By Jordan Reisman
Photo courtesy of Phone Home.
Phone Home is a band of brothers. A lot of groups say in interviews that their members are like brothers or a family in general, but for this Westchester duo it’s the real deal.
Phone Home technically began in 2010 but when you’re dealing with family, it’s the first time an older brother shows his younger siblings a cool record that the musical chemistry sets in. The two have shared a lot of records over the years along with rooms so personal space kind of goes out the window. Which may have been for the better as the two speak a language that only they can understand between each other, a way of musically finishing each other’s sentences. BTR was able to speak with the Vallarelli brothers, Michael and John, in person in an effort to try to decode this unspoken familial vernacular.
To give some context, the boys of Phone Home came to the BTR headquarters on a notably chilly day though neither of them seemed too bothered by it — a nice break from daily New Yorker weather complaints. As it relates to what they do, Michael Vallarelli says, “I think winter is the best time to listen to music,” preceding a discussion on their favorite “winter records” with The National, Interpol, Deafheaven, and New Order providing the playlist.
Michael is six years older than John, so their respective musical upbringing did not occur simultaneously. As Michael says, “Different things at different times.” However, they both cite The Mighty Mighty Bosstones as a shared and central influence, which is interesting because what they play now sounds nothing like the Bosstones (though for most people, the Boston ska-staple hardly registered after third wave ska came-and-went in the mainstream).
About how the Bosstones found their way into Phone Home’s sound, Michael says, “For me, they seemed to have a really good juxtaposition of fun, dancey songs with serious songs. I thought that was kind of cool. I took that to what I do now.”
Though the two diverged in musical tastes, with Michael getting heavily into Elvis Costello while John began his street punk phase, the Bosstones were still enough to share through the years. Still, other more contemporary indie influences began piquing the interests of Michael. As mentioned before, the band officially started in 2010 when Michael was “listening to a lot of keyboard-based electronic music, a lot of ambient stuff.” The real catalyst for starting the project was an LCD Soundsystem show at Webster Hall that Michael attended, leaving him “completely blown away with what they were doing with keyboards, synthesizers, and live drums.”
“I remember calling my brother the next day and I was like, ‘Dude, you and I have to finally get together. I have to buy a synthesizer and we’re just gonna mess around and see what happens. We literally did that,” says Michael.
One advantage of having a brother as your sole bandmate is that the relationship and chemistry is already there; there’s no need to have mandatory catch-up “hang out sessions” to establish a working rapport. Michael described the process of starting the band as, self-admittedly for lack of a better word, “organic.” He says their relationship is based on “music and food.”
“We have some pretty intense fights, though it never gets physical. The good thing about being brothers, really, you will fight and you will have your little inner brother things going on but you’re just going to make up after. I’m not gonna not talk to this kid,” says John with a glimmer in his eye.
Michael asserts that of all the things they argue about, music is never one of them. He says they agree “100 percent,” which really eliminates possible band drama.
Phone Home is a purely instrumental band, though it never feels like they’re lacking without a vocalist. Their songs reach dramatic crescendos with John’s free-flowing drumming style. As forming the band was seen as “organic”, the way they write their songs seems that way as well. Michael claims they “don’t really think about it” as they’ve gone this far without a vocalist, so they’ve already set the precedent for how they create their music. When they’re writing, it’s Michael coming up with a piano and synth part while John “will just literally play exactly what I envision in my head him playing. He knows my brain pretty well.”
Though many people generally respond to a song through its lyrics and a vocalist’s delivery, Phone Home finds other ways to connect with the people who hear them. They’re determined to sever the boundaries between audience and band, but with that comes challenging the listener a little and getting them to experience music in a different way.
“I think that when people do connect to it, it’s on a very visceral level. I like to think of our music, I say it all the time, that I’m scoring my life. I’m trying to provide some sort of soundtrack to everything that’s going on in my life. If somebody else can listen to it and relate to it in that capacity then that’s the most rewarding thing ever. We just played a show in Brooklyn and my fiancee came up to me after and she was like, ‘Nobody was talking when you guys were playing,’” says Michael.
Phone Home shows demand silence and when playing live, the energy reaches a level to which Michael screams “complete gibberish to John” to show that he’s “feeling it.” Though John doesn’t always appreciate being screamed at, saying that he “always know[s] when that moment in time is.”
The band’s newest three-song EP entitled WAYS features a remix of one of the other songs on the record called “Girl Don’t Fight It”, with vocals provided by John Ross of Challenger. Both of the members believe that the two songs stand on their own, as the vocals completely set the remix apart.
Michael, about the remix’s biggest difference, says, “It’s very different than the actual version of the song. I love it because I have an affinity for pop music. I’ll admit it, for me pop music is like candy. It’s a complete necessity. I feel like [the remix] is really poppy and really catchy. I find myself singing it sometimes.”
If you’re going for both personal success and fulfillment, singing your own candy coated hooks back to yourself definitely can helps achieve those sometimes contradictory goals. And with their shared consciousness as siblings, you know there is a good chance that John is thinking the same thing.
To sing Phone Home’s songs back to them, click here.
Check out Phone Home’s music and interview on the newest episode of Discovery Corner on BTR.