Just Neighbors- Showcase Interview 2017

Just Neighbors is a four-piece progressive math rock band that is starting to expand its contemplative and cerebral sound beyond the boundaries of math rock. The band is gracing this year’s Swamp Records Showcase lineup for a second time, only this time they’re playing all brand-new songs and performing at Gainesville’s newest music venue, Heartwood Soundstage. The band formed very recently and quickly in the early summer of 2015 and has already garnered a lot of local, as well as global support. I, with The Florida Basement, had the opportunity to sit down with Justice Diamond (guitar), Dan Lohr (guitar), and Reid Casey (drums), in only the best hang-out spot and place to get Cuban sandwiches: Flaco’s. Friendly, funny, and laid-back, these guys really made me feel at home just like good neighbors should.

Math rock is a style of rock music characterized by complex rhythmic and instrumental patterns. I wanted to know if the band improvises when writing such multifaceted songs, or if its more planned.

Lohr: Honestly a lot of improvisation, and just going off of a feel. After we feel it, it’s characterized as kind of whatever it is.

Diamond: Yeah, I think a lot of the songs we actually go through and write, but recently we’ve been jamming a little bit more and making songs that way as well.

As music develops and becomes more dynamic these days, it’s hard to categorize a band as just one genre. Especially with Just Neighbors, who’s really starting to come into its own this year and draw from influences other than math rock. How do they describe their sound?

Lohr: I think we’re a bit more fluid than math rock, I mean, the reason I guess we call ourselves that is because that’s what we started out as, you know, a few years ago.

Diamond: Yeah, that’s a hard question to answer, we always get the question about math rock and it’s not really what –

Lohr: We use elements of it, but I wouldn’t say we’re solely that.

Wanting to know where the band draws its musical influences from, I asked a question that often opens a can of worms for most people: who are your favorite artists to listen to personally?

Diamond: Well there’s so many phases you go through in music so it’s hard to pinpoint like “oh, this is the person that’s influencing me” and whatnot. And I always go back to a lot the music that I listened to in the past, but I mean in terms of like bigger..,The Band. I really like them; I listen to them a lot. I also listen to a lot of hip-hop, honestly - like Oddisee. He’s so good --

Casey: Oddisee’s so dope, he just had an NPR session. He’s a rapper.

Diamond: So I mean, I don’t know how to answer that question.

Lohr: I love Jim James from My Morning Jacket. He’s my favorite – just his tones, how he uses a lot of reverbs on his guitar…he has these sections on his songs where it’s just like, washy and big and choral. I love that, he’s my go-to guy.

Casey: Who I’ve been listening to lately, I don’t actually know…that’s a hard question. I’ve actually been listening to R.LUM.R. a lot. But I feel like influences for me playing math rock, since I play a bunch of different stuff is like…lately I’ve been listening to American Football, Pinegrove, and some TTNG and Enemies as well.

Some of Just Neighbors’ track titles are interesting, such as “Sandwedge,” (a reference to golf,) and new, unreleased song “Ook.” Is that pronounced Oh Ok or ook? Hmm. Who really knows. How does the band come up the names of their songs when they don’t have lyrics to base them off and only instrumentals?

Lohr: Random…serendipitous.

Casey: A lot of times, random.

Diamond: Well, like the way it works is somebody will write something and do an iPhone recording and they’ll just screw around and put something random. Whatever gets named the iPhone recording, we just keep saying it and repeating it and then when it’s time to actually name it something that you think it means, you’ve been saying this name the entire time. So even when we name songs on the album, we’ll still refer to them as some stupid name.

All of Just Neighbors songs are instrumental. I had the chance to listen to two new demos from the new album recording. After listening, I noticed there was a *spoiler alert* voice sample in Ook, so I asked what the vision behind the new album is and if they’re coming up with lyrics.

Lohr: We have vocal parts that we’re recording to put on the album. A lot of the new stuff has vocal stuff and I think we’re doing that because we can make these songs really say more and reach more people intimately. As far as album concept, it’s really just a bunch of complicated ideas that we can’t even iterate really well.

Diamond: We’re just looking for that one thing to tie it all together.

Lohr: There’s a lot of different parts of the album. There’s more like, upbeat and happy-sounding stuff. But we also have long sections of dreary chords, and it gets heavier. We use a lot of tension and then we like break the tension, and we stress I’d say…I don’t know I’m just rambling.

Diamond: Every possible human emotion combined.

Casey: The concept of the album is for us to put it out and us to like it. That’s the concept.

Lohr: I have a bunch of scribble scrabbles on my iPhone, like writings and stuff of what I think it means. I don’t know, we have the album art that we chose --

Compared to the first album’s artwork done with watercolor, this one’s quite different and super cool, done with acrylic paint. The band kindly showed me the artwork, it’s even Reid’s background on his phone. You guys will just have to wait until May to see it, but for now just use your context clues.

