On a recent Thursday night, Past Lives played their first ever show at Spencer Moody's magic antique shop, the Anne Bonny. Outside, it was cold and damp, forcing smokers to huddle in their parkas. Inside, the upstairs loft was snug and humid, a temporary tropical zone. The place was, appropriately, full of old friends, former members of bands, and dead people's things. A street art show hung on the walls. There was a fishbowl of cash by the top of the stairs. At one point, Legend!ary grunge scribe and former Stranger music editor Everett True even poked his head in (he was back in town on Sub Pop's dime for indeterminate reasons).
Past Lives rise from the rubble of the Blood Brothers (among other bands)—Jordan Blilie sings; Morgan Henderson plays guitar, sampler, and synth; Mark Gajadhar is on drums; and Blood Bro from way-back-when Devin Welch plays guitar. They share a lot of past.
"Does everyone remember this one?" Blilie asked his bandmates, off mic. Someone unseen replied, "I think so."
Their six songs ranged from the steel drum and bass groove of opener "Beyond Gone," to churning punk, to the almost-bluesy wail and stomp of their as-yet-untitled closing song. Common to all the songs is a satisfying balance of thrash and groove. Welch's guitar was inscrutable as always, Gajadhar's drumming was alternately shimmying and pounding, and Henderson's baritone guitar and low-end synth were dubby and loose. Blilie's vocals were almost easier to make out when he shouted without the mic. From the back, only glimpses of heads were visible. The loft floor sagged and bounced on the beat with the weight of the crowd; it felt a little bit dangerous in the best possible way.
"It's a really cool thing to see so many familiar faces," said Blilie, introducing a song called "Past Lives." "It means so much."
Five nights later, the band were onstage at the Showbox, opening for No Age and Liars in front of a politely excited if less intimate crowd of maybe a couple hundred people. The south bar was blacked out and blocked off, but it was still a big space for a second show. The band exhibited a certain nervous, newborn smallness, closing in around Gajadhar's drum kit, which was pushed halfway up the stage in an attempt to shrink the space. They played the same six songs, sounding clearer and louder on the Showbox's sound system. Henderson and Welch played guitars at opposite sides of the stage—Welch fiddling with pedals and picking out high-pitched discord, Henderson playing rhythm occasionally on synth and sampler. Blilie sang, hunched and stomping and pointing one arm to the ceiling at the lip of the stage. Gajadhar kept time in the center of it all.
Talking to the band the next evening at a tiny Capitol Hill bar, they seem a little relieved to have their debut performances under their belts.
"Both shows were nerve-racking in their own unique way," says Blilie. "The first one for the simple fact that it was our first show, but it was also a bit unnerving looking up and seeing every one of my friends ever there. But once we got started, I just felt an overwhelming sense of support coming from everyone."
The band's mood is decidedly optimistic, and with good reason. For the old friends, Past Lives is a chance to start over, to reunite with Welch after 10 years (Welch, Henderson, and Blilie jammed sporadically in that time, but nothing came of it).
"I liked the idea of divergent paths coming together," says Blilie of the band's moniker. "It has to do with starting over again and loss and regret and hope for the future, and those [themes] all kind of play into these six songs."
The four friends bring not only a wealth of collaborative experience to Past Lives, but a wide array of influences and a renewed enthusiasm for experimentation.
"Everybody has really different frames of reference," says Welch. "We're just trying to be as open to as many ideas as possible without trying to steer in any specific direction."
"There was this immediate chemistry," adds Henderson. "But in some ways we tried to pull away from that, because we really want to do something unfamiliar and be in the uncomfortable spot of something new."
For now, the band have a handful of shows booked ("we have a practice space to pay for," jokes Blilie), opening for These Arms Are Snakes on February 22 at El Corazón, Crystal Castles on March 6 at Chop Suey, and Triumph of Lethargy on March 22 at the Comet. They're heading into the studio this month with newly minted producer Dann Gallucci to record an EP. Blilie estimates the band have "maybe three or four other songs floating around in various degrees of disarray," any of which could end up on the record.
But a lot of their excitement seems to come from their lack of future plans and their freedom from any obligations. The band plan to release records and tour, but they also stress the importance of balance and maintaining healthy home lives. Blilie even enthuses about his 9-to-5 day job at a nonprofit, although it's clear that the band is at least as exciting.
"It's like the beginning of any relationship," says Blilie. "Everything's new and there are so many possibilities."