If the indie music scene were a preschool playground, The Boy Least Likely would either be the kid building cities in the sandbox or the one aimlessly spinning in circles. As you listen to their debut album, The Best Party Ever, you can’t help but notice that it’s got two different sides – one in which they’re dying to create something beautiful, and one in which it’s obvious that they’re doing whatever makes them happy. The most refreshing thing about the album is that it doesn’t try to be something it’s not; unlike most new indie releases, there’s not even a drop of pretentious attitude. Rather, they seem to delight in making music and most importantly, having fun with it.
As many critics (myself included) have pointed out, The Boy Least Likely To’s songs always seem to have a quality of innocence that can completely engulf the listener. Jof Owen, the lyricst for TBLLT, weighed in with his feelings on being labeled as a “cute” band. “I don’t really mind people calling our music ‘cute’ or ‘innocent’, but i think it probably simplifies it a bit.” He continued on by offering similarly labeled bands as an example, “bands like Belle and Sebastian and Camera Obscura often get dubbed ‘cute’ when really they’re using cute pop sounds in quite a tongue in cheek way. I like the mixture of the two. Like that Japanese cartoon character, Gloomy Bear. He’s sick and cute at the same time. I like darker themes being hidden in deceptively sugary contexts.” So while they admit that they’ve got a childlike sound, there’s more to it than rattles and xylophones.
Part of The Boy Least Likely To’s “cute” sound stems from the fact that many of the songs on their album sound like poetic versions of something one might write for a first girlfriend. Songs like I’m Glad I Hitched My Apple Wagon To Your Star bring to mind the most pure kinds of love. However, I was curious to see if Jof intended them this way, or if this was another case of a darker theme being sugarcoated. Apparently I’m right…but only somewhat. “There are love songs on the album, but often they’re quite self referential.” Jof went on to elaborate that “a song like Paper Cuts is as much as about me as it is about love. That’s often the way I write about love – it’s all ‘me me me’ with a little bit of ‘you’ thrown in there from time to time.” I suppose that’s it’s better for a self-centered song to come out wonderful than for a selfless song to sound like crap. After all, isn’t it the depth of the song that is important, rather than the subject matter?
If you think it sounds like The Boy Least Likely To are having the time of their lives, it’s probably because they are. Pete and Jof started their own record label, Too Young to Die, to produce all TBLLT’s music. This freed them up creatively and removed a lot of the stress that usually goes along with being a band struggling to get your name out. In fact, this approach to music has helped Jof to remain optimistic about the band. “There was never a point where we felt disheartened about The Boy Least Likely To. I’ve been in bands before where it’s been really hard work to keep upbeat about things, but with this it’s never been that way.” Jof then added that having creative control also helped them to realize the album as they wanted – “we didn’t want anyone else’s opinions on how the records should sound or what the artwork should look like. So we just set up our own label, got a distribution deal, and made the record exactly as we wanted to.”
One thing that’s amazingly humanizing about these creative giants is that they keep a blog. But unlike most of their musician counterparts, it’s not about who they met at what party or when what re-release is dropping. Rather they speak frankly and openly about their musical undertakings and even what album they can’t stop playing. Out of curiosity, I ask Jof what albums he’s spinning at the moment. “The last record I bought was Hymns for the Hopeless by William Elliot Whitmore. It’s such a beautiful record, although sometimes I’d prefer it to be a bit more stripped down.” I knew he wouldn’t let me down. In fact he went on to add that he had “just bought the new Saint Etienne album, Tales From Turnpike House” and that the last album he couldn’t put down was Joanna Newsom’s Milk Eyed Mender. One thing’s for sure, these are two guys who are not only passionate about making music, but about listening and talking about it as well. If you ask me, most rock stars could stand to be a little more giddy about Joanna’s album and a little less concerned with who they’re seen canoodling with.
Another thing you might notice upon reading the duo’s blog is that they really, really like to record songs. So much, in fact, that they rarely do any touring at all. But it’s not like they’re just loners; Jof actually has a good reason as to this perference. “I like the lasting nature of records and cds. It’s very different for me playing live, because it’s all about what happens in that moment and then it’s gone.” Fortunately for us Yanks, they might be swinging our way soon. Jof had this to say about crossing the pond – “Hopefully we’ll sort out an American tour before the year is out. There are seven of us in the live band so it’s going to take a lot of sorting out. But we’ll be there as soon as we can. I promise.”
So maybe I was a little off with my assessment of The Boy Least Likely To. The fact that they’re making cute pop tunes that just so happen to have a point isn’t a sign that they’re naive or innocent. Rather, they’re two deeply creative minds who use childish instruments and song styles to get their point across – and I’m glad. The world could use more pioneers like Jof and Pete, even if they decide to spend a little while in the sandbox.