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    Scene & Heard

    Sneeze breathes new life into grunge

    From left: Julian Moore, Derek Desharnais, and Danny Boyd of Sneeze.
    Katherine Taylor for The Boston Globe
    From left: Julian Moore, Derek Desharnais, and Danny Boyd of Sneeze.

    Twenty five years ago this past weekend, Nirvana released “Bleach,” an album that changed the course of rock history. On Saturday night at O’Briens in Allston, you could hear that record’s influence resounding once again in the music of Sneeze. Corrugated yet tuneful songs from the Allston/Brighton trio’s newly released LP, “Wilt,” wouldn’t have sounded out of place during the grunge era, even if the band and most of its audience that night weren’t yet born at the time.

    The band, together since 2010, is among a raft of Massachusetts acts viewing the past through a flannel-colored prism. “All these people had the same idea at the same time — Ovlov, Speedy Ortiz, Pile, we all sort of came out in the same year,” guitarist Derek Desharnais had explained a few days earlier. “It kind of worked out well. We all played shows together; it was easier to get the sound moving in the direction it’s going.

    “I was aware of grunge; that’s what my dad listened to,” he added, which might or might not make you feel old as dirt — or “Dirt”, for that matter. “I pretty much grew listening to Alice in Chains, the mainstream side of it. I didn’t have the Internet, didn’t start digging into the independent stuff until later in life. I pretty much grew up listening to that stuff. That’s why I kind of turned back on it: I wanted to write something I grew up listening to, and still appreciate.”


    Desharnais and his bandmates, bassist Daniel Boyd and frequently shirtless drummer Julian Moore, met, in traditional Allston fashion, by going to house shows together. “We went to weird noise shows, screamo stuff, but I was writing some music at the time in my basement that I just wanted to write because not many people were doing it,” he said of their sound. “I really wanted to write something a little more on the grunge side. At the time in Boston it was all hardcore or punk; I wanted to be in a pop band that still had some edge to it.”

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    That pop side is key to Sneeze’s appeal. “Dirt Stash” has an unmistakably corrosive edge, but it’s a purposefully noise-hampered, hook-laden track. “Wilt,” like many other songs on the album, push the listener away with screamed vocals and thick, crunching fuzz and distortion, even as heavily overdriven bass cuts through the mire to carry and lead the melody lines — something evident even in the crush of noise on the O’Briens stage.

    “This is the first one we’ve been really happy with,” Moore explained of the album, recorded with Massachusetts producer of the moment Justin Pizzoferrato (Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth, Speedy Ortiz). “Justin is a really down-to-earth, easygoing guy, and really fun to work with. But at the same time, he was really adamant about giving input when he felt it needed to be said.”

    “The dudes from [Amherst band] California X recorded their record there,” Desharnais added. “They suggested to us we should record with him, because the sound that we’re doing, he did Dinosaur Jr. and all of them with the same kind of vibe. He could totally make it sound like we had expectations for. It ended up being amazing.”

    Prior to their set, the band members gathered for a photo shoot atop that most Allston of locations: the footbridge over the Mass Pike.


    “This is cool, because we all used to live over the bridge,” Desharnais said, gesturing to Lower Allston.

    Allston has changed in even those few short years, the band agreed. “All the house venues we used to play at have been shut down,” Boyd said. “This is a big college town; three-quarters of the [potential showgoers] are underage.”

    “Our basement shows were all to capacity,” Moore said.

    “It’s hard to have an underground music scene when you have to support yourself on bar sales,” Boyd added.

    “That’s been a real bad issue,” Desharnais agreed. “We played a basement show not too long ago. I think the first band played four songs before it got shut down. When we started out a couple years ago, those were the only shows we’d play, two to three shows a month. A lot of that has to do with sloppy promoting, cops finding the addresses, and some people moved out of the houses because people got tired of it. They’re still there, but definitely dropped in numbers.”


    A dearth of basement venues aside, Sneeze and company represent the next vanguard of a reinvigorated scene. “I’d say right now it’s probably at one of its primes since I’ve lived here, since I was 18,” Desharnais said. “I’ve seen it dip really low. When I moved here it was amazing, then it disappeared, and everyone was doing the same thing. But now I feel like every few months there’s a new band that really impresses me.”

    “Wilt” is available now on Glory Kid Limited.


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    Luke O’Neil can be reached at