Geese: The Best of What’s Next

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Geese: The Best of What’s Next

For years, Paste has introduced exciting, up-and-coming artists to our readers. This is the return of The Best of What’s Next, a monthly profile column which highlights new acts with big potential—the artists you’ll want to tell your friends about the minute you first hear their music. Explore them all here.

What a time it is to be Geese. One moment you’re rocking out at a festival set, the next you’re getting rockognized, your past and future colliding.

“That was probably the greatest moment of my life so far,” frontman Cameron Winter recalls from his windy New York City rooftop, ”being in the black midi pit and having somebody like, ‘Uh, are you the guy from that other band?’” Winter and his bandmates are still adjusting to their rapidly rising profile, which makes sense. The 19-year-old New York natives never expected to get this far.

30 or so hours earlier, Geese were performing, rather than spectating, at Atlanta’s Shaky Knees Music Festival, their first time playing at—and, for a couple of them, even attending—a festival. By their count, it was either their 13th or 14th show, and their first outside the tri-state area. (Their set was one of our favorites, right alongside black midi’s.) It was a watershed moment for Geese ahead of the release of their debut album, Projector, and a showcase of the never-predictable, always-propulsive post-punk sound that’s earned them the NYC Buzz Band mantle previously assumed by the likes of The Strokes, Interpol and TV on the Radio.

The seeds of that sound were planted long before Geese—Winter (vocals/keys), Gus Green (guitar), Foster Hudson (guitar), Dom DiGesu (bass) and Max Bassin (drums)—ever set foot onstage, or in a pit. Three of the band’s five members were raised by music industry parents who pushed them to write their own material and gave them the tools, both literally and figuratively, to do it. Winter’s father is a composer, Green’s is an engineer, and Bassin’s late father was a music marketing executive—they all passed their passion (and their gear) along.

“He’s usually the first person I show music to and he’s very good at being unbiased and critical of stuff,” says Winter of his dad. “He taught me how to produce, to the extent that I know how to now. Him and Gus’ dad are probably the reason we were able to make the record ourselves.” Green, a lefty, learned to play guitar right-handed because right-handed guitars were all their father had at home.

While their upbringings pointed Geese towards their instruments, they became avid music discoverers more independently. In the course of my conversation with Winter and Bassin, they name-check everyone from The Lemon Twigs and FKA twigs to The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Les Rallizes Dénudés. Winter delivers a detailed breakdown of Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden (“Go for it, harp on it,” Bassin encourages with a grin), and the pair make a compelling case for In Rainbows—a prominent influence on Projector—as Radiohead’s best record. (The Bends never had a chance—Bassin recalls, at 12, being robbed while listening to it on the NYC G train, saying, “I don’t know if I’ve listened to that album since.”)

Even all of that music knowledge feels like merely the tip of an iceberg that could sink several Titanics. Hudson is particularly well-listened: “This fool’s encyclopedic about music,” says Bassin. Winter agrees: “That is a lot of the reason that we were so intrigued by him when we first met him, because we were just like, ‘Here’s an 18- or 17-year-old kid, who knows so much more about music. He definitely inspired us all to start broadening our horizons a little bit, as well.” “Abso-fucking-lutely,” Bassin agrees.

Hudson had a significant effect on Geese’s musical output, as well as their input. Before he joined the band, Winter, Bassin, Green and DiGesu formed its original lineup as freshmen, with Hudson floating around the periphery. As a four-piece, they recorded a 2017 album and a 2019 EP that have since been wiped from the web—Bassin describes their early material as “Radiohead, Pink Floyd, Animal Collective and Hail […] with some King Gizzard thrown in there,” though Winter adds, “Think of that really cool music that you just envisioned in your head after [hearing] all those good bands, and then imagine it like 20 times shittier and made by 15-year-olds who”—”only listen to that,” Bassin finishes, as if they’re sharing the same brain. “I think we took it down once we got a whiff of label interest,” Winter explains, “and then were just like, ‘They cannot see this, fucking purge this from the earth.’”

It was their work on Projector that provoked that label interest, as they incorporated Hudson’s second guitar into their sound—it factors prominently into “Low Era,” the song that landed Geese a manager when they first released it online. Though this was their big break, it felt more matter-of-fact than momentous at the time: “It was more just an Instagram DM that was like, ‘Yo, this song is hard. You guys got a manager,’” Bassin recalls with a laugh.

