David Otto and Thomas Sommerville have a good thing going in Brooklyn. The two Connecticut refugees live together in a rent-controlled building right off the L train in Bushwick. They receive one cable channel of “shitty reject cinema,” work nearby jobs and, despite a recent deal with Cantora, create music from the comfort of their bedrooms as Slam Donahue, an ecstatic dance-pop trinity of guitar (Otto), bass (Sommerville) and drums (Fort Lean vocalist Keenan Mitchell).
“It’s not that we’re antisocial,” Sommerville says through the phone in his bedroom (Otto joins the call from his bed a few feet away), “but we perfected our own techniques after this fuckin’ grind for so many years. Dave’s been recording since he was 13, and I’m similar. So we’re just trying to figure out our own way to do the things that we like.”
Things that Slam Donahue currently likes include: catchy, hand-clap pop that bobs from one exuberant chorus to another in four minutes or less; drugged-out house-show energy; vocals that flow with Billy Corgan nasals, participation-mandatory MGMT harmonies and impetuous, imperfect Jeff Mangum peaks; knowing that out of thousands of New York City musicians competing for an audience (including friends in Fort Lean, Bear Hands, Das Racist and the Echo Friendly), Slam Donahue is prepped to slam them all.
Or, in Sommerville’s more economical words: “Fuck them. I’m gonna win.”
Slam Donahue began its quest for domination by playing last year’s SXSW and CMJ festivals, intermittently uploading batches of bedroom demos including the scary-catchy single “It’s Scary.” The band’s deal with Cantora includes several new records, mixtapes and singles over the next few years, but lately the media have just as much say in the band’s productivity. To Slam Donahue’s surprise, a recent interview with Interview announced a February release for the group’s first official single on Cantora.
“I don’t know how they know the single’s coming out in February,” Otto says. “It’s not even done yet! But now it has to be. Anything said anywhere on the Internet everyone takes for truth. If you write that we’re playing a party at your house next week—I mean, I’d love to do it anyways—but if it’s written down it must happen. We don’t want to look like fools.”
“That seems to be the fuckin’ story of this band,” Sommerville adds. “Things just happen. We inadvertently put out a 7” in Europe. We played in a fake band in an independent movie—I don’t even remember the name, it was such a disaster. We ended up in the studio to record backing vocals for a band called Late Guest At The Party with some Lothario Italian dude whose music was, you know, dance floor ecstasy fuckin’ shit and a Los Angeles rapper named Kenan Bell, who we knew before this whole fuckin’ adventure because his song was in NBA 2K10. It was bizarre. None of this was planned.”
It was even through chance that Otto and Sommerville met Mitchell, their drummer. Longtime friend and Bear Hands vocalist Dylan Rau tried repeatedly and in vain to introduce the three to one another. The first interaction finally came when Otto attended one of Mitchell’s shows with the psychedelic fuzz outfit Bottle Up And Go.
“I brought this thing of whiskey with me that could make maybe five drinks,” Otto says. “Keenan took it from me and chugged the whole thing and passed out on the couch next to me. And I thought, ‘Who the hell is this guy?!’”
But Otto—once famed among high school peers for getting trashed before a class talent show, puking all over the stage “right as the curtain was closing,” then quietly walking home—was quick to forgive. Thus a band was born.
Plan on seeing Slam Donahue at SXSW in March or at my house party next weekend.