Search The Line of Best Fit
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UV Rays hero

From the midnight sun

26 August 2019, 08:34

Brooklyn-based power-pop outfit UV Rays sit down with Maria Bocci in the wake of their sophomore EP to talk hurricane bunkers, naming conventions and the undeniable power of Zeppelin

When I first meet up with UV Rays just off Franklin Avenue in downtown Brooklyn, drummer Erica Warner immediately ushers me to the bar, opens a tab and insists on buying me a drink.

She orders a glass of rosé and then reaches into her wallet with turquoise acrylic nails to retrieve her Star Wars debit card that she proudly points out to me. “When people don’t notice I get so disappointed,” says Warner. Tragically, this bartender didn’t notice.

We return to the table where the rest of the band are seated. Tim Marchetta-Wood (bass and vocals) with a peach cider and Danny Sullivan (guitar) with “the very first beer on the menu.” Adrien DeFontaine (guitar and vocals) is in New Jersey visiting family, but his bandmates take this as an opportunity to tease him. The lighting is dim and warm and classic rock plays through the bar's speakers, drowning out the torrential downpour outside. The air is thick with humidity, typical for August nights in New York.

Sullivan, a native New Yorker, is dressed in a black t-shirt and cap. Marchetta-Wood has the longest hair at the table and a perfectly groomed, slightly curled mustache. Warner dons a grey bob haircut, round gold glasses, layers and layers of jewelry, and tattoos up and down her arm. She shows me her favorite, a fairy sitting comfortably on her bicep. “I just identify as a fairy. It’s kind of just me.”

UV Rays craft nostalgic lo-fi power-pop that captures the perfectly imperfect energy of a live performance. Borrowing from punk, surf-rock, and alternative, the four band members each bring a different sound to the table. DeFontaine loves K-Pop, especially BTS (and even has their merch). Warner has tons of bad-ass female pop stars on her playlist, from Billie Eilish’s moody grooves to Ariana Grande’s R&B infused pop anthems. Meanwhile, Sullivan and Marchetta-Wood generally gravitate towards punk, rock, and alternative.

With the release of their sophomore EP The Right Stuff earlier this month and a performance at Arlene’s Grocery for Sound Town Festival on just over a week later, the band has had an action-packed summer. Now, they’re set to release a video for the EP’s second track, “Girlfriend.”

The video was directed by Ethan Young, a close friend and director of almost all their other videos. The band spent a couple of days out by the beach in Fort Tilden in the Rockaways to film footage inside several hurricane-damaged bunkers. “It’s these abandoned bunkers that people have just filled with graffiti, so we basically set up shop inside them,” Marchetta-Wood explains.

Moody black and white shots show all four of the band members playing individually on their instruments set up either in the bunkers or outside by the beach. As the bridge builds up, flashes of bright light and blue morph into a wholly coloured shot of the band united in a floodlit nighttime session.

This isn’t the first time UV Rays has jammed on electric guitars and drum sets in the great outdoors in the making of a music video. In their video for “Existential Dread,” the band played on streets, under freeway overpasses, and even knee-deep in rivers. “We’re very small in situations that were larger than life and kind of chaotic,” explains Marchetta-Wood. “Like playing under overpasses where there are just hundreds and hundreds of cars going over us. It’s so much bigger and heavier and more supportive than anything we could ever do as teeny tiny individuals,” adds Warner.

Warner’s shoot was on a separate day, and she had a whole separate set of challenges. “One of the [bunkers] I recorded in had a squatter’s tent… we had to go up to the tent and make sure no one was in there, and there wasn’t anyone in there so we were like ‘ok, we can be in there for a while, we’re in someone’s house so we gotta be quick,’” she recalled. She also ended up with poison ivy on her arms and legs, despite wearing long pants. “I don’t know how I got it. I’m a sensitive soul and I have sensitive skin.”

“Girlfriend” was written mostly by DeFontaine but with Warner’s help. For DeFontaine, the song was an attempt to streamline his lyric writing, as he admits a tendency to be wordy and wanted to pull back and keep the song’s lyrics simple and concise. Musically, “Girlfriend” was a collaborative effort, with Sullivan writing his own guitar part and Marchetta-Wood writing his own bass part. The result is unadulterated power pop. “[DeFontaine] really wrote the song but left gaps for us to fill in with our own instrumental ideas. The final song really does feel like we all had a hand in writing it,” says Sullivan.

The first track on the EP, “Overrated,” is a tongue-in-cheek ode to DeFontaine and Warner’s friendship. The two wrote the heavy, punk fuelled track together, and Warner sings the lead vocal from behind her drums. “It honestly feels really about mine and Adrien’s friendship specifically,” says Warner. “How we judge the fuck out of people and talk so much shit, but like, we’re not bad people. We’re really fun to hang out with. We’re not being too serious! Like, we’re down to take anyone into our crew, but some people’s other friends just fucking suck. And that’s what that song’s about I think, is being a little exclusively welcoming, you know?”

