Public Practice is reanimating the spirit of late ‘70s New York with their intoxicating brand of no wave-tinged dark disco. The band came in hot with their punchy balance of punk, funk, and pop on the critically acclaimed Distance is a Mirror EP in 2018, paving the way for their highly anticipated freshman record. Now, after a year of intimate and experimental songwriting in their home studio, they have fleshed out the energetic, playfully oblique sound captured on their debut full-length Gentle Grip.
Together, the foursome creates bold, slinky rhythms and groove-filled hooks that get under your skin and into your dancing shoes. The musicians’ unique chemistry and approach to songwriting is part of what makes their world so intriguing. Magnetic singer and lyricist Sam York and guitarist and principal sonic architect Vince McClelland, who were creative music partners for years prior to Public Practice’s formation, come to the table with an anarchic perspective that aims to eradicate creative barriers by challenging the very idea of what a song can be. Paradoxically, Drew Citron, on bass/vocals/synth, and drummer/producer Scott Rosenthal are uncannily adept at working within the framework of classic pop structures. But instead of clashing, these contrasting styles challenge and complement one another, resulting in an album full of spiraling tensions and unexpected turns.
Inspired by influential New York bands like Liquid Liquid and ESG, the foursome has a natural inclination toward music that sounds rough-hewn. “We were thinking about classic New York dance albums, and the thing that stuck out is that many sounded like they were recorded in less-than-ideal situations,” McClelland says. “There was always something about them that felt somewhat home-cooked.” McClelland has spent the past few years constructing a home studio with carefully chosen and occasionally hand-made equipment in an effort to recreate that “cobbled together” sound. As three quarters of Public Practice are engineers as well as instrumentalists, their collection of gear, combined with the recording rig McClelland built, allowed the band to record Gentle Grip largely at their own hybrid practice space/studio in Brooklyn. “Having a space and setup that is unique, you’re always going to have more of a signature sound,” McClelland explains. They spent the better part of 2019 playing with sounds, riffing on McClelland’s demos, and recording a number of songs live to tape. Although a handful of sessions occurred in traditional recording studios, the band’s autonomy and ability to record themselves imbues their music with a sense of freedom and gives it a distinct character — a home-cooked sound that is purely Public Practice.
York, who writes all of Public Practice’s lyrics, with the exception of the McClelland-penned “How I Like It,” explores the complexities and contradictions of modern life overtop danceable rhythms and choruses that disarmingly open up the doors to self-reflection. “You don’t want to live a lie / But it’s easy” York sings on “Compromised,” the record’s brisk, gyrating lead single. As York puts it, “No one’s moral compass reads truth north at all times. We all want to be our best green recycling selves, but still want to buy the shiny new shoes — how do you emotionally navigate through that? How do you balance material desires with the desire to be seen as morally good?” Towards the slinkier end of the album’s auditory spectrum, songs like the supremely danceable “My Head” — which is about tuning out the incessant influx of external noise and finding your own internal groove — are more personally political but still hearken the last days of disco.
While York’s songwriting focuses on the existential, McClelland has a serious aptitude for the technical aspects of music-making. He talks about music like an engineer with a sculptor’s mind and is especially drawn to ideas and structures antithetical to the standard pop repertoire. This unconventional creative drive gives rise to songs that play around with chord changes, instrumentation, and timbral qualities like “Hesitation,” Gentle Grip’s final track, which was constructed around the same note repeated on three different instruments. It also accounts for the bold experimentation found on songs like “See You When I Want To,” which was created by the band improvising with sounds over a steady beat while York free-associated lyrics.
Far-ranging as Gentle Grip may be topically and stylistically, on their debut long-player Public Practice never lose sight of the fact that they want to have fun, and they want you to have fun too — a fact is inescapably evident in their frenetic live set, with York’s stage presence casting a spell like a young Debbie Harry, or Gudrun Gut circa Malaria! They make it almost impossible not to dance, and reveal that they are a band with a knack not only for curious, catchy songwriting but also for old school New York drama. And whether they are poking holes in commonly held ideas centered around relationships, creativity, capitalism, or chord structures, Public Practice stay on the same plane as their audience and remain part of conversation. After all, who wants to stand on top of a soapbox when there’s a dark, sweaty dance floor out there with room for all of us on it?For tour dates and more visit: www.facebook.com/PublicPractice/