Philadelphia based A YEAR WITHOUT WORDS recently made their debut with driving, emotional single “Baby Kittens and Stressful Soda”, currently available on all popular streaming platforms (Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, Bandcamp), and they just premiered their new track “Oxygen Mask”, available for streaming above.
The band features Chris Smith (Lead Vocals, Guitar), Mark Alkis (Bass), Brandon Weiss (Drums & Synths), & Nick Abrams (Guitar). We sat down with the band to give us some more details about their work, comment on both debut singles and their local alt music scene around Philly, DC and New York.
Most of the band members played in DIY local bands for most of their lives, in and around the same area.
“We all also have extensive production, engineering and performing backgrounds.” – says Chris. “So when writing material at the beginning of 2020, I decided I wanted to build a band and perform in Philadelphia, supporting local acts looking to go full time, or supporting touring acts as dependable local friends. Armed with a dozen or so songs, I began looking around for musicians who would fit a specific criterion: capable musicians, willing to play to their strengths and “carry the load” so to speak in terms of all the individual aspects of a local, unsigned, DIY band. That led to meeting Mark.”
Sonically, Chris admits that they are all gear heads, which can be a contradiction sometimes.
“For example, we all love the cleanest heaviest kick drum and snare, love the models for bass and guitars these days, but we’d 100% jump at the chance to record say to tape with vintage gear, I mean who wouldn’t? So as far as our “sound” it’s probably always going to serve as a type of soundtrack for the lyrics I write. It literally took a pandemic for me to start approaching the laundry list of traumas in my life, emerging from a 20 plus year of “music-only” composing, and diving headfirst into writing and singing. All of my words deal with relationships, sometimes from person to lover, from sibling to sibling, from child to parent. In every band I’ve ever played in, I’ve been the principle music composer, and this is the first time in my life where the alignment in sound and intention is, like a total eclipse.”
Track by track commentary:
Baby Kittens and Stressful Soda
When the band formed, it was a vehicle for my content performed live. The initial meets of the members invoked a “maybe someday we’ll write together, who knows.” Well it turns out that not only is everyone a multi-instrumentalist, but everyone has ideas as well. In addition to being a fantastic engineer and our resident gear head (legit he built our amps) Mark is also a phenomenal music composer, walking tight lines between jangles and rock, emo and hardcore. The entirety of the music of Baby kittens arrived in my inbox one morning, and I want to say in about 120 minutes the words and melodies were written and tracked. Lyrically, the song is about the dissolution of a relationship between biological family members, and the narrators attempt to heal.
Only the second song I’ve written in my life, this track is entirely about my relationship with my father. I have always felt something lacking about the music I’ve made, and Oxygen Mask exemplifies our sound in so many ways. The huge guitars, the big drums, the escalating intensity of the singing, the three part harmonies, and a tempo change breakdown, with screaming and a guitar solo. The tune I’ve been singing my whole life.
Growing up near Philadelphia, NYC and DC, A YEAR WITHOUT WORDS are familiar playing in bars, clubs, venues all up and down the east coast of the US
“Once one of us played a lymphoma charity on the top deck of the Moshulu, a boat harbored in Penn’s Landing.” – continues Chris.
“We’ve watched the Roots leave for London and become world famous and meet people from different countries who would know our venues from dvds or pre-YouTube videos filmed at the electric factory or the Trocadero (Rest In Peace). Every year Philadelphia hosts a huge charity concert on the steps of the art museum, with the entire parkway shutdown, something like 40 thousand people. Our live jazz scene is enormous, our busking second only to the NYC subway jams, and Northeast Philadelphia boasts some of the most powerful and conscious young voices in a generation. Our city’s soul sings a song, and it is beautiful, powerful, painful, resonant.”
𝐷𝑢𝑟𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑠𝑢𝑚𝑚𝑒𝑟 𝑜𝑓 2020, 𝑟𝑖𝑔ℎ𝑡 𝑎𝑓𝑡𝑒𝑟 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑝𝑜𝑙𝑖𝑐𝑒 𝑚𝑢𝑟𝑑𝑒𝑟 𝑜𝑓 𝐺𝑒𝑜𝑟𝑔𝑒 𝐹𝑙𝑜𝑦𝑑, 𝑜𝑢𝑟 𝑐𝑖𝑡𝑦 𝑤𝑎𝑠 ℎ𝑢𝑟𝑡𝑖𝑛𝑔.
“Acknowledging this pain and healing are very tough and very different processes, and coupled with the pandemic and the violence around the world, it feels sometimes like our ability to cope is at capacity. This project, while begun as a way to “yell in peoples faces, but in a socially acceptable way” continues to evolve as we do, possibly helping us cope in stronger ways, but also hopefully allowing us to connect further with people we don’t know, with different obstacles and backgrounds, and learn more about how we fit into the larger picture of society. We’d love to say that we just want our music to help folks the way its helped us, a goal we feel expressly achievable.”
“Covid 19 has impacted every industry, and some of those which overlap with live local music or some of the more accessibly DIY-ey aspects of up-and-coming bands had to turn to technology for “live in studio sessions”, sometimes more endearing due to the lo quality nature of the webcam or microphone.”
“Some busked on Facebook, others on RPAN, and anyone with an HBO Max subscription could see our suburb of DELCO, where shouting mothers and scrapple on egg sandwiches rule supreme.
I believe there will arise new stewards, both taking over for older or lost gathering places and assisting those such places in evolving the “Scene” to something that is a little more inclusive while being a little less dangerous. Hopefully a little more consent focused and a lot more grateful. Grateful for all the energy and effort it takes for four or five musicians to deal with their shit enough to work a job to pay the bills to have health insurance to not be in the worst pain or die so they can be able to meet up and write music and plug in somewhere downtown after requesting the day off from four different jobs to bring all your most expensive musical instruments in all of your 2000 pound earth polluting machines to cram into the corner of the room behind the bar and scream your lungs out about your relationship to your parents to the drunken ears of maybe our partners and lucky few friends who were able to get off from their shitty jobs or cared about us that much that they prioritized being there.”
“That’s why a year without words exist. Because doing all that is hard. And those efforts should be seen and heard.”
Lastly, we asked the band about some new music recommendations and their top tips for bands worth a check this year.
Kicking off with their friend’s music: Tangled Up, Petrol, King Eli, Time, Sleep In, Desoto Jones, Here/Now, June Divided, the band is currently blasting Meet me at the Altar, Illuminati Hotties, Hot Mulligan, and “any number of jangle guitar, one person shouting 6 feet away from the mic bands.”
“Supremely love a Japanese band called Sakanaction, and eagerly await their new releases.” – continues Chris. “Also loves Hulst and Dvorak and Copland, and the theme songs for Super Sentai’s. Chojin Sentai Jetman is a fkn banger.”