In 2007 three dudes from Long Beach began making music. Again.
Singer-guitarist David Quon, bass player Derek VanHeule, and drummer Nathan Warkentin had been playing together in various formations for almost a decade, but this new venture was simpler and more organic than anything they’d done before.
“The previous band we were playing in had kind of fizzled out and we thought that we were going to put music aside for a while,” said Quon. “But I’d had some ideas and we sort of started creating again; it was really fresh and easy.”
Under the moniker We Barbarians, the trio produces dynamic, post-punk melodies glossed in modern pop clarity. The group brings their sound to Schine Underground at Syracuse University Monday night at 8 p.m. Joining them is Manchester Orchestra frontman Andy Hull.
Quon drives the band’s sound with urgent vocals and an energetic stage presence –– David Byrne similarities are undeniable.
“I like to think the foundation of what we do has a lot of post-punk roots,” Quon said. “Joy Division and Echo & The Bunnymen were big inspirations as far as sound.”
The Doldrums, their first EP, was recorded over a weekend in L.A. and released in November 2007 with the help of fellow Long Beachers the Cold War Kids.
“We were living in a house with some of their members and they started their own label and put out [The Doldrums],” said Quon. “They also took us on the road, which was a catalyst to help us get our feet on the ground.”
Months after the EP’s release, indie-radio tastemakers KEXP featured its opening track “Yesmen and Bumsuckers” in their Song of the Day segment, calling the band’s songs “immediate classics” and praising Quon’s “anthemic” vocals.
We Barbarians put out their studio debut, There’s This There’s That, in December 2009. By then they’d cultivated a substantial following on the West Coast, as club-goers embraced the group’s impassioned live performances and ever-developing sound. A tour with Passion Pit followed in 2010.
Despite the band’s broadening success, things started to stagnate post-tour and the group decided to migrate east to Brooklyn in search of a new creative laboratory.
“We all grew up in California and lived their our whole lives,” said, Quon. “We were at a point where we were ready for new surroundings and when touring the east coast we felt this certain sense of thriving culture, the sense that’s something’s going on [in Brooklyn].”
The move east proved vital to their latest EP, Headspace. Released under indie label Beranimal and produced by Modest Mouse studio-man Dann Gallucci, the five-song collection features the three-piece in a refined, lyrically-focused state.
“The initial stuff was a lot more atmospheric and dark, sort of ambient –– it was less about an actual song and more about different sounds,” said Quon. “The EP is more sonic. It’s a lot more redemptive even though there’s still that undertone of heaviness. We’re trying to trim the fat.”
In the midst of a headlining tour in support of Headspace, the band continues to churn out new material. Quon anticipates an LP in the fall –– a blend, he said, of new and old.
“Now that we’ve gone from one side of the country to the other, I think the LP will hone in on what we really are as a band."
Otto-Tune is a music blog dedicated to exposing the best in local, national and international music to the Syracuse community.