Astoria Boulevard – one the most popular indie folk/pop acts in the New York City circuit – was never meant to be a band. It happened by chance. Founding members Dan Scott and Phillip Drennen, who met while on the national tour of Altar Boyz – a mockumentary musical of sorts – passed the time between shows by fooling around with a ukulele and writing music. By the time they got back to New York, they had enough solid songs ready for to be recorded.
“We played them for the cast and they thought we had something special going,” said Drennen. “We immediately got ourselves into a recording studio and self-produced a five song EP entitled ‘One of These Days.’ Our friends seemed to respond very positively to our music, so we put together an EP release party.”
Before they could perform their songs for the first time with a full band, they needed someone who knew his way around the acoustic guitar while adding a third part harmony. Through cosmic intervention, they both knew the right man for the job. Max Demers went to high school with Drennen. They sang in several groups together and later met Scott singing in the “Voices of Gotham,” a New York City barbershop quartet. He also turned out to be a great songwriter, according to his band mates.
While the introspective storytelling, feel-good songwriting and unsuspecting old-school vibes are core strengths of the band, their ability to “hook-up” during moving harmonies gives Astoria Boulevard a decisive edge. When listening to their first full-length album, “This is Astoria Boulevard” listeners will hear that no one part is greater than the whole. For a band comprised of 20-somethings, it’s the vocals that are mature beyond their years.
“All three of us started harmonizing at a young age,” said Drennen. “Much like dancing or painting, there is a natural skill that people are born with, but if it’s nurtured at an earlier age, it becomes second nature. . . The only way to keep our harmonies tight is to listen to each other. Before shows, we sing through songs just to listen and lock chords, even songs we’ve been singing for a couple years. That being said, we knew there was quite a strong chemistry between the three of us from the first time we sang together.”
Like other emerging Queens artists, the band members are supportive of the local scene citing other acts like Aaron Lavigne, The Yes Team and Mat Snow.
“[The Queens music scene] is up and coming at the moment,” said Scott. “There are many great bands and singers and songwriters just waiting to be discovered.”
“When we first started out, we played an open mic night at Waltz Astoria,” Drennen continued. “It’s a great place for emerging artists to try out materials and get comfortable in front of an audience. It’s a gracious crowd.”
After playing more and more shows, the gracious crowd is beginning to reciprocate the love the band feels for their audience by singing along to songs like “Just So You Know” – the first song they wrote together and “Pappy Van Winkle” – a staple at their live shows and self-professed buddy-drinking anthem.
“The ultimate goal of any artist is to have some sort of impact on people’s lives and give them an outlet to deal with the emotions they’re feeling, be it good or bad,” said Drennen. “Early on, a friend of mine posted “Just so you know, I like my coffee black” (a line from “Just So You Know”) on his Facebook status and I got major butterflies in my stomach. It’s very rewarding to hear people say “I know how you feel,” or “Did you write that song about me?” It means we’re able to take something specific and make it accessible for the general public.”
With bands like The Shins, The Avett Brothers, The Decembrists and Mumford and Sons bringing folk rock back to the forefront of the music scene, the timing could not be more perfect for Astoria Boulevard to make their mark. Currently, they are focusing on playing live shows in New York City with aspirations of branching out to other cities like Philadelphia and Boston. Like their laid back album, the band is taking things as they come and is grateful to be invited to play venues and events.
Their music is available on iTunes and on their website www.astoria-boulevard.com. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter to learn about upcoming gigs. For a band that almost never was, they are certainly happy to have a fan base that gets their music and feels the universal themes in their songs.
“Our goal for every show we play, every song we write is never to say, ‘look how cool we are, look how high we can sing, look how trendy our clothes are.’ It’s to say music should be fun, stories should be told, and as humans, our basic emotions are all the same. . . Maybe we won’t change the world with our music or solve your problems, but I bet you’d forget about them if you came to our show. And I’m sure you’d be smiling,” said Drennen.