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The XYZ Affair
xyz and the abc of the nyc
by: David Pitz - February 25, 2008

Let this be said…For us, the cauldron of Deli Magazine writers, documenting New York City’s rock and roll exploits between the covers of our beloved rag is an enterprise made entirely easier by the never ending trench of talent the metropolis seems to spawn. Lucky us, the distinguished observers, casually sitting back, taking it all in, and waxing local rock renaissance du jour, without a care in the world really, day after day after day after day. But while we set type to paper, countless start up musicians scratch their collective heads wondering how in the hell they will ever join the ranks of the city’s musical elite.

And scratch their temples down to the bone they should. Breaking through the bottom dwelling wash of talent is a daunting task, made ever more painfully clear as I begin to settle in to my conversation with Alex Feder, Sam Rockwell, and Russ Maschmeyer. Throwing back a few bottles of Anchor Steam, and binging on Cosmic Cantina burritos, the three twenty something might look the unassuming type. But their band, The XYZ Affair, has spent the better part of six years attempting to tip the critical scales in their general direction. Fresh off a coming of age kind of a set at the Bowery Ballroom the night before, it appears they may just be heading in the right direction. But listening to these eager young musicians lay out their war stories, it is painfully clear that life was not always like this.

“For awhile, we actually used to call ourselves New York’s least favorite band.” It is the kind of statement I’m glad Keyboard/guitarist Russ Maschmeyer can laugh about now. But when the purple bleeding, NYU students first got together, they didn’t find the city so welcoming. Admits drummer Sam Rockwell, “Everyone thinks that if you want to be in a band, this is the place to do it. But I got to tell you…it can totally suck. You can be good, be as tight as you need to be, not to mention have great songs. But chances are there are countless other bands that have everything you do, and they are playing for free tonight…oh, and no one will give them a chance either.”

The overpopulated pools of competition creates plenty of obstacles along the way for any young band starting out. But The XYZ Affair did what they could, scraping together an early collection of demos, and using those empty clubroom performances to help perfect their sound. The band also tried their hand at petitioning local tastemakers, but received very little love in the beginning. “I guess part of the problem was, we didn’t necessarily fit in too perfectly with most of the local indie bands, even though we had more in common with them then, say, a band that played the Bitter End every week. Our sound was a little less cool then what was happening around us, and we weren’t winning people over very quickly.”

That sound that singer/guitarist Alex Feder refers to is the result of constant toy and tinkering over the years. Admits Rockwell, “When we first got together, Bones (Chris Bonner) was playing upright bass, and we had a saxophone player…we were not even remotely the same band we are today. Hence Alex’s political answer that we have been a band for six years, or two, depending on your definition.” That’s because one listen to the XYZ Affair’s self released album, A Few More Published Studies, reveals a band that has come miles since their music program incarnation. These days, the XYZ Affair is a group of musicians instinctively versed in those who took a classic power pop approach…think Big Star, Weezer, of course, and even Queen at times. Like those touchstones that came before them, the XYZ Affair embrace rock’s time honored basics, though the over the top guitars, flashy hooks and solos, and locked in rhythm section rarely comes at the expense of the song. Feder’s rafter rattling range and the band’s signature, all inclusive four part harmonies make sure melody always reigns supreme.

In addition to their first proper full-length record, the band seems poised to make a double-time ascent in rank up the city’s musical totem poll, thanks in large part to a video for “All My Friends” you could call a Nick kid’s dream come true. Assembling talent from shows like Double Dare, Pete and Pete, and Clarissa Explains it All, the band somehow brought a group of generational icons together. How? “We just asked,” Explains Feder, “really, really politely. Next thing you know we have gone from throwing around a few video ideas to having Mark Summers banging on our walls.” Adds Maschmeyer, “The whole point was to get a video we could make some kind of splash with. I mean, we knew we had no chance of ever getting on MTV, especially considering they play one or two videos a day. Nor would we want to, really. We just needed some kind of engine so people would take notice.”

Not surprisingly, the idea worked. Within days of uploading it to You Tube, they had managed to build themselves a nice little online phenomenon. Of course building hit counts is one thing, translating those counts into meaningful buzz for a band is another. “I’ll admit it took some time after the video first hit for people to realize there was a song behind it. But eventually they did.” And once that happened, Feder and his band mates began shedding the anonymity of being just another NYC band. “We had been together for almost six years. And until the video came out, we had no attention whatsoever, “ admits Maschmeyer. Continues Feder, “Fortunately, it pretty much immediately lead to exactly the kind of attention we were aiming to get. Our online retail went up, and our MySpace started getting more hits than we ever received before.”

All the attention also paved the road for better shows, (including a Super Bowl Sunday show at the Mercury Lounge that managed to drag hundreds away from their TVs) not to mention calls from record labels. “I never would have dreamt that the video would lead to the kind of industry connections we have now made”, explains Feder. “It has been a weird little glimpse into how this industry works. All we had to do was pull off this one little trick and we’re in. We were no different the week before we filmed the video.”

Finally, Feder’s fierce frustration began to make a turn towards understanding, as some of those pesky blogs and music sources began to perk their proverbial ears up as well. “Prior to all this, I was a bit put back by a lot of the blogs. I would see tons of posts about whatever band, but never anything too new. I mean, why not write about more bands? But the funny thing is, we have now managed to meet some of the people behind these websites, and most of them are just one dude. And usually they are a cool dude, who really loves music, and for whatever reason, their sites caught on, and now an entire city relies on them for the information they spit out. It’s kind of a crazy.”

Of course, The XYZ Affair know there is still plenty of work to do in order to completely break out. They still all have full-time jobs, and have never really attempted anything other than a long weekend tour. But the success they are now enjoying has ignited a vital vigor in them to continue their upward trajectory. The band would like to line up some extensive dates this spring, and are already thinking about album number two. Plus, Feder still has one major critic to impress. “We like making hooky music with big guitars, and huge solos. We like the quirky stuff, we like the poppy stuff, and we like the way over the top stuff. We like our songs, our girlfriends like our songs (Adds Rockwell, “Our moms like our songs”)…I just have anxiety dreams about Pitchfork giving us a 4. I mean, for a band at our level, where no one has yet to really form an “official” opinion, they could totally crush us. You saw what they did to Travis Morrison right? The Dismemberment Plan was this beloved band, and they totally ripped his solo album…and everyone stopped coming out to his shows.”

Easy Alex…If last evening’s opening slot performance at the Bowery was any indication, this power pop band is well on their way to writing a new chapter in their long and battled history. Expect a headlining kind of conclusion from The XYZ Affair….”official” opinions be damned.



 
 

“For awhile, we actually used to call ourselves New York’s least favorite band.”


The XYZ Affair
"A Few More Published Studies"


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what it is

Power Pop for a new era