The guys behind Black English [formerly NO] want you to know that you're not alone. Both accomplished musicians in their own right, Sean Stentz and Bradley Hanan hold a deep desire to capture and connect to their audience. Their cinematic videos drew many in but the relatability to their songs caused most to stay. Based out of Echo Park, the band originally named their album after their favorite local watering hole, but after confusion between themselves and other bands named NO, they decide to re-brand. So NO turned into Black English and El Prado was re-titled NO. Confusing? You betcha, but their passion for their art is clear as day.
How did you two meet and what compelled you to start making music together?
Sean: We met through friends sort of randomly and we've been musicians for quite a long time collectively so it was really just more kindred spirits and meeting someone that you see something you can relate to in.
Bradley: We went to a breakfast diner one morning and Sean and I were like hey, there's something going on. I think we were in projects that weren't really doing things that, well, we just wanted to try something. we wrote songs for a year and slowly the other guys came around and there became six of us.
What's your history with music? I read one of you grew up in a folk band.
Bradley: My parents were in a folk band so we'd go on these little tours. They were so tiny, like six station wagons in a row. We'd play these little country halls in New Zealand but it was fun. I got to sing in a microphone when I was really little and I loved it. Sean has been in bands forever too.
Sean: Yeah. My grandparents were both jazz musicians so I grew up around it.
You guys live in Echo Park but come from all over. Where did you grow up?
Sean: I grew up in Whittier, California.
Bradley: I spent most of my life in a town in New Zealand and I moved to America probably in 2002 but I decided to stay in LA because it was so sunny. A lot of my friends moved to New York but I stayed here.
There's been a good Australian/New Zealand music scene rising up lately.
Bradley: You're right. There are so many bands coming out of Australia these days. It's good times down there. The internet is making it easier for stuff to get out. That's probably happening because it's so far away. It's about 12 hours in a plane to New Zealand and 14 hours to Australia.
What differentiates El Prado, now known as NO, from your earlier album?
Bradley: The first thing we put out was just an EP. It was six songs. Our debut album [is] basically the same family of songs but we literally recorded them all at home with our friend Michael and it was one of those things where the first batch of songs we wrote extended into 20-odd songs and then the first six came from that that you heard on the EP. We finished it off with the album. It's still the same story and collection of music and now we're starting on another one which is kind of exciting for us.
Speaking of the debut, I read you guys played over a hundred shows in 2012.
Sean: Something like that.
Bradley: We had a lot of shows.
Sean: We were just trying to go back and do that number for real but I think that's close.
One word: How?
Bradley: You just jump in the van and then get on a plane and then you jump in another van and then you jump on a stage and just off and it's a lot of that.
Sean: A lot of jumping.
Bradley: In an ideal world as we move forward with our band we'd love to be able to visit as many parts of the world as we can and we think that's not only really fun but there's something really special about each 45 minutes or hour you get each night. It's all worth it no matter how many early morning lobby calls or sleeping on floors or whatever it is you're doing. It's worth it.
You express a constant desire to connect to your fanbase, having them sing along to your songs and everything. What shows have had you react the way you wish to elicit from your fanbase?
Bradley: I got to tour in a different band one time with the band Against Me! The second they walked out on stage every single person in the room, 850 other people, would sing every single word and it was like being at this weird kind of church where everyone was in tune with each other and having the best night. That always inspired me. I've also seen that same thing happen at an Arcade Fire concert. There's something about the connectivity when we're all together that no matter how shitty our week's been, and this is just starting to happen for us in a small way now where a few people sing the words. It makes you feel like no matter what's happened in the week for that day, for that hour, it's ours. We can just have it together. It's like a party where we can be together and be in that moment and be present. I think that's what it's about.
Sean: I was lucky enough to see the first Sunny Day Real Estate reunion and it was that thing. That had been gone for just long enough that everyone was ready for it. When they came back everyone was fingers in the air, singing along to every song, trying to hit those high notes. It was amazing.
Your videos have a very cinematic quality to it. Do either of you have a film background?
