New Jersey's YJY blends their unique brand of fuzz pop into the DIY community
YJY | photo by Jill Hendershott | courtesy of the band

Philadelphia may have an amazing music scene, but there’s an entirely different world across the pond in New Jersey. One of the megacenters of NJ’s music scene is the northern town of New Brunswick, although that’s nothing new – legendary shows have been going down there since the mid-20th century.

Countless bands, such as Thursday, Screaming Females, The Gaslight Anthem, Streetlight Manifesto, and even bigger rock acts like The Smithereens and Bon Jovi, got their start underground in crowded suburban basements. Later, they moved on to more official venues like the Court Tavern and the Starland Ballroom, which accelerated their fame. New Brunswick’s scene is apparently so well-known that it has its own Wikipedia article. You can explore that on your own time.

While those bands have risen to national prominence and beyond the tight-knit scene of New Brunswick, a new generation of underground bands is filling in the gaps at a record pace. One of these bands is fuzz pop four-piece YJY. I was lucky enough to listen to their stellar debut EP, COUCH SURFIN USA, and catch them just after the EP release show.

The EP is a lively effort that draws upon the touchstones of rock, from the Beach Boys to My Bloody Valentine to Real Estate, all with YJY’s distinct NJ twist. It was released just over two weeks ago, and the band is riding high on all the positive vibes they’ve received regarding the release.

“It was by far the most fun I’ve ever had playing,” said drummer Dave Sachs. “A lot of folks sang along, and a lot of people we knew really showed up in droves.”

“The difference between playing to people who have only heard demos and playing to people who have listened to your record and sing along to your songs is tremendous. I’m hoping that the type of enthusiasm we generated at that show will continue… it felt like a collaborative experience,” said guitarist/vocalist Steve Sachs.

The EP opens with the peppy title track, which can easily draw comparisons to newer Wavves material. Steve Sachs yells about driving cross-country and bringing someone important along for the ride as guitars wail along in the background. It’s a track designed for those close-quarters basement shows, where fans can scream “COUCH SURFIN’ USA! WOAH! WOAH!” into his mic.

The catchy choruses carry over into the next track, punk rock stomper “Do You Love Me.” Dave Sachs taps his way through a  Hüsker Dü beat as power chord changes speed by. His brother squeaks “Do you love me?”, which sounds lighthearted and nerdy at the beginning. By the end of the song, however, amidst whirling feedback, he’s screaming it. “I don’t have all night, so make up your mind!” he shouts, voicing that impatience and undeniable intrigue we get when crushing on someone new.

I always love when bands share lead vocal duties. Having two different voices almost splits a band’s personality in two – you’ll feel different emotions when listening to each vocalist. When I hear Sachs’ voice, it gets me energized and feeling punky and rebellious.

Guitarist/vocalist Ricky Lorenzo leads “Surreal”, which tones things down a bit – when I hear his voice, I feel more chilled out and relaxed. This track also features some sweet harmonies in the background. I love the two vocal attitudes of this band, and I can’t wait to see what they do with that perspective in the future.

“Oh shit, I think I lost your number/That’s one more thing I can’t remember,” Sachs laments on “Missed Connections” over mean, buzzing guitar and bassist Tim Fitzpatrick’s humming lines . This zany tale is YJY firing on all cylinders – I really think the best of each member’s talent can be heard here.

My personal favorite track is the final song, “Amelia.”  Lorenzo’s voice mumbles beneath whammy-happy shoegaze. It’s reminiscent of a hangover haze, but drags its feet along with finesse. It just goes to show that YJY loves cutting the dotted line of genres and folding the corners into something completely new.

YJY is all about being different than their peers – they don’t want a typical name for their band, and they don’t want to be pushed into a category. “I don’t want us to get pigeon-holed into one thing,” Steve Sachs says. “I’d like to be able to say we can do this type of song, or this type of song, and we can blend them and make you forget that it’s one thing or the other. We want to dip our brush in one palette, and mix it with others.”

This is exemplified in YJY’s music video for “Through Being Hip”, which they created for the NPR Tiny Desk Concert submissions. The song is a sarcastic shot at the “hipster” culture that’s now full on mainstream. Steve Sachs saw some stuffy hipster kids in a consignment shop and thought, “When thrift stores are no longer cool, what trend will these kids move on to next?” That’s when the song idea was born.

“Our goal wasn’t to win the contest,” Lorenzo says. “My main goal was to get on the Tiny Desk contest blog, because they put their favorite artists on there. So I thought, maybe we can show up on there at least, and that’ll probably interest some people in our music.”

Sure enough, NPR liked their entry so much that they added it to their “favorite entries” blog post, and that became the band’s first big press break. They’ve since received coverage on New Jersey-based music sites, such as You Don’t Know Jersey and Cool Dad Music.

The band has found a home in the bustling New Brunswick scene, mostly in the welcoming arms of basement venues. Some of their favorite venues are Paradise Lost, The Candy Barrel, The Banana Stand, and a studio called In the West, where they held the record release.

YJY does more than play music, too – they do their best to give back to the NJ DIY community. One way they give back is by hosting their own web series, Carriage House TV. The series puts up-and-coming area bands in the spotlight. The members of YJY and a few of their friends sit down and interview the bands and create their own stripped-down, “Tiny Desk”-style sessions.

The band’s straightforward attitude towards their music and the community is commendable. But there’s one thing that still remains mysterious – What the heck does YJY mean? I couldn’t resist asking the band, and I’m glad I did, because the story is a good one.

“If you look at the letters ‘YJY’ when they’re all in caps, it becomes a face,” Dave Sachs says. “The J is the nose, and the tops of the Y’s are like eyes looking down and crying. We bounced a couple names around, but then we figured that it would be cooler to have an image rather than a name.” The brothers share a love for finding faces in everyday objects, and YJY was just one of the many hidden faces they found.

The best thing about music is that it’s always evolving. Scenes go through changes that reflect the generations surrounding them. The guys of YJY are the new faces of New Brunswick’s scene, and they’re ready to take on that task. For them, it isn’t about genres or keeping up with trends – it’s about music, pure and simple, and the people that cultivate it.  When you’re through being hip, grab your couch and surf off into the sunset with YJY.

COUCH SURFIN USA is now available on CD and cassette via Sniffling Indie Kids. You can catch the band at Asbury Lanes on August 2nd. Tickets here.

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