At this point, it is safe to say What? (the band) has become a staple of the New Paltz music scene. During their tenure, What? has proved themselves to be sonically unique amongst the majority of New Paltz’s musical groups. Their sound, a unique blend of jazz with funk, R&B, and ska (amongst other influences) rarely fails to catch the ear and get the listener grooving to the beat.
I was fortunate enough to sit down for an interview with the core members of the group — Ryan Perrone (trombone, trumpet, keyboard), Daniel Steen (electric guitar), Alex Endres (drum kit) and Jeremiah Mahoney (electric bass). They were clear in emphasizing that the band’s other members — Russell Hartman (tenor & soprano saxophones), Jared Nelson (percussion, synthesizer, electric guitar) and Owen Moore (baritone and tenor saxophones) — are no less essential. Although their lineup continues to expand, the band has refused to compromise the quality of their music, only becoming more and more capable as performers through their collaborative efforts.
In addition to their musical dynamic, the core members also maintain a balanced collective personality. Perrone makes for a charismatic and energetic frontman, Endres serves as the quiet and focused percussionist; Steen is a typically cool lead guitarist, while Mahoney handles the business end of gigs and provides a degree of realism to keep the band grounded.
Although each member of the band differs in terms of personality, they all have honed their respective musical skills for years. Each of the core members have, on average, a decade of musical experience under their belts — and none of them plan on slowing down. When asked how often they rehearse, Mahoney responded, “Two times a week. Religiously. That’s a very important aspect of it.”
As to the objective of What?’s music, it’s fairly simple: they want people to have a good time. The group agrees that getting people to dance and catch good vibes is the number one priority.
“As performers there’s more to it than just knowing the music. You need to know your audience. You need to be objective and self aware. We like to put ourselves in the place of the listener and ask, ‘would we want to listen to this?’,” Perrone said.
During the first half of the Spring 2020 semester, What? was, quite frankly, killing it. The group’s sheer hustle was on display as they hit New Paltz show after show with incredible consistency. New Paltz bar favorites Bacchus and Snug Harbor have both hosted What? several times in recent months. Although they agree that Bacchus is a finer venue overall, the band has a soft spot for Snugs.
“Every band has a formative place, and for us that was Snugs,” Mahoney said.
Still, the band is working hard to expand their territory by playing at venues outside of their comfort zone. For example, they recently played both The Brooklyn Cider House and The Falcon in Marlboro, NY. What? has been sending out electronic press kits (made by Steen) to different locales, but word of mouth has proven to be the most efficient method of getting gigs.
“That’s our business in general. Having a little connection and that person thinking that you’re good enough to make something happen,” Perrone said.
Recently, What? has dipped their toe(s) into the DIY scene with their own DIY venue: The Cloud. Thus far, The Cloud is the most exclusive music spot in New Paltz having only had a single show … but what a show it was! Lex Hex and Saeki established a low-key vibe to get everyone warmed up before What? themselves stepped up with a double set and blew the crowd away. However, due to some unexpected complications — according to Endres, one of the house owners — the future of The Cloud is uncertain . For now, you just had to be there.
Despite their popularity, What? faces the same difficulties as many other college bands. Not every show is going to be packed with throngs of cheering fans, as Endres admitted.
“We’ve played shows for five people,” he said. “But we still have a good time.”
What? has been expanding its influence outside of New Paltz, but this is easier said than done.
“It’s hard,” Mahoney confessed. “Our fanbase is a lot of college kids who don’t have transportation.”
Still, What? is hoping to stick together and make it as a legitimate band. As any working artist understands, this isn’t always easy.
“We’re serious about music. It doesn’t pay rent or bills, but we’d sure like it to” Mahoney said.
Perrone speculated that in the future the group might come together to rent “a fat jam house,” so that they could practice and perform more often.
Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus pandemic, What? has cancelled all upcoming shows. Despite this unforeseen pandemic, the band is still hard at work on their long-awaited album, which was originally projected to come out in May, but will likely be pushed back to a later date.
What? can be found on Facebook at @whatbandnp and on Instagram at @what_theband. Their music can be found on Soundcloud as well as Bandcamp, both under the name “whatthebandnp.” When their album is released it will be available on these, as well as other, streaming services.