Music is an interesting space, in that it's filled with all sorts of characters. When a band forms, it can usually be the efforts of a group writing together, though more often than not, the band is made up around one person's vision. Over the years, I've gotten to know Stephen Wells of the band Birthday Club, through varying endeavors and projects. What's never shocked me, is how large he thinks, what he aspires to, and where he sees himself in the grand spectrum of the music industry.
While most bands are focusing on making their name around town, Birthday Club has always looked outside of Houston to get their music heard. This year, Birthday Club will take their sound on the road again while playing this year's inaugural In Bloom Festival, and the Houston Press was more than happy to chat them up about what they have planned for the festival and more.
It should be noted that In Bloom is not the only festival the band is performing at in March, as they will also be at this year's Savannah Stopover Festival in Georgia. While anyone who's been paying attention for a minute would know, the band has been around since 2015 starting up from the ashes of Wells' previous project Featherface.
"Birthday Club as a live band didn't really come together until mid 2015, but I'd been working on a ton of the songs during my time living in Austin with my old band," Wells says. "When that chapter came to a close, I moved back to Houston and spent a lot of time alone in my room, just writing and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the songs. All of that work sort of culminated in an invitation to play a Sofar Sounds concert in the art space above Paulie's on Westheimer."
"I showed up with my acoustic guitar, some really crude backing tracks and a handful of songs that were nowhere near "done." Needless to say, I was pretty freaked when the room slowly filled to capacity as my set time approached. It actually ended up being a super fun show and everyone was really receptive to whatever the hell I was doing. That positive energy sort of helped give me a push to start working on forming a more proper band for the first real live show at Walter's."
If you've ever caught Birthday Club before, then you'll undoubtedly notice that they're more than just one guy. Though, Wells is listed as the sole member, something we asked him to clarify.
"Over the past two years, Birthday Club has slowly morphed back and forth between a solo project and more of a "band" oriented project, so I think I'm eternally trying to find the balance between those two things. I think a lot of artists have a tricky time pinning that down. I still basically write and produce most of the songs, but I'll also bring in my friends so we can arrange and co-produce the individual parts together whenever it feels right.
"Travis Peck and Valeria Pinchuk are the other members in the current incarnation of the band, and we've been through some crazy stuff together on tour the past few years. I'll typically record a demo track with the ideas for certain parts, and then I'll email those tracks to them so they can produce and work out their own ideas using the tracks as inspiration," explains Wells.
The band's Lighten Up E.P. had the feel of Brit pop mixed with sunshine laced pop rock. "It's weird because I'm honestly not sure what influences were floating around my head when I was working on those songs," Wells says. "I was definitely listening to way too much Big Star at the time, but I was also listening to a lot of Lata Mangeshkar and old Bollywood music, which I studied in college. Influences are strange because they can literally come from anywhere and anything, so it's a really hard thing to pin down.
"As far as other bands out there right now, I've been having a pretty hard time figuring out where these songs would be able to easily fit in with the current guitar oriented waves going on. I guess I'd like to think that they'd fit in on the singer/songwriter/pop side of things that you'd find on a label like Matador Records, but the new songs that I'm working on are definitely more on the electronic side of things."
And while that E.P. definitely holds up around two years since it was released, it made us wonder if the band had anything new on the horizon. "There is new music coming this year and a debut full length in the works. I'm also going to be launching a new Birthday Club cassette series in the coming months for different production commissions and experimental ideas that I've completed. The first release is going to be excerpts from the original scoring production that I did for NPR at the start of the year, featuring vocals by Elizabeth Salazar Rodriguez," says the guitarist.
Birthday Club shows typically feel like a mixture of chill hang coupled with energetic indie rock, and Wells has his own strategies about how to keep going.
"I remember once catching Sharon Jones drop a set during the hottest time of the day on the main stage at FPSF. The Houston sun had been baking the front of the black plywood stage for several hours, so she performed a lot of the set dipping in and out of what little shade remained towards the back of the stage with her band. Suddenly, towards the end of the show, she kicked off her shoes and started frantically dancing barefoot on the hot stage like someone running across a bed of coals. This went on for what seemed like an awesome eternity. Long story short, I'm probably going to play barefoot this year; that'll do the trick."
Whether or not Birthday Club will perform at the festival barefoot or not will remain to be seen. You can stream the band's music in all of the usual places, or purchase it directly from their Bandcamp page. Birthday Club will perform at In Bloom Fest on Sunday March 25. The all ages festival runs March 24 and 25 at Eleanor Tinsley Park, and will host sets from Lil Uzi Vert, Beck, Martin Garrix, Lil Dickey, Incubus and more. Gates at 11 a.m.; tickets $79 to $299.