Photo by Evan Sayles
Curtis Kelly bounces across the green checkerboard floor of Great Scott, an old-style bar and music venue that sells itself as hip. Most patrons are wearing beanies and have beards. The bartender’s skin is saturated with ink. He wears glasses and leans over the counter, chatting to someone wearing a Black Flag shirt, but with the squares replaced with cats. Cat Flag. The bar TV plays The Simpsons. Today’s recommended brew is Peak Organic Fresh Cut Pilsner. We’re in Allston.
Curtis sports a big smile and firm grip as he shakes my hand. “We’ll be just a minute,” he tells me. I go and sit at the bar as Curtis corrals his six-piece band from their soundcheck. They’re called The Interlopers, and they play R&B-inspired pop/rock. I interviewed them on a cold night in mid-February. Snow blanketed the Allston streets; the green line was down. Yet, The Interlopers drew a sizable crowd. It’s easy to identify their attraction. They play joyful, spirited music with passion. Their energy is intoxicating.
Let’s get the facts straight: You guys are from Berklee?
So who went?
We’re all still there, we’ll all undergraduates.
So is that how y’all met?
Actually, me, Ariel, and Nicholas met in high school. We’ve been doing this since my sophomore year.
Have you always been playing R&B?
Well yeah, though it’s kinda R&B-rock-pop 70’s throwback kinda style. That’s the kinda music I like to say we belong to.
And you were doing that in high school?
Yep. We were doing it in western Mass and relocated.
What was the extra talent you guys picked up and how did that change your sound?
We picked up Miles on keys. Now that has opened up a whole new harmonic ability as a band. There’s a lot more colors; we can use synths and drift closer to that 21st century sound, in a way.
What do you mean by that?
We see a lot of electronic stuff now, but we’re also like throwing in back to the 70s, but we’re also pushing forward. We don’t want to lose what we love about music, in an attempt to be commercially successful, but of course there’s a lot of music today that’s electronically produced. Bruno Mars is doing a lot of great work throwing it back. In terms of “Uptown Funk,” the audio is very clean and crisp. Our sound is taken it back there.
What’s informed that push for a more contemporary sound?
Being at Berklee and what we listen to. We all share a common ground, but we’re all very different. As we added more members, we found more common ground, which made it easy to develop a sound.
So you guys are at music school. To what extent has going to music school changed you and your music? Do you think you necessarily had to have gone to Berklee to being doing what you’re doing now?
Yes. At Berklee, the stakes are higher. Rather than being like, “this is the garage band that I rehearse in once a week” you’re surrounded by other people doing the same thing. And the aim of the game for everyone is to make a living doing that. There’s a social pressure, maybe a camaraderie geared towards success. You have a friend or a classmate who has a music video that goes viral, and now you think, “I’ve got to up my thing.” And that happens all the time.
Do you envision yourselves climbing a musical ladder at Berklee, or in Boston?
We’re aiming not just to blow up in the Berklee bubble. It’s a great resource, and networking is amazing. You get tons of inspiration and pressure to do great things, but we want to be a real band.
So you guys are all dressed very hip, you’re young, you’re playing Great Scott. How do you think your peers receive your 70s sound?
I feel like that our music would do much better with more listeners. A demographic of people who aren’t just musicians or people who are going to school for it, or old friends who’ve heard us a ton. We feel that our music would be appreciated much more if it reached a larger body of people who aren’t analyzing it. Regardless of whether it’s intended, when you go to a Berklee concert, people say, “Oh, that could have been done better.” Or, “Oh that was a nice little lick you played there.” It’s not as organic as, “this sounds great; this feels good.” It’s like going to a restaurant and eating the food and saying, “You’ve put a little too much thyme and paprika in this.” Instead of just enjoying it.
Photo by Evan Sayles
Melisma’s from Tufts, and we’ve got a lot of musicians at Tufts. What advice do you guys have for fellow aspiring musicians who aren’t at a music school like Berklee?
Just play with as many people as you can. Find what it is in the music that you like that distinguishes it, whether it’s in the songwriting or the recording process. Find that.
Has there been a specific academic experience that has informed how you play?
Definitely. I study music production and engineering, all the audio and the recording process. In terms of arrangement, I think about the mixing process during the songwriting process. I find that a lot the emotion and specialty of a song isn’t produced but is created while you’re arranging. So you can’t wait until post production to find something at the source of a song. So being in this program, it’s really opened my eyes into the creation of a good song, and how that’s all in the minds of the creators.
With your music, is the genesis of a song a specific moment when you all cohere, or is it a more deliberate process?
It varies from song to song. Sometimes we’re all together in one big room and we play until we find something we all like, and we’ll just expand on that. But a lot of times, now that we have people writing songs, one of us will come with a pretty complete idea, and we’ll all arrange it together. But it’s usually a process that comes from an inspiration, like one of us will say, “I want a song that expresses this idea.” And someone will write some words, you know.
Outside of your music, in terms of your presentation, is there a specific image you seek to embody? How do you sell yourselves?
We’ve never wanted to be anyone but ourselves. We discovered we’re all fairly goofy people. Fun-loving and loud. We’re marketing ourselves as people we want to hangout with, because it’s a good time. It’s music you want to hang out with too. The big thing we’re trying to embody in our music is that music is such a big, positive force. We get so much joy from being able to do this and the best thing is that we get to share it with other people. That, in hand with just being groovy, happy people.
This is all consistent with our name, if you think about it. It’s like animals that socially invade someone else’s space. We’re loud, we’re here now, and we’re goofy.
We’re interlopers, interloping.
Where does that name come from?
Ninth-grade English class. It means, “the invaders.” It has an ironic meaning for us, because the music we make isn’t actually invasive. It’s an ecological classification… like raccoons. It’s ironic in that we’re not invading ears or spaces, but we’re inviting them in, pleasantly.
Is there anything you guys try to write about?
We try to stay in keep with that positive message of self-empowerment, Curt, as principle lyricist, his aesthetic is always just coded in positivity. Like that’s the vehicle and there are so many stories that are told with that, like if it’s a social change thing, or a friendship thing. That’s the main focus.