Profile: Getting to Know Brooklyn’s Animal Years

Getting to Know Brooklyn’s Animal Years, by Natalie Hamingson

I was introduced to Animal Years this past June, during their standout set at New Music Seminar. Intrigued by their tight, dance-inducing live show, I wanted to learn more about this Brooklyn Americana rock act. While much analysis has been published of this young band’s “indie roots,” guitar driven sound, I was still curious about how the whole act came together. So a few weeks after New Music Seminar, I caught up with the band myself to find out the story of how it all started with bassist Anthony Saladino, vocalist/guitarist Mike McFadden, and drummer Anthony Spinnato, along with where the band is going, and all the fun they have had in between.

Photo Credit: Spencer Kohn
Photo Credit: Spencer Kohn
Photo Credit: Spencer Kohn
Photo Credit: Spencer Kohn
Photo Credit: Spencer Kohn
Photo Credit: Spencer Kohn

Like many musicians before them, Animal Years are New York transplants, by way of Baltimore. Since landing in Brooklyn two years ago, the relocation has paid off in easily measurable ways. They have earned spots on several major festival bills, featured tracks on major television shows like the CW’s Beauty and the Beast, and earned a considerable amount of praise from both critics and audiences. It’s a vastly different reception to what was happening in Baltimore.

(Caption: Animal Years’ ““Forget What They’re Telling You”” on CW’s Beauty and the Beast.)

McFadden, who has been writing and recording as a solo artist since the age of 18, describes his place in the Baltimore scene versus in New York. “Baltimore is great for certain genres of music, but I wasn’t having any success there. Very, very specific genres thrive there, and what I was doing just wasn’t one of them. But the minute I moved to New York and people started hearing this music, it was a whole different reaction. Songs that I put out on a record five years ago, people love here.”

McFadden’s decision to leave Baltimore and pursue music full time was sparked by the first sign that success could be possible, when he sold his first song, “I’ll Find My Way.” The prolific songwriter already had most of Animal Years’ debut album, Sun Will Rise, recorded by the time he got to New York, and decided he was done playing alone. He linked up with Saladino, a buddy from college, and Spinnato, another Baltimore native, and the group has been having a blast together ever since.

Saladino and Spinnato admit they originally thought Animal Years would just be McFadden’s backing band, and they’re still happy to be in a mostly supportive role, quickly praising their frontman for doing the bulk of the writing. But McFadden is just as glad to have the two Anthonys on arrangements, describing his experience with Animal Years as an especially cool collaborative experience.

While McFadden may be playing much of the same music that he was in Baltimore, he’s also approaching his art with a greater work ethic, driven largely by New York’s competitive atmosphere. “There’s no slacking off here, as far as music. If you’re going to half ass it like I was doing in Baltimore, you’re going to get chewed up and spit out.” Slacking off is certainly not something you can accuse this group of in 2015, as they have been hustling like mad through the major festival circuit, including an eight show run in ten days at this year’s South By Southwest.

(Apparently finding lodging for the behemoth Austin festival is as difficult for some bands as it is for audience members, since Animal Years spent the whole time camping in individual tents in a friend’s backyard.)

The band’s growing audience seems largely attracted by McFadden’s universally appealing lyrics. With themes of love and loss omnipresent, McFadden’s anthems are often cited as easily relatable, including by his own bandmates.

Spinnato beams about his friend and colleague’s work. “It’s very natural and relevant to people. Mike’s stuff can be about one person specifically, but it relates to a lot of different things. I think it’s great shit, and I love playing it.”

McFadden definitely welcomes the notes. He says, “I love feedback. I don’t get people who don’t want to hear and read every review. Tell me what you think about it. I love that, that’s why I’m doing this. People will come up and talk about a certain lyric, and I appreciate that because it kind of brings me back [to writing the song].” He recalls one memory that especially stands out of a fan who confessed he was eased through a break up with the help of “Rapture,” which opens, Tell me how your life, just fades in time/Whisper as we pass the five and dime/If you were still around, you could read my mind.

(Caption: Footage of Animal Years performing “Rapture”)

Fans will have new opportunities to connect with McFadden’s lyrics in the near future, as a new album is due out some time this fall. In addition to more accessible tracks, McFadden promises a sound that’s fun and “a little more poppy.” Saladino also assures there will be bigger hooks, and Spinnato, who engineered the record, is excited about the higher quality overall, as he says they’ve “attacked it with a lot more focus on hi-fidelity recording.”

In the meantime, the band just put out a little something to hold fans over, a cover of Haim’s “The Wire.” New York fans can also catch them at Rockwood Music Hall on August 28 at Downtown Comes Uptown.

(Caption: Animal Years’ cover of Haim’s “The Wire” has received quite a bit of attention.)

(Caption: Haim’s “The Wire.”)

As the band looks toward a seemingly bright future, their approach is just to keep moving forward as they have been. As Saladino puts it, “We’re going to throw [the music] at the wall and see what sticks.”

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Natalie Hamingson’s bio:  I am a freelance writer with over nine years of experience writing for online media, primarily journalistic. My expertise is in music journalism, especially feature artist interviews. (Outlets published on include: Music for America, LA2DAY, Covers, Chicks with Guns, my own blog, http://nataliejill.wordpress.com, and BlvdCentral.com.) I am, however, very flexible in my ability to write about multiple subjects.

My second most covered topics are political and social issues. Those issues frequently appear in my music related articles, as I often cover artists with social justice focused messages.In addition, my background includes freelance marketing work, such as social media/viral marketing, blog and website content, and press releases for artists and non-profits. I also have extensive editing and proofreading experience.

For samples visit my portfolio: http://www.clippings.me/nataliehamingson, and blog: https://nataliejill.wordpress.com.

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