The last track on the EP is a product of one of Marchetta-Wood’s favorite pastimes - playing guitar and watching TV at the same time. “It’s a very unconscious thing you can do to chill and then every once in a while you’ll come up with something awesome,” says Marchetta-Wood. “So I had this guitar riff and basically just wrote a song around it and showed it to the band and they liked it a lot.” From there, Sullivan added a guitar riff that brought the song to “the next level.” The finished product was “Faster Now,” a slightly softer but still upbeat welding of several alt-rock melodies.

"We’re down to take anyone into our crew, but some people’s other friends just fucking suck. And that’s what that song’s about I think, is being a little exclusively welcoming, you know?” - Erica Warner

“We’ve all contributed songs to the band at different points. Historically, it’s been if you contribute a song, you’re the person who sings that song, but that’s sort of shifting now as we try to collaborate more and have everyone sing different parts of the same songs and stuff like that. We’ve all contributed to this band in the past,” explains Sullivan.

The Right Stuff is their most collaborative body of work yet, and the next one will likely be even more so. “What we’re trying to do with the songs we’re currently writing is having more of us take the parts of the song and then all singing lead in one song. Right now, we basically have one person singing lead and then the other two singing backup in any combination of people so we’re trying to see if more people singing lead would potentially work,” explains Marchetta-Wood. He cites Deerhoof as an example of a band that has successfully utilized this approach. “All of them are ridiculous musicians and it’s extremely collaborative and multiple people sing and take center stage.” UV Rays doesn’t want a frontman, as everyone except Sullivan contributes vocals. They basically aspire to be a power-pop version of Fleetwood Mac, but where the band members actually like each other.

“I think Adrien really liked the idea of not being the lead singer the entire time,” says Sullivan. “And that’s when these two started getting involved singing as well.” Thankfully, Marchetta-Wood and Warner feel the same way about sharing the vocal spotlight. Marchetta-Wood expands: “Erica and I can sing and had been singers but neither of us are really people who would identify as the leader of a group, and neither did Adrien, so it’s like splitting the duty three ways. None of us can really do it on our own but I can contribute 33%.”

Warner got her start with piano lessons in the second grade at a music studio that taught multiple instruments. In the third grade, her mom said she could choose a second instrument. She browsed the photos of all the different music teachers at the studio, disregarding the instruments they taught when a Thundercat pawprint tattoo on one of the teachers caught her eye. “He just looked very tough and I was like ‘I wanna take lessons from that guy,’ says Warner. “He was my drum teacher for years and years and years. For like 8 years.”

Marchetta-Wood grew up in a household where his parents were always playing a variety of music. “My sister also played the cello, and I wanted to play the one instrument that was bigger than the cello so I decided on the bass,” laughs Marchetta-Wood. He eventually traded in his upright bass for a much more portable electric bass guitar.

Unlike Marchetta-Wood and Warner, Sullivan did not grow up in a musical household. He was the first family member to learn to play a musical instrument, and his brother soon followed. “I started playing guitar when I was like 12 and started a band really quickly that was mostly a joke band and just wrote joke songs, it’s kind of been my thing,” says Sullivan. He found himself on the production side of music by default when none of his bandmates at the time were interested in it. Little did he know, he would discover a new aspect of music that he loved and would pursue professionally.

“My sister also played the cello, and I wanted to play the one instrument that was bigger than the cello so I decided on the bass.” - Tim Marchetta-Wood

At one point at our table, Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” starts pounding through the bar speakers. Warner visibly perked up. “This song feels very appropriate right now. Only because sometimes we play it in band practice when we’re fucking around.” “Oh, I thought you were talking about the political climate?” jokes Marchetta-Wood.

“Oh, that too, but we’ll stop there. It’s a very fun song to play drums too,” replies Warner. “Led Zeppelin got me into college; playing drums to Led Zeppelin got me into college!”

“I thought you meant the members of Led Zeppelin personally helped your college application,” Sullivan laughed.

Warner auditioned for Berklee College of Music with a mash-up of "Good Times, Bad Times" and "Stairway to Heaven". The performance earned her a spot at Berklee, where she studied both lyric writing and music education. She has been playing drums for nearly two decades.

UV Rays was initially fronted by DeFontaine and his friend Eli Dreyfus. When Marchetta-Wood crossed paths with Dreyfus at a music camp, something clicked. “Basically he just hooked me up with some musicians that he was playing with and we hit it off really well,” says Marchetta-Wood. So well, in fact, that Marchetta-Wood and Warner moved to Brooklyn to join UV Rays with Sullivan, Dreyfus, and DeFontaine. “We moved here for you Danny!” jokes Warner.

