The Nepotist draws on a vast knowledge and passion for music – blues, soul, classic rock, R&B – and all of those elements show up in their music, blended together in a way that makes old, well-loved sounds totally new and exciting. During their set at Mercury Lounge, their songs drove forward, led by strong drums, guitar and bass, yet funk-inspired grooves kept things just the right amount of laid-back. Not to mention the vocals; Chris Frank, vocals and guitar, has a smooth yet strong voice that soars effortlessly over rock percussion and bluesy guitar. His brother, Hayden, bass and vocals, clearly inherited the singing talent, too. Both have just a hint of smokiness to their voices that touch even the most funk-channeling songs with elements of singer/songwriter flavor. Drummer Jacob Colin Cohen drops in to round out beautiful harmonies without missing a beat.
Songs like “Hold Together” reveal hints of Paul Simon inspiration, while “Jerks” grabs you with a strong, ever-so-slightly Southern rock feel. The trio was clearly having a blast sharing their music with the crowd, and it was contagious. With every song, more and more people were on the floor dancing like no one was watching. You get the feeling watching The Nepotist that they’re poised for a pretty astronomically successful career; they’ve got the songwriting chops, they can play the hell out of their instruments, they can harmonize like no one’s business, and they clearly love every minute of it. It was hard to remember, even when talking to them, that they’ve only been playing since 2012, and that Jacob only joined the band this year.
P&W: For you guys, as brothers, how did the band come about? What kind of music were you listening to growing up and when did you start playing music?
Chris: I grew up listening to a lot of blues and folk, and some punk rock, and The Beatles and a lot of classical – I started out as a classical violinist.
Hayden: I was way more into R&B and soul, ‘70s soul and that kind of stuff. But we had a lot of common ground with classic rock, The Beatles, Paul Simon, that kind of thing.
When did you guys start playing together?
Chris: We were both little when we started playing music but we didn’t start playing together, even for fun, until college. And then it wasn’t until I was out of college and Hayden was finishing up that we started thinking “let’s start a band.”
Jacob, how did you meet these guys; how did you come to all join up?
Jacob: They were playing at Rockwood Stage 1 and I was playing at Stage 2, and I had a few minutes to kill – this was in September of 2013 – and I walked in and was just enamored with the two of them, just playing guitar and Hayden was making percussion with his bass, just slapping, tapping and looping it. There was a huge crowd…I just thought, I have to play with them. I approached them and gave them my card, and didn’t hear from them. A month later, I went to their show again, and said “hey, remember me?” They later told me that they thought if someone was begging to play with them, how good could they be? [Laughs] So we finally got together at my space, and Chris said there was something right away, like within 30 seconds, he knew we’d be a band.
Chris: Hayden and I had been struggling with making like minimal overdriven blues stuff fit with older Motown stuff, which is smoother, softer and harmonically richer…we were just starting to figure that out, and when we played with Jacob, it was clear that he got that.
Jacob: And I came from a background of loving all that stuff, so it made sense to want to fit that all together.
What artists influenced you, Jacob?
Jacob: I was heavily influenced by ‘70s soul, Motown, like Stax, and neo-soul, like D’Angelo and that kind of stuff – and then Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, The Beatles. So kind of a nice blend.
What is your songwriting process, how do you three collaborate?
Chris: We usually start with just one person – I usually record as I write, I’ll be practicing and find a riff that I like, so I’ll record it and just loop it back, and see what I can tease out. And once one of us has made some progress, we’ll bring it in and be like “here’s this song,” and then all of us will work together to change it up, change the groove or speed it up, make it a little different, or suggest that it needs a bridge or is too long…
Hayden: One of the nice things about what we’ve got going on now is like Jacob and I will be working on one of our new ones, and we’ll be like “hey, you know that groove from that obscure 1967 Motown song? Let’s take that, put a spin on it, make it a little different…” Chris doesn’t write with the groove in mind, he writes his songs and we build under that.
