When 79.5 founder and frontwoman Kate Mattison started her band in 2012 she didn’t envision playing gigs in a setting that looked like something straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean. But, three years later after adding five new members to the band, including vocalists Piya Malik and Nya Parker Brown, guitarist Matty McDermott, bassist Adrienne Hailey and saxophonist/flutist Izaak Mills, the magic happened. 79.5 was asked to play a series of shows on the Clipper City Tall Ship in New York.
“Those shows really brought the band to a whole ’nother level,” says Mattison. “It’s really hard to play on a boat but it’s so much fun. You can’t hear anything while you’re playing because the sound goes straight out to the water—and you may or may not get seasick.”
The band sold out the shows quickly. It was a big move for the Brooklyn-based group, which had played its first gig at Sunny’s, a small, historic dive bar in the neighborhood.
In September 2015, the band raised $8,654 through an Indiegogo page to help fund its debut album, Predictions, which Mattison credits to coming mostly from supporters in Brooklyn. “People on the street stop us and say, ‘Go get ’em. Go make a name for us out there,’” says Mattison. “The outpouring of love from that community has really helped lift us up.”
The album is slated for release this summer. “Overall, I’d say the record has a romantic theme to it, but it’s also kind of psychedelic and lofty. A lot of the songs are about relationships and what could go wrong or even just imagining a relationship.” The single “Terrorize My Heart,” which Mattison calls her “song revenge,” is about being cheated on. Meanwhile the band’s latest single, “Boys Don’t Be Afraid,” is about manning up and telling someone you love them despite past relationship drama.
Chicano Batman with 79.5 and Sad Girl
The Southern Café and Music Hall
While the band’s sound falls into a mix of genres—nu-soul, psychedelic pop, disco and R&B all weave through the dancey tunes—Mattison dubs it as “romantic psychedelic soul,” citing the influence of old soul records. “One of my biggest influences is Todd Rundgren, if you can believe that. It’s because I really like the chords that he uses on the piano. There’s a lot of major and minor seven chords,” says Mattison. “I would say—especially with the big sound of the band with all the singers—we have a Pointer Sisters and Rotary Connection kind of vibe.”
Since the addition of Malik and Brown, Mattison has developed an even stronger appreciation for unison singing and three-part harmonies.
The band’s alluring vocals attracted the attention of Los Angeles-based soul psych act Chicano Batman, who asked 79.5 to join them onstage last year for a set at The Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan.
“Without even hearing us they asked the three of us to do backup vocals at that show and we just killed it…it came naturally,” says Mattison.
That gig set the ball rolling for the band’s current tour with Chicano Batman, on which 79.5 will also provide backing vocals and keys during part of the headliner’s set.
“For me that’s the most exciting part, playing keys for somebody else’s music,” says Mattison.
As for the singing, Mattison enjoys the way her bandmates’ voices complement and contrast. “All three of us sing so differently. …I have a softer, more whispery voice. I would say Piya has a more cutting, stronger voice. She sings in Hindi and stuff like that so she can do a lot of trills, and then Nya is the R&B ringer,” says Mattison. “We’ve all sung our whole lives, so working together just came really easy for us.”
Going for gold
Why 79.5? Mattison says, “The band kind of sounds like AM gold, so [a friend] came up with the band name. It was like the name of a radio station that was below the dial, you know. I liked it. It wasn’t anything specific but it encompassed the sound of the band.”