Philadelphia is undeniably a hotbed for innovative music, and the underground scene presents a vital opportunity for new artists to gain traction and popularity. The indie scene around the region has churned out gems of bands such as The Districts, Hop Along, Radiator Hospital, and (Sandy) Alex G, just to name a handful. A new group to keep on your radar is the garage rock three-piece, Well Room, composed of singer/guitarist Aidan Williams, bassist Grant Pavol and drummer Harry Freed. They dropped their new single, “Eyes Wide” in early May, as a preview to their upcoming album.
In a recent interview with The Key, the band discussed their origin story, the songwriting process and their involvement in DIY culture. Aidan, Grant and Harry all grew up in Philadelphia. Harry, who went to Science Leadership Academy in Center City, commented, “That’s where I met Aidan, back when he looked and dressed more like Kurt Cobain…I was thinking, who’s the guy wearing a red flannel all the time? I should jam with him.” Prior to that, Aidan spent a year in Ireland with family. When Aidan moved home, he stayed with Grant and that’s when they began to play music together. “We would jam together and I remember thinking, I would never start a band with him,” Aidan said, laughing. They explained that the two both wanted to be frontmen but it quickly became evident that Aiden was the stronger songwriter. “Grant handles stage banter,” Harry chimed in. Aidan nodded in agreement, adding, “Grant does PR, I just descend further and further within myself.” Harry takes credit for conceiving the band name, based off his pediatricians’ office which had two waiting rooms, one for ill children called the Sick Room and one for healthy children called the Well Room.
When asked about their musical influences, Aidan pointed to his T-shirt, emblazoned with the Vundabar logo in green print. “When we first formed, our songs were the halfway point between Wavves and Nirvana, which is the least cool thing I could say,” Grant said. He went on to clarify that the band didn’t develop their own sound until the recording of their second album, which is yet to be released. The band described their news songs as being stripped down and more structured. On the debut album, Concordia PL, Aidan admitted to relying heavily on Hendrix-influenced guitar solos until Grant started to drop nuggets of advice like, “It’s a good idea to play and then leave space as if you were breathing.” It became a goal to cut out unnecessary space and create purposeful songs focused on building. “The sound of Well Room is balancing precise and melodic verses with wild and cathartic choruses…When Dinosaur Jr. started, there’s a quote from J Mascis that goes, ‘We want to make ear-bleeding country.’ We’re like that for indie pop,” Grant said.
In the songwriting process, Aidan takes the role of author while Grant and Harry act as editors, making suggestions and writing their individual instrumentation to his lyrics. “Songwriting is a very personal experience for me. People knowing what my songs are about makes me uncomfortable, so that’s why I try to be open-ended in lyrics. One of our most popular songs, ‘Island Highway,’ was about a very specific event in my life. It was something I was emotional about at the time, but eventually I was so far removed from it that it was just playing the same four chords over and over again.”
Rooted in the DIY scene, Well Room said it was impossible to overlook the “elephant in the room,” that being sexual assault in the scene that the band describes as “rampant,” as recent incidents and allegations leading to the dissolution of several popular bands in the recent past. This is not an issue isolated to the Philadelphia music scene, but is complicated by the young age of community members, as well as the unconventional and often chaotic, uncontrollable settings of shows as they take place in houses and basements. The close-knit relationships that form between artists and fans is also a contributing factor, as the nature of DIY scenes promote a familiarity in seeing the same faces at each venue. Idolization accompanies fame, however small scale, which can create predatory situations for victims. The community has been working to create a safer and more inclusive environment, supporting victims and denouncing those who act inappropriately. Individual venues have made statements about focusing on making their spaces safe for everyone, and part of that involves listening to survivors, starting a dialogue and maintaining transparency, rather than stifling voices and keeping incidents of assault secret. The way people come together to support each other is demonstrative of the cooperative and empathetic attitude of the community, and efforts to combat and change this issue are not for nothing.
The members of Well Room affirmed that the DIY scene is a beneficial place for young musicians to get started, especially for any outsider seeking a sense of community. Initially Well Room had attempted to book gigs at various bars like The Fire, and had met other musicians who played open mics, but found little success in following that route. “The thing about DIY music is if you’re persistent enough, you get a platform, it’s this tried and true method of self-promotion.” They described the Internet as a double-edged sword; on one hand, its the fastest way to gain exposure and fame, but there is an over saturation of music that listeners have to wade through, potentially creating a competitive atmosphere. However, they attest that most people in the scene are willing to help each other out, acting as a network of valuable connections. “We’ve been doing this for three years now, it can be discouraging to play a show where not a whole lot of people show up or you play a song poorly and it sticks with you. It’s inspiring to see bands like Alex G or Modern Baseball who started in a similar situation as us and now are playing for crowds around the world… No one starts out a sellout, you can’t win the DIY scene, you can’t figure out the formula for musical success. Everyone is genuinely expressing themselves.”
Well Room will play at PhilaMOCA on July 20th. More info here.
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