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Arts + CultureMusicNothing neutral about Neutrals' deep connection to the DIY...

Nothing neutral about Neutrals’ deep connection to the DIY indie community

Local post-punk band with a Glaswegian accent plays the Chapel Tue/19, and highlights the power of a close-knit scene.

Good Living Is Coming For You by punk duo Sweeping Promises—aka Lira Mondal and Caufield Schnug from Lawrence, Kansas—is lining up to be one of the best punk records of the year. So imagine my delight when I saw that they were playing at funeral home-turned-independent music venue The Chapel, Tue/19. Excitement ratcheted up when I saw that hometown band Neutrals is one of the opening acts. 

Allan McNaughton is lead guitarist and vocalist for what he calls the “Oakland-SF by way of Glasgow” power trio. (He’s the Glasgow part, and you can hear that distinguished dialect at the fore of Neutrals songs). 

I was turned on to them by following up on Phil Benson, of Terry Malts fame, the former bass player. From that connection, I started to keep an ear out for Neutrals’ economical songwriting and slash-and-burn guitar charm.

If you follow their lyrics closely, you can pick up the ripping truth of being any type of Bay Area artist squeaking out rent, which is three times the national average.

In other spots, they are making silly pop songs, McNaughton says by way of “my ham-fisted post-punk guitar playing and Scottish accent, Phil B.’s melodic bass playing, and Phil L.’s muscular drumming.” Add to that some eerie Reagan Voodoo vibes in the artwork, you’ve got ripping punk with blunt talk across several singles, two EPs, and an album.

Kebob Disco, their debut from 2019 on Emotional Response Records, still slays, lining up frank anecdotes, brusque inflections, and pop that wavers between left-of-the-dial terrestrial radio and former punk shows at the now defunct SF underground station Star Cleaners. Helluva album.

Funnily enough, when Phil Benson decided to leave the band, Lauren Matsui from Seablite, who’s married to the drummer Phil Lantz, stepped right in and upped the harmonic quotient, according to McNaughton.

I spoke with him in advance of the September 19 show:

48 HILLS Congratulations on opening for Sweeping Promises at The Chapel. That may be one of the best shows of the fall. How does it feel to pay dues and get rewarded with a notable opening slot for a national band on the rise? 

ALLAN MCNAUGHTON Aw thanks. Appreciate it. We are stoked. Although we don’t know each other, we were connected to Sweeping Promises by both having songs included on the recent Girlsville benefit compilation Illusion of Choice, but notwithstanding their signing to Sub Pop we both exist within the same DIY punk universe.

I think it’s more a case of Sweeping Promises experiencing success that is built on a grassroots DIY foundation and then using their clout to lift up other like-minded groups, maybe? If we paid any dues it’s more about a long-term involvement in the DIY punk underground than any kind of music industry recognition.

48 HILLS If I may ask how did the line-up change come about? I was shocked to see Phil Benson gone and Lauren Matsui (who I remember from Seablite) in at last year’s Oakland Weekender.

ALLAN MCNAUGHTON It’s not out of bounds at all… It’s all friendly, Phil B. just wasn’t having fun playing music anymore. We are still friends and are on a group text with each other every day.

Phil L., the drummer, went home and told Lauren (they’re married) and she volunteered. To me it was a no-brainer—everyone gets along, and although she hadn’t really played bass before, I knew she was talented. We all jammed together and she fit right in. Her backing vocals add another dimension to the sound and she’s also super enthusiastic.

48 HILLS I remember Phil B. from several SF bands. He’s incredibly talented and has charisma for days. Seablite is my gateway band to all the indie bands I’ve grown to dig and love in SF. They brought me up to snuff in a very humane way. Props to them forever. Plus they kick ass live! Can’t wait for the new record. So back to Neutrals, how would you explain the sound and genesis of the band?

ALLAN MCNAUGHTON Back in 2017 it had been about five years since my last band Airfix Kits had wrapped up (coincidentally our last show was with Terry Malts, Phil B.’s former band, at The Hemlock.) I was missing playing music. I started getting together with a drummer I knew just to mess around in the practice space and see what happened. We started to come up with the beginnings of some songs and drafted Phil Benson in on bass.

Phil coming on board with his pop sensibilities really helped coalesce the song sketches we’d been working on. After a while that drummer left to focus on other projects. Luckily Phil Lantz, who had been the drummer in Airfix Kits, was available and agreed to join. The three of us really bonded on our combined enthusiasm for punk and hardcore despite writing songs that were more on the post-punk or indie-pop spectrum.

The sound then was really a combination of my ham-fisted post-punk guitar playing and Scottish accent, Phil B.’s melodic bass playing, and Phil L.’s muscular drumming. I’ve always had a thing for power trios and so I’ve always endeavoured to keep it that way. When Phil B. left on good terms, Lauren jumped in on bass, bringing some of Seablite’s melodicism with her. Seablite is still her main gig.

48 HILLS With this booking at the Chapel—something I feel a big local band like Fake Fruit would have snapped up right away in the recent past—it feels like you’re really on your way. Your band is a personification of the tight-knit community that this wave of Bay-Area outfits share. For example, and I wrote about this, when I attended Oakland Weekender, everybody was vibing with each other’s band. You don’t see shit like that generally.

ALLEN MCNAUGHTON The Oakland Weekender was pretty special. Given the timing, it was the first time that a lot of us saw each other since the start of the pandemic. I personally hadn’t been to very many shows by that point, if any. I think there was pent-up enthusiasm for that togetherness and for live music in general.

But you’re right about the community thing—the Weekender barely scratched the surface of the myriad connected scenes that were happening in the Bay at that time, and it’s only exploded since. Have you seen David Patterson’s Bay Area Indie Family Tree? It’s insane. And the best thing about this scene is, it’s so multi-faceted, at least to me. Everyone from the demented arty hardcore of Warp to the fragile lo-fi pop of Cindy. 

There are so many great bands and labels right now and a lot of little connected micro clusters that all make up the Bay Area “indie post-punk jangle fog pop” scene. I’m particularly excited by the various offshoots that came out of The World and Rays disbanding: Famous Mammals, Non-Plus Temps, Spiral Dub, etc.

I personally feel somewhat disconnected from all of it, kind of on the outside. Partly because I haven’t been going out as much since the pandemic, and partly because I’m separated from most people by age (I’m 53). Luckily Phil and Lauren are out there making the scene. I like to think I bring continuity to a deeper, older Bay Area scene and a connection to the wider DIY punk network. It’s why we have records on labels like Static Shock Records in London or Domestic Departure in Portland.  

It’s nice to get asked to play the show at the Chapel but I do think it’s more to do with those DIY credentials than any sort of “paying dues” in the local scene. We don’t really play a lot and there are a lot of venues we still have never played, like the Rickshaw Stop for example. We’ve been asked, but the schedule has never worked out.

I used to be a lot more active in putting on shows and helping out-of-town bands get gigs, and I volunteered at Maximumrocknroll for over 25 years—that paid off in previous bands because we were able to go on tour and get gigs because of those connections. Now I don’t really have the time or energy to devote to that so we are reliant on other promoters, and they have so many great groups to choose from. 

Grab tickets for Neutrals and Baus supporting Sweeping Promises at The Chapel 9/19 here.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

John-Paul Shiver
John-Paul Shiverhttps://www.clippings.me/channelsubtext
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to 48 Hills since 2019. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in the Wire, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK, and Drowned In Sound.

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