Tired of playing in bands where his ideas were ignored, Will rounded up three friends he knew growing up — Dave, Dennis, and Mike.
“Mike and I were in a band, and we were writing songs for the band and at one point the main songwriter was like, ‘we’ll get to your songs eventually,'” Will recalled. “I knew all these guys from separate places and always kept my eye on them One day I just called them up out of frustration and was like, ‘Listen, let’s do this.'”
With that, the Realistics were born.
“We got together and within two hours we wrote about three songs, one of which is still a staple of our set — ‘Should’ve Known,'” Will continued. “It just seemed right. It’s like the old Schlitz [beer] logo, ‘When it’s right, you know it.'”
Touring and writing songs over the past three and a half years (the Strokes used to open for them back in the day), they released their first album, Real People Are Overrated, last year on Tiswas Records and are currently selling a “limited edition” EP through their site. With scatterbrained keyboards, pounding guitars and vocals slipping gleefully in and out of falsetto, theirs is a dizzying brand of New Wave.
Initially garnering comparisons to The Jam and Elvis Costello, their newer music shows them developing a sound that’s totally their own.
“We finalized three songs today at soundcheck that we’re going to be putting on the next record,” Dennis told me when I met the band before their October 25 show at The Space in New York City. “The next record is going to be so fucking good. We all looked at each other today after writing this new batch of songs and we were like this is really good.”
“And we said, ‘What’s your name again?'” Mike quipped.
“Every time we think we’ve got it right, we get it right again,” Dennis said. “We just keep going, and we’re really proud right now because we’ve been really concentrating on songs.”
“We keep dropping songs from the set for better ones because we keep writing better ones,” Mike added.
The dynamism of their album and EP explodes in their live show. With Dennis charging hyperactively across the stage and hooks flying by relentlessly, the foursome seems to feed off each other’s energy. And the music has the chemistry of great friends who are totally in love with their music.
“Just before we go on, we’re gonna gather back here [in the dressing room],” Dave said, “and we’re gonna be like, ‘Everybody cool? Alright, fantastic. Let’s go play some music.'”
“We really love hanging out with each other right before the show,” Dennis continued. “It puts you in such a great mood to play.”
Initially booked at a new Lower East Side club called Pianos, which pushed back its opening date, the show took place at The Space, a new second-floor art space in the East Village.
“To be honest, I prefer doing [the show at The Space] ’cause it’s incredible in there,” Mike said. “It’s got the vibe of what New York City is really all about. Between the graffiti on the back of the stage, the DIY lights, and everything else, it’s incredible — totally circa ’79, Lower East Side. It fits the bill…All these bands that talk shit about being underground and–”
“–rock and roll and,” Dennis added.
“–some of them were on the bill with us, and they decided to drop out because it was [moved to] an art space,” Mike continued.
“And the Realistics think that that’s bullshit,” Dennis said.
“Back in the day, I kind of foresaw that we would do stuff like this. I have a bit of an ESP thing going on so I always kind of knew that we’d be DIY,” Will joked. “And well, you know, I want to get this over ASAP, so I won’t really BS.”
The DIY ethos that informs their venue choices and business practices also makes them admirers of bands like Fugazi and Sloan. (Though, I’d love to see Fugazi in a Levi’s ad, like the one The Realistics did for Paper!)
“When we started this band, I always wanted to be like the — well, I don’t want to call us a pop band — but the pop equivalent of Fugazi,” Dennis said. “Do it on our own terms, do it our way, do it right, and answer to no one. Unfortunately that doesn’t pan out a lot. But we have been doing that lately, and it’s been amazing.”
The Space isn’t the first unconventional location they’ve played in. Earlier this summer they performed for a packed crowd on a downtown rooftop. They told me Weird Al Yankovic was there and convinced the cops not to shut the show down. (“Thank God for Weird Al,” Mike said. “I don’t think we’d be a band with out him,” Dennis added.) Other minor celebs they claim to have spotted at their shows include the midget from Time Bandits and Kid of Kid ‘N Play.
For all the grumblings that the New York scene is overrated, The Realistics’ show I saw, the last of three nights sold out through word-of-mouth, provided proof positive that there’s something very right about what’s going on with music in the city right now. The past-capacity crowd seemed genuinely excited to fill the hole-in-the-wall venue. After great sets by relatively unknown locals Blue Sparks and Awek, The Realistics came on with so much energy, their set promised to be amazing.
But something happened about eight songs in.
“This song is dedicated to the NYPD, because they’re all transvestites anyway,” Dennis said (or something like that).
As they started “Angie” (“My man Angie is a woman at heart.”), a cop cut through the crowd to my right, swishing white light back and forth with his flashlight. Looking incredibly menacing and cocky, the officer leaned in to Will and started shouting, while Will continued pounding on the keyboard.
And then the music stopped.
Officers had permeated the dark smoky room like a surreal scene from a bad cop drama. According to Mike, a SWAT Team of 30 or so came to send the sickeningly well-dressed crowd stumbling out into the icy rain and cutting wind. A little dazed as I walked out, I wondered, ‘What the hell just happened?’
“I didn’t realize playing rock ‘n’ roll shows was still such a taboo,” Mike later told me in an e-mail. “We thought that shit died in the ’50s. Next time they might come in with tear gas and shields…Regardless, we’ll do it again…It was fun, the other bands were great, and we have the coolest fucking fans on the planet. We’re going to continue to do things on our own terms, so expect more clashes with the Gestapo if need be.”