Hysterics
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Hysterics

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On a sweaty afternoon in mid-September, three days into the new school year, 16-year-old Oliver Ignatius and 15-year-old Josh Barocas were holding court in the St. Ann's School's well-worn student center, surrounded by a gaggle of friends with adventurous-sounding names like Zeke and Milo. They were sprawled about in languid, teenagery lumps, their worn jeans and T-shirts blending into the ragged sofas and general dimness of the room since no one had bothered to turn on the light. On one graffiti'd wall, a clock sketched in fat black marker was permanently set to the stoner's witching hour of 4:20.
In fact, it was shortly after 5:00 p.m., and most of the other students of Brooklyn's premier artsy-angsty prep school had already departed for their afternoon regimen of sports, tutors or African dance lessons. On most other days, Josh and Oliver would probably have been long gone, too. But instead they'd agreed to chat with a reporter about their much-hyped rock band, Hysterics, since, as they explained, they had recently decided that maybe "exposure" wasn't such a bad thing.

"Well, first of all, if you do an article, you should just like remember there's no 'the' in our name," said the band's hyperkinetic lead singer and songwriter, Oliver, speed-speaking through a pair of chipped front teeth. "We just made that big conscious decision that our name is 'Hysterics' and not 'the Hysterics,' because there was this big stream of bands which were like 'The Strokes' and whatever, and we just decided we had no interest being a part of that shit. So we're Hysterics."

Josh gave his guitar a strum (he was holding a guitar, of course) and then, looking momentarily perplexed, added: "Yeah--how'd it happen again?"

"Charlie saw it on a shirt and decided it was our name," Oliver said, referring to the band's lead guitarist, Charlie Klarsfeld, who was away at his boarding school in Vermont; Geoff Turbeville, the band's drummer, was busy in Manhattan. "[Before that,] we also had a few others [names] we'd been thinking of ... like the Clap. We thought that was funny. And we were the Noise for like a month. But we were never the Funk. We're not funky enough," he concluded, unleashing a round of laughs from the assembled crowd.

Laydees and gents, boys and, oh yes, girls, girls, girls: This is Hysterics (or, at least, two-fourths of Hysterics), a Brooklyn-born, St. Ann's-bred group of rockers-in-training who have been crooning their way to the hearts and iPods of young New York alternateens.

The bandmates are just teenagers, a quartet of skinny sophomores and juniors who are still too young to vote or to drink in the New York nightclubs where they play most of their concerts. But in just 18 months, they have already gone further and gotten luckier than many older bands (whose members have facial hair and driver's licenses) get in several years. They have landed a feature story on MTV, attracted a small but avid harem of Internet groupies and even caught the hungry, roving eyes of major-league record labels like Sony and Epic. Now they're entering the giddy final phase of recording their first CD--a compilation of songs with titles like "Radical Chic," "Potato Famine" and "Uptight Staircase--which they plan to finish within the next two months.

"Obviously, for their age, they're extraordinary," said Ron Shapiro, a talent manager and former president of Atlantic Records who began advising the band informally after his son, a 13-year-old Horace Mann student, introduced him to their music. "Of course, there's development to be done. But what Oliver is writing, and how they play as a unit and how Charlie plays onstage--there's a lot of future for this band."

Together, the four Hysterics are a precocious posse, simmering with a barely pent-up musical obsession and a combined 30 or so years of instrument-twanging between them. Oliver alone began plinking on the piano at age 5, taught himself guitar at 8, and has been scratching out Lester Bangs-inspired music reviews on Amazon.com since he was 12. ("Brothers and sisters, there's a new sound rattling the streets of our beloved city. It's the sound of punk-funk revolution, returning the indie crowd to the glory days of John Lydon's Public Image Ltd. and Nick Cave's The Birthday Party," he proclaimed in a review of the band Liars' debut album.)

