Two women, gobbed to life in school bus-yellow paint, stare out from the canvas. Their eyes are pinched, their cheekbones knobbed, and their teeth sharpened to letters that smile a terse “Why Not.”
Whatever artistic intent Isaac Dell’s mother had with her painting is anyone’s guess. The words could function as either a dare or a warning. But her 16-year-old son and his bandmates found some inspiration in the piece, and they named their band after her skinny lettering.
“When we were recording our very first demo in the basement, the painting was in the stairwell,” Isaac Dell remembers. “We just looked up and saw it staring at us.”
And so Why Not was christened. A band name picked with no second thought to marketing or Googleability. Blunt enough to mean nothing and anything at the same time. A little snot-nosed, a little capricious, and the perfect emblem for a band of teenagers piecing together their ethos as they go.
“It finds a way to be underlyingly cohesive,” Dell says. “We just have this need to be unique and keep experimenting.”
Why Not didn’t become a band to create a platform for some grand, concerted thesis. Their only motivation was the youthful instinct to do something energetic with their minds and bodies while they’re still vital.
Initially, singer/bassist Henry Breen (15) wanted to start a progressive metal band. He reached out to drummer and longtime friend Joshua MacGregor (16). They wrote one song, which Breen condemns as “shit... so bad,” before a basement show featuring the Happy Children turned them on to a new direction. They quickly recruited Dell and pivoted toward the freak folk/math rock hybrid they are today.
Why Not and the Happy Children share a lot of fraternal elements—their songs are percussion-driven and Breen’s vocals sometimes crawl down into the growling register of Happy Children singer Caleb Hinz’s. That’s probably not a coincidence: Hinz is MacGregor’s brother. But Why Not have been cautious to separate themselves from the jaunty jam band that inspired them and gave them their first opening gigs.
“We were all very influenced by the Happy Children,” Breen says. “There was initially a little panic in the back of my mind that we’d sound too much like them, but once we started working on the recording, that kind of faded away.”
Their rambunctious debut LP, Friends, is given life by MacGregor’s tumbling grooves, Dell’s indulgent riffing, and Breen’s vocal tantrums. The album repeatedly crashes through genres in its 10-song run. On “Waste My Time,” Why Not sound like Pavement colliding with Minus the Bear. On “Fall Apart,” it’s all wah and Trey Anastasio-style note bending.
There’s something risky about releasing such a raw debut. Older bands often anguish over their first impressions, putting out strings of EPs and singles before mustering up the wherewithal to go for an LP. Why Not decided to thud onto the scene with a smattering of songs that are daring and untethered from each other.
“We’re a young band, and we don’t have the resources to rent a nice studio and hang out,” Dell explains. “We decided to see the value in just getting something out there.”
Friends was recorded mostly at the Garage and entirely for free. The recording process opened Why Not to a “fuck it, let’s do it,” attitude, and the LP’s thirst for experimentation makes it a galvanizing listen. Its energy is candid, its whimsy is virtuous, and its distaste for convention is enough to jolt even the stodgiest geezer.
Friends is an album than can only exist now. As the members of Why Not grow and distort into college and adulthood, their tastes will change. Their skills will transform. They’ll sing about new people and the way they ruin their lives. But Friends will remain a permanent record of where they were when things were as simple as looking up the stairwell and deciding who you were.
“It’s very much a look into where we were at the time of making it,” Dell says of Friends. “A lot of our new songs that you won’t hear on that album are quite different, a little more complex. I think that this album is really kind of a look into the beginnings of us as a band. That’s more in the context than the content.”
“That’s part of the incohesiveness of it,” Breen says, adding that he found his confidence as a singer through writing songs like “Deme/\/tia” and “Guided Meditation.” “It’s us learning how to write better songs and knowing the kind of sound we want. As we were writing those songs, it was being figured out. The recordings are the polished versions, but they’re a reflection of the time it took to get there.”
The most deliberate aspect of the record is its name. Though Dell admits he was initially just drawn to the sound of the word, Friends has come to take on a dual meaning. It’s a reflection of how the three band members have come together, but it’s also a thank-you to the supporters without whom Why Not would never have left Dell’s basement.
“We owe it to our friends to put them in,” MacGregor says reverently. “Whenever we listen to this album, we’ll be thinking of them.”
With: Gramma, Gather Data Pray For Death
Where: The Cabooze
When: 6 p.m. Wed. Dec. 20