By Jordan Reisman
Photo courtesy of Sandra Malo.
From Below of New York, NY is the product of modern circumstances. They are a self-described “metal-ish” band but what makes them so seemingly “new” is the “Craigslist band” descriptor that follows it.
Say that with us… a metal-ish Craigslist band. It’s like how the phrase “Y2K” sounded in 1996.
In speaking of DIY musical zeitgeists, From Below has also been known to rock a benefit for autism or two in their time, and it brings a smile just knowing that we’ve reached a point in history where a band whose name references Satan can fund autism research. Yet From Below has standards for exactly what kind of venues they will play and how they’d like to be treated as a band. So as big as their hearts are, they won’t just play any old benefit.
But don’t think of From Below as a pack of metal-head divas though, simply because, to the cynical, charity benefits can be seen as a coward’s way to recognition. From Below, however, demands to be respected! As a token of our humility, BTR sat down with the ever-charismatic guitarist Tom Hoy and vocalist/guitarist Cero Cartera of the group and talk about their status as a product of the internet and gauge their thoughts on their music’s key ingredient—“aggression.”
Our discussion on venue standards and respect began with the pair describing a weird benefit show that the band performed in Atlantic City, NJ called “Elephants for Autism”—which, by the way, they claim is a “great cause.” The show didn’t quite go as planned as the venue had a “bar part and a house part,” forcing From Below to perform in the house part. As Hoy describes the incident, the boys set up in the “alcove off the bar that was just like seating room and they cleared out the seats, put up a PA and that was literally… it.”
Hoy says that although thousands of people were invited to the Facebook event, only “four townies” made it out to the show. Cartera says that they often get called for “lower end things” where the organizer tries to sell an event as a huge benefit. Playing benefits, of course, comes with the territory of being an up-and-coming rock band of any sort, and up until recently, From Below would play such events when they would “fall into them.”
Heck, the band’s even responsible for sending a kid in Guatemala to school for six months after having a friend involved with the organization work the door at one of their shows. There is, however, a line to be drawn.
“There’s some venues I’d rather not play, there’s just certain people in venues you’d rather not play for or work for. [Speaking about a particular unnamed venue] It sounds terrible, the staff is terrible, it smells bad, and everyone is fucking rude as hell and didn’t care. I’m just like, ‘No.’ It’s a place that actively didn’t give a shit, that didn’t care about respecting artists that came to play. I don’t need a fluffer or a green room or any bullshit like that,” says Hoy.
Or as Cartera puts it, the band is looking to avoid venues who are “almost antagonistic to that show or your presence there” so that From Below shows become “much less about the money and more about the people.” Hoy himself puts great effort towards these goals by hand-picking bills himself, so as to avoid bands and venues who have conflicting attitudes about their sense of community.
From Below being a band of the people, and much like they hand-pick the shows they play, their members were also in a way hand-picked from “the people.” Unlike many a worn story of garage-based beginnings you can find frequently on the Discovery Corner podcast, the boys of From Below did not all grow up together, nor do they really hail from a similar and cohesive scene.
So where do you go when you’re determined to meet people but don’t have a pool to pick from? That’s right, on Craigslist. Hoy originally moved to New York to be an actor but “quit really fast” so he picked up playing guitar and after a few failed jamming experiments, he put up a Craigslist ad. Of all of the 14 responses he received, all but one flaked on him. Everyone but Cartera, of course.
Cartera says that he himself had put up a few ads that went nowhere, but when he got in contact with Hoy, “the track itself spoke to me.” The two joined forces at a bar in Hell’s Kitchen (but not before abiding by the tried-and-true online dating rule to meet in a public place first.) Their origins may be commonplace among bands today, but the online classified service that brought them together is now inextricable from their identity.
“We are a Craigslist band, basically,” says Hoy. “We recorded a whole three-song EP of material because we literally couldn’t find anybody, it was just us two. We had these songs and so we did like, the electronic drums and electronic bass and we live recorded our guitars and Cero’s vocals on it. We basically got a full completed recording together and posted for auditions on Craigslist and the only two people that actually showed up were Chika and Ian [Oblora and Costello, bass and drums respectively] who ended up being amazing and loving what we were doing.”
Above everything else, the band strives to be aggressive. Pursuit of the adjective trumps everything for From Below including genre conventions. While they call themselves “metal-ish,” metal itself is not necessarily what the band is “going for.” Hoy points to a “self-consciousness in a lot of metal music” where bands are packaging their aggression in a way that he describes as “overly calculated.” In opposition to this, From Below seeks to express their aggression from below—the most primal of places from which aggressive music comes.
“We’re always kind of guided by a very specific intent and the intent up until now has been striving for aggression, something that will get people moving. If we can listen back to it and we’re bouncing around in the fucking studio to it then we’re probably on the right track,” says Cartera.
From Below leaves no stone unturned on their most recent album No Gods, No Monsters, with songs ranging anywhere from two to 10 minutes in length. The album’s title is a play on the anarchist slogan “No Gods, No Masters” but is directed more towards the “monsters” of everyday life and the culture of fear we live in. From Below is the kind of band whose name seems to inform everything they do, from the shows they play to the roots of their music. What they ended up with is better than what most musicians use Craigslist for.
Find the root of your aggression with From Below by clicking here.
Check out From Below’s music and interview on the latest episode of Discovery Corner on BTR.