Those guys from the North are back and invading New York City tonight.
Yeah, that’s a little dramatic when it comes to a rock band from Albany heading down south to play The Marlin Room at Webster Hall, but it’s almost felt like a constant battle for Northern Faces in their quest to get their music out to not just the world, but to that little planet known as New York City.
“Part of the reason why our name is Northern Faces is because when you tell people you’re from New York, they think New York City,” said frontman Bryan Shortell. “And we want to be a real rock band. I love British rock music, especially 90s British rock – I love Oasis, Blur, the Verve – and then we love a lot of the new modern rock that’s coming out, as well as Stevie Ray Vaughan and Clapton. And there’s all these great New York rock bands, but you can’t name a band that’s come out of Albany or anywhere in upstate New York. So we always felt like we were these guys from the north coming in and trying to break into that scene, and it was really difficult.”
Luckily for the group, their brand of alternative rock is catchy and groove-laden enough to make such concerns unnecessary. Their self-titled debut album has a good buzz going for it, and live, they’re making sure everyone who wants to see them gets a chance to. This interview was conducted while the band were in Ohio, and it’s part of the gig for up and coming bands, to be in a new city every night, away from family and friends while chasing a dream.
“Being in a band is an emotional rollercoaster,” Shortell said. “You take off and you get this real high playing a show, and then within an hour it wears off and you don’t get to do that again for another 24 hours. The rest of it is spent in an eight by four space with the other guys and you’ve got your girlfriends and your family and everybody at home. I don’t know what makes you want to do it, necessarily, because it’s definitely not the money.”
He laughs, but there’s no stopping this train now. Shortell is a lifer, that rare human being that found his path early in life and never deviated from it.
“There’s just something in us that has to do it,” he said. “When we’re on stage or making music at home, it’s just one of those things that just feels right, and I think that everybody has that specific thing for their life, whatever it is, and for us, it just happens to be playing music. I knew since fifth grade. It was obvious to me that there was nothing else I wanted to do. There’s never been a Plan B. It’s all I ever wanted to do, and now we’re just really putting the pedal to the metal on it, and it seems like we’re actually starting to get somewhere.”
Those little victories have kept Northern Faces pushing, even if the world they’re living in isn’t exactly how they pictured it when they started making music for a living.
“In a sense, the landscape has changed in the music industry since I got into music in fifth grade,” Shortell laughs. “Life on the road has changed, and in some ways it’s gotten a lot easier, but at the same time, with the paradigm shift with the way people are actually consuming music, it means we need to spend a lot more time on the road. But we love it. A lot of people though, it’s not how they picture it. When we tell people that we’re going on the road, they do picture that rockstar life.”
That’s not exactly how it goes for Northern Faces and countless other bands, at least not at this point in their career.
“I think, for whatever reason, it’s kind of taboo for any band to say anything about how it’s tough or it’s hard,” he said. “They think you’re not appreciative. But it’s really tough. You could be one of the biggest bands in the world, headlining festivals and flying on jets around the world, but it’s not going to make your family any closer and it’s not going to make it any easier to be constantly moving and never really have a home base. That’s a really tough thing to put yourself in somebody’s shoes from home, but once you get out there, once a day one of us will say ‘this is crazy.’ We live a life that is very unique. We’ll talk to people on the road and they’ll be so envious that we get to travel and do something like this. It helps us keep it in perspective.”
And then there are the shows, and in those moments, it’s all worth it.
“For the people coming out to the show, they may have been looking forward to that show for two months, and that’s the one night that they’re going to go out and do something with their significant other or their friends,” he said. “And they’re there to sing along, and the songs actually mean something to them and you can see it in their face. That alone makes it all worthwhile.”
As for the whole Albany thing, Shortell and company are fine with it. There are some solid bands on the local scene, Northern Faces are leading the way, and as he points out, not being part of that New York City scene may have helped his band in the long run.
“As frustrating as it was, it’s driven us,” he said. “It made us feel like we had to get better. And we kept pushing harder and I think that’s helped us grow and become a little bit better as artists than we would have been if we would have had success a little bit earlier on.”
Northern Faces plays The Marlin Room at Webster Hall in New York City tonight, November 13. For tickets, click here.