Water From Your Eyes and Model/Actriz Aren’t From Anywhere

On identifying (or not) as a "New York band," and more.

Aaron Shapiro, Cole Haden, and Ruben Radlauer are members of the noise rock band Model/Actriz; Rachel Brown and Nate Amos comprise the art rock duo Water From Your Eyes. Over the summer, the five roundtabled on what it means to call yourselves a “New York band” if none of your band members are from here, the worst sounding rooms in the city, and more. 

You can find more of some of our favorite artists on the topic of NYC in the Talkhouse Reader — only a few print copies left, by the way!
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Aaron Shapiro: Y’all are both from Chicago, right?

Rachel Brown: I am, Nate’s not. 

Nate Amos: I lived in Chicago for six years, but I’m kind of from Vermont. But also kind of not — I bounced around a lot growing up. You’re from Vermont, too, right? 

Aaron: Yeah, I’m from Burlington. 

Rachel: Nobody’s from New York here then, if I remember correctly. 

Cole Haden: No, not born or raised.

Ruben Radlauer: Raised in my adult life, I suppose.

Nate: I think in certain ways, I feel like I grew up in New York. [Laughs.] 

Ruben: How long have you guys been in New York?

Rachel: Like eight years.

Ruben: That’s a chunk.

Rachel: What about you guys?

Cole: Almost four. 

Aaron: I think I’m coming up on six, six-and-a-half. 

Ruben: Was there a moment, if at all, when you felt more like a New York band as opposed to a Chicago band? Because I still can’t really shake Boston, which is crazy.

Nate: I mean, we never really began playing shows — we did a handful of isolated shows in Chicago, but it was really different. We had this messy six- or seven-piece band and no backing tracks or anything. It didn’t settle into the system we have until we were in New York. And that was really just because it wasn’t easy to put together a full band. The backing track thing was kind of a practical accident.

Rachel: Also, I already lived in New York when the band started. 

Nate: The first thing we made, we made when Rachel was back for the summer. And then I don’t think we ever actually did any long-distance working on the project. That first year was just whenever we were both in Chicago, I think. Is that right, Rachel?

Rachel: Yeah. You guys started in Boston, though?

Ruben: Oh yeah. 

Rachel: I’ve never heard you be called a Boston band.

Ruben: Possibly for the better.

Cole: Yeah, I think the Dropkick Murphys have that title.

Ruben: I remember when we started, it was three Californians and Cole [who’s from Delaware], and there was a little bit of debate on whether we should brand ourselves as an LA band or a Boston band. I think we all agreed that we were definitely not an LA band.

Cole: I’m coming around to being a Delaware band.

Ruben: We can make the switch. This could be the seminal moment.

Nate: Everyone’s moving to Wilmington.

Cole: No! Not Wilmington. 

Aaron: Fuck it, y’all are a Delaware band now too. 

Rachel: I’m down. I love the Chesapeake Bay. 

Cole: If we want to get into geography, Delaware doesn’t touch the Chesapeake Bay.

Nate: What if we do: y’all move to Delaware and we’ll move to Maryland, and then we can have that rivalry. We can do the Maryland thing where you wear the state flag in every way possible, and then you can make fun of us for it. I think that’s how the Maryland-Delaware thing works, right?

Cole: Definitely. Maryland has probably one of my favorite flags, to be honest.

Nate: It’s kind of sick.

Cole: But they put it on everything. Because it’s such a beautiful flag… 

Aaron: Do y’all feel like you’ve witnessed multiple phases of whatever microscenes you’ve been a part of in New York? I feel like that’s one of the things I’ve been thinking about lately. I look back on shows three years ago — like seeing y’all at Rubulad or something forever ago — and I don’t even know that we’ve ever been a part of a New York scene, really, or what that means. But I can tell that we are in a different phase than we were in three years ago, and that’s part of how I track my time in New York, if that makes sense.

Nate: Yeah. I always think about the Glove phase, because I feel like that’s when we were playing the most in New York. It’s funny now, because I try to go see shows, but I really have no idea what the state of the scene in New York is. 

Cole: I totally missed the Glove era, but from what I’ve heard, I imagine it really was the community spot. 

Rachel: I feel like there have been a lot of different venues that have closed since I’ve lived in New York — almost all of the ones that were open when I first moved there. Also, all these people that I used to know who lived in New York, I’ll see online that they all live other places now. Constantly people are moving in, but at the same time it feels like people are also constantly moving out. 

