Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, Henry Rollins…these are just a few of the punk icons who have shown support for the Woodstock, N.Y. based band The Bobby Lees. Sam Quartin [vocals, guitar], Macky Bowman [drums], Nick Casa [guitar], and Kendall Wind [bass] — make music that is punk in spirit and soul; unfettered and resolutely honest. It’s the kind of aural exorcism any listener can tap into, something that struck a chord with Rollins who brought them to Ipecac Recordings where Mike Patton and Greg Werckman signed them.
The Bobby Lees bare their teeth – and their souls – on their new album and Ipecac debut, Bellevue.
“I felt like something was eating me alive inside, and I had to get it out in a creative way or die,” explains Sam, who initially felt that she wasn’t good enough to start a band. “I guess the pain of NOT doing it became greater than the fear of doing it, so I had no choice but to try.”
Sam, Kendall and Macky “magically” (as Sam puts it) met via the Rock Academy in Saugerties, N.Y. in 2017. They started writing music together and once Nick joined in 2018, The Bobby Lees were truly formed.
A DIY, self-released album arrived in 2018 (Beauty Pageant), catching the attention of garage rock impresario Jon Spencer, who went on to produce the band’s 2020 album, Skin Suit. The under the radar, yet well-received 11-song collection saw the quartet cut their teeth with international touring amidst an outpouring of European support. The American band soon saw sold out shows across the continent with British tastemakers like Uncut (“an explosion of intensity of high-concept, low-budget rock’n’roll”) and Classic Rock Magazine (“Rock and roll as it ought to be: off the hook, unhinged, ravaged by Satan, hysterically vital, both kicking serious arse and against polite society’s pricks. As undisciplined as No Wave, as steeped in comatose cool as ‘70s CBGB’s blank generation, and as stylishly ferocious as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs”).
Flash forward to 2021, the fledgling outfit, now road-tested and more determined than ever, decamped to Sputnik Sound in Nashville to record Bellevue, their Ipecac Recordings’ debut album, live in the studio with producer Vance Powell (Jack White, Chris Stapleton, The Raconteurs). “Vance is incredible and we feel very lucky we got to do this record with him,” Sam continues. “Usually when I write the songs, they’re pretty simple. Kendall helps make them more exciting, and the whole band adds their own parts to make it a fully flushed out thing. Vance helped transform some of the tracks into something we never could have done on our own.”
With their intelligent and thoughtful songwriting, The Bobby Lees follow their instincts as musicians and friends, working together to create the songs that would eventually form Bellevue. The sound is gritty, minimalist and visceral, each song is an ode to the misfits. “We wrote it while all of this crazy (pandemic) stuff was going on and I think it helped make us more open and vulnerable. We’re taking risks and doing weirder things musically than we have in the past.’
Tracks like “Hollywood Junkyard” and “Dig Your Hips”, which were teased on the Hollywood Junkyard EP, illuminate the reckless and raw spirit of the album, while the single “Strange Days” shows another side of the group altogether. In between menacingly bass-y piano, Sam’s vocals crack and crest over the minimal soundscape as she muses about “a Murakami dream.”
“I’m a huge fan of the author Murakami,” she affirms. “I found out about him when the pandemic started, and I’m on book number eight now. I was reading ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,’ and I watched the film ‘Strange Days,’ which is kind of about our dependence on technology and how bad it can get. The morning after was the first time I’ve opened my eyes, grabbed a pen, and the whole song wrote itself in a few minutes.”
The album bottles similarly intense moments. The title track storms out of the gate with an unabashed war-cry and unbridled riffing based on real-life experiences with “mental stuff.”
“I used to live by Bellevue Mental Hospital in New York before I moved to Woodstock and met the band,” Sam recalls. “When I was living there, I was drinking a lot and my mental health got pretty out of control. I was hallucinating without taking any drugs, feeling like I was possessed, and hearing things that weren’t ‘there.’ I sometimes thought I was communicating telepathically with the people in Bellevue, maybe I was.…it got pretty intense and my mom was going to send me away to a long term mental hospital, but I got sober instead and I’m really grateful most of that stuff that was too much to handle, went away on its own.”
Seesawing back and forth with manic intensity, “Monkey Mind” explodes with a head-crushing hook. Sam expands, “It’s about your head talking to you too loudly or being mean to yourself”
Elsewhere on Bellevue, “Ma Likes To Drink” translates a decidedly dark subject into a rip-roaring rocker proven on the road and ready to provoke. “We rarely play new stuff live, but we tested this one out and people went crazy, so we’re excited to release it and start playing it live again.”
As feverish and nihilistic as the music can at times seem, there’s always a glimmer of hope at the core of each song. “I named the album Bellevue because when I listen back, I hear someone going through that stuff, who is now able to laugh about it and have fun re-telling the stories,” says Sam. “It’s a reminder for me that the most painful and intense things I go through end up being the most rewarding creatively.”
When asked what she hopes the response to Bellevue will be, she replies: “When I hear something I like or connect to, I feel less alone and I get some hope to keep going. It gets me out of my own story. My only hope would be that maybe this record does that for someone else”