Diamond: The album art speaks a lot honestly; we’re not going to put any writing on it because it’s a cool piece of art.

Lohr: It’s kind of just moody, and this guy is just like looking --

Diamond: It’s done by a local artist, named Alfred Phillips.

Lohr: A big theme of the album is introspection, looking in on yourself. This music…I picture it best enjoyed in your room on a nice stereo system. There’s upbeat parts, but a lot of the album comes back on these sections that are very powerful.

Diamond: It’s hard to bump it in a club.

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Just Neighbors gets people in their feels, which is always the best kind of music. Over the past two years, many things have changed with Just Neighbors – the band has gone from 6 members to 4 members – so how did they all meet and how did it all begin? The band’s still evolving too, as they become more serious and are no longer going to be just neighbors, but roommates as well as they plan to move in together next year.

Diamond: We met at UF through mutual friends and then we started jamming and it worked out. We had a band for a while, but six people is a lot and people move on when they graduate so…And Reid started playing the drums about a year ago, so we used that as kind of a reset almost. There’s still elements of what we were on our first album and all that, but now we’ve kind of moved forward and wrote a bunch of new music. We don’t play our old album anymore because there’s a lot more music to be played.

Lohr: Now there’s four of us, it’s a lot easier to just focus on the important parts.

Diamond: All of the changes have been super necessary to just continue to do what we’re doing. It’s all just a part of the process. And when change happens you don’t even realize it, like its already been a year, which seems so short to me right now.

Casey: One thing I notice about this band is that the dedication here is really awesome. Which, when we first practiced together it just worked and I saw the drive.

Gainesville’s local music scene and community is super progressive and amazing, which we definitely know as Swamp Records people. How much does the band attribute Gainesville’s culture to its success, especially since Reid is a former president of Swamp Records?

Lohr: Well really, it’s all because of Reid!

Casey: I would say what’s so cool about Gainesville is that it’s always growing. I grew up in Tampa where the music scene was competitive, but here it’s very supportive. I haven’t met another band that hasn’t been like, “Awesome set.” Everyone wants to see your show and everyone wants to tell you something good and help you out one way or another - which is really cool. Bigger cities…it doesn’t happen like that. I’m sure it won’t last forever though.

Lohr: We’ve got a lot of stuff that’s happened definitely just because people in Gainesville are so into new music and wanna help you out genuinely. Everyone’s nice: all the venues, the whole community. But, that being said, we also have a little cult online following…We’ve gotten posted on Russian blogs, people in China buy us, even France. So I wouldn’t give Gainesville credit for that…but everything else, definitely.

Committing to music can definitely be kind of unpredictable and weird and scary. Does the band ever get frustrated with the prospects of the future, especially now that they’re seriously putting a new album out in early May?

Casey: Now’s the time to get frustrated with it.

Diamond: I mean, we’ve all been in school so we just have that, that’s our thing and music has been our hobby. Now we’re all graduating and we still wanna do the music and take it further.

Lohr: This next year is going to be very definitive in what’s gonna happen to us because we have our first tour booked in May, starting out in Jacksonville snaking our way up to the East Coast with three New York shows. The album too, we put a lot more time, effort, and money into it…but we are all fine with funding it because we all believe in it, you know. I think it’ll be really cool to see what happens. I think Gainesville will really like it.

Is there a deeper meaning behind the name, Just Neighbors, or is it based off the fact you’re all UF/Gainesville people?

Lohr: We were trying to come up with a band name forever. For two months we were just spit balling names and nothing felt right.

Diamond: Carpet almost happened…I really wanted it to be a part of the name.

Lohr: My neighbors…we were really close and we would hang out with them a lot. They even did our album artwork. Justice was like oh we should be “Neighbors” and I was like, “Just Neighbors?” and he was like “Yeah, Just Neighbors” and I was like “Ok.” It was just nice and catchy and it worked out because we care about our neighbors.

Intimate crowds versus larger crowds?

Casey: We’ll tell you when we have our first thousand.

Lohr: I feel like more intimate crowds.

Diamond: I just like when people are quiet –

Lohr: And listening --

Diamond: And not on their phones. We’re not like great background music or whatever, we’re not covering songs so…

It totally makes sense that Just Neighbors is playing the inside Heartwood Stage at Showcase. The atmosphere will be similar to their house shows, which are some of their favorite types of shows to play because they’re intimate and laid back, with the audience mostly being friends. Shout out to the power of music and Showcase for being the most wonderful time of the year, every year.

Lastly, I asked the deepest and most character-defining question of all during this interview: pineapples on pizza or no???

Lohr: Absolutely not. Sorry.

Diamond: Definitely yes.

Definitely look at Dan differently now. Team Justice though.

Catch Just Neighbors playing at Showcase this upcoming Wednesday and be on the lookout for their new album and tour in May!

Not a neighbor, just a writer,
Anika Huda

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