When Dreyfus left the band, the group shuffled its lineup and began rebuilding its sound as a foursome. The name “UV Rays” was conceived by DeFontaine and Dreyfus, who believed that the band name formula of letter, letter, word would bring them success. After exhausting every possible combination of letters, they selected UV, because “UV Rays” is an actual phrase. If it worked for RX Bandits, it can work for UV Rays too, right?

The name seems to be working well for them, as the group has played several of Brooklyn’s most prominent venues including Baby’s All Right, Elsewhere, and The Knitting Factory. They’ve also wandered into Manhattan for gigs at the Mercury Lounge and Webster Hall.

Recently, UV Rays opened for Potty Mouth and Colleen Green at Trans-Pecos. The band was honored to play with musicians that they looked up to. “They’re both sort of in the pop-punk world,” says Sullivan. “Colleen Green just put out a whole cover album of Blink-182 songs.” Sullivan listened to the latest Potty Mouth album every day for a week after playing that show.

That mutual respect between artists has contributed to the birth of the current pop-punk music scene in New York. UV Rays has found the experience of attending other band’s shows and making friends with local musicians both socially and creatively beneficial, especially for Warner. “It’s been really fun for me to try to make friends with the badass women in the music scene because they are few and far between, women in general… the girls that I’ve played with are musicians that I respect a lot as musicians. It’s been a really cool way to make girlfriends, as someone who’s always been friends with dudes, meeting some badass chicks that play music is really important to me.”

"I would love to continue carving the way for women playing drums because it is a difficult path. A lot of people just assumed I was gay. There are a lot of stigmas that go with it.” - Erica Warner

“It’s been very rare in New York that people have come up to me and been like ‘You’re a great drummer for a girl’” says Warner. Although she has heard such comments her entire life, especially when she was briefly living in Texas. “I personally would love to continue carving the way for women playing drums, because it is a difficult path. A lot of people just assumed I was gay. There are a lot of stigmas that go with it.”

UV Rays even embarked on an East Coast tour after the release of their debut EP Try and Begin. For the band, the highlight was getting to perform in front of their families and show them how much they have progressed as musicians and as a band. Marchetta-Wood’s family lives in Pennsylvania while Warner’s family lives in Massachusetts. The band also felt a massive confidence boost when strangers complimented their music. “I’ve had people tell Adrien that they like the song that I wrote for the EP so I’m happy about that,” beams Sullivan.

“My grandma was there,” said Warner. “My 86 year old fucking grandma was there. She was drinking. She walked in and she went straight for the bar, straight for some scotch. I was like ‘yes bitch, get that scotch!’ On the rocks, that’s her drink. She’s a badass.”

The more they perform, the more they discover and the more their sound evolves. “In terms of our band inspiration playlist, I think we’ve been moving towards a power-pop, pop-punk sort of thing. For Halloween last year, we did a Paramore cover set,” explains Sullivan.

By day, Marchetta-Wood is an audiobook engineer. I’m recording our conversation, and when more people sit down near us and the background noise gets louder, he suggests using Izotope RX to eliminate the background noise. Warner teases, “Fucking nerd!” She is currently doing wholesale and PR for Jill Platner, a jeweler based in Soho, but she will be interviewing at a pizza place down the street the following day. Marchetta-Wood lifts his wrist to show off his Jill Platner bracelet with its distinctive chunky, brushed metal. The whole band is decked out in Jill Platner.

Marchetta-Wood and Sullivan both have music-related day jobs. Warner hopes to combine her loves of music and fashion. “My dream is to style for bands in magazines,” says Warner. She already assists with much of UV Rays’ styling.

As we finish our drinks, the conversation shifts to astrology (DeFontaine is a Gemini, Warner is a Virgo, and Marchetta-Wood and Sullivan are Libras) and pets. Marchetta-Wood and Warner share a fluffy grey cat named Cloud. Adrien’s family has a “perfect” golden retriever named Champ. Sullivan’s family has an Australian shepherd mix that they got shortly after Sullivan read the young adult novel Holes. The main character of the novel was named Stanley Yelnats (Yelnats is “Stanley” spelled backwards), which inspired his dog's name, Navillus Sullivan.

The rain has slowed to a drizzle when Warner retrieves her Star Wars debit card and closes the tab. We step outside and Marchetta-Wood and Warner huddle under a shared umbrella. As we walk down Franklin Avenue, Warner points out the pizza parlor she is interviewing at. A few blocks later, we arrive at a bodega. I say my goodbyes and continue forward in the rain, and the three band members step into the small, colorful, fluorescent space - three Brooklynite best friends lit up from the midnight sun in search of a snack.

The Right Stuff is out now.
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