Written by James Barry
Asbury Park has solidified itself as a touchstone of the East Coast music scene. It has become a location bands put on their checklist. In 2021, the members of Strange Neighbors passed by the Stone Pony and saw Tillie grinning at them from the Wonder Bar. They immediately knew it was a venue where they’d love to play, and so it became a goal for them. Well, two years after they put the thought into the universe, the Wonder Bar reached out. And last Monday night, the New York City group brought their power pop to Asbury for the first time.
Their sound is a bottle of pink, pop-infused champagne. It’s a bowl of electric punch. You can pour their latest EP, Party of None, into a glass and find yourself intoxicated after just a few sips. And instead of a hangover the morning after, you’ll wake up with one of its hooks stuck in your head. The lyrics deal with the relatable frustrations of the everyday mundane, of soured relationships and the desire for guidance. And the music provides the release. It implores your body to move, to relish the freedom of the moment and shake out all of those emotions.
The group of four is a colorful medley of styles and personalities. Aidan is the bubbly lead vocalist with a contagious laugh and a penchant for sparkly eyeliner. Dana is the tall, soft spoken bassist who’s cooler than a frozen Peppermint Pattie on stage. Zach is the spiffy, pensive guitarist who writes ad copy by day and melts faces by night. He’s the Clark Kent of power pop. And Beau is the hard-hitting sweetheart drummer who’s always down to give a free Tarot reading.
Before they played their fizzy, exuberant set for an enthralled Wonder Bar crowd, we assembled in the green room couches for a chat over chicken tenders and fries. And before we knew it, an hour had passed; we had discussed everything from psychic powers to Reese Witherspoon films, and it was time for Strange Neighbors to hit the stage.
What have you been listening to lately?
Dana: I’ve been listening to a lot of Dengue Fever lately because they’re putting out new music and it’s made me remember why I like them so much.
Beau: I’ve been listening to a lot of bubble grunge and soccer mom stuff. Sonically, I’m looking for anything loud and really high energy right now.
Aidan: I forgot the name of the band I’ve been listening to…I saved a photo of the album so I’d remember. Nobody knows them. Here it is, they’re called the Dwight Twilley Band.
What kind of sound do they have?
Aidan: They kind of sound like us. But a little bit different. I heard one clip of a song on TikTok, and I thought it was so good, I wanted to hear it on vinyl. So I went online and bought it, and it just showed up the other day. It’s cool, it’s very ’70s and jangly — that was the first vinyl I ever bought online. I’m not a big vinyl head but my partner is and so is Zach.
Do you have a prized vinyl, Zach?
Zach: A prized record …that’s a good one…
Aidan: Well I know what your first record was. It was the Grateful Dead.
Zach: No, it wasn’t. That was the first album I ever liked: American Beauty by the Grateful Dead. I found the CD in my dad’s car…This is kind of a weird answer, but I have a 78 of Blue Skies by Benny Goodman. I dropped it when I was a kid and it cracked from the center hole out, but it still plays. So I guess that’s my lucky record.
Aidan: I just burned the CDs for Party of None and I’ve been listening to them on my partner’s old Walkman.
Beau: I used to steal my brother’s Walkman to listen to American Idiot on the bus ride to kindergarten.
Aidan: Wow. That was middle school for me…I was in fifth grade when I got my first mixtape from a boy.
Beau: Kids just a few years younger than me never burned a CD.
Yea I never got a mixtape. We had LimeWire when I was in middle school.
Aidan: LimeWire! Oh man! You would go to download a song and you’d get a clip of Bill Clinton speaking for some reason.
Zach: I used to go to the library and take out CDs to burn them in middle school. Strange Neighbors is pro-library. On the record.
I was playing your music for my mom, and she said she could hear it in an early 2000s Reese Witherspoon movie. Do you agree with that? What film’s soundtrack could Strange Neighbors slide right into?
Zach: Hell yeah.
Dana: Yeah, like Legally Blonde.
Aidan: That’s such a good call. That’s probably the best one. Just a campy, early 2000s type movie.
Beau: It’s the song you hear in the opening scene, when the kid is late for school and running out the door.
I want to dive into Party of None. And I have two quick questions. First: What kind of outfit does a Skeleton Boy wear?
Zach: A Phoebe Bridgers onesie.