Sean: No. I think visually though we've sort of always been drawn to how music and film go together. There's those moments in movies that you watch where without being manipulative music can really heighten the scene and I think we all just really, really like the relation between the two and then playing with that.
Bradley: Also when you see a movie from start to finish there's music and movement and moments all the way through a movie. The way we see our songs it's like they're like mini-movies and there's this overall big movie that they're a part of. If you listen to the record there's parts where they weave together. When we started talking about the cinematic qualities of how our movie works and how we want to have interesting sort of drones or effects or weird things going on within our songs so if you listen to the record deep you can kind of hear other things that we did in the background or sounds we created just to make it feel more open. It makes it more fun for us too.
Let's talk about "Leave The Door Wide Open." What's the story behind that one?
Sean: That's up to you I think. The last two videos have both been open ended in that way. There is a story there but it's really up to the viewer to put what they want into it.
Bradley: I think that a lot of us have had those kind of nights where we want to just be connected with someone even if it's just a talk. I know I've had a lot of those nights where I've got loads of friends all over the world and I'm really fortunate but some nights everyone's busy and you're like man I have no one to hang with tonight and you kind of feel like am I alright? What's wrong with me or something? Those weird kind of like loneliness and I think nobody is... It can happen to anyone. I think I've been to that bar, El Prado, so many times on my own and no one's talked to me because they're already in their own worlds, happy. They don't really have room for any conversation and that's fine.
Sean: They're lonely in their own worlds.
Bradley: They're lonely in their own worlds too and I think there's this weird sort of thing in the video where we also all really came from Echo Park, well, that's where the band started and where we all met so it's like we try to put a lot of our local themes into our own videos and our artwork. Our album cover is our local Vons sign. For us it is a bit of a mixture of all of those things at once. That song is kind of about that. We all go up in flames. Sometimes we'll go and talk to a beautiful girl and she'll shut us down or it could be anyone talking to anyone and they just feel kind of rejected. We're all the same in that kind of way no matter who you are, how beautiful you are, how successful you are. We all have the same sort of problems.
Any advice you have for overcoming loneliness? It seems to be a reoccurring theme.
Bradley: The theme for our album is letting lonely people know they're not alone in being lonely. I think once you realize you're not alone, that there are other people out there having those kind of nights too I think it makes you feel less alone. It's another reason why we do these concerts. When you come to a show you can kind of see a bunch of other people having a good time and hopefully you can be a part of that. It's about love really, trying to connect with each other and look after each other the best we can with whatever time we have in our day. That's kind of it.
Sean: Everybody's got their hangups especially like Bradley said you can walk up to someone and try to talk to them and they shoot you down but maybe they're having a bad day and are not ready to talk to someone. I think it really is just being a little more open for everyone.
Bradley: I think too on facebook we have this weird stuff we never had when we were teenagers. You've got 2,000 people there that you can talk to at any second but you have a lot of these weird superficial conversation where you're kind of in mid-conversation all the time and you come back weeks later and you can look at this number of friends you got and you really just need one or two people sometimes to be like hey man are you okay and I think that that's sometimes something we miss as humans. We're in this weird time right now as humans. I said this the other day to someone but it's like someone going to a restaurant or if I'm on my own meeting someone just try not to touch your phone. Sit at a bar and try not to touch your phone. It's really hard because we're so used to reaching for that safety to make ourselves feel like we're still connected. I think one of the biggest things I've been trying to figure out is how to be better on my own. It's hard. It's really not easy.
Sean: Reaching for your phone can also be a safety mechanism, like you put up a wall because you don't have to relate to anything around you. You can relate to just what's happening on your phone. You can block people out in that way. It's a fun experiment to turn yourself off and hang out. It's breaking habits.
Bradley: There might be someone really interesting at the table trying to get your attention and you're going to miss that if you're on your phone. I'm just as guilty as anybody. I walked around yesterday and I bumped into someone because I was trying to do something on my phone and we're all screen scrollers. You gotta break out of that sometime.