Back in 2014, keyboardist Ryan Neighbors left his full-time gig with acclaimed indie act Portugal. The Man to pursue his on creative pursuits — namely, his latest electro pop project Hustle and Drone with collaborator Andy Black. With the release of that year’s debut Holyland, the duo built up a profile across the Pacific Northwest, eventually playing the region’s major venues and selling them out. Building upon a growing profile, the band toured across Europe.
Once the dust settled, the duo returned to woodshedding material, confident that they’d craft a competent and worthy follow-up. As the story goes, Neighbors and Black wrote material and flew out their producer Sonny DiPerri to Portland to dig into what they had just finished. DiPerri’s response wasn’t what the duo was prepared to hear. “He asked, If you didn’t write this, would you listen to it?” Neighbors recalls in press notes. “We thought he was flying out to Portland for us to put the finishing touches on our record, but then he told us we needed to start from the beginning. I was pissed.”
As it turned out, DiPerri felt that the material the duo had worked on was inauthentic and that it didn’t mirror the pain and the dark places he saw in Neighbors’ and Black’s life. So he pushed them to identity and dig deeper into something much more representative of where the duo actually was at the time. “He knows me well, so he was also well aware that I wasn’t really in a happy place and had been struggling with depression,” explains Neighbors. “He wanted those feelings to bleed out through the songs; we aren’t trying to be a fun dance band.”
Neighbors and Black started over from scratch, learning new synths and software and dug into new sample libraries. The tough love DiPerri gave them began to yield a dark and cathartic collection of songs, which after more refining and polishing would eventually become their forthcoming sophomore album What An Uproar, an effort that was finished in the remote town of Talkeetna, AK. The solitude of the town, contributed heavily to the focus with which the band took on the finishing touches of the record.
With Holyland, Neighbors and a former writing partner “would kind of operate in a ‘well that’s pretty cool’ type of recording process,” Neighbors recalls. “With Uproar we would say ‘well that’s pretty cool, how can we make it better. Okay, we just made it better; how can we make it perfect? It was a huge change in approach.”
“Uproar isn’t as accessible to the average listener as Holyland, but it is the record we wanted to make, and it is a true expression of where we are as artists,” Neighbors explains in press notes. “The atmosphere of What An Uproar is a direct result of us freeing ourselves to make the music we truly wanted to make, not necessarily the music that was expected from us,” Black adds. “If we found ourselves wading into waters that felt vulnerable and uncomfortable, then we knew we were being honest and on the right track. The vulnerability in trying to be as authentic as possible is always scary but being honest and upfront was what we wanted to accomplish.”
Sonically and stylistically, What An Uproar is a departure from the duo’s debut effort, which was a dance floor friendly batch of material. The soon-to-be released sophomore album is centered around Neighbors’ introspective lyrics about anxiety, depression, alcohol abuse and broken relationships — while sonically, the material reportedly recalls Joy Division, Nine Inch Nails and The Faint. “I have always hid behind vocal effects and vague lyrics to mask what the songs are really about,” Neighbors explains. “Not this time. A lot of the lyrical content is about anxiety and depression. Too much boozing and a broken relationship. For a long time I wasn’t trying to feel better and just accentuating what I was going through. I wrote all of these songs while I was still sitting in that dark place.”
“Stranger,” What An Uproar‘s latest single is centered around thumping, industrial-like beats, shimmering synth arpeggios, Neighbors plaintive vocals and a dance floor friendly hook — but interestingly, the track recalls Violator-era Depeche Mode and The Postal Service, while being full of slow-burning dread and anxiety.