The COVID pandemic stifled live music and kept most bands from getting together. One positive note: The Static Channel came into being. “We were basically born out of COVID,” notes Stephen Schoenfeld.
Schoenfeld had been in a band with synth player Luke Powers that disintegrated several years ago; Powers was trying to start a band with another friend that wasn’t coming together when COVID hit. In September, Schoenfeld and Powers decided to get together and play songs.
“He plays drums and keys,” Schoenfeld says. “I play guitar and bass. So between the two of us, we were able to handle everything we wanted to write.”
Piano player and vocalist Christie Macfarlane and guitarist and vocalist Kevin Macfarlane came on board in October. “We invited them to come and play and jam with us,” Schoenfeld says. “Everything went so well the first two weeks that we absorbed them into the band full-time.” The act soon added drummer and sample player Lane Fisch.
While Schoenfeld and Kevin Macfarlane learned to play in a non-scholastic punk manner, Christie Macfarlane and Powers are more classically trained. The split between music-theory and non-music theory members has been interesting from a creative standpoint, they say. Powers is also an insanely dedicated Rush fan, according to Schoenfeld, and fell into a serious funk the day that Neil Peart died. All these qualities come out in the music.
Schoenfeld and Powers didn’t want to place any limits on the path that the music took, though the songs are sonically tied together by Powers’s obsessive tone-chasing through his synthesizer compositions. From the outset, though, they planned to have a woman vocalist, because Schoenfeld felt that it would add richer stylistic possibilities. They got that and more with Christie.
“When I was sixteen, Christie was born,” Schoenfeld says. “We’ve got a different dynamic with experiences playing music."
Christie is fairly new to singing; she started out playing the piano and spent much of her time with a Dixieland band, so the more synth-pop styling of the Static Channel offers a fairly radical departure. “I’ve played in classical concerts,” she says. “I’ve never done this style of band, indie or pop, so it’s definitely a new experience.”
The five-piece makes synth pop-adjacent indie songs that employ dual male-female lead vocals and simultaneously sound vintage and modern. The songs possess shades of MGMT, but wouldn't seem out of place on MTV back when the synthesizer was king.
“We kind of don’t know what to classify ourselves,” admits Schoenfeld. “When you're self-releasing music, it’s not like you have a label or a management company that's like, ‘We're going to label this as pop or alternative or rock or whatever.'”
The Static Channel has yet to play a live show — the first will be in September — but Schoenfeld doesn’t see that as a bad thing. “Honestly, it was nice not having the pressure to play live,” he explains. “When you start a new music project, you want to pump new music out and play it for people. But the fact that it wasn’t an option for us made for less pressure getting it done.”
The band will mostly eschew backing tracks in a live setting, but Schoenfeld anticipates that a live set might have a slightly different interpretation than the Static Channel's recorded output.
“I’m definitely the hype man of the band,” he says. “In a live essence, we will have that Fallout Boy vibe, where they have Pete Wentz, who plays bass but he’s not the lead. He’s not the frontman of the band, but he’s kind of the frontman of the band.”
In less than a year, the band has already written 42 songs. The tracks are of varying quality, the members readily concede, but everything can be revisited and refined down the road. And on at least one occasion, they've swapped lyrics meant for one song into another because they fit with the instrumentals better. Four songs are available right now, including “41.” Yes, it’s their 41st composition, a lo-fidelity instrumental affair that would fit right in on one of those “lo-fi beats for studying” playlists streaming on YouTube 24 hours a day.
“Luke was studying for his exams,” Kevin recalls. “He was kind of like, ‘Okay, I’m just going to listen to this.’”
“That song was put together in my basement in about an hour on Tuesday night,” Schoenfeld adds. “And then it came out at midnight on Friday.”
The Static Channel initially thought about releasing a full album, but then decided to go the singles route, which is more in line with the current American desire for a constant stream of new content. “We don’t have any EP or full-length album plans at the moment,” Schoenfeld says. “Not having played shows, there’s not really a demand for it yet.”
The Static Channel will be at Lost Lake on Sunday, September 12, with PHIE and Grace DeVine; get tickets at etix.com. The singles "Restless" and "Midnight" are available on Apple Music and Spotify.