If you’re walking on Roanoke right around sunset, there’s a chance you might hear something unexpected.
High energy, raucous guitar finds its way through the cracks of a closed garage door.
The seed for Eastlake-based band Your Downstairs Neighbors was sown when Alexander Standish James struck up a fast friendship with Brennan Mackay – from the trunk of his car.
“We were on a film where I was the DP and we needed an action shot of someone driving,” says Standish James, “so I just hop in this car with a camera and say, ‘Okay, let’s drive!’”
“And that was the day I learned how gullible Alex was,” Mackay pipes up, “and how easy it was to trick him into doing things, and the friendship really just sort of sparked from that.”
The plan to start a band, Mackay says, was formed out of a mutual love for music one New Year’s Eve. “This is stereotypical, but we said, ‘We’re gonna make a resolution, right now, over the toilet, and we’re gonna start this band out.’”
A born-and-raised Eastlaker, Standish James’s first attempt to start the band took place in his parents’ basement. “But my dad said ‘I don’t really want to hear it, go to another roof,’” so we moved out right across the alley way,” he tries to hide a smile, “with our garage pointed straight towards his, so he hears every single practice.”
Peals of laughter erupt from the rest of the group.
We’re sitting in their kitchen, where they’d warmly welcomed photographer Jordan Ellingwood and myself for a cup of tea after band practice. The other members of the band – Straker Carryer (drums), Ryan Norwine (bass), and Kathryn Farrell (vocals) – are a lively bunch, chiming in with anecdotes and jibes wherever possible. They really feel like a family. “We’re all stupidly lucky for how we all came together,” says Standish James.
So, where did the name come from?
“I had a particular downstairs neighbor who slept on a pile of beer cans for some reason,” says Carryer. “The reason I know this is the door was always open, and he was always walking around smoking. Naked. So the name also stems from Eastlake.”
The carefree attitude they bring to the table doubly resonates on stage. They say it’s simply because they’re having a good time. “It works best when we all do what we do best.” says Norwine. “We can even talk politics if we want to,” he laughs.
“You shut up right now,” chuckles Farrell from across the room.
“We always come together pretty organically,” says Mackay. “I never expect it, but I always appreciate it.”
They also attribute some of their attitude (and success) to the neighborhood itself. “The sense of community in Eastlake is incredibly strong,” says Carryer. “I think it’s quite unique. Anyone in Seattle can fit in here.”
“I think it’s kind of rare in Seattle to have a neighborhood feeling. I owe a lot of it to my dad,” muses Standish James.
His father, Jules James, is a familiar face at city council meetings and an undeniably influential figure in the community.
Continuing after a moment, he says. “He kind of made this neighborhood a neighborhood. It really feels like a home, and without that, it wouldn’t have stemmed the seeds of making this band.”
“I think that really translates to our vibe,” chimes Farrell. “What feels special about us is we all really care about each other a lot, and we all have each other’s backs. There’s a real, genuine warmth and fun.”
“And that’s very Eastlake,” smiles Carryer. “You can go into any store and just have a good conversation.”
They have an EP out currently titled “Noise Complaint,” as well as a cover of Beatles song “Oh Darlin’” they performed for a local independent film available online. But what does the future hold for Your Downstairs Neighbors?
Standish James is quick to answer. “What would be really cool is if we could get a bunch of us together and get some sort of festival going. There’s a secret little music scene in Eastlake, and we haven’t even tapped into the full potential of it.”
If you’re interested in seeing Your Downstairs Neighbors perform live, check their Facebook page for upcoming performances or just stop one of them on the street and ask. They said they wouldn’t mind.
Photo by Jordan Ellingwood. Band members left to right: Kathryn Farrell, Brennan MacKay, Ryan Norwine, Straker Carryer, Alex Standish James
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