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Sarah Tomlinson

Going underground Night Rally find a comfortable N.E.S.T. in Boston

If the members of Night Rally were animals, drummer Luke Kirkland would be a giraffe, singer/guitarist Devin King would be a butterfly, and bassist Farhad Ebrahimi would be a lion. Or that’s how the indie-rock trio introduced themselves to Boston two years ago, when they played their first local show at a Halloween party in Allston. Like all inspired costumes, their masks revealed something about the people underneath. “[Luke] was a giraffe because he’s tall,” says King over beers at Charlie’s Kitchen. “Farhad was a lion because he’s regal, and I was a butterfly because I’m flaky, or flittery, I couldn’t decide what.”

Such low-key whimsy is a large part of Night Rally’s appeal. Their 2005 debut, The Elegant Look of New (Honeypump) — a split EP released with the now-defunct math-punk band Clickers — features such titles as “Good Morning, You’re Listening To Jazz,” and “remember, November, ember,” taken from an Umberto Eco quotation included in the album’s liner notes. And their shows are peppered with self-deprecating banter about such things as ironic facial hair and “getting their mellow on.”

The animal masks now hang in the basement practice space of the band’s Inman Square house. And the party was significant, because it was hosted by Clickers, who introduced Night Rally to a local music scene that has become an important source of inspiration and support. Night Rally celebrated this kinship last Saturday by playing the first-ever North East Sticks Together (N.E.S.T.), a seven-day, six-venue event that included more than 160 local and national bands and DJs.

Not that Night Rally were looking for community, exactly, when they moved here two years ago. King and Kirkland had been playing together in a quartet called One If by Land while attending St. John’s College in Santa Fe. Ebrahimi, an old acquaintance of Kirkland’s from their native Denver, moved west to join the band after graduating from MIT. When they lost their fourth member, the remaining trio decided to find a better home base.

They chose Boston, although they knew little of its music scene beyond Ebrahimi’s glowing tales of art-rock instigators Neptune. They were more interested in building an audience beyond their hometown, anyhow. “It seemed to me on the outside, since I only went to go see touring bands, that was all that was going to be happening,” Kirkland says. “You got into a band, and then you opened for touring bands. I never really did the super, like, Fugazi-DC-everybody-holds-hands-and-bangs-on-radios sort of scene.”

But in Boston, they found a vibrant group of musicians who shared their philosophy about music and who supported one another by playing together and attending one another’s shows. “Coming here, especially meeting the Clickers and having all of those shows going on at the same time, had a really powerful effect on me,” says Kirkland. “We were talking about each other’s music, and what we had done well and what we had done not so well.”

Night Rally discovered other bands who were also aiming to write interesting, innovative music, and to find a larger audience, while avoiding anything in their bid for success that might compromise their independent, community-minded approach. It was a desire to harness all this creativity and camaraderie into a festival, truly of and for the community, that inspired local promoters to found N.E.S.T. “We’re more interested in finding people making it happen and bringing them together,” says Ben Sisto, who cofounded N.E.S.T. with Debbie Nicholson, Dan Shea, and T.D. Sidell. “If you book ‘The Pill,’ and you book thrash hardcore, you’re in the same community, and there’s this common need, and no one wants there to be this separation. So we’re just trying to erase it.”

And the community clearly responded, as Night Rally closed N.E.S.T. by delivering an energetic set of angular, prog-flavored dance rock to a capacity crowd at Great Scott last Saturday night. Playing N.E.S.T, rather than the larger, more industry-focused NEMO festival that began with the Boston Music Awards this past Wednesday, was a natural choice for the band. They often work with N.E.S.T.’s organizers, including Sisto, who released their EP on his Honeypump label, and they agreed with its DIY attitude and all-inclusive programming approach.

They insist, though, that playing the smaller, indie-minded N.E.S.T. does not mean that they, or other participants, are uninterested in success. “I just don’t want it to seem like we’re this, like, shifty-eyed group of individuals who don’t want good outside achievement,” Kirkland says.

Quite the opposite: the band have seriously stepped up their songwriting and musicianship, in hopes of holding down stages far beyond Allston basements. Live, the new material is more dynamic than anything on their EP, since they’ve become more adventurous with arrangements and instrumentation. King fattens his guitar sound with abundant delay while delivering operatic, Kate Bush–style vocals, and Kirkland has adopted a busy, intuitive drum style influenced by the local slowcore trio Helms. Ebrahimi’s extramelodic bass lines anchor the songs, while his offbeat vocals up the band’s art-rock quotient.

The new sound will be evident on 12 songs recently recorded at Brooklyn’s Headgear Recording with engineer Chris Moore (Yeah Yeah Yeahs/The Liars/TV on the Radio), with whom they hooked up thanks to old friends the NYC-based drone rockers Parts and Labor. Night Rally plan to shop the album, with the hope of interesting a major indie label such as Matador. But they’re realistic, and are prepared to self-release the album, too. In the meantime, they’re looking to book more out-of-town shows. Their goal is to spread the word not only about their band, but about the local music scene that’s embraced them. “There’s no reason that the Boston music scene should be an underground scene,” King says. “There should be great indie, or whatever, bands that are coming out of Boston all of the time.”