NAPA — Even a band with a name like “Partybaby” ran into a wall with recent worldwide developments that have some fearing society is crumbling.
Guitarists Noah Gersh (formerly of Portugal. The Man) and Jamie Reed (touring member of Thirty Seconds to Mars) had quickly written and recorded the songs that would comprise the follow-up to their September 2016 major label debut, The Golden Age of Bullshit, a spastic indie rock album with messy guitars and crashing drums.
“More of the same didn’t quite seem to fit the bill,” says Reed, trading lines with Gersh like symbiotes.
“I remember getting the vision, or at least a new direction, the night that Trump got elected. I remember being, like, ‘Okay. All that stuff’s out,’” his partner adds. “There was that moment where I was, like, ‘What the fuck does it mean to be a musician in the midst of all of this?’
“There are certainly people that aren’t like us—from Los Angeles, in a very privileged position on a major label—that are certainly being affected by the world in a much more serious day-to-day way than we are. There was just a moment where I was like, ‘That’s all that matters. Let’s just go help them.’”
Gersh, the calmer, more zen-like member of Partybaby, talked to many of his friends about what he was thinking, and decided it was more important to use the platform given to him and Reed to stand up against the injustices he sees.
“When you devoted your so-called 10,000 hours to something, then it’s a highly polished weapon and you should use it,” he says.
The duo started the band under different pretenses. At the time, neither was sure he ever wanted to make music or play on stage again. The two first met in their teens at the Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles. Gersh would go there because the bartender would let him drink without an ID. When he first saw his future friend and bandmate, Reed was wearing a suit jacket “with deepest v-neck you’ve ever seen. The man has incredible chest hair.”
They would go on to briefly play in the same band that fell apart, before finding success with Portugal. The Man and Thirty Seconds to Mars. Reed also worked as a producer. But both got burnt out, eventually. Gersh could not keep up with the lifestyle that included 200 shows a year. Toward the end of his run with the band, he had to be awoken and dragged out of bed by the band’s tour manager at 3 p.m. to be taken to the next show.
“I was like a 23-year-old kid who was kind of just walking through the paces of my life,” he said. “It was like being on a merry-go-round. It just seemed like a cycle that maybe I wasn’t in control of and maybe that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to still be on.”
So when Portugal. The Man had a two-month break, he decided to go home and rethink his goals. He remains good friends with his former bandmates, but he needed to see what else life had to offer, so he went to Los Angeles, and ran into Reed, who himself was looking for a change.
“There was a moment where music wasn’t as satisfying at its roots as what it maybe should be,” Reed said. “So, we had to find that again if we wanted to keep making music for our lives. And then we came out the other side better and happier and stronger than we ever could have been.”
That infantile moment, as Gersh defines it, is where the name Partybaby originated.
Speaking together at BottleRock Napa Valley, Gersh and Reed presented a duality of personalities. While both were full of energy—they had just finished their set and were obviously still amped from their caffeinated anthemic garage rock performance—Gersh is the calm and collected one. He sees the need, once the interview is over, to tell us that both he and his bandmate have been micro-dosing on acid for a month straight and have not lost their high. It’s “relevant to the story,” Gersh says. Reed, meanwhile, has the proclivity to tell two stories at the same time. His personality is spelled out in the mop of curly unkempt hair on his head.
When you make music, you want to kill the kings. We’re trying to write the best songs in the entire world.Noah Gersh, Partybaby
Together, they balance each other. Gersh calls their relationship as intense as a marriage.
“If you can imagine the [ping pong paddle] that you hold that has a rubber band on one end and then there’s a weighted ball?” adds Reed. “I’m the ball and he’s the paddle. And some times we have to slap the shit out of each other.”
The band’s debut album, which the two actually wrote nearly two years ago, is a collection of rough-around the edges jumpers. The title track has the two exclaiming “We’re not sorry!” Fuzzy guitars wrap Reed’s lead vocals, while tap-tap-tapping piano keys include the upper registers.
Other tracks blend Strokes’ sensibility and ‘90s alt rock melodies. But both said Partybaby’s new material, some of which is now mixed and mastered, is the best work of their lives, including anything they’ve done with their previous projects.
“When you make music, you want to kill the kings,” Gersh said. “We’re trying to write the best songs in the entire world.”
The band, which includes drummer Chelsea Davis and bassist Austin Taylor Tirado, is already playing one of the new songs, called “Problems,” which they said gave them a sonic direction going forward. After finishing that track, the two wanted to release a new album immediately, but others convinced them that since they had tapped such a rich vein, they should explore it some more. But rather than throw dirty words at Trump, Gersh and Reed and more interested in exploring how somebody like him could be elected as POTUS.
The duo reworked one of its earlier songs (“Overload”) by changing an entire verse to be about watching the the final month of the presidential race. The song is now called “Overload (Nov. 2016).”
“It almost feels like paying [Trump] too much attention misses the point,” Gersh said. “We’ve created a climate and allowed our human condition to foster insanity on a multitude of levels. … [We’re] examining how and why we’ve gotten ourselves into a world that we don’t relate to.”