Knoxville band Coolrunnings had a good run before they called it quits last year. Brandon Biondo, Forrest Ferguson, and a revolving cast of band members built a sizable following around their steady stream of online music, culminating in the crowd-funded release of a physical LP. The band still owed a show to a software developer who had pledged $1,000 to their Kickstarter, and he e-mailed Biondo about settling up via a July 4 concert at a company party in Guatemala. Rather than inform him the band was defunct, Biondo set to work on a new project and a set of songs for the event. Roommate Nichole McMinn was asked to contribute bass and vocals to the recordings, and the Shy Boy moniker Biondo had used for a few solo shows was now pluralized.
Shy Boys debuted with "Ride" and "Julia," McMinn's vocals a perfect fit for Biondo's expertly crafted surf-pop. "Something" soon followed, a woozy bit of dream pop that brings to mind a New Romantic act discovering shoegaze. These songs were made available on Bandcamp and SoundCloud, and, as has become common with Biondo's music, garnered rave reviews on a variety of blogs and Web magazines. (It doesn't hurt that Biondo and his label Dracula Horse are highly active on just about every major social-media platform. He insists any attention the label receives is due more to his constant networking and promotion than the quality of the music, but there's certainly more to it than that.)
The Guatemalan gig isn't happening, which is just as well since Shy Boys will spend July 4 playing a benefit show at Pilot Light with half a dozen other local bands. Soon, Biondo recruited Coolrunnings bandmate Adam Cottle to add guitar and bass, keyboardist Aaron Craig, and Joel Thompson, who plays bass in the Mutations but mans the drum kit here. The additional personnel almost immediately began to change the band's sound, but Biondo contends Shy Boys was never intended to have a specific style.
"I like the idea of doing a couple songs in the style of something and then moving on to something else, and make sense of it later," he says. "I don't really care what any of the songs sound like as long as they're giant sounding and super-cinematic. I just want to make epic-sounding songs in as many different ways as we can."
This won't be a surprise to anyone who has listened to more than a few songs by Coolrunnings, who were known for genre-hopping and creating music that wasn't easily classifiable. The other members seem equally enthusiastic about being able to try out different kinds of music.
"Rather than having a group of people with the same mind set that want to make something that sounds like, say, the Beatles circa 1965, we're all into different things, so we'll just try something," Cottle says. "It's good to have a group where everybody likes different things."
McMinn elaborates. "The two songs we recorded that haven't been released yet are like disco songs, and we're interested in doing more of that, but also we're not going to make that the dead end. We're still open to any other kind of sound and just see what happens."
Biondo also makes electronic music under the name Walsh, and how that project relates to Shy Boys turns into a discussion about the perception and reception of electronic music performed live. Club kids seem to only want EDM, while the hoary cliché that a guy onstage with a laptop is just checking his e-mail still permeates a lot of rock venues.
"What helps this band a lot is the fusion of electronic music and a live band," Thompson says. "Brandon has trouble tapping into mainstream electronic kids but at the same time there's a lot of people who just want guitar, bass, and drums. This is kind of a happy medium."
Though Shy Boys is influenced by electronic music and synth pop—they've recorded a cover of Human League's "Open Your Heart"—the members view it as essentially a rock band.
"I'm wondering what people who've only heard the songs online might be expecting," Cottle adds. "I mean, those are basically rock songs. Even the Human League cover, you took a synth song and made it a rock song. So people may be expecting that of this band, and they're going to get it, but they're also going to get funky bass parts and synthesizers."
"I'm not too concerned about that," McMinn says. "At our first show we played those songs people had heard, and we also had songs that weren't anything like those, and people responded well. I had people tell me they liked that everything changed and that everybody switched instruments and the music did a 180 and turns into disco from out of nowhere."
Lest talk of happy mediums and responsive audiences become too effusive, Biondo interjects, "I hope it weirds 'em out!" He then pauses before adding, "I don't know, I'm of the belief that if you try everything something has to click."