It's said that history repeats itself, a tenet to which music certainly isn't immune. This past decade bears striking similarities to the dawn of the DIY era, in the build of a serious music movement counterbalanced by bands bent on fun. Punk's immediacy was the retort to the bloated, overly serious prog and arena rock of the '70s mainstream. And today, you can see a free-wheelin', party-oriented act like Still Flyin' as an alternative to the bloodless side of indiedom — the faux-poetic flimflam of Conor Oberst and the archaic phrasing and sepia-toned troubadourism of the Decemberists.
Drawing its membership from the Aislers Set, Ladybug Transistor, and Architecture in Helsinki, Still Flyin' is no stranger to indie rock. But when frontman Sean Rawls started recruiting members in 2004, he was set on creating something different. "The initial idea was nothing more than a slew of friends goofing off and jamming brews onstage," he says. Soon enough, his crew's amped-up take on reggae and dub proved to be as intoxicating as the beers, with feel-good lyrics and extremely danceable beats setting an enthusiastic mood. The convivial atmosphere quickly extended to the band's ever-increasing audience. As Rawls explains, "I think when we play live it's very infectious. There are so many of us partying onstage that it sometimes makes the whole room feel like a bunch of friends having a good time together."
This celebratory vibe manifests in plenty of crowd movement. Still Flyin' fans like to dance, and they've been waiting a long time to work out the rhythms of a full-length from the group — which has finally been delivered in Never Gonna Touch the Ground.
Though the band borrows freely from reggae — veering into dub, rocksteady, and 2 Tone — those styles are channeled through its members' hook-heavy indie pedigree, bringing the sheen and sparkle of indie-pop to disparate genres. Loose and lanky, Never Gonna gambols through its 11-track, 30-minute trajectory with the ebullience of a preteen at a block party. The lyrics range from ridiculously simple (the "Uh-oh-oh" chorus on "Following the Itinerary") to simply ridiculous ("Aerosmith, just take me to the other side" from "Aerosmith, Take Me").
When asked about his musical philosophy, Rawls cites the pleasure principle as a driving motivator. "I think that, in its purest form, music is made by people because they enjoy doing it," he says. "Some kid first picks up the guitar and starts playing because it's fun. Obviously, things change over time, but I feel like we still embody why people start playing music in the first place." That sense of wonder and newness is abundant on Never Gonna Touch the Ground.
If Rawls has a say in it, no amount of critical praise — or communal acceptance — can change the laid-back vibe of Still Flyin'. "We are very serious about jamming it 100 percent and giving the best performance we can, but we keep things in perspective," he says. "I think it's important to remember that this is Earth, and you're a speck. There are far more important things one could be doing than playing music." All the more reason to be glad that Still Flyin' puts lively songwriting high on its list of priorities.