“We’ve always had the approach to play every show like it’s your last night alive,” says Sam Quartin, guitarist and vocalist for garage punk act The Bobby Lees, during a recent phone chat. That is, unfortunately, now more relevant than ever, as the band recently announced, via their Instagram and Facebook accounts, that their currently scheduled shows – which include a stop at our very own MilkBoy this coming Tuesday, November 21st – could be their last. The post – which can be read in full here – addresses how, because of streaming platforms like Spotify, it has become nearly impossible to survive and sustain yourself as a musician, if you’re not a formidable pop star (or, at the very least, a mega-darling of outlets like Pitchfork… These are my words, not Quartin’s.) The statement also includes a call-to-action, suggesting that larger artists unite and refuse to allow their music to be consumed for little to nothing, which would hopefully lead to all artists once again being paid for their work.
“I mean, most people like music, but we just need to get back to a place where it has value again,” says Quartin. “We’d been touring this recent record for the past year, with a full US tour, selling out most cities, and still coming home to shit,” she tells me. “We started seven years ago, and we had no expectations. We just wanted to play as many shows as we can. But then, like two years ago, around the pandemic, it felt like we were getting bigger, and we were growing, but still not making any money,” she says, before going on to explain, “We sold-out almost every show and still couldn’t sustain ourselves, so we decided to step back and just see what happens.”
As of our chat, The Bobby Lees had played two shows since the announcement of their potential retirement, one of which earned some recognition from a major name: “The actor Jason Momoa reached out and came to a show and just tried to raise awareness of the letter and our music.” Momoa appeared at one of the band’s two shows at The Colony in Woodstock, where he gave a speech at the end of the band’s set about the importance of the musicians we love being able to sustain their artistic careers. Momoa’s speech, and the show itself, were praised by Amanda Palmer via her own Facebook page, adding to the conversation her own experience of trying to stay afloat in the music industry, even offering her, “crowdfunding doula services.”
The origins of The Bobby Lees date back to when Sam moved from New York City to Woodstock eight years ago, when she met bassist Kendall Wind and drummer Macky Bowman at Rock Academy, a music school in upstate New York (Guitarist Nick Casa joined the fold shortly after.) Since then, the band have released three full-lengths, including 2020 sophomore LP Skin Suit, produced by Jon Spencer and, most recently, Bellevue, which dropped in October of last year. “We feel really good about that record. It’s definitely our favorite,” says Quartin, telling me that, shortly after releasing each of the first two records, the band found disappointment with the finished products: “We’d be like, ‘Fuck! We should’ve done this! We should’ve done that!’”
Sam credits at least some of the band’s fondness for Bellevue to the experience of working with producer Vance Powell, known for his work with Jack White and Phish: “We recorded in his studio, Sputnik Sound, in Nashville, so we didn’t have to rush, because of studio time. We did one song a day.” In addition to his own studio and time, Sam also tells me that he provided a great atmosphere and attitude for the band to work with: “He’s just an amazing person, and I felt so comfortable with him.”
Apparently, these potentially final shows of The Bobby Lees (which conclude with a December 20th date at Bowery Ballroom in New York City) have been going quite well. “Recently we’ve been having great energy at the shows… It’s a lot of energy, a little more than usual, because this might be it,” Quartin tells me. I ask her if she has a particular favorite type of show, and she says that she’s actually gotten used to playing some bigger shows, as of recently, before admitting that venues like MilkBoy certainly still have their charm, as well: “We’ll play anything, but my favorite, now that we’ve played some festivals, is outdoor spaces with fresh air and a big stage, where I have room to run around. Sometimes in a sweaty barroom, you just feel like a caged animal, but that can make for a good show, too!”
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