When it comes to nostalgia, it’s easy for some to get sucked into the pop culture trend of emulating styles of an earlier time. As of late, the hippest throwback seems to have sprouted out of the 1990s, tattoo chokers and flat tops galore. However, in the case of Les Vinyl, a group of four longtime friends who began playing together after college in the early 2000s, their musical embrace of the garage rock era serves as more of a testament to their enduring bond than just a capsule of cool memories.
Mainly based out of Staten Island, Les Vinyl, which consists of lead guitarist and vocalist Casey Jost, guitarist and vocalist Jenny Miller-Pecora, bassist Mike Carlo and drummer Pat Given, formed out of a desire to record songs written by Jost as an undergrad and all previously housed on a MySpace page. Each growing up around experienced performers — whether it was a childhood friend who hoarded tons of instruments in his basement, an older brother who passed down a bible of guitar tabs, or an entire family of musicians — the indie rock foursome came together for the purpose of creating music among their circle of friends.
Though, since then, the group has fostered a loyal online following, partly as a result of their song “F for Effort” serving as the official theme of the What Say You? podcast — hosted by comedians Brian Quinn and Sal Vulcano of TruTV’s Impractical Jokers — and opening for acts like fellow Staten Islander Ingrid Michaelson.
“We were just really obsessed with music and we wanted to make it as much as possible,” Jost said. “It’s been interesting how people have been covering our songs, or there’s been other people who’ve been spreading our music in other ways, which is very surprising. It’s not even the intent, it’s just an awesome thing that’s happened.”
In listening to Les Vinyl’s discography, one could sense the ingrained influence of major players in 90s garage rock, namely Weezer, Pavement, Built to Spill and They Might Be Giants. At the same time, the band believes its foundation is built on a cross section of inspiration based in that era, each member connecting with another over one particular artist, from Rage Against the Machine to Radiohead.
“It always kind of comes from whatever we’re listening to at the time,” Miller-Pecora noted. “A lot of [our sound] stems from Casey’s brain. He’s always listening out for new music and it always comes out in the stuff that he writes, too.”
“You never know what’s going to manifest, especially when you have four people bringing their influence and styles to a recording,” Jost added.
Les Vinyl’s earlier records (Bright Gray) burrow deep into that alt rock scene before slowly picking up more of a pop sound in later releases (Sick Fade), accelerating its rhythm over time. Jost’s vocals invoke the range of The New Pornographers’ A.C. Newman and Rivers Cuomo’s nerve, while his dynamics with Miller hark back to those of Black Francis and Kim Deal in the Pixies’ heyday — except the former produces much softer harmonies with a bouncing bassline.
While it may seem like the dream of the 90s is alive in their music, the members of Les Vinyl haven’t particularly striven to preserve that signature style. If anything, they’re just holding up a mirror to tell their coming-of-age story.
“The music of that time — I don’t know if it’s like a hormonal thing or something when you’re at that age — but, seriously, it imprints on you so strongly,” Given said. “Whether or not we’re trying to do it on purpose, it’s just there. It imprinted so hard at that time and it’s all we can output.”
“The music of [the 90s] — I don’t know if it’s like a hormonal thing or something when you’re at that age — but, seriously, it imprints on you so strongly.”
As part of this narrative on growing up, the members of Les Vinyl seem to set their urban roots at the forefront of their music. For example, the title of the band’s last album, Sick Fade — which features the grimy walls of Manhattan’s 6th Avenue subway stop on the cover — references a slang term often used by Staten Island bros to describe their dope haircuts. With respect to song lyrics, Jost often constructs a concrete backdrop of New York City — My best friend is missing. I think I saw his T-shirt torn by the church on 54th Street and Central Ave. — in an effort to “make some strokes that are different than the broader strokes” as he depicts his upbringing.
“People ask me about it all the time, and they’re always like ‘You don’t seem like a Staten Islander,’ but then they always bring it up,” Jost remarked. “I don’t know, I guess I wear it well. I hope that does come out.”
Through his songwriting, Jost also works to straddle the line between “heartfelt and clever” as a way to confront grim realities — such as death — in a somewhat cheeky way (Why can’t I wait to live life after I die? / And when I go to bed tonight I hope I open my eyes).
“I’ve definitely always talked about death, and I’m a very positive guy, but I don’t think necessarily that death is negative,” Jost said. “I think it’s something that is certain, and it’s like the one thing that scares me the most — it’s not necessarily my death, it’s like others around me.
“I like to create families because I come from a very good family — I love my family — so that’s kind of why it manifests like that,” he added. “I don’t want to lose anyone.”
As it prepares to release another EP, Handshake, Les Vinyl has developed a new sound that it calls “Fauxtown,” which connotes an inspired blend of early 1950s rock and roll — evoking the likes of Buddy Holly and The Crickets — and the 1960s Motown sound. Judging by some of its latest material, the band sounds as if it’s gearing up to scale the Wall of Sound, incorporating classic doo-wop progressions, more luxurious drum fills and sweeter melodies into their songs, all while carrying its indie essentials in that climb.
This new approach basically grew out of Jost’s memory of a mixtape curated by his mother, which she often played in his younger years. Some of the tracks included Bobby Darin’s “Splish Splash” and Chubby Checker’s “The Twist.”
“I remember hearing it a ton as a kid — and then it just goes away because other things come in — but then hearing those songs again at a block party or something in Staten Island and being like, ‘Oh, yeah, I love this!’” Jost said. “[Doo-wop] is like my favorite sound — although, you know, I’m still a 90s baby who still loves chunky guitars.”
Now, as they’ve embarked on adulthood with full-time jobs — becoming what they consider to be a “weird Village People band” of a fireman, a teacher, a guidance counselor, and an actor/comedy writer — the members of Les Vinyl welcome the prospect of exploring more styles and sounds through their music as their tastes mature with time.
“[Doo-wop] is like my favorite sound — although, you know, I’m still a 90s baby who still loves chunky guitars.”
“We all individually love so many different kinds of music, but I just think the era we grew up in and what our lives are like were profoundly influenced by bands who were set up like this — guitars and bass and drums — when we were in high school,” Carlo said. “Now we’re thirty, and when you hear a song and think of an interesting part, I think there’s an openness to doing stuff.”
While its next record will sound “a little poppier, a little brighter” than previous albums, Les Vinyl looks forward to gauging the full reaction of its fanbase, which has already expressed eager anticipation for a new release.
“Excitement is the biggest form of flattery,” Jost said. “I like being a little nervous to see what people think of [the new EP]. I’ve never really had that, and so for people who are really fans of some of our songs, I want to keep them wanting to hear more.”
When asked about the band’s expectations for the new record, Miller-Pecora put it simply: “[I hope people can tell] that we like to have fun, that we like our stuff to be fun, and we like for people to feel that way when they listen to it.”
Top Tracks: “Slang Chorus,” “Legless,” “Overboard,” “Cities,” “F for Effort”