Aaron: And simultaneously, y’all are going up in room size, and then your options get more limited. 

Rachel: Yeah. I mean, even just to go to shows, I feel like my options are limited, because the [venues] that have lasted… I don’t like going to Trans-Pecos, it doesn’t sound good to me. And if the backyard is closed, then you’re trapped in that room and it sounds bad.

Nate: If you want to go to the bathroom, you have to stand kind of behind the stage there, so everyone’s just watching you wait to go to the bathroom.

Ruben: I love Trans-Pecos, kind of for all these reasons. It’s the first place I ever played in New York.

Cole: I used to work there as a sound person, so I could have been a part of the reason that it sounded bad…

Rachel: But I don’t even think it’s the sound people. Market Hotel is another one that’s, like, blasted. I think the rooms just sound bad.

Cole: I haven’t been to Market Hotel in so long.

Aaron: I just love that you can see the trains pass while people are playing. I’ve always found that pretty incredible.

Rachel: Yeah, that’s nice. It still sounds weird.

Aaron: “Here are the 10 things we hate most about being a band that plays in New York City…” [Laughs.]

Nate: [Laughs.] I guess there’s Alphaville too.

Rachel: I heard that now it sounds worse. [Laughs.] 

Ruben: We’re going to get run out of the city after this.

Rachel: The thing is, the only venues that are still open all sound weird. And they can be nice — I’ve had nice times at all these places. But when I want to go see a show, I’m always like, Why does it sound like this?

Aaron: As we play more and more though, and our life feels more like we are on tour than off tour, I feel like I’ve lost the plot of, Does this room sound good? Am I just in a bad mood today? Does any of that fucking matter? Because it has so much to do with us being in sync with each other, socially as well as musically. But I guess for y’all, you have better control because of your setup. 

Rachel: Also, I feel like I could care less what the room sounds like if we’re playing. It’s only when I’m an audience member that I care. I have a question: Do you guys identify more as a New York band or an on-tour band?

Cole: Recently, it’s on tour. I don’t think we’ve ever really taken the New York identity farther than just acknowledging that we all live there. 

Aaron: I think we have a really hard time trying to be respectful of people who are actually from New York, and bands that are actually from New York, while also not wanting to shirk anything or make it seem like we’re not trying to be associated with it. Because we all fucking love New York and appreciate that we’ve able to find a little bit of success there. But it also means so much to people, and I think you have to be sensitive to it. I feel like we have to accept that we don’t get to be a band from anywhere, and that’s OK. 

Cole: I feel like we’re guests of New York.

Ruben: I feel like we’re on our, like, fourth generation of indie rock bands who aren’t from New York being labeled the New York scene. There’s the ‘70s New York scene, and all of them are from the Midwest and shit. And then the early 2000s New York scene… I just feel like it’s a city where people who aren’t from there conglomerate into a scene, that then becomes iconic of a place that is different than it was five years ago because of it.

Cole: And there is always that part of New York that enables it to be a melting pot of so many things, and that’s part of the value of the city — that you don’t need to have been born there to move there and find a home in it.

Aaron: And what about for y’all? Y’all are on tour more than you’re in New York at this point, right?

Nate: Yeah, I think so. It’s weird because right now we’re actually back for a month. I think right now I’ve been in New York for a longer stretch of time than I have for a while.

Rachel: I also feel like… people call us a Brooklyn band, but we live here, so that’s the descriptor. But I will rep Chicago until I die. I’m a proud Chicagoan.

Aaron: Do you get annoyed when people say you’re a New York band?

Rachel: No, I mean, I think it’s accurate. That’s where we’ve played the most, that’s where we record. But I’m not a New Yorker. I love New York, but… I don’t know, especially the scene that we’re most involved in, a lot of those people are actually from New York. It is just a different life experience to be born and raised here, and then continue to live here into your adulthood, versus living somewhere else then coming to New York. I think it’s a place that you can be from anywhere, and you can live here for however long, and still find community. Maybe I’m wrong, because I moved here when I was 18 for school, but it feels like it’s just easy to meet people and to feel like there’s a sense of belonging. But I could never claim New York. And also I would not want to, because I’m from Chicago, the greatest city in the world. But we’re not a Chicago band, so… I guess it’s Maryland now.

Nate: Yeah, we’re a Maryland band.

(Photo Credit: left, Ariel Fisher; right, Lily Frances)