It’s commonplace now when talking about music to refer to acts “sounding ’80s,” although in truth that’s always been something of a misnomer. We’ve consistently been served up a spate of bands that sound like they were birthed in the Me Decade almost every year since it ended. As a result, ’80s has become less a temporal distinction than a genre unto itself. That said, it is, in fact, possible for one act to sound more ’80s than another — an act like Party Bois, for example.
The new Boston band plies a brand of dance pop that touches on everything we mean when we talk about ’80s music: chintzy synth toms and handclap percussion, fluorescent keyboard effects, funk bass lines, and libidinous dance floor innuendo — all of which was on display in the band’s performance last Saturday night at Brighton Music Hall.
For regular observers of the Boston rock scene, the effect was all the more delirious because the group comprises members from a number of notable local hard-rock bands, including frontman Keith Pierce of classic-rock throwbacks Mellow Bravo.
The project was born a few months back, when Pierce stopped into the New Alliance recording studio in Cambridge to visit with veteran engineers and producers Nick Zampiello and Rob Gonnella.
“I was saying, I’m bored, and I wanted to do something wacky and different,” Pierce says. “I asked Rob if he and Nick ever made beats, and he was like, ‘Oh, we’ve got beats.’ ” The two opened up a file of some 700 tracks they’d been amassing over the years. “There were fully realized jams, each had its own bridge, choruses and parts all well thought out. Immediately I was like, [expletive] yeah, we’re doing this.” He enlisted Johnny Northrup of the eclectic prog-pop act J/Q to join him in vocal and lyric-writing duties. “I was like, dude, you gotta check out this stuff I’m working on — it’s like funky Motown with old school beats. He said, ‘I have to be involved in this.’ ”
The interplay of the two frontmen is a key part of the appeal in songs like Party Bois’s first single, “In Your Head” — a sort of Robert Palmer-David Bowie hybrid as Zampiello describes it, with Pierce’s lower-end growl playing off of Northrup’s upper-register crooning. The two set to work trying to one-up one another, with provocative lyrical content that pushed just to the edge of propriety.
“We kept egging each other on, saying, ‘You can’t say that,’ and ‘Nope, I’m going to say it,’ ” Pierce says. “We just decided to really take a leap off a cliff, especially compared to the rock bands we’ve done in the past.”
Zampiello, who’s played in numerous Boston hard-rock favorites as well as the more synth-oriented Campaign for Real Time, said that he had no idea what they were up to until they came together to practice. “I had heard snippets of things, but when we showed up at the practice space for the first time, my jaw hit the floor,” he says. “They had completely blown up this idea. Keith was insisting it was going to be called Party Bois, and I didn’t realize how literal they meant that. I showed up, set up my laptop, then their friends showed up and started doing bong hits and dancing. It was just amazing.”
Bong hits or no, you’d be hard pressed to resist dancing to tracks like “Being in U.”
“I’ve always loved ’80s and ’90s R&B,” Northrup says. “This song sounds like Taylor Dayne. I want to be Taylor Dayne, I get to be Madonna up there. I don’t know why it’s always a female singer, but it is.”
That connection comes through on the vocals, but it’s the production that seals the deal. Zampiello, who has long experimented with beats and sampling, found that he had an affinity for funk. In the late ’70s, he says, “this thing happened with this step forward in technology, with very basic computers making beats, and people getting abstract and exploring that idea. I like the buoyancy of the music; it has a really upbeat feeling to it. It makes me smile.”
“The music is crazy,” guitarist James Towlson says. “It’s all analog synths from the ground up. Nick literally has 700 songs that he’s been writing, in so many different styles. It’s like being able to reach into a fridge, or going to the grocery store, and pulling out any type of song you want, then writing it.”
“To add to how freaky Nick can be with musicality,” Gonnella says, “I went over to his house for a party, and someone had leaned on the synths and crashed them. He woke up the next morning and turned everything on, and made a song out of it.”
There’s more precision at work here, but the spirit of on-the-fly, anything-goes is overwhelming in the group’s live show. Zampiello performs in front of a synth drum kit, jumping up and down through the entire set, while the two singers prowl the stage.
“Oh man, I don’t even know — it’s just like a flurry of lights and male crotches, I don’t really know how to describe it,” Pierce jokes of their show. “It’s a feast for the eyes and ears.”
And it wouldn’t work under any other name, Towlson asserts. “That’s the whole point,” he says. “It’s almost like Party Bois should be the adjective for how we describe it. Once you see it it’s like, Oh, right, it’s Party Bois.”
An album is in the works. Hear music at partybois.bandcamp.com.
Luke O’Neil can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.