BOAT’s Tween Party

They're in no hurry to grow up, but the Seattle band's music is more mature than it seems.

I don’t think I’m that much smarter than a sixth-grader,” says David Crane, who teaches seventh grade and is the frontman for BOAT. “I’ve been exposed to a lot more stuff [than a sixth-grader], but I don’t think I see things much differently. I could’ve written these songs when I was 12 if I was surrounded by you guys,” he adds, and gestures at the rest of the band, who are folding the inserts–drawn by Crane in a 12-year-old’s hand–that will accompany the band’s upcoming third album, Setting the Paces. “My 12-year-old self would’ve used the same lyrics.”

It feels especially appropriate that he’s making this statement at a pizza parlor—after all, pizza is the quintessential kid-friendly food—drinking Diet Coke, BOAT’s unofficial band beverage, rather than beer. Even Crane’s word choice is childlike. When asked to explain why “We Want It, We Want It” is one of his favorite songs on the record, he says, “Because it feels like a real badass song. And then it goes to that place in the middle where you can’t help but say ‘Get down!'” His enthusiasm, too, has a decidedly youthful quality.

“I think we all feel really lucky to be playing and do the stuff we’ve been able to do,” says Crane. “So I think when we get a chance to play at a real venue, it’s kind of amazing and it’s hard not to smile.” Over the past few years, BOAT—Crane, guitarist Josh Goodman, bassist Mark McKenzie, and drummer Jackson Long—has developed a reputation in Seattle and elsewhere for the exuberance of its playful, messy, garage-pop songs, sloppy playing style, and boisterous, confetti-speckled live shows. With song titles like “(Do the) Magic Centipede,” a modern nod to the Shangri-Las, and “(I’m a) Donkey for Your Love,” it’s easy to perceive BOAT as a happy-go-lucky band of overgrown 12-year-olds who play fun songs about baseball, forts under the freeway, and The Simpsons. But while the melodies are cheerful combinations of Guided by Voices–esque lo-fi rock and doo-wop, the lyrics tend to contradict the peppy tunes that accompany them. “Tough talking the tulips they go/We’ve never felt these kinds of lows” is the refrain of one song.

While Crane often draws material from his experiences as a teacher, not to mention his own childhood, the songs are obviously not depictions of halcyon summers past but anxious, introspective tunes about the aches and pains of growing up. “My grades at school are suffering weekly/I’m not as super as I used to seem,” Crane sings in “God Save the Man Who Isn’t All That Super.” But even the somber lyrics are never quite heavy enough to sink BOAT’s buoyant tunes. It doesn’t hurt that Crane can pull off a mean falsetto, sounding like he could be Doug Martsch’s spastic, extroverted little brother.

At first, BOAT took a hesitant approach, giving their albums flippant, self-deprecating titles like Songs That You Might Not Like and Let’s Drag Our Feet! Setting the Paces, on the other hand, rightly suggests the band’s satisfaction with the finished product. Not only are the songs almost universally beguiling, the sound quality is better than on previous releases, too. Drummer Long works at a north Seattle recording studio, Two Sticks, and was able to bring better, more professional recording equipment to Crane’s house in Tacoma, where the band recorded the majority of the album.

BOAT also changed its approach. “Instead of just having the drums go down to a metronome and layering on top of that, we decided to see what it would actually be like to play together simultaneously in a studio environment, and that turned out to work really well,” Long says. “It was efficient and it sounded like us, and it had so much more energy than the other versions of the songs.”

Goodman agrees. “I think this is more authentic to how we sound when we play live,” he says. “One show comes to mind where [the venue] had us come play because they thought we were quieter than we were, and I think that was because they heard old albums. This captured what we actually sound like a little better.” Anyone who’s ever witnessed one of the band’s live shows knows that’s good news.

For the Setting the Paces CD release party, Crane has pledged not only to create a bunch of cardboard cutouts as a backdrop, but to make a giant toaster from which an equally giant bagel will emerge accompanied by smoke—a direct reference to the Paces track “100 Calorie Man.” “I’ve been in a lot of shoegaze bands where we took ourselves really seriously,” Long says, “and it’s fun to play in a band where the songs are gonna be too fast, and there’s gonna be cables coming out of tuners in the middle of the set, and there’s shit going wrong at almost every show, but at least there’s some interaction between us and the crowd.”