"Oh man, it even smells new," says New Faces drummer Conor Sisk, taking a whiff of the band's just-pressed debut album, Two Years. "Do we get to keep these?"
This is the first time New Faces have gotten to hold a finished copy of their record. For the next few minutes, the three Port Townsend teenagers stare at the lyric sheet, flipping from front to back again and again with wide eyes and excited grins.
"Nico, they spelled your name wrong," jokes Sisk to the band's guitarist/vocalist, Nico Janssen.
"What? Dude, you're joking. That'd be sad."
The record—a collection of 11 frenzied new-wave tracks—is just one of many highlights in New Faces' 2008. They kicked off the year by winning Sound Off!, EMP's annual underage battle of the bands. (They entered last year's competition and didn't even make the semifinals.) Still riding high from the ego boost, the band announced they had signed to local label Loveless, making them labelmates with a band they've long admired, the Shackeltons. Not a bad run for a bunch of high schoolers. Janssen graduated in the spring; his bandmates will be seniors this fall.
Instead of taking the usual route of shopping around a demo in hopes of finding a label to pay for their first recording, New Faces funded Two Years themselves; the signing to Loveless came afterward. The title is the amount of time it took to write and record the record—some of the songs were written when New Faces weren't legally old enough to drive. But despite their age, the band play their intriguing songs with the confidence of rock veterans.
The opening track, "Impulse," starts with a dark, animalistic bass line. Then comes a gnarly dance beat beefed up with some bratty, singalongable whoas and heys. It quickly turns into a catchy anthem about a fucked-up, confusing relationship—what teenager can't identify with that? What human can't identify with that?
In "Melts Like Ice," the beat bounces happily along under a bright, quickly strummed guitar. Janssen's croon is glaringly reminiscent of Interpol's Paul Banks—Janssen is 18, but he has a deep, mature swagger when he sings: "You don't move me; you don't thrill me/It's too easy/I don't want you because you want me/You're too easy." The guitar is playful, jangly, and rough around the edges... it sounds exactly like the guitar on the Strokes' infamous 2001 album Is This It.
For just over 30 minutes (a fine length for a debut), the album switches back and forth between infectious dance pop and darker rock moods. Janssen, Sisk, and bassist Kyle Hove wear their inspirations on their sleeve—they list the Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, Interpol, and New Order as a few of the bands that have inspired them to make music in the first place, and Two Years is clearly an homage to those idols.
It's common for young musicians to find their own sound by emulating those who inspire them, and it's how the New Faces really show their age.
"You have to be inspired to make your own art," says Janssen. "That's really the only genuine motivation you should have—really feeling the power of some art and trying to make it your own."
Of course, that path comes with some risks—if you sound like your inspirations, even with an element of your own flair, you're going to be compared to those sources.
"I feel like bands like Franz Ferdinand and the Strokes, they've got a monopoly on the genre and it can be frustrating," explains Janssen, who seemingly hasn't listened to a lot of music predating his generation. "On the other hand, they make records that we really love, and that's all there is to it."
He adds, "You can't just not write something 'cause you're afraid it's going to sound a little bit like someone else. I think that's pretty much unavoidable these days. A lot of the press we've gotten mentions the bands that they think we sound like, and that's fine. We really loved a lot of records while making our record, and we tried to interpret them in our own way. But I think how you should evaluate music is just, 'Is it good?' That should be the question: 'Are they making good music?'"