That was the start of a whirlwind, made all the more dizzying by the fact that Geese had planned to be one-and-done, cutting a single album, graduating high school and then heading off to college. “A lot of us were pretty dead-set on going to school already, and we’d gotten into school,” Winter recalls. “What we were expecting was that we would get [Projector] pressed by a small label, and it would be one of those one-off albums that might get a cult following at some point, a long time in the future. That was our highest ambition.

Then we were just like, ‘Okay, well, if a dream label reaches out, or an actual big indie label wanted us, then we wouldn’t go to school, but that’s not gonna happen. But then it did happen.’”

It sure did: Geese received offers from the likes of 4AD, Fat Possum and Sub Pop, all while they were still high school seniors, and eventually signed to Partisan/PIAS, making them labelmates with the likes of IDLES and Fontaines D.C. The process wasn’t entirely painless: “We talked to a label that was like, ‘Well, you know, we already have an all-white, all-male post punk band. Sorry,” Bassin recalls, a misconception that collapses when one considers that, as the drummer, who is Asian, puts it, “I am not white and Gus is not a dude.” Green, who identifies as nonbinary, came out to their bandmates earlier this year.

Mistaken identities notwithstanding, the band’s rise thus far has been remarkable, particularly in light of the constraints they were working under as New York City high schoolers. They recorded Projector during their junior and senior years in the studio they built in Bassin’s basement, The Nest, with sneakers as impromptu mic stands and blankets muffling their amps. Winter would write songs, and the band would have only hours to learn, rehearse and record them on Friday nights, before a 10:30 p.m. cutoff strictly enforced by Bassin’s mother, lest the neighbors complain. Many of Geese’s Friday night rituals—Wii bowling, Ray’s Pizza, listening to records—still live on. “Keeping the tradition alive!” says Winter; “We’re still … children. We’re still 19,” says Bassin, “so, you know, a lot that has not changed very much.”

Projector’s sound, though, transcends the band’s youth, as well as their working conditions. As we wrote in our roundup of new albums out today (Oct. 29), the band’s debut “fits most comfortably in the post-punk bucket, but placing any one descriptor on it is a mistake—Geese’s raison d’être is stylistic multiplicity, and their songs never occupy a single space for long, shifting fluidly between angular precision and psychedelic sprawl, all while remaining perpetually danceable and energetic.”

There’s no more indelible example of Geese’s sound than “Disco,” their stunner of a debut single, released over the summer to celebrate their record deal. “We were all kind of hesitant at first,” Bassin recalls of leading with the track, “because it’s the centerpiece of the album.” But they wisely put that foot forward anyway. “It was the first song we recorded with Foster,” Bassin continues, “so it really is a full circle kind of thing to have it be the first one to come out.”

Geese were initially hesitant to incorporate danceable sounds into their DNA, but as their interests expanded past the classic rock they first bonded over—Led Zeppelin, The Velvet Underground, Rush—to include modern acts like black midi and Squid, the band’s directive changed from “play pretty hard, play pretty loud” to “do whatever you possibly can,” explains Bassin. Enter the four-on-the-floor dance-punk of “Low Era,” the dreamy post-rock of “First World Warrior,” the celestial, horn-punctuated psychedelia of “Exploding House.” This is a band fluent in all sorts of rock sounds, spreading their wings as wide as they’ll stretch, without ever bothering to look down.

The band’s love of unpredictability is a natural extension of their omnivorous listening habits and diverse set of influences. “Good songwriting is good songwriting. But being able to change a song completely and have it still be fucking amazing is gold. That’s what you want,” says Bassin. “My least favorite thing about songs, even good songs, is if you’re two minutes in and you can guess how the rest of it’s gonna go,” adds Winter. “But then the other side is true, too: If a song is not giving you enough to grab onto conceptually, and it’s just taking all these left turns, just for the novelty of it, then it’s also lame. So it’s a middle ground that we try and get to.”

Some Projector tracks wend and weave the whole way through, like the title track’s shifts from loping post-punk to rumbling, layered psych-rock, or the way “Bottle” is alternately guitar- and keys-driven, evoking Wire and Doves alike. Other songs pull the sucker punch, only to unleash it once you’ve settled in: “Fantasies / Survival” spends most of its runtime in classic Strokes territory, pairing Winter’s stylishly indifferent vocals with tightly interwoven guitars, both equally essential to the track’s hooks. But just when you think the song is winding down, it lurches ahead at double-time, with blistering guitars swirling through the mix atop Bassin’s cymbal crashes.

