Conveyor, a self-described “band of four gentlemen living in Brooklyn,” plays the kind of music you could bring home to your parents and then take out afterward until 3 AM. It’s equal parts worldly and familiar, rounding out transcendent polyrhythms with layers of instrumentals and vocal canons. And they really are gentlemen, offering me pizza and beer when I arrived for the interview, previewing their forthcoming debut full-length, and dropping words like “fallacy” casually into conversation. As vocalist T.J. Masters asked at a later point while pondering a band’s ideal level of mystique, “Where did this band come from? Who are these people?”
Each band member’s history differs somewhat, but the general consensus is that before coming to New York for various reasons (including graduate school, hence Conveyor’s general, genuine articulacy), Masters and his bandmates—Evan Garfield, Michael Pedron, and Alan Busch, Jr.—belonged to the musical collective of their hometown of Gainesville, Florida. “Everyone’s really supportive and it was always a really positive, collaborative music scene,” Pedron says. Since their Williamsburg loft was filled with instruments, bikes, and friends, we moved into one of their roommate’s bedrooms to conduct the interview; he was glued to the Miami Heat on their enormous television, and I was assured he wouldn’t mind.
One of the products of Gainesville’s “collective, happy, good vibes feeling” was a collaboration with Benji Haselhurst, an artist who had previously done posters for Orlando’s Total Bummer. Conveyor recruited him to do the album art for singles “Mane”/”Maine” and for Conveyor itself. The former’s watercolor geometric prism and the LP’s refracted images of flowers are, somewhat surprisingly, accurate visual representations of the band’s sound. “I’m always interested in things that sound weirder because it catches my interest. And that’s something that Benji gets. Doing things that look good but are strange and can make you think twice about what exactly you’re seeing and how it got to look like that,” Pedron says.
After watching Conveyor’s recorded live performances—including their acoustic show for We Listen For You at SXSW and a session with BreakThruRadio TV, which you can watch below—I wondered how they were able to recreate their intricacies in a live environment. It really does “make you think twice” about what goes into a song like “Mane”, whose vocal harmonies are studded with a clipped, walking bassline and sudden atonalities and expletives. But like novelty candy– maybe those Green Tea Kit-Kats– it’s sweet, kind of weird, and infectious. So how does it get to look like that?
It’s quite simple, really. “We’ll write these things that are really strange and kind of difficult to memorize, like songs that are 3-1-6-1, things we have to memorize that aren’t at all intuitive. It’s become a natural part of our writing,” Garfield says before Masters adds on, “The 3-1-6-1 is our secret code. There’s a measure of three, and then a measure of one, and then a measure of six, and then a measure of one.”
“And there’s a measure of three between each of those,” Pedron finishes. The four of them admit their attraction to mathematics and patterns, which is just audible enough that you can tell Conveyor is meticulous about every detail of the recording process.
One of the pleasures of listening to Conveyor is that for a young band, they’ve evolved a lot over their career. Their Sun Ray EP from September of last year ran the gamut from the title track’s skipping African rim-hits to “Yes, Some Things Are So Heavy”, with its careful marriage of Masters’ lyrics to a repetitive kick drum and gentle electric riffs. A few months later, in April, Masters came to a phase in his life when he wanted to “write folk-y songs, like three chords, sounds pretty, that sort of thing.” The end result, Three Carols, could have been written by Simon and Garfunkel or Leonard Cohen. Acoustic guitars, a banjo, and even an accordion suffuse wistful lyrics about coming home, subways, and fields with throat-closing nostalgia.
Despite the strength and diversity of these EPs, the band hopes that their first full-length “is the first true representation of ourselves as a band.” Before, the songs they released as Conveyor had already been written to some degree, tracks that Masters and Busch recorded in their old apartment before recruiting their bandmates to add bass and percussion. For Conveyor, the band was in the studio for the better part of a year, taking two days a week to rehearse and record their new songs. Still, “We could always be more perfectionist, but there’s a certain element of charm in the little mistakes. We’re not only okay with it, but it’s integral to our recordings.” For a band so enamored of mathematics, it wasn’t surprising that they calculated the degree of error to be 10%.
In light of Conveyor’s release, Masters expressed ambivalence about having the band’s former efforts online for mass consumption. “I waffle back and forth on that every day. I remember last year, there was this band, WU LYF. There was this whole air of mystery because they turned down every offer and no one knew the real names of the band members. When I think about that, I think, man, should there be more mystery to us?” The answer he always comes to is that they’re all musicians making music, and that people should be able to hear it if they want to. He came to the same conclusion when they opened a Kickstarter, which they called “Tourveyor,” to purchase a van for their summer tour.
“I guess the conclusion I always come to is, ‘It’s whatever.’ We sold our cars to move to New York so we could be here, go to school, have this whole experience that is living in the big city. So why should I feel any apprehension about asking for the aid of our friends and our family to help us get out of New York and share our music?” So get out and share their music with them, because chances are, Tourveyor will soon be coming to a town near you.
Conveyor arrives July 17th via Paper Garden Records.