mentally in a more general sense, especially over the course of the pandemic. While the songs themselves are not explicit representations of my personal experiences, I can draw from that well broadly enough that I can still let some semblance of that come through without it being too revealing. I just always have had the opinion that songs that are very obviously about someone in my life would be too anxiety-inducing for me to deal with! Like an “ugh, I hope they don’t realize this is about them” kind of situation.
What were y’all listening to while making this record? There’s almost no shortage of adjacent-to-rock genres explored on Midwest Alive in Nightmares, and I am extremely curious as to how you were able to mesh all of that together so well!
Because of the long process of recording this record, the songs were all recorded both out of order and sometimes months apart from one another. As a result, while still musically cohesive, the songs themselves draw upon many different influences based off of our listening habits during those periods! For example, The Moment was written while I was going through a BIG time Sonic Youth phase, Key of Yellow and Johnny Drama were written during a period where I was listening to The Strokes almost constantly, Fushigi 45 was conceived while I was binging the band Mover Shaker, and all three of those bands sound completely different from one another! I must admit, the process of being able to keep the entire record consistent with itself was something that was a bit of a challenge, but thanks to Austin and Tyler (our producer/mixing engineer and mastering engineer, respectively), that was something I never really had to worry about in the first place! They’re both THAT talented!
Have you played these songs live yet? How have they been received?
They have been received very positively! We’ve played just about half the record live at this point, and people are really digging the songs. We recently just got a new drummer, and while I was a bit worried for a second about the transition, our first show with Evan was absolutely amazing! Seeing people sing along to The Moment was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had, and I cannot wait to continue playing these tracks live and seeing how people vibe with them.
What’s next for Boyfrienders?
A lot has happened and a lot is happening, both as a band and individually for us! Right now, we have one show planned (by design) for the rest of 2021 and that’s the Good Luck Charm Records showcase on November 12th in Detroit! After that we’re planning on doing some live sessions and music video stuff in December before we have our big record release show on January 15th at The Sanctuary in Hamtramck with our friends in Seaholm, Equipment, and GOODLUCKRY! Individually, we’ve been keeping busy as well! I just got off tour with Mover Shaker playing synth for their last full-band run, and now I’m in record release mode, Celeste has been both playing guitar with our labelmates It Doesn’t Bother Me and performing her own solo music, Matt and I have been coming up with ideas for record promotion and Evan has been busy being a professional drummer and getting ready to record drums for the band No Fun Club! It’s been a very busy time, but seeing it pay off has been the absolute most amazing experience of my life.