TWENTY-SOMETHINGS are packed into a sweaty, dark basement of a Philadelphia apartment building. Chintzy wires snake across the concrete floor, from an overworked outlet to amplifiers the size of small refrigerators. A guitarist twists the knobs on his instrument, looking for the right sound, only to have it swallowed whole by the fake wood panel walls.
The scene stirs memories of decades past. While it might be easier, in today’s music world, to make it big by starting a YouTube channel, uploading your tracks on SoundCloud or auditioning for America’s Got Talent, a new movement, with roots in Philadelphia, is combining modern technology with the halcyon days of rock and roll to create, perform and promote new music.
“I started going to these ‘house shows’ that I heard so much about,” freelance writer Amanda Silberling wrote on the website Rock On Philly. “I imagined suburban living rooms, only to find row house basements… Over time, I was introduced to a wide array of talented musicians who were right under my nose all along.”
One of those talented musicians is Jackson Mansfield ’20, who partnered with high school friend Nick Bairatchnyi to form The Obsessives, an amalgamation of emo, indie and pop rock that found footing in those Philly basements.
The duo grew up near Washington, D.C., befriending each other through the School of Rock afterschool program. They formed The Obsessives in 2012, and began playing small local shows in and around Mansfield’s hometown of Bethesda, Maryland.
“We were constantly writing songs and booking any show we could get,” Mansfield said. “We blend really well together and play a good live set and, eventually, people started to notice us.”
Their growing popularity inspired them to take a gap year after high school to immerse themselves in what is known as the D.I.Y. scene. Rather than signing with a record label or hiring a manager, bands write, produce and record music, book their own shows, design their own merchandise and run their own social media accounts.
For The Obsessives, D.I.Y. meant a nationwide tour in a minivan for 40 days, playing in makeshift venues in front of crowds ranging from five to 50. Gigs were set up through friends and other musicians.
“We’d hear from a guy in Denver in the D.I.Y. community who wanted us to play a basement show for 10 people, and he’d let everyone crash at his house. That’s how we made our way across the country,” Mansfield said.
This spring, The Obsessives are headed on another tour, though their transportation and lodging will be getting an upgrade. The duo will be opening for Modern Baseball, a headlining band from Philadelphia’s D.I.Y. scene that is currently selling out shows around the world. The Obsessives will play 30 shows around the country, kicking off March 17 in Huntington, New York.
This will require Mansfield to take a leave of absence from Conn, a development, he said, that went smoother
“Not even a week after I moved into Conn, the first call I made to my parents was to tell them I was taking a semester off. I think they were expecting a call about how I was getting along with my roommate,” Mansfield recalled.
“But they’ve been extremely supportive the whole time. They know this is a dream and a passion, and we take it seriously.”
The tour will coincide with the release of the band’s still untitled new album, their foray into a pop rock sound inspired by bands like The Cure, The Killers and The Strokes. Mansfield said the sound of the album—out this March on the independent Lame-O Records—will stray from their previous music that includes some blues-rock (think The White Stripes) and even mid-2000s emo inspiration (think Taking Back Sunday or Brand New.)
In December 2016, the band released an EP of seven new songs called A Great Menace Weighs Over the City. “Wrote and recorded this baby for straight kicks this August before leaving for college,” Mansfield is quoted in an online review that says the release “whets the appetite for next year’s full-length, while crafting a place of its own making.”
The Obsessives have a cult following that will undoubtedly grow during the upcoming tour, but the group is setting its sights higher than online releases and college radio stations. They already have unreleased songs they plan to demo for future albums, including one they plan to record this summer following the tour.
“We’re definitely trying to talk to major labels and get some songs on the radio. We’re looking big.”
Visit theobsessives.bandcamp.com for tour dates and to listen to A Great Menace Weighs Over the City.