Since dropping out of music school at 19, Born Without Bones frontman Scott Ayotte had spent his entire life on the road: grueling tours, playing in basements and VFW halls, giving away CDs for free just to get his name out there. But after three albums, Ayotte felt he was hitting a dead end.
“Born Without Bones was the centerpiece of my life. Everything revolved around it,” he says. “We worked really hard, but nothing seemed to connect with people.” The band almost folded; but instead, they bounced back to make Dancer, an album better — and more versatile — than they imagined they were capable of.
Born Without Bones began as a solo project in 2009, later adding guitarist Jonathan Brucato, bassist Jim Creighton, and drummer Sam Checkoway. They released three albums of grungy alt-rock as an unsigned band: 2010’s Say Hello, 2013’s Baby, and 2017’s Young At the Bend. But the project didn’t reach the heights Ayotte hoped it would — an anticlimax thrown into sharp contrast by the success of longtime friends the Hotelier, for whom he occasionally stepped in as guitarist. “While [Born Without Bones was] still grinding it out, they were touring with bands like La Dispute and Title Fight,” he remembers.
When Ayotte realized that he was neglecting his own physical and mental health to keep pushing the band, he knew it was time to step away. He took a year off from touring and the studio, focusing on travel, exercise, reading, and, notably, taking advanced guitar lessons with John Mayer’s former tutor, Tomo Fujita. Inexplicably, during this break, the band finally started to take off. Their Spotify numbers were higher than ever — Ayotte has no idea why — leading Pure Noise Records to snap them up in 2021. By the time the band reconvened to make Dancer, it was with a renewed fire to expand creatively.
“[With previous albums], it was just people jamming in a room trying to make a song happen,” he says. “This time it was re-writing songs, thinking one song is the single and then it ends up in the trash. There was no room for us to waste any time and put something on there that doesn’t communicate.”
It shows in the band’s rejuvenated songwriting — smarter, more eclectic, and simply catchier than ever. There are elements of Beach Boys-style vintage pop in the title track, bossa nova in “Lurkin’,” and soft rock balladry in “Sudden Relief.” Ayotte highlights how the band tapped into “influences outside of our genre — like, ‘check out this cool jazz record from the 70s,’ or ‘this pop singer is doing something really cool.'”
Born Without Bones are capitalizing on this unexpected second wind, with Dancer laying the foundation for longevity. “This is the first time where I’ve felt like, okay, now we know how to make a good record,” Ayotte says. “We weren’t leaving it all to fate or ideas falling out of the sky. If [we’re] not constantly trying to get better, it’s not gonna happen. You have to call for it.”