In the late 1980s, shoegaze was born, and a whole lot of nerdy music fans had a new genre to obsess over. Most commonly captured by artists like My Bloody Valentine or the Jesus and Mary Chain, a fair share of its influence stemmed from artists like the Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees, and nowadays it can be seen making a return through the likes of reunion tours from artists like Slowdive and Lush. For bands born in the 2010s eager to chase the genre, there’s not a lot of wiggle room for originality, but sometimes, if an artist tries hard enough, they can create a voice of their own in the decade-old, reverb-laden room.
Zoom out of Boston for a second to refocus on Easthampton, the hometown of five-piece shoegaze act Kindling. After forming in the winter of 2014, it began churning out original music that sunk its teeth into the early days of the genre. Now, the band finds itself staring at a standout album, Hush, with its name on the cover. Singers and guitarists Gretchen Williams and Stephen Pierce, drummer Andy Skelly, guitarist Jeff Stevens, and bassist Aaron Snow may have outdone themselves just by learning how to get comfortable with themselves, their past, and their surroundings.
“I previously lived in Boston and didn’t know much about what was going on outside of the city until I left it,” says Williams. “Easthampton is a small but ideal setting for us, with its focus on arts and dramatic natural beauty—Mount Tom rises strikingly over the town. There is space here to spread out or to connect, our practice space is in one of the city’s old mill buildings slowly being repurposed after sitting abandoned for so many years, and just down the hall is Sonelab, the studio where we recorded Hush with Justin Pizzoferrato.”
Now settled into their western Massachusetts community, Kindling have hit their stride. From the opening chords of “For Olive” that slam into focus on through to the slow note slides on “Better World,” Hush is a shoegaze album of textured guitars, understated vocal harmonies, and full-throttle rhythms that don’t take themselves too seriously. Even the guitar solos they slice into a few of the tracks manage to avoid being braggadocious. Perhaps that’s because of the emotional foundation the members find themselves standing on here: The record spawned out of a grieving process after they lost someone close to them.
“At times, it was hard to articulate this experience [of loss], instrumentally and lyrically, in a way that felt adequate, and sometimes it was difficult to focus on our wounds as a means of creating something more from it. Certain lyrics were so evocative that they were hard to record and sometimes even to sing live,” says Williams. “Beyond the acute loss, in this album we’re asking, ‘What comes next? Is there something after this?’ I think those are questions that everyone struggles with at one point or another, and this album gave us a means to reflect on the ambiguous space between pain and moving on—whatever that may look like or mean.”
“It seemed important to me that the record start with the word ‘fearlessness’ ahead of a song about loss,” adds Pierce. “Beyond that, the opposing bookend of the last line of ‘Wet Leaves’ felt like an appropriate way to wrap the record up: ‘You can’t escape the night / but you can embrace the dark / Welcome the void.’”
On paper, it seems obvious that pushing themselves to face dark shadows would catapult a band farther into their career, forcing them to grow in an uncomfortable situation. But for Kindling, the polished confidence on Hush exists thanks to the work that took place before it. In 2017, Kindling put out two other releases: the six-song EP No Generation and a split with Kestrels. Though technically the songs on those releases were recorded over a year ago, revisiting them and organizing them into a new shape to be released—like the Kestrels split, which was recorded at the Converse studio in Boston and marked their first recording with Snow and Stevens in the band.
Prepping two releases was the spark held to the edge of their twigs. Soon after, they entered the studio to record Hush and everything came into full light. The depth of sound and instrumental range Kindling touches on proved they became a malleable band both in output and sound—including in a live setting. Though Boston breeds punk and indie rock bands on the regular, Kindling feel at home in the mix because of how flexible their sound is, particularly in a live setting. “I look at bands like those on Disposable America and see a common thread, though the sound might diverge pretty dramatically,” Pierce says, referring to the record label’s folk-leaning roster. “Or, like, looking at the handful of more ‘hardcore’ shows we’ve ended up on, it always felt like it made sense in some way.”
It’s easy to make bland shoegaze and hide in a blurry wall of sound. From the get-go, Kindling have been learning how to create a fire you can’t look away from, and Hush—both in sound and onstage—makes sure no smoke gets in the way.
KINDLING, HALFSOUR, MANEKA. SUN 11.19. DILBOY POST, 371 SUMMER ST., SOMERVILLE. 7PM/ALL AGES/$10. BROWNPAPERTICKETS.COM