In this Ones to Watch feature, we introduce Bay Faction, your favorite band that you probably haven’t heard of yet. They conquered r/emo then conquered their Instagram explore page algorithm, and now they really just want to open for Playboi Carti.
All three members of Bay Faction are sniffling, nursing various stages of a nondescript illness that could only be the result of spending a month together confined in a small van. “One of my ultimate goals is to be good enough at touring so that I don’t get sick when we finish,” lead singer James McDermott quips, swirling the ice in the glass he’s holding before taking a sip. He and bandmates Kris Roman (bassist) and Alex Agresti (drummer) are visibly subdued, having just returned from their 15-date headlining tour beginning in Brooklyn and ending in Chicago. They came, they saw, they conquered, they gave each other questionably hygienic stick and pokes, and made it back in one piece—but the real work is about to begin. They’ve just released an album years in the making, and they’re already preparing for the next one.
In order to contextualize where Bay Faction are trying to go, it’s important to know where they came from. Berklee College of Music is one of the world’s most prestigious music schools; noted alumni include John Mayer, Quincy Jones, and Annie Clark (known professionally as St. Vincent). It also serves as the backdrop for the band’s origin story. In late 2013, McDermott posted in a Massachusetts musicians Facebook group seeking bandmates. The first (and only) two responses came from fellow Berklee students Roman and a previous member, and the rest was history.
Bay Faction’s earliest songs are distinctly collegiate, invoking a certain cheeky jazz-leaning meticulousness reminiscent of early Vampire Weekend in essence if not in sound. The music is directly informed by the environment it’s a product of. In addition to playing the songs, they studied the composition and theory too, and it is evident in every playful but calculated riff. Born of a comment thread parallel to BROCKHAMPTON’s inception via forum, Bay Faction emerged onto Boston’s DIY music scene not quite with a bang, but with a whimper and a smirk.
2015 saw the trio’s debut, with the release of an eight-track self-titled EP that became a cult favorite, propelling them into notoriety if only on Reddit’s emo subreddit. It’s honest, but it’s a retrospectively clumsy listen. The way it’s mixed sounds like standing outside listening to the band play the album from behind a closed garage door, and the lyrics are dripping with campy (“I was expecting a love note on the mirror but you wrote your name in your own blood,”) desperation, (“Just to be back in your bed again / I would kill to be yours again,”) a language heavy with lustful and angst-ridden metaphor spoken universally by repressed 19 year olds: think From Under the Cork Tree-era Pete Wentz ghostwriting Modern Baseball songs. Somehow, it all worked. For all its flaws, the project won over listeners both on and offline, and if nothing else, serves as a barometer for growth with each subsequent release. For as many decriers and haters as the band accrued, the fans always seem to outnumber them. Whether people were watching out of love or hate, they were still watching.
In the three years following s/t, Bay Faction toured, moved around, toured, graduated college, toured some more, and moved again. Agresti joined the band to replace the previous drummer, completing the trio as they exist today. Leading up to Florida Guilt they released only four songs, each one after the other so genre-agnostic that any attempt to predict what sonic landscape the forthcoming album would occupy proved futile. Even now, it’s difficult to classify Bay Faction. Rock and emo don’t fit, but does pop fit either? Clocking in at a concise 22 minutes, the LP is a stark and deliberate departure from the traditional emo sound they’d come to be known for.
They conquered that and got bored, so they rolled the dice and tried something new, and it just so happens that the new is more reminiscent of vintage Phoenix or Rooney than the math rock contemporaries they’d brushed elbows with before. Florida Guilt is not their debut in a literal sense, but depending on who you ask, it might as well be. On whether or not they did any pandering to their audience on the record, Roman and McDermott disagree.
“I feel like this album we were just trying to do it as much for ourselves, you can’t try to create something that you think other people want,” Roman argues. “You have to take what you feel and try to communicate it as best you can. When people don’t understand this I feel like it’s more about learning how to communicate with them better than it is about pandering.”
Everyone has a different idea of what pivotal moment shaped them most as a band, but one they all agree on was the publication of an aptly-titled profile “Berklee-bred Bay Faction will never be the same,” that ran in their hometown newspaper Boston Globe in December alongside the album’s release. “I picked it up at a gas station on the highway driving to Boston,” Agresti said. “It was my first time seeing the band in print.” The interview also held a deeper significance that created a ripple effect.
In the past, Bay Faction songs relied heavily on metaphor. None of their songs carry the stamp of an explicit content warning, because the content is never explicit, not only for intrigue, but for privacy and necessity: McDermott, who serves as the band’s primary lyricist, was not yet openly bisexual, so he inadvertently came out to his family and the rest of the state of Massachusetts via the newspaper. It ultimately served as a freeing moment as soon as the tension and panic subsided. He already had the support of his friends; now he has gained his family’s too.
“I’m not afraid to write about it anymore,” says McDermott. “I didn’t really have a choice when I was younger. Now I’m not scared to tell anybody, but I think it’ll still be pretty metaphorical because that’s just so much fun.”
With that inhibition out of the way, there’s more room for the band to breathe. Bay Faction has all the makings of the voice of a generation, shoes they’ll be able to grow into if the rest of the world catches up in time.
It’s the tail end of an otherwise quiet Tuesday night. On the other side of the heavy metal dive bar where we’re seated for the interview, a biker belts out the rumbling chorus of Def Leppard’s “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” as it plays on the overhead sound system, loudly enough to derail Agresti’s train of thought as he’s in the middle of explaining how they’re planning to revamp their live set for the tour they’ll embark on in July.
“That’s exactly what we want to hear,” McDermott interjects, gesturing in the direction of the cacophony, shrugging off the disruption. “Every single person singing along, just like that, that’s how we’ll know we made it.”
Roman and Agresti silently nod their agreement, toss back the remainder of their drinks, and stand up. They can’t be out too late because they have work to do, but first, they’ll sleep.
Bay Faction will be going on tour in support of ‘Florida Guilt’ starting on July 5 at Elsewhere in Brooklyn, New York. Cop tickets right here.
- Words: Tiffany Wines