What’s in a name? For local alternative rock band New Boss, a name contains momentum for a song.
Most New Boss songs begin with lead guitarist Thomas Dean, who will write a guitar riff that reminds him, usually, of another song or a certain sound. He’ll create a demo around the riff and share it with the rest of the band—guitarist and vocalist Jordan Perry, bassist Scott Ritchie, keyboardist and vocalist (and C-VILLE Tunes columnist) Nick Rubin, drummer Parker Smith and vocalist Devon Sproule—to flesh it out into a fully embodied tune.
New Boss with Illiterate Light and BEN FM
Record release show at The Southern Café and Music Hall
Perry says that New Boss takes a free-associative approach to writing, both lyrically and musically, where band members (usually Dean) will give a demo a working title and develop the content based on whatever comes to mind when they think of that title.
When Perry writes, he says he chooses lyrics based on their sonic quality—words that feel good and interesting to sing—and tries to let content arise rather than choose a topic from the get-go. “The sonic aspect feels like the priority, and then comes out, whatever is going on consciously or unconsciously in one’s brain, as far as content,” he says. Power structures and power dynamics—both the highly observable, in-your-face and on-the-news kind and the kind that exists within the self and is more difficult to perceive—is what materialized on many of the tracks on the band’s third full-length record, Third Sister, and to an extent, on the band’s 2016 effort, Home Problems (see “Jeeps” and “The Hill” for evidence).
Sometimes the musical association is obvious—the original sample for “Jeeps” was the beat off of T. Rex’s “Jeepster”—other times it’s subtle, like with “Mirror Mirror,” which Dean says is the band’s attempt at ripping off Brian Eno’s “Seven Deadly Finns,” which itself is a rip-off of any classic pop rock song (don’t miss Rubin’s Roxy Music-esque synthesizer explosion on this one).
Other times, a song travels so far from its original inspiration that the two are tethered by a single word in the title. “Wildlife” was a title that Dean nabbed from David Bowie’s “Teenage Wildlife,” off of Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), and wrote some music that felt like teenage wildlife to him. When Sproule got ahold of the demo, she was pregnant and reading The Mists of Avalon, and her ruminations on both turned the song into what she says is a sort of “pagan party tune.”
“A lot of people try to hide their influences, or pretend like they’re just pulling their songs and their music out of total nowhere, when it’s obvious, for most of us, that we come from somewhere,” says Sproule, but with New Boss, “it’s refreshing that some of the titles of the songs, or maybe some of the content, is referencing some sound or some band or some era of music—I love it.”
For all the borrowing, lifting, shifting and glancing-towards that New Boss does, there’s plenty of originality and excellent musicianship on Third Sister, and not just in how the group manipulates the sounds and words of its influences. For instance, notice how Ritchie’s bass playing is aligned musically with both Dean’s lead guitar and Smith’s drums while also doing something totally musically distinct—that’s not an easy thing to do.
Third Sister is New Boss’ most dynamic record yet, in style and personnel. The band has changed members over the years, and New Boss isn’t afraid to swap lead singers—Sproule, Perry and Rubin share the duties on this record—or collaborate with other musicians. Perry wrote “Back to the Beach,” a meditation on “alllll the shit that goes on underneath the water that you can’t see, and how it still resonates in this weird way,” with Charlottesville ex-pat and Borrowed Beams of Light frontman Adam Brock; Sproule worked on vocal melodies with her husband, musician and producer Paul Curreri.
“It’s felt, for me, like a new reality of what a band can be,” says Sproule.
Ritchie likens the band to a tree, where New Boss the band is the trunk, and then each song is its own individual branch of sound, influence and meaning; most of the band members have solo projects and play in other bands, and that music, too, becomes branches darting forth from the New Boss trunk.
They have two more releases in the works —a WarHen Records LP of a show recorded live at the Southern last December, and a six-song EP due out in the next year. Those six songs “really are special,” says Perry. “They hit another level, a new level. You never achieve the apex,” he says, but that forthcoming EP brings the band closer to it.
After that, the future of New Boss is up in the air. Perry is leaving the band to focus on his solo music, and while Dean says they’re not sure they’ll continue New Boss without Perry, they’re nothing if not open to what comes next. After all, free association is at the essence of the band. “We’re a completely different-feeling band now than we were” even an album ago, Dean says, and while Third Sister represents “a completely different moment” for the band, “it still sounds like us.” It’s there in the name.