Aidan (laughing): No. He wears jeans that you can’t even believe how blue they are. I could draw it, because it’s like all of my exes in one.
Second: Have you ever consulted a psychic? How was it?
Aidan: I go to psychics if I can afford it at the time. So if I pass one and they’re there, I’ll go in. I’m a skeptic but I want to believe, so I cast a wide net and see what shakes out. I’ve even called a psychic before. I’m just in it for the experience. I want someone to prove it. I want someone to really shock me.
Beau: I’m definitely a believer. But I feel like there’s three types of readings you can get. One is it’s real and it’s accurate. The second is they’re fake and it’s a bad reading. But the worst kind is when they’re real and they’re fucking you over. I had an experience where they said some real very personal information about me, and then they roped me into a longer session. It can get really sour, that’s why I tell people I’ll give them a Tarot reading for free.
Do you think you could fake it and convince someone you’re psychic?
Beau: One hundred thousand percent. Yes.
Aidan: I almost got kicked out of school for pretending to be a psychic and scaring this kid Jeremy to the point of tears.
So how long did it take to put Party of None together?
Zach: It’s kind of disjointed. Some of the songs we had lying around for a while. And it’s so hard to know what to do, how to release music nowadays…Do you put out an album? Or do you just put out singles? Should you collect the singles somewhere? So we released a few of the songs as singles and then to feel like we actually did something we put out an EP with two other songs.
Even though it’s a collection of singles, the project is still cohesive. What do you attribute that to?
Aidan: I think this EP is us finding our sound. And I think that’s why the songs go together because we’ve found a happy medium. There are three songwriters, probably soon to be four. It’s kind of wild that different songs can be written by very different people and still work together. I think that’s a testament to the unity we’ve found through this sound.
Dana: There are like 10 songs on our Google Drive just waiting.
How has the group grown since the release of How to Human in 2019?
Zach: I think the jump is most apparent from How to Human to Illuminasti, the EP we put out before this last one. The songs on Illuminasti were all written together, and it was when the group really came together.
Dana: I joined in 2019, and all of the songs on How to Human had already been written.
Aidan: So the last two projects have really been more collaborative with this group. We’ve really come together…And now Beau is the newest member.
Beau: I’m very fresh. That’s why I’m quiet over here…But I played a set with my old band, and I got to see Strange Neighbors perform at the same show. And then when Party of None came out I was really just blown away by the sound. So when they were looking for a new drummer I had to audition.
I noticed a big leap in the hooks on Party of None. Is that something you’ve been focusing on?
Aidan: In some of the songs on Illuminasti, I really started trying to boost up my hooks. I was noticing what worked, and I think that carried over into the newer stuff…I feel like Zach really focuses on the hooks when he writes, and he’s influenced me.
Zach: I was a big Beatles kid. And pretty much every Beatles song is just hook after hook. You can hear two notes and say “Oh, that’s ‘Day Tripper’,” or “Oh, that’s ‘A Hard Day’s Night’.” So I think that style was really influential on me. I wanted to be able to do that. It’s nice to get something stuck in your head.
Aidan: What’s that Beatles quote you like to say about songwriting?
Zach: I think it was Paul McCartney who said it, but they never wrote any of their songs down because if they couldn’t remember it then it wasn’t good enough.
Aidan: And that’s stuck with me while I’m writing our songs. I always keep it in mind.
What would you say is the overarching theme of the group’s lyrics?
Aidan: Life’s messes. I think…It’s definitely not love.
Zach: When I write I pick a subject. Like the song ‘Emily’ is about getting someone else’s mail because I used to get a ton of mail for someone named Emily Rooney…But in the end all of my songs are about frustration.
Aidan: But even if it’s technically a sad song, I don’t really want the audience to know that. At least not at first. I want them to have a good night. I want it to sound happy and fun.
Zach: For us, performing is a really big part of it. It’s not often you go to a bar and you wanna hear someone play really sad and slow songs.
How long until the next album comes out?
Dana: We’ve got about ten songs sitting in our drive right now…We’re hoping to release it early next year. We’ve already scheduled some dates for recording. So hopefully we’ll get all the recording and mixing done this fall.
What are you most excited about in 2023? Any big plans?
Dana: I’m most excited about our show on July 8th. We’re playing at the Pleasantville Music Festival in Westchester. That’s huge for us.