99 Neighbors on Vermont, 99 Radio, and Their New Singles “QWOP” and “Basement” [Q&A]

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99 Neighbors has been disrupting current notions of what band and rap collectives look and sound like. Hailing from the unlikely city of Burlington, Vermont, artists HANKNATIVE, Shane Kaseta, and Sam Paulino met Somba and Juju to form what soon became the ever evolving 99 Neighbors. Later, members Connor "Swank," Jared "JFear," and Aidan Ostby joined the group, all adding their own new unique perspective.  

The group's debut project Television showcased the group as one not afraid to take risks and defy genres. 99 Neighbors are now breaking their 2020 silence with the hard-hitting singles "Basement" and "QWOP."

We had the pleasure of connecting with 99 Neighbors via email to talk about coming up in Vermont, their creative process, new singles, and more.

Ones To Watch: How did growing up in Vermont influence your music?

AIDAN: Vermont is a beautiful and secluded place. Young people can grow up feeling a disconnect between their lives and the culture/creative output of the mainstream. Kids in New York can go to so many places in the city to see exciting up and coming artists in-person and really get a feel for who they are and what they're about. That sort of culture does not exist in even the most populated areas of Vermont. If you want to connect with artists and gain knowledge about music, it’s either all on you or it’s going to come down to word of mouth. Despite it being tough to connect deeply with influences compared to places with more contact with big artists, Vermont also provides (in my opinion) one of the most beautiful places to be creative in the country. I've never felt closer to the essence of my own life than when i was biking in Burlington, and kids in Vermont are so lucky to have access to that scenery and that very same seclusion that can seem limiting at times. Vermont is a wonderful place to be creative and a horrible place to be expansive.

What are some places to visit for someone going to Burlington for the first time?

JUJU: For a first time visitor, I'd recommend grabbing some food from the homie Kujt at his cart "South End Sliders" on Church Street marketplace. From there it’s a short walk down to the waterfront where you can get a creamie at Burlington Bay and enjoy the view of sunset over the lake!

How has the creative process changed since signing to a major label?

SOMBA: At first I was worried about being consumed by the process of making accessible music for a wide audience. Luckily at this point I'm really happy to be learning new ways to communicate our ideas (as bold as they may be) through the internal accessibility and communication of our narrative structure's composition. As opposed to some looming, speculative silent majority that is the music market, I focus on the building block mechanics to our songs & just keep the label-y shit in mind as I go. To elaborate, our sound design, and vocal performance in combination with lyrics and musical composition all have to have a conversation with each other and you. For me the Warner helped show me that the industry-buzz-word of "communication" actually goes a long way. It's much better to try to clear up anything in the way of greatness than to focus on some vague goal of being great.

Where did you get the idea to start 99 Radio?

JARED: Sam and I had the idea to start 99 Radio during the first COVID lockdown in early March. We missed the experience of partying with our homies on the weekend, and we knew a lot of our fans did too, so we wanted to try and capture as much of that energy as possible through a livestream. Twitch was the perfect platform to host 99 Radio on because of the dope community we already had built up there, as well as not capping our broadcast at a certain length (we typically go for 3-4 hours).

Being stuck inside for a long ass time has had a pretty heavy toll on my mental health, but having a way to break up the monotony of quarantine life, as well as a new reason to look forward to the weekend, has been super beneficial during this pandemic.

With so many members, does it become difficult to create a singular vision or sound?

SWANK: Sometimes having multiple members can be a struggle when opinions differ but for the most part, we have organically grown better at making music together just by going through life together. With everything we been through, we have learned many things about each other and how we work so we can move forward in ways we think will be successful. A key thing for that is communication. We still got ways to go before we perfect it but right now we doing alright !

What do you hope fans will take away from listening to "QWOP" and "Basement"?

HANK: I want it to be an intro to who we are for people who don't already know. The playfulness of the duo, combined with the serious aspects kind of serve as the setting. We're some young people enjoying where life's taken us since we started our journey, but at the same time there's an air of seriousness. This all matters…

It also serves as a great representation of our last year specifically. We took this mf from the basement apartment we were crashing in and Burlington, and it's a wild ride.

How is the upcoming release different thanTelevision?

SAM: I think it’s smarter to compare these singles to our previous single run last year, given Television is a full body of work!

The process of making QWOP and Basement was similar to the creation of songs like Fuck No, Bangarang, Ripstick and Mercy II. Creating with the sole purpose of having fun and letting whatever happens happen. A carefree feeling with intent, if you will!

Who are some of your Ones to Watch?

99 NEIGHBORS: BKTheRula, Mavi, Ovrkast., Spit Infinity, Dijon, Will Keeper, and Serious Klein.

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