By Noah Simon
Photos by Anna Ryack
How do artists represent themselves in the music they create? How do they display their personalities through creative and aesthetic decisions?
For the members of experimental post-punk band Them Airs, that diffusion comes naturally and from a genuine, deep understanding of each other and the music that fuels their passion. The original members of Them Airs started making music together in 2016, while attending Amity High School in Woodbridge, CT. Since then, they’ve continuously shifted lineups and musical styles until recently landing on a core quintet: Cade Williams (guitars/vocals), brothers Evan (drums/vocals) and Hayden Nork (guitar), Adam Cohen (bass), and newest member Henry Davis Minot (guitar). Over the past two and a half years, the band has self-released three full-length albums (Tiger Blood , Echo Park Bomb City , and Union Suit XL ), and developed an immensely creative and original sound informed by a cauldron of influences. Their love of music—ranging from classic shoe-gaze and experimental rock bands like Swirlies and Sonic Youth, to contemporary post-punk outfits like Black Midi—has profoundly influenced a style of strange, angular post-punk that seeks to combine various elements of noise-rock, garage rock, and all things weird. But their style is as much deconstruction as it is homage—an amalgamation of sounds and tastes into something wholly unique and different from the artists that inspire them. This deliberate and self-aware mixture of aesthetics emblematizes how the music itself intertwines with the band’s collectively goofy personality. “Everything we do is tongue-in-cheek,” says Cohen. "We don’t take anything seriously.”
This much is evident, at least on the surface. Upon arriving at the Nork residence in Bethany, CT (where they were supposedly rehearsing), I expected to interrupt a loud, brash jam session. Instead, I found all five members huddled around an old, analog television, struggling to set up an Atari 2600 gaming system. “We have a penchant for silliness,” explains Hayden, describing an obvious characteristic of the band’s dynamic as both individuals and musicians. But as natural and free-flowing as they may appear, Them Airs’ synthesis of music and identity didn’t just happen: it’s been formed by countless shared hours of thinking and talking about art, culminating in a mutual, collective perspective. Their communal outlook and character can be seen, for example, in a shared artistic philosophy they call "shit-gaze”—which, in their words, is a "very specific aesthetic of a stupid thing,” and something that can be found in all mediums. They talk of their own music in no less opaque fashion: “We make silly stupid punk noise,” says Williams, with Evan chiming in, “We sound like every single paper football you’ve ever thrown in elementary school, just a giant pile.” Such beautifully ridiculous statements are, in many ways, accurate, yet still fall short of conveying the band’s legitimate and immense capabilities.
The band’s writing process is simultaneously cooperative and disjointed, with one member bringing in an idea that the rest of the group then builds on. It’s a style of collaboration that mirrors the genesis of Frankenstein’s monster: “We just stitch a bunch of ideas together,” Evan illustrates. The result is a fervent injection of life and personality into records that exude an erratic behavior and defy easy classification. With persistent genre-bending and bold structures, the songs of Them Airs are complex, layered, and unpredictable; they keep listeners on their toes through changing time signatures and peculiar arrangements. The group frequently mutates core principles of pop music into something wholly weird and impenetrable: “Bribery Tactics” from Echo Park Bomb City, for example, repeats gentle guitar and bass lines before yielding to pure noise and distortion. “Reciprocate”, from Union Suit XL, is a jittery, fuzzy psych-rock tune (with banjo!) that transitions at the end into an emotionally resonant conclusion and arguably their most catchy vocal melody. Them Airs’ style is impressive and audacious, even if that might be difficult for the band to admit: “There’s just something great about sugary popiness and horrible abrasive shit noise coming together,” Evan muses.
This brazen aesthetic comes as a result of the many brains involved in the music’s creation, with each song representing a beautifully chaotic sound that’s remarkable in its inclusivity and equity. “All our guitars are lead guitars—we don’t have primary and secondary guitar parts, they all come together,” explains Williams. This collectivist mindset (or as Cohen puts it, the “attempt to emulate ants as much as possible”) is deeply entrenched in the way they live their lives, and thus naturally bleeds into the music itself. Williams describes a social event they like to host called “Kelp Group,” where they bring together twenty friends, musicians and non-musicians alike, and just jam out. Them Airs, despite making particularly intricate and complicated music, never cease to forget the simple, cathartic, and harmonizing effect of cumulative noise. The question though is whether the band is actively conscious of this collective power, a power they so clearly embody. I bring up Echo Park Bomb City’s “Harvest Fighter”, asking if the relative tenderness at the song’s end was an intentional departure from the rest of the album’s emotional dissonance. “The best parts of our music is the stuff that happens accidentally,” Williams responds. Is this intuitive?
