by Alexandra Hall
Been Stellar has mastered the concept of the “inner child.”
Well, maybe if your inner child is a teenager in New York City who likes cheap beer and whose knees get weak at the thought of adulthood.
But instead of lying stagnant in the valley between adolescence and adulthood, the group pulses with a vibrance that makes their work resonate beyond the confines of age.
The group is composed of five college friends: Nando Dale and Skyler St. Marx on guitar, Laila Wayans on drums, Nico Brunstein on bass, and Sam Slocum leading with vocals. After meeting during their time at NYU and playing around the city, the group hasn’t quite escaped the endless comparisons to NYC’s golden indie rock child, the Strokes. Despite many similarities as far as the indie rock genre is concerned, what makes Been Stellar stand out is that they feel glaringly original. They value the art they create and are willing to work hard— they don’t just assume that they’ll succeed by proxy.
“The pandemic totally lifted the veil off of the city for us,” St. Marx said. “People weren’t really going out to bars and it was really just the bare bones of the city that were still operating. It was a very sobering thing and kind of made me realize that like, like, we can’t just live in New York and expect to be cool and make cool music by virtue of the city. We have to contribute to this because it’s a very delicate ecosystem… a very tight ecosystem. And if you don’t contribute, there’s not really room for more people kind of just trying to hop on the dog pile.”
In one year, Been Stellar seems to have gone around the world three times. And then did it the opposite direction. And then maybe one more time.
“It’s weird because we’re a U.S. band, but we’ve had a lot more experience playing back to back in the EU and UK,” St. Marx said. “In the UK, music is a lot bigger of a deal. People are still constantly listening to the radio and are really, really tapped into music journalism. And aside from, I’d say, the coasts here, it’s not necessarily the same case. Like, obviously people love music wherever you go, but people have their finger on the pulse more and more and are willing to jump at new bands in the UK.”
And jump at them, they did.
This August brought the release of their debut self-titled EP. It’s a collection of their three already released singles plus tracks “Arthur” and “Manhattan Youth.”
“I feel like the time between signing the deal for the EP and now has been speedy,” Slocum said. “I think a lot of that might be because of the touring. I feel like when you get other people involved in the process… once there’s a label and a team around you, there’s more of a push to get things done. Which is a good thing. It feels really good to get it out while it still feels fresh.”
I found Been Stellar when they came to Denver a year ago with the band Catcher. I was drawn to their music and social media presence, which felt edgy and punk, but not in some postmodern, hyper-ironic kind of way. Their rawness wasn’t contrived. I couldn’t make it to the Colorado show, but saw they had an LA date the one night I was in town. It was my first time at a Baader House show, and it was characterized by two things: me mis-stepping into a full dog water bowl and Been Stellar’s enamoring performance.
When it comes to seeing rock shows live, I get antsy. I think most music is meant to be experienced live above all other forms, and rock especially. But what I find with a lot of newer groups is that they are just trying to be something of the past. Performances can be over-the-top but forgettable. Aggressive but not passionate. Sometimes you just want to say, “You’re not Iggy Pop! And I need to get out of this damp, crowded basement!”
Been Stellar dodged this bullet of inauthenticity, putting on a show that was so magnetic I’ve been keeping up with them ever since. For a few months of my life last year, I listened to their song “Louis XIV” a couple of times a day. Every day. The song sounds like an upbeat, bold plea for consciousness in a numb world. The bridge cuts through the verses with an urgency, the guitar riffs close behind. Any time I feel the need to reach for a Red Bull in the morning, I turn “Louis XIV” on instead.
“Louis XIV” made me show up to that house show. “Kids 1995” made me stay.
What makes this song, this EP, and Been Stellar’s group dynamic so compelling is their ability to capture the complexities of aging without being pretentious. Their work is both a fiendish desire for and a reluctance towards independence. It harps on the feelings of nostalgia for the past and the exhaustion that accompanies that, tucked within rowdy guitar riffs and guttural vocals.
“And it’s up to you/ but it’s also up to you,” rings the second-to-last verse and takes the song home.
It leaves listeners with the dilemma that brings the inner child out into the adult world: your life is in your hands. And oh wait, your life is in your hands.
With a steady team by their side and opening for Just Mustard on the US leg of their tour in November, it’s safe to say that Been Stellar is growing up fast. But luckily for listeners, the Manhattan Youth isn’t stuck in one place, and they carry a glow of eternal youth with them wherever they go.
Until next time,
Find Been Stellar here:
Featured image by: Nicole Osrin