But the story of Hysterics, with its heady highs and early successes, is not just about the dazzle of young talent. That's certainly part of it. But it is also about time and place, era and access--or, more precisely, about growing up in New York's fast sophisti-kid culture during the do-it-yourself era of iTunes and music blogs. After all, at what other time would a group of baby-faced boys have been able to record demo-tracks in their bedrooms, throw them onto the Internet and then coast their way to MTV on a sea of viral buzz--all before giving their first concert? And in what other city would these same boys have grown up - The New York Observer / October 10th, 2005


This is how the Internet was supposed to help music: last year, J. P. Connolly, a science teacher in Brooklyn, heard a song by one of his students, a rail-thin 15-year-old named Oliver Ignatius, who is the lead singer for a band called the Hysterics. Mr. Connolly, who had bonded with his student over independent music, loved Mr. Ignatius's song and posted it on Music for Robots, an influential blog he helps run.
That's where Joseph Patel, an MTV News producer and regular reader of the blog, heard the song. He also loved it, and decided to put the Hysterics on the air, despite the fact that they had done little more than practice in drummer Geoff Turbeville's parents' bedroom. After the segment was broadcast on MTV, Music for Robots (www.music.for-robots.com) found itself with a new audience: teenage girls, who had come to declare their love for the Hysterics. The band is now in talks with a major label.

And now Mr. Connolly and his Music for Robots peers are attempting a coup of their own. The blog recently released a compilation CD, Music for Robots Vol. 1, which features 19 unsigned and independent-label bands, including the Hysterics. The release represents a break from the way most music blogs operate; typically, blogs of this genre feature enthusiastic testimonials about bands and free downloads of the bands' songs, but no songs for sale.

"The fan base we've managed to build up - a lot of them know that what we're trying to get them to buy is something good," says Blair Carswell, one of the Music for Robots contributors.

The blog started out simply as a way for eight friends, most of whom met at Bates College in Lewiston, Me., to tell each other about music they liked. As readership increased, more bands started sending the group music to post on the site.

"It's this great way for bands who aren't going to get on the radio to get exposure," says Mr. Carswell.

Only a handful of music blogs, with names like Fluxblog, Stereogum and Largehearted Boy, have any influence, but even those still have a long way to go to fundamentally alter the landscape of the music industry. Many labels view blogs as little more than potential providers of free publicity; even a blog like Music for Robots, which gets about 8,000 unique visitors a day, is little more than a blip on the radar of major labels.

But blogs are acting as incubators for new talent like the Hysterics. It's doubtful that MTV would have discovered the band as quickly otherwise.

"It sounded like really moody, old-school pop music - the kind of thing that a lot of bands aim for but never get quite right," said Mr. Patel about the Hysterics. "You don't see that from many adult bands, let alone teenagers in Brooklyn."

Many bloggers who post songs can find themselves in ambiguous legal territory, even when they have the permission of bands or labels. And some more-established bands have not embraced blogs, in the fear that they will hurt sales. The Decemberists, a popular independent band from Portland, Ore., recently complained that much of its new album had been posted on blogs before the album was released, and implored bloggers to take the songs down.

One difference between peer-to-peer networks and blogs is that while the former depends on anonymity, the latter fosters a sense of community. Most bloggers exhort readers to buy the CD's of bands they like, and their enthusiastic posts can bring prominence to bands that otherwise might not get much attention.

"Music for Robots has the credibility of a very hip record store," says Glenn Peoples, who runs a popular music blog called Coolfer. Good music blogs, he said, let consumers get the word out about bands that are legitimately good.

As a business venture, the compilation CD is not a threat to the music business yet. Music for Robots created 1,000 CD's, but only around 150 have sold in the two weeks they have been available. Because music fans have come to expect to hear bloggers' favorite bands free, the people behind Music for Robots know they're taking a risk by charging $10 for an actual CD.

For labels, blogs can be fertile testing grounds. Adam Shore, label manager at Vice Records, said he fell in love with the Norwegian pop star Annie, who was at the time unknown in the United States, but was skittish about putting out her album until he saw the positive word of mouth it was receiving on blogs, as well as on the online music magazine Pitchfork.

"Then I knew it wasn't just me - that there was this whole community of people who feel the way I do," says Mr. Shore. "It made me feel more comfortable moving forward. Blogs are this amazing resource for us."

But the most significant force to emerge for unknown bands, in fact, has nothing to do with the Internet. Starbucks, the coffee retailer, has begun selling CD's in its stores, and the experiment has proved a success. The company recently plucked a band called Antigone Rising from relative obscurity, cutting a d - The New York Times / June 8th, 2005


Discography

Hysterics (self-titled) available at www.cdbaby.com
EP of new material pending

Photos

Bio

Hysterics rode a scaly backed serpentine beast from the briny deep of the Mediterranean to the fervid grounds of Brooklyn. Having fused souls in a secret operation performed by the giants, they now seek a balance between opulent harmony laden perfection and driving Motown four piece soul.