Wyn, James, and Ricky are bringing 2021 Gen-Z spice to the indie-rock game.
Last week, I had the chance to talk to the members of indie-rock band Phoneboy about zodiac signs (“I’m a Scorpio but a real Gemini at heart,” said Wyn), Pokémon Go teams compared to vaccine shots (Johnson & Johnson is Team Mystic, btw), and their upcoming self-titled album, “Phoneboy.”
Wyn, James, and Ricky look like average college students. They love basketball, playing video games, and recently, making jorts. But unlike average college students over the past year, the members of Phoneboy have avoided the Zoom-induced pit of despair and wrote an entire album, made a music video, AND managed a full college course load.
Phoneboy dropped their single “Nevermind” featuring Justin Magnaye on March 18, 2021—a year after life as we knew it came to a halt. The band began recording the single in October 2020, and their full album is set to be released later this month, on April 23. You might have heard their song "1987" on TikTok if your scary-accurate algorithm grouped you into people who draw themselves as anime characters.
Back in February 2020, just before the world ended, Phoneboy performed a release show for their “Handheld” EP. “We had one show, and it was the best show we’ve ever done, and then we had to stop,” James said.
Rather than let the pandemic stem their progress, however, the band pushed on to produce their first full album. Covid brought about the option to rent out an entire AMC theatre, so an empty theatre became the set for Phoneboy’s latest music video. The “Nevermind” video was filmed in February, and released just two months later on April 7, 2021.
The band has been working on the “Phoneboy” album for over a year, and their main goal was to say “come check us out” with this album. Most of the songs from the album, like Wyn and James' mutual favorite track, “Cocolalla,” can already be found on streaming platforms. Ricky’s favorite new track is set to be released with the rest of the album.
James and Wyn have been making music together since they met in middle school in the California Bay Area. When Wyn began studying music at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ, he met part-time quantitative finance major, full-time guitarist Ricky. James moved to New York to study math and economics at Fordham a year later, reunited with Wyn, and Phoneboy was born.
Each of the boys has made music a priority from a young age. Ricky’s mom taught him how to play the 12-string guitar as a kid, and James was playing guitar in bands in the 3rd grade before switching to bass.
“I went to a private elementary school, and everyone played an instrument except for me,” Wyn said. “So for me, it was always like, okay, when am I going to start playing music?” Eventually, Wyn said, a close friend’s composer mother really inspired him to get into music.
Growing up, the boys were all inspired by the Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes, and Rex Orange County, but their music influence comes from a variety of genres.
"We’re indie kids, but we also listen to rap and pop and stuff,” said Wyn. James added Lady Gaga to his list of personal inspirations, admitting her “Fame” album was the first album he ever bought.
When I asked the band what their favorite part of making an album was, their answers lied in the little things. For Wyn and James, it was eating lunch in the studio, and being able to step back from the work and appreciate the experience. Ricky compared his favorite part of making music to the scene from "22 Jump Street" when Channing Tatum realizes that Jonah Hill’s character is dating their police captain’s daughter. When everything comes together, “it’s like a puzzle piece. It’s so rewarding,” said Ricky.
Though the boys love recording, studios are often expensive to use—an obstacle for many young, emerging artists. James said, “it sucks that it’s not always affordable because I’d love to be doing it all the time.”
The hardest part of making an album? “Paying for it,” Ricky half-joked.
Finishing an album through the pandemic was not without its challenges. “We have a lot of time, but it’s definitely harder to write,” Ricky said. “It was a lot of holding ourselves accountable, getting ourselves up off our asses, and actually writing.”
Despite their college student status, the boys are gunning to make music their full-time job without a plan B. Ricky told me the best piece of advice he received came from a member of their management team while they were recording in Brooklyn, NY: treat music like your 9-to-5.
“I was like damn, that makes a lot of sense. If we think of it as our 9-to-5, even if we’re not rolling in money yet obviously, then it’ll become our 9-to-5,” Ricky explained. “It’s kind of a manifesting thing. Getting up, holding each other accountable, and just creating all the time.”
Though the advantages of luck and a solid network are undeniable in the entertainment business, Wyn in particular is sick of hearing about it. “That’s what people have been saying for so long in the '70s and '80s and '90s even. Like you needed to get your big break, someone from a big record label needed to give you a chance or something, but it’s so different now,” Wyn said.
“You make those connections because you get a following because you’re releasing good music. Just write good music and record it well...it doesn’t even have to be recorded well, fuck it, it just needs to sound good.”
Wyn’s refreshing take on breakthroughs sums up Phoneboy’s entire attitude—making music for the love of the craft without care for what others have to say or the conventional measurements of "success." Unlike bands of the past, they are breathing new life into the indie genre and expanding it beyond overplayed Millennial favorites.
Though “Phoneboy” hasn’t even been released yet, the band already has plans to jump back in the studio and make more music. Long term, the band has dreams of Madison Square Garden or Coachella. For right now, the boys hope to tour as soon as possible, starting with Ricky's backyard.
Stream “Phoneboy” wherever you get your music on April 23, 2021. Follow the band on Instagram and Twitter @phoneboymusic.