Blind dates are the byproduct of desperation, trust, and the idea that paths must be crossed by force. On first glance, it may sound odd that the origin story of Neck, the local experimental folk and electronic duo of Kira McSpice and Bailey Hein, is a blind date. To be fair, it’s more of a platonic musical matchmaking than a blind date. But the blind date threads woven into Neck’s backstory, threads of faith in the friends doing the recommending and hope that something larger than oneself will come out of the meetup, are too prominent to ignore.
Kira McSpice began playing cello at age three after she spotted it in the orchestra pit during one of her mother’s opera performances. In her family’s long line of musicians and artists, McSpice was the devoted cellist by choice, the byproduct of private lessons and 20 years of dedication. Once she hit high school, she tried her hand at “the singer-songwriting thing” by learning guitar and singing. A few recordings surfaced for friends to hear, but McSpice otherwise kept her musical projects to herself. These days, she works at a fancy flower shop in Boston.
Bailey Hein began playing piano at age eight, stubbornly sticking to playing by ear instead of practicing assigned sheet music. Growing up in a particularly religious part of California, she decided to give violin a try once she turned 14 years old and joined her megachurch’s worship band. Intense classical training followed, leading up to her applying to and entering Berklee College of Music in Boston. But when violin stopped feeling like an extension of herself, she became fascinated with Ableton and began exploring the world of modular synths, field recordings, and analog projections. During the evening, she spends her hours working at Cambridge nightclub Oberon.
McSpice and Hein met for the first time at Track Shack—a DIY venue where friends’ bands would often perform—after mutual friends pushed the two together, knowing both women had similar musical interests. It wasn’t long after that they decided to try writing music together. Their first attempt at recording unfolded in a picturesque way: The two swigged bourbon and explored the underside of bridges around the city, trying to capture moving field recordings. Romantic in sentiment but sanguine in reality, the initial music-making process didn’t quite yield satisfying results.
Instead, the two found that they functioned best as an alternative folk and experimental electronic duo. Switching to minimalist synth loops and yawning electric guitars sparked new creative inspiration. Neck began working towards creating a more spacious product that could haunt just as easily as it could conjure up a darker sense of beauty. A song like “Baited,” which began as “a vague idea and mess of synths,” felt like a puzzle worth solving under the pressure of deadline anxiety. Others, like the record’s title track, straddled a more emotional breadth after being performed in a massive warehouse. After a few months of toying around, the duo had the groundwork for Hand It Over, their debut EP from earlier this year, which sounds like the shadowy meeting point of William Basinski and Julianna Barwick. For McSpice and Hein, creating music together felt both powerful and challenging. The matchmaking made sense after all.
Then comes “Puzzle Factory,” a deeply stirring number about institutionalization and the stigmas surrounding mental health treatment after McSpice’s three-week occupancy in a psychiatric hospital. At the location, dubbed a “puzzle factory” by a fellow patient, there was no one-on-one therapy. There was no time allotted to go outside. There was only the medication they received and the other patients surrounding them. So during her stay there, McSpice jotted down the words of her neighbors, learning from those who had different diagnoses, different upbringings, and different coping methods but who felt similarly isolated as she did. Neck decided to donate proceeds from the song to the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation for grants to aid in the research of mental illness.
“It’s probably my favorite song I’ve ever written,” says McSpice. “The puzzle factory is a psychiatric hospital first and foremost, but to all of us [patients] it was a place of stability and a step away from normal life in order to recover and get help. When I sing the song, I think of all the people it’s written for: my fellow patients and sufferers of mental illness. Singing about my own experience of such a stigmatized and misunderstood subject feels like breaking down some of the walls surrounding it.”
“Early on in the project Kira had sent me an early demo of the song, and that lovely little phone recording was one of the biggest reasons I was excited to start working with her,” adds Hein. “I wanted to make sure my contributions to ‘Puzzle Factory’ would help do the song justice. When we performed it live it seemed to really leave an impact on people, and I’m so glad the EP version is able to capture and convey so much of those complex emotions.”
That emotional depth is part of what made Neck’s first live show so notable. In mid-August of last year, the duo performed their first set as Neck at the Cloud Club. It was hypnotic and intimate, a deceptively polished and affecting performance—even though Hein was hit by a van just a week prior, changing the way they arranged their songs. Recording, composing, and performing with others was a new world for Hein, who had previously only done so in a proper orchestral setting, and the latter was the most daunting part of all.
“I’ve never been as publicly emotionally vulnerable as when we perform live,” says Hein. “I used to have a straight-up phobia of singing in front of others, so this year was an exercise in facing some lifelong fears.” In that live setting, the nerves of the duo’s debut were invisible—so much so that the two were approached by Tyler Skoglund, who offered to record them and release their music on record label JASS. The duo accepted almost immediately, and Skoglund became the producer for Hand It Over.
If the goal for Hand It Over was to give listeners space to feel vulnerable, then Neck’s upcoming record will be a way of engaging with those emotions on a more tangible level. “The main thing we’re striving for is a more complex arrangement of the songs and to bring in different instrumentalists to make these songs as big as they are in our heads,” says McSpice. “I want the album as a whole to feel like it’s existing in its own strange universe,” adds Hein. Think increasingly experimental audio samples and open-ended studio time to develop their own relationship with the songs, a sound palette that keeps discovering new colors and the scenes those shades can convey. It’s a lofty goal, but one that appears within reach for the duo. Ever since they joined heads, McSpice and Hein have explored musical terrain that their Boston peers leave untouched. For all we know, there’s a whole planet out there that only Neck can see—and listeners are lucky if the duo chooses to share it.
THE BAJA BLASTERS, THE DIRTY JUNK, NECK, MONICA BANG. TUE 8.14. O’BRIEN’S PUB, 3 HARVARD AVE., ALLSTON. 8PM/18+/$8. OBRIENSPUBBOSTON.COM