Photos by Tino Zhang and Stasia de Tilly.
Dolly Spartans kicked off their mini-east coast tour with last Thursday’s SXSW Kickoff Party at The Knitting Factory. It was an evening that tasted like spring, a windy-warm night encouraging Brooklynites to venture out of their apartments. The band charmed the modest audience during their intimate set, packed with tunes to dance along to. Concertgoers tuned into their energy and couldn’t help but get carried away. Dolly Spartans is growing project you don’t want to miss live.
A week prior, I got together with the four New York dudes that make up Dolly Spartans. The precious boys entered the WNYU studios eager to show off some tunes. Crammed into a box of a studio they played a 25-minute set with great vibes and smiles all round. While drummer Steven Bartashev clanks away cheerily in another head space, Max Beirne-Shafer on bass provides us with a steady foundation, and Jesse Barovick on supporting guitar nods along. Front-man, vocalist, and guitarist, Michael Eliran, timidly leads the group. There’s a sense that his head is in a state of constant creation. He evolves ideas, forming and reforming answers to my questions and absentmindedly noodling on his guitar.
Dolly Spartans’ upcoming record Time Sides With No One is written by the band’s visionary, Eliran, while facing an uncertain time with shaping the ensemble. He’s too modest in how he discusses the creative process of the record but it’s clear Eliran invested a lot of himself. Dolly Spartan’s music is deeply emotional. Eliran scratches the surface of his profound emotions lyrically. We see glimmers of his hyper-realistic vulnerability paved by dark and sometimes spooky themes. “I Hear the Dead” sounds like a drum heavy garage track until Eliran comes in warbling “I hear the dead / talk to me,” Despite the macabre subject, the on-kilter track inspires an infectious foot tap.
Dolly Spartans are bringing a singular element to their self-proclaimed garage-pop sound. There is an inherent focus on show-casing each instrument’s abilities. Their music oscillates. Time Sides with No One is a young musician playing with music as concepts of length, tempo and dynamics over time. Beyond this, a Dolly Spartans’ track is laden with addictive guitar riffs. There’s a definite curiosity with melody being explored.
Tell me the conception story of Dolly Spartans.
Michael: We are all from here, from New York, from the big ass apple. Dolly Spartans has been a thing for a couple years. This line up has been playing together for about a year now.
Max: with me for 4 months.
Michael: Max and I went to high school. He’s in a band I really like called The Kinsey Scale and Shunklings. I’ve been playing with Steven the longest. I met him three or four years ago at a show in Webster Hall and we just hit it off and started playing together. Jesse we met through a series of coincidences related to SUNY Purchase, which neither of us attend right now.
Steven: I’ve seen a lot of people in this band and I’ve gotta say, this is the finest arrangement of individuals I’ve seen so far.
Michael: Oh absolutely.
What kind of stuff has informed your upcoming album?
Michael: So it revolves around whatever strikes me, whatever I can pick up and take note of.
Max: But what specifically?
Michael: [laughs] Well I started off listening to a lot of the televisions, the smiths, all the post-punk bands. But there’s been a lot of different stuff.
Steven: What have you listened to make this record versus your first record?
Michael: Funny enough, one of the biggest influences on this album is Kendrick Lamar. Because when we started recording the new record, To Pimp A Butterfly was a few months old. I really like how that creates a narrative and you have to follow it from beginning to end, and it just works very well as a whole. I kept that in mind when working on this new record. In terms of other bands I was getting into at the time, I started listening to Deerhunter a lot. Even as we were playing shows and playing Shea Stadium, listening to those bands helped. I was taking note of the musical environment.
What are you guys listening to right now?
Michael: On our way to Pennsylvania we listened to the new Thundercat album in full, we really liked that. I think the highs are really high. I’ve been listening to the new Dirty Projectors, some of its really good and some of it comes across as white boy whining.
Steven: I’ve been listening to a lot of Run the Jewels because they just played.
Max: I’ve been listening to an album called Brer Soul by Melvin Vanpeebles. I’ve been checking out this Sam Rivers album called Crystals.
Michael: It’s a 64 piece free jazz ensemble. Very nice, very out there
So Michael are you the creative mastermind?
Max: It’s all him.
Michael: I mean I guess its that when we were making Time Sides with No One the lineup was different. It was Steven and I working on it for a long time. During the processes, we lost a guitarist, he passed away, and so that informed a lot of the record too. I recorded most of the bass and guitar, and Steven recorded the drums. We worked on the direction that we wanted the songs to take. A lot of things happened and it took a long time to record this project.
What has the response been like for this upcoming record?
Michael: It’s been cool, we’ve been playing a lot of radio stations and seeing that response. Hearing people say “you’re really cool, you should come play” and then we’ll go. It’s nice and it kinda gives us a lot of energy and a reason to keep working at it. It’s cool to set up this thing where we can play for people in new places where we wouldn’t normally be.
Max: Even the response from the people we went to high school with, people who already knew the band, has been so much better, and they’re really into it now.
In the last year that you’ve been playing together has it been super crazy going from playing small shows at Shea Stadium to selling out The Marlin Room and the Studio at Webster Hall?
Jesse: It’s been really gratifying to have more and more people showing up to our shows. Even just like more and more people following us on twitter or linking our Instagram posts and just paying attention and acknowledging us on a larger scale.
Steve: Responding and interacting has been fun.
Jesse: Making new friends and meeting other bands.
Michael: It’s been a good vehicle for us to get out of New York to play shows and make connections all over. Seeing that people are coming to shows and enjoying the music is really nice, we’re definitely grateful for that.
Are you guys touring right now?
Michael: We just played the Millennium Music Conference which was cool, we played in Mechanicsburg, PA. We want to hit up wherever we can, wherever we can play music and sell merch.
Jesse: Wherever we haven’t been yet is where were trying to go next. There’s a big big world out there.
Michael: We’re starting a tour around here. March 24th in Lafayette, PA. I know we’re playing 4/20 at Skidmore, April 27th at Rochester, and then we’re going down to Missouri.
Pre-order their upcoming album Time Sides With No One here, all proceeds go to the ACLU.