Sometimes it’s okay to not know what you want to do with your life or who you are supposed to be. Who you are meant to be with. Or maybe even just what you want to have for breakfast. At least that’s what the American indie-rock duo Boyish are here to tell you. Through their melodic bedroom-pop landscape highlighted by piercing vocals and dreamily electric instrumentals, the group has made a name for itself as the band that understands what being young is like nobody else. Born out of a home studio in New York, what once started in 2016, has now turned into an international phenomenon, and with heart-wrenching and relatable songs as backup and the one or another surprise up their sleeves, one thing is clear – Boyish have come to stay and they’re just getting started.
From any outsider’s perspective, the indie-duo Boyish are living the perfect band dream. Mingled together with their friends in an apartment in Brooklyn, their manager just a flight of stairs away and all of their friends and fellow musicians quite literally next door, they’ve created a hub for creativity and collaboration. One that other uprising groups can mostly only dream of. But controversy to how it seems now, the duo’s roots aren’t quite as fairytale-like. “We both went to Berkely College of Music together in Boston, and I needed a guitarist for an audition. My roommate knew Claire and so we met up and played a couple songs together and did this audition, which we totally didn’t get. But they were like, “you guys should really keep making music together”. So we would meet up in a practice room and work on songs together, but not speak at all. We weren’t friends, we were strictly business partners. But then we would just do that more and more frequently until one day we actually hung out,”, tells India Shore, singer of the effervescent group, with a laugh, before guitarist and second half Claire Altendahl continues, “We were both intimidated by the other person. But then we realised very early on that we had the exact same music taste, which was rare. I had never really run into someone that was on the same page. Anytime India would send me a song, I would be like, “oh, I love this song”, and it just continued back and forth. It turned out to be a perfect pairing.”
Now, a few years down the line, a band name change later – their beginnings actually lie in the more college-y place, basement gigs and Friday night college house shows included – and a global pandemic behind them, the duo has settled in a place of friendship and pride, with a new set of goals that probably many bands know all too well. “It is so hard to make music that you actually enjoy,”, exclaims guitarist Altendahl. “I don’t think anyone really talks about it, but it’s such a big task. I think that was one of my biggest goals, to make something that I was just so genuinely excited about and something that really felt like us and like a projection of who we are.”
But, of course, with just about every uprising group with only the biggest ambitions above all, the Coronavirus put a hold on their many plans and gave them a few more ideas and problems to ponder upon, with some turning out to be actual blessings in disguise, as singer Shore remembers: “I feel like everyone was in a lot of denial when it first happened. We had just started to take this seriously, we wanted to release an album and had a bunch of shows lined up and a mini college tour.
“That was one of my biggest goals, to make something that I was just so genuinely excited about and something that really felt like us and like a projection of who we are.”– Claire Altendahl
But then everything got cancelled, and we didn’t know for how long. So we just focused on making more music. And I think that’s when we actually took the time to figure out what we wanted to sound like because we had nothing but time. It’s the time when we wrote some of my favourite songs.” But do they miss the masses of free time compared to their now busy schedule of touring and playing gigs in front of actual crowds? “God no, I’m happy to know that playing live is my favourite thing to do and I can’t wait for more. I’m very happy. We do not stay in our apartment at all,”, the vocalist continues with a laugh.
The end of the pandemic also marked a massive new leap in the group’s rollercoaster ride story, with their latest EP ‘My friend Mica’ getting put into the hands of their patiently waiting fanbase at the beginning of May. Drenched in soft vocals, addictive guitar lines and lyrics telling tales of wrong loves, old friends and new beginnings – “the main themes are growing up and being gay and sad” -, the completely self-produced record serves as the duo’s turn to a new page filled with heartfelt stories and moments of truth and vulnerability. Front to back, the EP and all of its six songs offer a peek into Boyish’s world and their adventures of living together with their friends in one of the arguably best cities in the world. “I was in Minnesota with my parents, India was in New York, and we just decided to move in together and to put this band first. And once we moved out here, it was just one of the most amazing experiences, being surrounded by these creative artists and people that have so much love in them,”, guitarist Claire explains, before delving into the importance of one particular friend who stands as the inspiration behind the title track ‘My friend Mica’ and who also had a massive impact on the artist on a more personal level. “Mica is one of the first friends in the trans community I had. When I first moved here, I was using they/ she pronouns, because I felt afraid to make the full jump to they/them, which I wanted to do. But I was very sensitive to other people’s reactions. I would get really embarrassed when people misgendered me and I, for some reason, felt like it was my problem, when it was really theirs. And I think just being around Mika made me so brave, made me so firm in who I was and really changed my entire life. I don’t think they realise how much it means to me to have them as a friend and as an idol. So naming the EP after them was me trying to say thank you for everything.”
“In the past when we were writing stuff that didn‘t come from a personal, real experience, it was scarier to release it because it felt inauthentic. So now it is like, this is me, this is who I am. The more I hide, the more I feel like I‘m not being real. And that scares me much more.”– Claire Altendahl
But it wasn’t just the lyrics that offered the Brooklyn-based pair a feeling of empowerment that can only come from boundless creativity, but also the production process itself. Specifically during the pandemic, with lots of time on their hands, Shore and Altendahl decided to try their luck at producing – something that has now made it possible for them to not only work completely independently but to also step into an up until now rather male-dominated part of the music industry. “I think there’s something to be said about allowing other people into the process. I feel like it’s a great skill to have, especially for people who aren’t men,”, young singer India remarks, before shining a light on her first experiences from earlier times. “Before I knew what I was doing, I definitely felt like nobody was listening to me when I stepped into a recording studio, just because I’m not a man. So I think it’s nice now that I know the language and have the skills to say what I do and don’t want. I feel like that has been a huge game changer for me.”
Together, the striking indie risers have always walked on a thin line of sharing only their most honest selves with their listeners without laying themselves completely bare at everyone’s feet. It’s an endless discussion – what can you truly share and what should be kept private? Where does authenticity begin and where does it end? And what even is authentic in a world that is governed by social media quick fixes and TikTok trends that are popular today and gone tomorrow? “Nobody is like me and India, you know, like the way we write our sound, the combination of the two of us. You always have those trends in music, but in the time you take to chase them, they’re gone already. So you need to create something that feels like you, because otherwise if you’re just chasing something, you’re already behind it,”, states Altendahl with a tone of true certainty. And looking through their discography and realising that so many of their lyrics are inspired by very personal moments, one might think that the group would sometimes shy away from giving so much of themselves over to their listenership. But not so Boyish. Through all the ups and downs of the past years, the pair has come to a place of self-awareness and honesty that has made it possible for them to voice what it feels like to grow up, to fall in and out of love, to find and lose people, to be young and free, and sad and nostalgic. It’s turned them into the stand-out band they are now, one that it seems so many people needed so very dearly. Their magic comes from just being themselves, and proving that, in reality, that is more than enough. “I actually had this thought the other day at a friend’s poetry reading. I thought to myself, “what if I stood up there and read our lyrics?”, but that would feel so intrusive and vulnerable. I’m still not sure why it doesn’t feel like that when it’s with music, but for some reason, it’s not that scary when it’s with the songs. I think in the past when we were writing stuff that didn’t come from a personal, real experience, it was scarier to release it because it felt inauthentic. So now it is like, this is me, this is who I am. These are my greatest fears, you can hear my anxiety. The more I hide, the more I feel like I’m not being real. And that scares me much, much more.”
Written by Laura Weingrill