None of this would be possible if Geese didn’t function as “a real organism,” as Winter puts it. Though the vocalist usually catalyzes the songwriting process—and says that on “some particular songs, I’m really sort of neurotic about it, just like, ‘Yo, you play this and don’t play that other thing that you’re trying to play,’ [a] dickhead about it”—their works-in-progress tend to take on lives of their own. ”’First World Warrior,’ I was away visiting family, and I had a demo that I was gonna try and teach the band,” Winter recalls. “Max and Gus just took the demo and, by ear, just recreated their own version of it with a new structure,” which you hear on the record. Even when Winter is more insistent on certain tracks, his bandmates move as a unit to advance his ideas, and eventually “start making their parts more dynamic, or more melodic, or start responding to things other people do rhythmically.”

In spite of the success their team efforts have been met with thus far—and the attention that’s made them Brooklyn indie-rock ambassadors before they can legally buy beer—Geese outpace their years in wisdom, as well as talent. “It definitely does feel good,” Winter acknowledges of their buzz, “especially after being the opposite of buzzy for many years. Like, just the least cool.” But he’s not getting used to it, nor letting the narrative take on undue importance: The singer recounts a conversation with TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek in which the veteran musician recalled always being interviewed about New York, as opposed to the band’s music. “It’s very nice to be associated with these other great New York bands. But, you know, it’s not going to be who we are forever. So we’ll enjoy it now,” Winter says.

That unerring realism manifests in Winter’s lyricism, as well, with Projector’s dark, gripping jams meshing seamlessly with his character-driven vignettes of youthful insecurity and existential dread. Death and resurrection surface and resurface on the record, from pulsating opener “Rain Dance” to singles “Low Era” and “Disco.” “Is this the end?” the singer wonders as closer “Opportunity Is Knocking” answers his question. In “Disco”’s case, rebirth can represent change, growth and exploration; but otherwise, it’s “probably a lot of more macabre stuff about feeling doomed,” Winter explains. “We’re all politically minded in terms of climate change and those more existential-type issues, those tend to make their way into the songs.” Winter is more drawn to that overarching anxiety as a lyricist, rather than any romantic or otherwise personal revelations. We agree that the “doom dread” that leavens Geese’s music is essentially an immutable fact of life for their generation: Even Winter’s 16-year-old brother and his friends, he says, casually acknowledge that “everyone’s gonna be dead in 200 years anyway.”

Even so, Geese are plenty excited for the future, and they aspire to protect the willingness to take risks that defined the making of Projector, the high school project they thought hardly anyone would hear. They have two-dozen or so songs in progress—they opened their Shaky Knees set with a twitchy, explosive unreleased track that’s not yet titled. Though Winter hesitates to hype the band’s second record yet, he does note that “we’ve had nothing to do except write new material and obsess about [it],” and with “a lot of groundwork being laid very meticulously” during the pandemic, Geese had the unique opportunity of “structuring the evolution of [their] sound,” seemingly even beyond their debut album, before sharing it with the world.

From the sound of it, we won’t have to wait too long for the next phase of that evolution, either: “We don’t want to take two years to make this record,” says Bassin, though he acknowledges the time commitment touring will require. Winter says they’re aiming to improve on the lo-fi sound of their debut, recording in a proper studio with a producer—they already have one lined up, though they can’t reveal who just yet. “We’re always going to try and rise to the highest means possible for recording the record the way we want it to sound,” he explains. Asked to sum up Geese 2.0 in brief, Bassin simply says, “Geese with no time constraints.” It’s a thrilling thought—that when the clock strikes 10:31 p.m., they’ll keep right on rolling.

In the meantime, Geese are loving every minute of taking their show on the road—even over Zoom, their youthful humor and energy is contagious. They played Projector in full in their hometown late last night, their final New York City show of 2021, and are set to play Perris, California’s Desert Daze festival in November. “We’re really excited. No, we’re gonna inject ayahuasca and like, spin around on a bat and then go onstage,” Winter jokes. “It’ll be awesome.”

Projector is out now via Partisan Records/Play It Again Sam. Listen/buy here.

Scott Russell is Paste’s music editor and he’ll come up with something clever later. He’s on Twitter, if you’re into tweets: @pscottrussell.

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