People Like You chose a more fitting name than they could have realized in the moment. It’s not just a positive affirmation to the general public, nor is it a comparison phrase.The Allston five-piece chose a moniker that’s a reminder from one band member to another, a way of lifting one another up, a transition from a band that likes you to a band that wants to be there for you. And People Like You follows through.
The experimental emo rock act formed in 2014. After an old band, I Kill Giants, came to an end because one of its main songwriters (Dylan Hanwright, now of Great Grandpa) moved to Seattle, guitarist/vocalist Chris Lee-Rodriguez brought the remaining songs he had written to drummer Sander Bryce. The two released their first record, This is what you learned., as People Like You, and in a matter of months trumpetist Matt Hull, vocalist/pianist Michi Tassey, and bassist Sai Boddupalli of Animal Flag hopped on board for the long run. Soon, the group was creating music that got in touch with a type of genuine authenticity and kindness that fills its live shows with a special aura viewers struggle to describe without smiling.
The band’s empathy extends to their lives outside the music. Every member works part time, often in fields that benefit others. Lee-Rodriguez used to work at Zumix but now works as a nonprofit teacher in New York City, Boddupalli works at the Middle East, Hull works at a private after-school conservatory, and Tassey is starting a music therapy internship. It’s the type of work that gets them involved in their communities directly. “Whether working at a venue or teaching, I think that’s important to us,” says Lee-Rodriguez. “Being graduates of Berklee [College of Music], it’s hard to get out of school and get right into jobs in the music community. I don’t think that’s exclusive to music either, but rather a state of colleges now, where you don’t get a job with your degree.”
That eye towards others roots itself in People Like You’s music. On their brand new record, the excellent Verse, People Like You take inspiration from everything from vintage gospel to modern rock while refining their songwriting, each track telling a story, verbal or instrumental, that feels deeply personal. Tweaked drafts from the first record were a thing of the past. Instead, the Verse recording sessions were filled with months of precision and reworked tracks, and it benefitted from thinking beyond the self. It’s a passion project in the truest sense of the phrase.
“This time I wanted everyone to help more with the songs, to have their influence be stronger so we could work together as a band rather than me writing all the material,” says Lee-Rodriguez. “When we got the final masters, at least for me personally, it was interesting to hear songs we spent years working on now come to fruition. It felt so refreshing more than anything else.”
“If something sounds too thin or empty, you can use your voice as a texture to fill out space,” says Tassey, when asked about the band’s openness toward improvisation. “I think this is on everyone’s part, but at least speaking for myself, on ‘Eulita Terrace’ there’s a part where vocals come in that weren’t planned, but when we’re in the studio listening back, we wanted it to add another texture.”
People Like You has a group mindset because it’s used to not being the average band. When you deviate just so far beyond the accepted norm, you become a new type of outlier: a group that isn’t fully separated from other bands, but one that does its own thing, fully committed in a way that can only be respected, even if it takes some listeners time to come around to. People Like You fits snuggly in that. As the trumpet player, Hull feels this when he steps onstage, and so do the rest of the members.
“We joke amongst our friends that we’re a ska band because we have a horn player,” says Boddupalli. “I personally don’t think of how we stand out because, in general, people don’t have a good read on me since I’m a racially mixed person. People always ask where I’m from. They see my face and hear my voice and think, ‘Well, that’s strange.’ But we’re also all like that, basically. Matt is the only white person in the band. We have a female vocalist. A lot of us are mixed race. We come with this territory where people aren’t sure what to expect of us when we step onstage, and I think that can be liberating. If you don’t know what to expect, you won’t be disappointed.”
On first listen, People Like You earns comparisons to emo veterans like American Football or revivalists like Into It. Over It., but the sounds on Verse reach beyond that, touching the underbelly of jazz. Perhaps it’s an instinctual comparison because of how tender the music sounds, each note hitting softly though the instruments could have easily sounded otherwise—the work of The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die guitarist Chris Teti, who recorded the album at Silver Bullet in Connecticut.
“His style is something that I was pleasantly surprised by the actual sound of the record,” Boddupalli says of Teti. “There’s a lot happening in these songs, and us as a band have a tendency of throwing a lot at the listener, but what I was relieved to hear in the first mixes is that it doesn’t feel overwhelming. It still sounds sparse. Not empty, but each instrument, voice, and layer is on its own plane while still sounding cohesive. He helped us bring that to fruition, so even the denser parts of the record don’t feel heavy.”
Oftentimes in bands, one or two members dominate the songwriting board, writing much of the material themselves. People Like You pass their drafts around so everyone can add their input. They choose that songwriting style not because it’s for the band’s greater good, but because they actually want to hear what the others can add. It’s the type of outward thinking that reflects an inner positivity, a belief that a greater good comes from uniting and that passing the microphone will allow for a stronger story. It’s what you could expect from a band named People Like You.
“I trust everyone enough—everyone is such an incredible musician in this band—that I know if I say to go stronger in a direction, they can come up with something I never could,” says Lee-Rodriguez. “It makes sense, because they will go in and shine and change things in an incredible way. Why wouldn’t we do that?”
PEOPLE LIKE YOU, COWBOY BOY, PAIGE CHAPLIN, SECOND BECKY. SUN 7.30. MIDDLE EAST UPSTAIRS, 472 MASS. AVE., CAMBRIDGE. 7PM/18+/$10. MIDEASTOFFERS.COM