ALBUM PREMIERE: MASSAGE “OH BOY”
Massage is an L.A. quintet that formed around ex-Pains of Being Pure at Heart bassist Alex Naidus when he wanted to start playing guitar again, and now after five years of what seem like pretty fun Monday night practices they’re about to release their debut full-length. They’ve stabilized into a line-up including Naidus, drummer Michael Felix, guitarist/vocalist Andrew Romano, bassist David Rager and keyboardist/vocalist Gabrielle Ferrer, and on their coming Oh Boy album they’ve got that early 90s import-indie LP sound and spirit nailed down. In fact, they sent us blurbs that explain the history, context and inspiration for each song, which gets a lot more detailed than just “Sooner Or Later” Feelies or the Verlaines / Go-Betweens / Triffids triangle of jangle. Don’t be fooled by their aw-shucks humility, though. Massage might be modest, but they really know how to write a certain type of song. Oh Boy is out Friday on Australia’s Tear Jerk label and you can pre-order a copy here!
More than anything else, Oh Boy is a celebration of teenage fandom and friendship.
Each song is “about” something else, of course: a betrayal, a break up, new love, parenthood. The usual stuff. And we’re hardly teenagers.
Yet somehow Massage feels like the kind of band you were in back in high school. We were friends first. We all had other lives. We started playing music almost by accident. (Michael wanted to learn drums; Alex wanted to relearn guitar after playing bass in Pains of Being Pure at Heart; Andrew and David invited themselves to their second practice.) We made a playlist of songs we loved—hundreds of them—long before we recorded anything: the Feelies, the Go-Betweens, East River Pipe, the Lemonheads, the Breeders, Flying Nun, Sarah Records. Alex and Andrew started writing songs the way kids do—to sound like our heroes.
No matter how we tried, though, the songs—half Alex’s, half Andrew’s—came out sounding like “Massage”: scrappy, catchy, minimalist, and sincere, with Gabi’s harmonies elevating each track. Every Monday after practice, we went to Jay’s Bar for beers and poutine. There’s was no point to any of this. We were just having fun. Then one day we realized we were a band.
Oh Boy is our attempt to capture this easy alchemy on tape—the strange magic of a bunch of amateurs coming together, finding their own wavelength and making something out of nothing.
We couldn’t have asked for a better partner in crime than our pal Jason Quever of Papercuts, who recorded us on random weekends over the course of two years. We hope the result sounds as loose, low-key, idiosyncratic and ultimately indelible as the bands that inspired us—the ones you already know, and the ones that are still just teenagers goofing off in some suburban garage.
Notes on the songs themselves:
“Lydia”: The one where found our sound, so to speak. Written during our earliest practices as a back and forth between Alex and Andrew, with a chorus that riffs on a favorite Twerps track and a verse that’s pure C86 jangle pop.
“Oh Boy”: Andrew was listening to a lot of 16 Lovers Lane-era Go-Betweens when he wrote this. Their influence may have come through in all the droning chords and domestic imagery. Gabi, who sings the Everly Brothers-style harmony, says that Andrew’s lyrics are “a portrait of domestic quotidian, presented without judgment, that in the end speak to longing and inspire melancholy.” That sounds about right.
“Gee”: A band favorite, written and sung by Alex. Maybe the song that comes closest the Massage ideal, whatever that is. A little more Twerps here, and maybe some Clientele. The arrangement—the broken drum line, the interlocking guitars, the ascending bass, the countermelodic keys—came together really naturally at practice.
“Kevin’s Coming Over”: Alex wrote and demoed this one years ago, when he was in Pains. It was his homage to Knight School, a fantastic lo-fi bedroom pop band featuring our friends Kevin Alvir and Chris Balla. It was also the very first song Michael and Alex played together, mainly because Alex didn’t know how to play anyone else’s songs on guitar. We loved the scrappy feel of his old demo and we think Jason did a great job capturing it on the record.
“Couldn’t Care Less”: Andrew is a huge fan British Invasion girl group and soul covers: The Beatles doing “Baby It’s You,” The Rolling Stones doing “You Better Move On,” that sort of thing. “Couldn’t Care Less” is his homage to that microgenre: a crafty Brill Building composition with a mid-1960s feel. We wanted it to sound like the only slow-dance song by some lost garage-rock group.
“Under”: Came together really fast at practice. Alex’s dummy lyrics are the only lyrics. An exercise in not overthinking things. Reminds us of the mid-1990s indie rock we grew up with, especially The Breeders.
“Breaking Up”: The other early song that made us sit up and say OK, maybe we’re a band now. Andrew and Alex are both from New Jersey and we all love the Feelies. This is Andrew’s sideways attempt to capture that strummy, rhythmic, organic Good Earth vibe.
“Crying Out Loud”: Another collaborative one. Andrew wrote the opening riff and the verse melody; the chorus came together at practice with Gabi taking the lead. She wrapped it all up with some sly lyrics about a relationship that never seems to go right. The guitar lines were inspired by Ultimate Painting, but somehow the song sounds a bit like Belle and Sebastian?
“Cleaners”: Alex wrote this song in homage to the swirling jangle of Martin Newell’s best work. As often happens when you’re trying to honor and emulate, somehow the song came out as a gnarled and twisted version—way punkier, way more direct than Newell would ever write. It’s about not knowing when to pack your bags.
“Liar”: For us, there’s something evocative and nostalgic about a certain kind of radio-friendly white-boy 1990s guitar rock, even though it’s the furthest thing from cool. That’s why we love the Lemonheads so much. (And Oasis!) “Liar” is Andrew indulging that impulse. Even the lyrics are about high school.
“I’m Trying”: This song had a couple different iterations before landing sweetly, simply, in this form. A lyrical favorite about being a fake buddhist, a loose canon, a guy without his shit together, a lifelong poser just trying to figure things out.
“At Your Door”: Originally a demo inspired by the late-1980s suburban minimalism of the Vulgar Boatman, and maybe Big Star’s “Thirteen.” The album version was recorded late one night with Andrew on guitar and vocals and Gabi on organ. Hopefully it still sounds like a demo.