The Bobby Lees might be from Woodstock, but they’re no hippie revival act. The young punk group that has caught the ears of genre gods like Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry and Henry Rollins is gaining a reputation on both sides of the Atlantic for its wild, spirited shows that channel the grimy underground clubs of the ’70s.
Fronted by Sam Quartin, who is also an accomplished actress, the band features three members who met as teenagers at The Rock Academy in nearby Saugerties, New York: Macky Bowman, Nick Casa and Kendall Wind. Their latest album, last year’s “Bellevue,” is their third and was produced by Vance Powell, who has produced Jack White, Phish and Chris Stapleton, and was released by Ipecac, the California label founded by Mike Patton, of Faith No More, and Greg Werckman.
We recently chatted with Bowman, the drummer, in advance of their sold-out show at Mercury Lounge on April 7.
Your live shows are known for their energy. Do you try to bring that level of intensity to the studio?
I only feel like we’ve gotten stronger as a live act, and trying to translate to the studio is a process. It was really interesting working with Vance Powell on this last album because he’s someone who really thinks not that there’s a better way to do it, but he’s someone who really thinks like a producer, so it was interesting to have that perspective.
It’s kind of an uphill battle, and also because none of us really know a lot about recording. I know for me, I know about performing but recording is a whole other sort of thing.
Is it hard to stay focused when your’e doing multiple takes?
Absolutely. The more takes you end up doing of something, the more difficult it is to get a good one for me, because it really is a kind of negative feedback loop. So staying calm and present can be difficult. I always can get in my head while recording.
Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry and Henry Rollins have all supported the band in some way. What has that been like for you?
On one hand, it’s really cool because that’s also like I grew up listening to all of those people. I think one of the most surreal moments was Mike Watt played us on the radio and I was like WOOOO! It’s just like so cool and exciting, and there’s a piece of me inside that just like SCREAMS. But I also think if we didn’t have that, I wouldn’t necessarily be feeling too much differently on a day to day, because what it’s really about is touring and playing and that whole thing, just trying to build up and do all of that. All that stuff is kind of unrelated to that process, for me at least.
You’re signed to Ipecac. What has been being on the label meant for The Bobby Lees?
A lot of it’s been really cool, there is something cool about a label, especially one like Ipecac, which has so much cred. If you’re even associated with that, just to start, having that name on your album is a HUGE thing for a lot of people. I’ve been really thankful to them because there have been a bunch of people who have come to shows who we have talked to who were like, “Oh yeah, I didn’t even know you guys were a thing until two days ago, and I saw you guys were on Ipecac and I listen to everything they do so I had to check you out.” But we’re definitely an act that I think the live show is the strongest component, so that’s really what it’s all kind of centered around. When people will be more willing to give the live show a chance on something like a logo, is really really helpful. It’s also a great help with everything else, marketing and all of that stuff.
How did the band get started at the Rock Academy?
I was 15 when the band started, which is to say I was 15 and Kendall was 17 and I think Nick joined when me and him were both 16. So now we have a really good on-stage rapport and are kind of bonded for life at this point. We went through the worst years of any now-adult’s life together, kind of pubescent late teens, so you know, we all kind of grew up together at this point.
Do you think Sam’s acting work has had an influence on her songwriting or performances with the band?
I don’t know about as a songwriter, but I think she just has the air of someone who is born to be a performer. I think she’s amazing at it. I think there is something to it that not everyone can access, whereas she’s one of those people, when you see her perform, she enters a different kind of universe or kind of leaves her body or whatever you want to call it when you’re in performance mode. There’s a shift, and I think those are always my favorite performers, when they really transform on stage, and I think she’s incredible at that. I think seeing things she’s acted in, especially more recently, and seeing her perform, especially more recently, there’s a stunning amount of emotional clarity there.
When did you start playing drums and who were your early influences?
My dad is a drummer and he is kind of the reason I started playing drums because I wanted to be like him. But drummers that I was listening to when I started playing, I don’t know, Buddy Rich, Lionel Hampton, who was more of a percussionist. I started playing when I was a really little kid but I wouldn’t say I got really serious about practicing until I was maybe 17 or 18. Elvin Jones is one of my favorite drummers of all all time. I love Rob Ellis from PJ Harvey’s band, and probably “Fish” from Fishbone. All those guys. John Bonham.
Is there anything you’d like to say about the tour?
Just that I’d say tickets are going fast, buy ’em, come see us, we’re really cool and good at music, and you know, not everyone’s cup of tea, but I also think we’re very sexy, so come out and see it for yourself. Prove me wrong, prove me right, blow us a little kiss from the audience while we’re on stage maybe, or don’t, or stand there kind of angrily, stoically with your arms crossed and stone-faced. Come see is, we’re good.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity