That Old New Thing
“You’ve gotta hear this new band!” How many times have you been told this, either by a trusted friend, a savvy DJ, or an over-excited blogger? This section of PopMatters is, in effect, a more extended version of that statement. But the word “new” can sometimes be a bit misleading. Bands, after all, don’t just happen. Often, there are years and years of decidedly unglamorous work that come before a group is exposed to a larger audience.
The Brooklyn-based Pathways are a perfect example of this. While their latest release, Boat of Confidence (hitting stores Nov. 1), will be the first to get proper distribution, the band itself has been kicking around the Empire State for close to a decade now. There are people who can lay claim to catching the Pathways playing a dingy NYC club in 1997. There are those who have a dim memory of seeing the band at a tiny upstate college a few years later. Someone taking a late night drive up the Taconic State Parkway may have tuned into the tail end of one of their songs playing on a static-laden Poughkeepsie college radio station. The Pathways may be new to the world at large, but they’re far from new.
The band sprung from a high school friendship between the two principal songwriters, David Yourdon and Evan Kindley. “We were both in different bands, but I think we were just fans of each other’s songs,” says Kindley. “Towards the end of my senior year, we played a show together just for fun, and it went well enough that we wanted to keep going.”
Kindley headed off to upstate New York for college, and a year later Yourdon left for Chicago, forming the one-man-band Winter Vacation, which recently earned some strong notices for the album The Netherlands, 1980 (Asaurus Records). But during spring breaks and summer vacations, the duo, along with drummer Peter Shanel, worked furiously on a series of cassette and CD-R releases. These early works bore the imprint of such influences as the Wedding Present and Pavement, but the two songwriters began developing a unique and captivating style all their own.
When Kindley graduated from college, the duo’s creative process changed. “In 2002, when I was back in New York City and David was in Chicago, we decided we wanted to write together more collaboratively,” Kindley says. “For the most part, we’d written songs separately and then bring them to the band. We had been told that, because of our different styles of songwriting, our records sometimes sounded like two different bands. But we wanted to bring our styles together a little bit more, so we started exchanging song fragments and ideas on tapes through the mail, and we’d keep adding things to them to flesh the songs out a bit.”
The result of this new method was a burst of new material—Kindley estimates they compiled somewhere near 50 song fragments in this period. The time was ripe for the Pathways to move from the backburner to the forefront. Yourdon moved back to NYC in the summer of 2002 and the band began recording Boat of Confidence and making the rounds on the city’s club circuit.
With such a wealth of material to choose from, the resulting album can’t help but be a powerful statement of intent, an album that successfully filters the soulful post-punk of the Go-Betweens and Orange Juice through the prism of mid-‘90s indie rock. Boat of Confidence features intricate but never fussy arrangements, an occasionally psychedelic swirl of guitars, and a buoyant, unpredictable rhythm section, courtesy of Shanel and bassist Leo Goldsmith. What’s more, the Pathways’ long history together has allowed the band to develop an almost instinctual set of dynamics: songs rarely go where you expect them to go, lurching boldly forward, snapping back into place, and then crashing into glorious cacophony. That they manage to do all this without sacrificing the essential poppiness of the song structures is a testament to their skilled musical craftsmanship.
“This album was really good for us, I think. I’m very happy with the way it came out, and it feels like a true collaboration between me and David,” says Kindley. “Since then we’ve moved even further towards a democratic approach, with everybody in the band (including our new drummer Mike Dempsey) writing their own parts. It’s sometimes more difficult to write songs that way, but I think in the end it comes out better if it has that democratic spirit.”
It may have taken close to a decade, but Boat of Confidence marks the real arrival of the Pathways. You may not have known what you were missing, but once you hear the album, you’ll wonder where they’ve been all your life. There’s nothing left to say but: “You gotta hear this new band!”