Do you guys have a preference of recording or playing live – is there an energy you connect with in either situation?
Chris: I liken it to the difference between making a movie and putting on a play. I really love both, but they’re so different.
Hayden: We’ve made a lot of movies and put on a lot of plays, so we know. [Laughs]
Chris: One is more creative, I mix writing and recording, so it’s kind of venturing into uncharted territory, which is fun and sort of terrifying, and I really love it. But I also love being in a room full of people putting on a show that has to happen right now, I love the immediacy of it, and once the show’s over, it’s over. You can’t think about changing the bridge of a song or whatever, because it’s over. You did it. I love that.
People throw a lot of labels around when it comes to defining genres. How would you guys describe your sound?
Jacob: Chris has a good one –”alt soul.”
Chris: Yeah, I’ve been saying “alt soul,” which isn’t perfect, it leaves out the blues aspect, but it hits on some of the core lyrical songwriter parts of our music but also the bass and drum-heavy grooves that make you move your hips…and that kind of singing.
Do you have any set goals in mind that you want to hit, sort of benchmark “we’ve made it” moments?
Chris: We don’t have too many set goals – we just want to make songs…but, when I was in college, I always wanted to be a band that could play Bowery Ballroom-sized venues around the country, and, you know, maybe grow from there – but if we’re doing that, it’s a dream come true.
Hayden: And I would say definitely another set goal right now is to get a record done. We’ve been playing a lot of live shows, and we have a lot of songs – more than a record’s worth. Doesn’t have to be perfect, we just want to do it. We want to get a record out so we can know and say we made something. People will remember a show but they can hold onto a record.
What songs do you each of you have an especially strong connection to?
Chris: I feel like I only have perspective about songs that have been around for a while, because when I’m working on a new song, I have to believe it’s the best thing I’ve ever written or else I don’t find the energy to finish it. But then they stay around for a while, and we play them live, and after they’re like a year old, I have some perspective. So that said, my favorite one right now is a song called “Trust.”
Hayden: You took mine!
Chris: Really? [Laughs] We’re opening with it tonight.
Hayden: Yeah, Chris opens that with a kind of funky guitar riff. It’s really fun, because we open with it a lot, and the second I hear that riff, I know the show’s about to start. And we all sing on it, too, so it’s a fun one.
Jacob: I would say all three of the EP tunes – we did a video EP, and I would say those three songs have a special place for me. “Trust,””Firehouse,” and “Bones”– they were three that I contributed harmonies to. When I first joined the band, they had all the vocals worked out, all the harmonies worked out, and they were like “hey, why don’t you try joining in here?” And so those became special for me.
What is the best live performance each of you has seen, what sticks out and inspires you?
Chris: The best musical performance I’ve ever seen was David Byrne at the State Theater in Ithaca, New York in 2004. But one of the most influential things I’ve seen as of lately was actually when I went to see Jon Stewart do “The Daily Show” live. Because he’s just so incredibly understated and in complete command of the room and so focused. That was magic for me to watch. I want to attain that level of focus and mastery over the pacing of the show.
Jacob: I have a few. Only one of them is music – I mean, I’ve seen a million shows that I loved – but, Radiohead at Bonnaroo in 2006. There was just something epic about them performing in front of 80,000 people and commanding them for three hours, doing like 32 songs or something. But also, I got to see Louis C.K. last year at City Center, and he had this beautiful flow to his show, like the arcs involved, and you could tell that he really had it all mapped out. It was like a piece of orchestral music the way he had it like that – it was very cool. He was such a master.
Hayden: I saw Bon Iver perform at Music Hall of Williamsburg my freshman year of college, and this was before a lot of people knew who they were…and it was just him, and you could tell that he was still fleshing everything out with the guys who had just joined his band, and there was just a rawness and an intimacy that really blew away. I cried – I was a little high, but, yeah…
Chris: I remember seeing you on the street after that show – and you were still visibly moved.
Hayden: Yeah, I’m a softie.
Article by: Courtney Iseman