Set the Boy Free Debuts Melodramatic (Hip-)Pop With Jesu-Sampling "Don't Feel Fine": Stream + Interview

I've raved about Chinatown and Shinobi several times over the past few years, and the bands' members continue to impress with various offshoots—this time the radical lane change of Set the Boy Free.

Half-sparked from a niche that has been tagged by some as "emo rap" (which I'm old enough to refuse to acknowledge) though more tastefully self-described as "melodramatic pop," the piece is in part linked to hip-hop through its simplistically beat-based rhythm—in this case subtly centered around a quick lift from Jesu. Inspired by—of all things—an episode of One Tree Hill, I quickly found the forlorn lilt of "Don't Feel Fine" looped in the back of my mind after a few repeated spins last week.

One damn way or another, I really freakin' want these kids to succeed, so as long as they keep creating interesting music, I'm gonna keep running my mouth and providing them a platform to do the same. Agree or disagree below...

So, what's the deal here? You found yourself at a Wicca Phase show and felt compelled to try your hand at "emo rap" or whatever the hell this is!?

My friend, Bill, who performs under the stage name Holy Mountain, opened up for Wicca Phase at The Church in Philly. I had a great time watching his set. That night, I got home and Liam (Hey Stranger/Shinobi dummer/Chinatown drummer) and I were watching One Tree Hill and decided to write a song.

In all seriousness, though, I don't entirely "get" Wicca Phase, but what you've put together with "Don't Feel Fine" works for me. I can totally pick out elements of your other work (most notably with Shinobi)—the dreary aesthetic, those subtle earworm vocal hooks, the cool factor of the Jesu nod, etc. I think you told me that this came together in like an hour, too, which is nuts. What was your process like?

We find something to sample (in the case of "Don't Feel Fine" it was "Silver," by Jesu), I take like 15 minutes to write lyrics, and we hook up a shitty USB mixer to a MacBook. Liam's been making beats for a while now, so we decided to put his skill to good use.

Possible stupid question, but what's the delineation between "Set the Boy Free" and "Hey Stranger"?

Set the Boy Free is a Johnny Marr autobiography that's currently sitting on the floor of my bathroom. We had a sample from a One Tree Hill episode of Brooke saying "Hey, stranger! Check it out!" and felt like that was a perfect producer tag.

The lyrics were also inspired by One Tree Hill. This strikes me as half-genius and half-questionable. It works, though, I can't deny that.

One Tree Hill is the perfect muse for melodramatic pop music—an untapped source of incredible subject matter. Who set Dan's car dealership on fire? Is Jake really the father?

You also threw together a "home video"-styled clip for this song using footage from a recent trip to the U.K./Europe. As a quick aside, while on that trip members of Shinobi also participated in a yet-to-be-released collaboration called The Pink Lemons. I have to ask for some details about that experience. Do you have any idea when it might see the light?

I still need to email Aaron back about the release. Aaron and Alice (Negate Everything/various projects) and myself and Liam went into Overdrive Studios in London and recorded this semi-improv noisy post-punk project. Hopefully we'll have it out by the summer.

Alright, man, it only took you about an hour to complete your first track as Set the Boy Free, and there are 186 other episodes of One Tree Hill out there, so... when can the world expect to hear a few more tunes?

This week. We're gonna stay on top of it and put shit out on our SoundCloud.


Hey, stranger! Check out more from Set the Boy Free (sometime soon) over at SoundCloud.