Dérive is an artsy post-hardcore band from Western Mass that will blow your mind. Hayden Fisher, co-founder of Wallflower Records, recently wrote up his experiences with the band so far and you can read it below.
“ I think it’s finally happened. I’ve found local underground heroes at last. I might’ve been expecting a twinkly emo outfit, I might’ve been expecting some stompy hardcore crossover in the vein of Title Fight, but instead I’ve found Derive- and by pure chance. Back in February, or March, or somewhere around there, my best friend sent me a bandcamp link to their music via Facebook. I’m a pop fiend at heart, so my ears didn’t immediately agree with the discordant opening riff of “Course Correction”, the first track on their most recent split. And when the song grinded to a near halt, instantaneously morphing into very heavy metal riffing with antiquated sounding organ moving everything along, I didn’t know what to think. I was intrigued, but still very close minded about the music itself, so I cut it about forty seconds into the song. It floated around my head for a few months until mid-spring, when I was asked if I wanted to swing up to the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) to see Derive and a few other live acts. I accepted, because a show is a wonderful thing, and the evening of I wasn’t sure what I was expecting.
Their appearance was decidedly un-punk (in the traditional sense, although I found that in itself very punk rock) and their respective rigs were outrageously different. The frontman, Greg Nahabedian, wielded a large keyboard at his front, an acoustic guitar directly behind him, and a chunky accordion laid on the floor to his right side. Guitarist Paul Schmelz stands at his own microphone with a sleek Stratocaster (checkered pick guard included) and a hefty pedal board of who-knows-what, as well as two toms dangling from the mic stand, illuminated from the bottom by a set of lights. In fact, there are lights everywhere. Their bassist, Justin Belden, had a cab a full head taller than himself, who had to be somewhere around six feet. His pedals, both times I’ve seen the band perform, are slightly obscured by a board made entirely of legos, although there seems to be quite a few. Last but certainly not least, there’s the group’s drummer, Paul DeGrandpre. His kit hugs him tightly as he plays, as if he has to hit his way out by the end of the set. All his drums aside from the snare are twisted towards him- I almost expect him to reach out and punch the toms as opposed to hit them.
They set up faster than I can eat a box of mac and cheese. Right as they’re about to begin, Greg starts to hand out earplugs and I’m floored. I’ve had reoccurring tinnitus in my left ear since I was about fourteen, so I’ve always worn earplugs to shows, aside from the fact that I’ve always just thought it was the smart thing to do. For awhile, especially at certain shows where it seems like no one is wearing earplugs, I’ve also gotten the impression that it was “uncool” to do something like that. Of course, it might sound really silly to whoever is reading (especially since you’re not supposed to care about what other people think if you immerse yourself in punk culture) but it put me at ease all the same. I found it to be a very cool and thoughtful thing. There’s a weird kind of energy I feel before they start. Maybe it was looking at them, a strange conglomeration of college students all ready to go off like a rocket, or maybe it was the huge amount of gear- I don’t know. But in seconds, they’re all down in it- and they’ve started their set with the only song I’ve heard- “Course Correction”.
The opening riff sounds mind-altering played live, and every band member is moving. Before I know it, Nahabedian has switched from his guitar to his keyboard, and the song is already locked into the slow chug of the pre-verse. At the time, I didn’t know anything past that part- I hadn’t even heard Greg’s voice. Honest, I wasn’t even sure if he was the singer. There’s a few stressed drum hits and some pinch harmonics and in a split second, it’s only Nahabedian and his voice, the instruments gradually flooding back behind him:
“If there was another way to go
Then I missed it 21 years ago
In a better town or on a better street
I could drown myself in a symphony
Well, if time allowed I’d stop these sounds
I’d tear them up and I’d put them in the ground
Or I’d write a new song with a brand new beat
I’d try to sleep with brand new dreams.”
The music is narrative, symphonic, and chaotic. It sounds like philosophy, it sounds profound, and most certiainly learned (mind you, “If there was another way to go” is taken directly from Les Miserables). During moments of songs where his hands are free, Nahabedian takes the microphone and sings while doing something I can only describe as trying to play leapfrog with an unseen demon. Shirts fly off. Greg’s presence takes on a Smeagle/Gollum like display as he performs- up at his keyboard, singing softly and clearly- or crouched on the ground: shirtless, chaotic, and wailing. Paul occasionally flings his guitar off and runs to the other side of the stage to turn a small amp on and off, adjusting knobs as he goes (I had no clue what he was doing). There are oddly placed (in a good way) choruses of gang vocals. Belden and DeGrandpre are lost in their work, often times with their heads down, playing vigorously. All of the songs have multiple parts, and things start to get like Alice and Wonderland on some bad acid. Most songs lie somewhere in between perfect pop and the darker spectrum of American punk and metal- things like doom, sludge, [real] screamo, and grind music. There’s also a plethora of outside influences too numerous to count. It is clear to me that in this band, no musical idea is left unattended, and all members are relatively open to musical exploration.
Derive is almost like a movement. They give away free zines and stickers after the set. The zine, “Derive Speaks”, is packed with wonderful political and social commentary, music discussion, art, and poetry. Anyone can submit. Recently, it’s become one of my favorite things. A month or so later, I was lucky enough to receive a copy of their first record, “All My Demons Are Coming Loose”, on CD. It’s a musical in two parts, and a very entertaining listen. It’s a mystery to me what it’s all about, but the songs explore a wide expanse of musical territory. Listening to “All my Demons” feels more like listening to an Orchestra than a band. Lyrically, it’s intriguing and artistic. Every member is talented in their own unique way, making the end result almost recklessly original.
I won’t mince words: as it says on their business card, jokingly or not, Derive is the new sound. They opened up for The Hotelier the night before last and blew their set out of the water. They’re on a full US tour this summer, go out and see them. Buy a shirt, nab a sticker, read a zine, spread the word.
Derive speaks: firstname.lastname@example.org”
Photos by Hayden Fisher and Zack Milliron.
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