“I’d say it’s holistic.”
Them Airs’ approach to music—and the decidedly experimental noise that it produces—can be partially attributed to the band’s CT suburban context. The band’s left-field edge directly stems from the disposition of those insulated communities—or, as Evan puts it, “the absurdity that arises out of the chud population.” Williams phrases it more bluntly: “Suburbs are fucking hilarious. It’s just a bunch of people who live really close to each other, convincing each other their lives are really great.” Perhaps the band is vehemently responding, through their music, to these severe cultural contradictions, to middle-class aspirations in a chaotic and unjust world. Song titles like “Dreaming of a House,” or topics like those explored in “Zachary”—about a dude whose suburban disillusionment leads him to violence—certainly suggest so.
With these politics in mind, the band’s collectivist mindset begins to form a new resonance—not just as an artistic sensibility, but as a direct response to the dangerously individualistic and ignorant attitudes that pervade suburbia and areas of affluence (an issue all the more relevant amidst an ongoing political discourse over wearing masks during a global pandemic). You could also see it as a response to the alienation one might feel as a social outsider in a narrow-minded community. “We’ve been all pretty fucking weird for a long time,” Cohen says, and that “weirdness” results in visceral songs scribbled distinctly outside the lines. Their lyrics are deliberately cryptic, with ambiguity being one of Them Airs’ few clear missions. “They are [the lyrics] very deliberately confusing,” Williams says. “Ambiguity in art is a good thing…It forces you to react to it.” Whether you like their music or not, at the very least it grabs your attention. Their songs channel a sort of pent-up energy—a bubbling frequency of pure expression, a sonic energy bursting at the seams before exploding into unhindered noise. Their ability to produce such an emotional and affective response once again reflects the transmission of identity to art. “I’ll do takes where I’m like, jumping up and down to the beat, and my vocals going in and out of the microphone,” Williams explains of their recording process. “We like to walk around the room and hit things randomly during drum tracks and just squelch.”
Is this too deep of an interpretation? For a band that describes itself as “post-deep fried memes,” quite possibly. But during our conversation, I’m continuously struck by the apparent relationship between the group’s distinct worldview and the music they create. New guitarist Henry David Minot—who admits to being more of a “Neil Young, 4/4 kind of guy”—more or less confirms this connection. “It’s nice to have my boundaries pushed,” he says. “I think Them Airs rewards people with their open minds.”
But enough waxing-poetic: Them Airs simply fucking rock. Song “Ten-Go” contains a mesmerizing, jerky guitar riff that’ll induce listeners into head-thrashing hypnosis. “Corpse at UMass Dartmouth”, their most straight-forward punk song, bangs so hard that it doesn’t surprise me that their show at Bowdoin College “almost destroyed the structural foundation of the house.” As a result, the band’s affinity for writing songs that are both weird and catchy has provided them with a steadily growing fanbase in the CT music scene and beyond (a member of rising Montreal post-punk band, Pottery, has apparently bought their last record). So what’s the goal from here? Fame?
“If it happens, it would be a convenience,” declares Evan. “It’s not something that should ever be expected.” But that humility doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate the recent praise: “We’re aware of the appeal we have to people who have a certain music taste,” says Williams. “I looked at the listens [of Union Suit XL] and it’s like wow, we have more listens than many of the bands I listen to on Bandcamp—that made me really happy.” Naturally, the band wants people to listen. But Them Airs, true to themselves, ultimately care more about changing perceptions and using the music as a channel for self-expression. “There’s so much hyper-masculine rage in this kind of music—it would be great if we can sort of convey the same ideas in our dorky way,” Evan explains. “The goal… is to just create evidence of the fact that we existed and were just these people who did stupid, fun things.”
Them Airs can be listened to on Spotify, Apple Music, Bandcamp, and YouTube.