Through Grant Golden
March 3, 2021
Photo: Becca Higgins
What should a band do when the live music stops? This is the question that preoccupies many artists as we approach a full year of quarantine and other restrictions due to Covid-19. But somehow, it seems like Greensboro’s funk / soul young byte, Reliably Bad, hasn’t skipped a beat. With unique releases, videos, covers and live streams, 2020 has turned out to be a hugely productive year. The band recently released their first full album, Space girl. Produced by revered jazz / neo-soul guitarist Charlie Hunter (D’Angelo, Norah Jones, Frank Ocean), Space girl Reliably Bad rockets, from loud beginners to live bands to one of the area’s most promising young artists.
Reliably Bad debuted in 2018 with the sole intention of bringing “dancing” music to what tends to be a gritty house show scene in Greensboro. Performing alongside actors like Black Haus, Reliably Bad cut their teeth with very high-energy, high-energy shows that relied heavily on covers of acts like Stevie Wonder and Earth Wind & Fire.
“Playing house shows was just… fun. We just came from a place where we studied the music that we loved therefore intensely, ”said bassist Matt Laird. Which makes sense – everyone in the band studied music or music education at UNCG.
The band came together and used their technical musical prowess to dissect these funk, neo-soul and R&B tracks, forming an amalgamation of influences from decades past. And when eight jazz and classical musicians come together for a mutual love of dance music, the results are bound to be vibrant.
Every song on Space girl is full of nuanced layers – from choral vocals and string quartets to finely placed glockenspiel tubes and silky smooth horn sounds. While it’s easy to get lost in the glitz of maximalist production, Reliably Bad’s soundscapes remain anchored with a tight rhythm section and captivating melodies. The band attributes many of these rhythmic choices to their work with esteemed guitarist Charlie Hunter during production.
“It completely changed the way we think about music,” Laird said. “There is always so much going on at the same time that it can be difficult to concentrate… but [Charlie] was very grounded. It helped block out all the other noises in the rhythm section … making sure the kick and bass were locked in tight, making sure the swing felt right.
And this sweet spot is what makes Space girl such a brilliant start for this young byte. Finding the mix between the palpable energy of the live band and the splendor of the studio can take years, but Reliably Bad pulled it off from the first release. Between their strong rhythmic core, their earworm melodies and their subtle post-production touch from producer Gabe Fox-Peck, each song has a rich musical palette. Each instrument feels informed by the other parts, intertwined like a musical macrame.
On the album’s title track, singer Jess Schneider’s plush vocal tracks are nestled amid lines of staccato strings, swaying horns, and a playful rhythm section. There is a natural ebb and flow between the layers which breathes life and energy into the mix.
“Listening is an integral part of Reliably Bad,” said Schneider. “[We’re] listen really intentionally and pay attention to the soundscape. There is a huge difference between [our] live arrangements and studio arrangements … so with eight instruments you to have be very intentional.
This attention to detail is something that bleeds into every aspect of Reliably Bad as a band. Of course, they bring a lot of musicality in the 26 minutes of Space girl, but this intentionality is also exposed in the presentation of the group. Although they have been locked in quarantine for most of 2020, the year has turned out to be one of the most productive yet – and they show no signs of slowing down. A few days before the release of Space girl the group was already pulling out new blankets and thinking about more to come.
“We did really well on TikTok,” Schneider laughed. [their “Magic School Bus” cover is sitting at nearly 200,000 plays at the time of writing]. “So we’ll probably change [our focus] in a few covers of Teen Nick. Perhaps Drake and Josh or iCarly theme songs… all of this is great fun for us. “
TikTok videos and YouTube covers take the group back to their fun roots. Rather than rocking the floors with Earth, Wind & Fire tunes at house parties, they’re taking to the internet with those same high-energy tunes to beloved tunes. It’s not only a way to keep their enthusiastic fans engaged with the content, but it’s also a way to work their creative muscles in an era when live shows are still not a possibility.
Aside from the playful covers, it is clear that Reliably Bad is a band that vibrates on its own frequency. Taking influences ranging from funk and soul to doo-wop and hip-hop, the group transforms these diverse inspirations into a cohesive production that is both sincere and dancing. And whether it’s sixty-second viral thrills or rugged LPs, it’s all reliable.