Special Interest Is the Last Band Standing

The New Orleans no-wavers on trusting their instincts, genre non-conformity, and embracing a “fuck it” mentality
Special Interest
(Credit: Alexis Gross)

Special Interest’s breakthrough sophomore album, The Passion Of, was released in June 2020 — in the midst of a summer that marked nationwide social uprisings and innumerable protests against police brutality and the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. It was a time laden with intense strife, anger, and grief. The no-wave punk quartet debated whether or not it was the right time to release a new album, but they ultimately decided to do it. People could use it as a motivational soundtrack to fight against the fucked up shit going on, to put it succinctly.

But it was also a time when COVID-19 vaccines were still being workshopped. For musicians, touring was entirely out of the question. One of the primary streams of artist revenue and exposure was impossible. The Passion Of launched the New Orleans band to new heights and earned them a significantly larger fanbase, but despite all of the critical acclaim and a bigger audience, it didn’t feel like the group could truly celebrate the accolades. Not being able to play an album release show was especially disheartening.

“I felt like we were very excited to put it out, but I really wanted to play the album live from start to finish,” bassist Nathan Cassiani tells SPIN over Zoom. “We never got the chance to do that, and now it’s definitely too late.”

Because of the pandemic, they were forced to approach their third album, Endure, from a different angle. Normally, they would hash out their ideas in a live setting, coming to a show with a song half-formed that would emerge in its full splendor while performing it. This time around, all of the new material was written before testing it out onstage. Although not being able to play shows together was dispiriting, the four friends found their social outlet by writing songs together in isolation. By composing the songs from start to finish before performing them live, the band spent more time tailoring every detail of the production to better suit their vision.

“We did a lot more overdubs, which is a thing we’ve never done before,” synth and beat savant Ruth Mascielli said. “We were more intentional about how we wanted to produce the songs. Before we’d just capture what it sounded like live.”

 

 

“It was more of a space for us to experiment,” vocalist Alli Logout continued. “We spent longer in the studio. The Passion Of and Spiraling, we love both of those albums, but sonically, they don’t pop as much as we’d like them to. So we were really intentional about going into the studio and spending our time on each facet of the sound.”

This was the band’s second time working with engineer James Whitten in his New Orleans studio, HighTower Recording. According to guitarist Maria Elena, Whitten adopts a laissez-faire approach to recording, letting artists follow their whims and see what comes of them. Because of that, one of Elena’s main philosophies for Endure’s creation was instinctual. “Go there” was a commonly uttered phrase as Logout, Elena, Cassiani and Mascielli embraced a notably dancier style for the new record.

Whereas both prior albums dabbled in post-punk with a danceable edge, Endure inverts that chain of influences. “(Herman’s) House,” a song exploring the imprisonment of Black revolutionaries the Angola Three, hinges on a house-inflected beat with handclaps and off-beat hi-hats. “Midnight Legend” is the group’s grooviest song to date, particularly for a band known for its bellicose, thrashing no-wave stylings. “Concerning Peace,” an anthem that documents the political turmoil of June 2020, perfectly merges Special Interest’s punk and dance sensibilities, featuring a four-on-the-floor drum beat and discordant guitar that recalls Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo. Perhaps it helps that three of its four members obsessively listen to dance music and love going to raves. Even Elena, the outlier who prefers staying at home, sometimes gets dragged along by peer pressure.

Regardless, Special Interest maintains that they’re a genreless band, which plays into the fact that all four of its members identify as queer and Logout as gender non-conforming.

“That’s just a thing with us as a band,” Logout explains. “We can’t be bogged down by one particular sound and/or politic and/or identity. It’s something that ebbs and flows all the time that’s very multidimensional. It’s not one note.”

 

 

“It’s like two or three,” Cassiani laughs.

Simply put, Special Interest does whatever the hell they want. Echoing Elena’s enduring “go-for-it” mantra, Mascielli said Endure felt like the record where they could say “Fuck it. Let’s do the eight-minute song. Why not?”

And an eight-minute song they did, down to the exact second. Closer “LA Blues” is Special Interest’s biggest statement piece yet.

“I have a moral opposition to songs that go on too long,” Elena said. “I generally think — even though I like drony music — if it goes more than four minutes, at some point it goes on until I don’t like it.”

“As a band, we’re extremely proud of “LA Blues,” Logout added. “It’s definitely a time capsule of a time and place in New Orleans, Louisiana. It’s a bunch of vignettes that are all very true stories and all very close to our realities.”

Regarding the band’s hopes for people’s reactions to Endure, Logout, Elena, and Mascielli want it to inspire people to start bands and make music themselves. Cassiani has a different goal in mind. He just wants people to get to the end of the record so they can hear “LA Blues” — and maybe not start a new band.

“Actually, I’m gonna say no more bands,” he says with half-convincing earnestness. “Maybe duos at the most.”

All three of his bandmates gasp in reaction, eyeing him with alarmed facial expressions.

He responds with an arch smile. “We’re the last band!”

IMPACT

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