Former NYC bands finding a home in Philly

Izzy Almeida and Derek Watson of psych-pop Hunters,
Izzy Almeida and Derek Watson of psych-pop Hunters, (lately of Brooklyn, say they're "this close" to getting the rest of the band to move here.)
Posted: November 04, 2013

On the last warm day of October, Izzy Almeida and Derek Watson - the duo at the heart of the band called Hunters - head home to their apartment on 13th Street in Center City. They'll hang at a friend's house, eat at the local cantina ("where we eat way too much," Almeida says with a laugh), and talk about their coming self-titled debut album, full of smashing, fuzz-toned psych-pop.

At this time last year, Almeida and Watson did these things in Manhattan's East Village or Brooklyn's Williamsburg section, where they shared an apartment. But the cost of living in New York and environs increasingly excludes all but the already wealthy and the soon-to-be-rich. And the entertainment industry has spread out, thanks to the Internet. For these reasons, New York is no longer the center of the arts universe.

So onetime New York bands such as Hunters are moving to Philadelphia, where housing is cheaper and the pace less demanding.

They're not alone. "We're this close to getting the rest of Hunters to move here," Almeida says. "We recommend Philly to anyone in any band every chance we get."

"There was this misconception that if you did something in New York, it would somehow be better," Watson says.

"We used to call ourselves a New York band when we all lived there, but shied away from that once the Strokes and that era of bands became big," says Peter Bauer, bassist of indie-rock giants the Walkmen. He and drummer Matt Barrick live in Philly; three other members are still in New York. "We didn't want to be lumped in" with the New York bands, Bauer says. "Turns out all those dudes did just fine for themselves."

Things worked out pretty well for Bauer, who has lived in East Mount Airy for the last several years, recording and mastering a solo album with renowned local producer Quentin Stoltzfus in Port Richmond.

"It was pretty awful when I left," Bauer says. He says he moved here for quality of life and financial reasons. "I knew very little about Philly, yet, on the day we decided to move from Manhattan, we got two $100 parking tickets and my wife got towed. That's when we called it. Now, I can't stand that town for more than a weekend."

Escape from New York seems to be a trend. Famously-New-York musician David Byrne recently wrote an essay in the Guardian about how costs have started to exclude the artistic classes, of which he was a member when he formed Talking Heads as a teen.

Byrne has merely threatened to leave his city. Moby, a longtime New Yorker, moved from Little Italy to Hollywood, where he recorded his new album Innocents. "My neighborhood was the perfect place; dirt cheap and filled with artists of all stripes; an idyllic environment where everyone would work during the day, go out late, get drunk, and have inappropriate one-night stands," Moby says. "But that city became a victim of its own success. . . . the artist and the weirdo can't afford to live there anymore."

Electronic house-hop artist Raj "Lushlife" Haldar lived in Manhattan at the beginning of the 2000s. "I had a tragic few years there," says Haldar, who is readying his Toynbee Suite for its Nov. 7 premiere at Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction gallery on Third Street. "Despite [New York's] being a major media hub, I personally found it to be a wholly untenable place to live and breathe as an artist."

Settling in South Philly in 2005 "hugely impacted my arc as a recording artist," says Haldar. "This city offers artists like myself all of the cultural fabric of a world-class city coupled with a sane standard of living that makes things like owning a home as a musician comfortably possible."

Almeida and Watson of Hunters didn't hate New York when they left, nor do they now. The pair got together in Brooklyn in 2009 - her first band, his second - after realizing they had similar tastes. From "Deadbeat," their first bit of dramatic feedback pop, the pair knew they were on to something dynamic. "From there, everything we did was fun to play - that's a must for us," Watson says.

"But after both of us had lived in New York for a decade, something had to change," says Almeida.

After visits to Philly friends, and going to house concerts in Fishtown and West Philly, Hunters felt a vibe not dissimilar from the electricity that runs through New York, but in a city more affordable and easier to navigate.

"You can't have house shows in Manhattan because no one can afford a house," jokes Almeida.

When their tour schedule got busier, they decided to move.

"We can be more productive now because we don't have to work just to pay the bills," says Almeida. "In New York City, we had no time to do anything else, but work. Derek even had a day job at a factory just to make ends meet. Here, we can be artists and live comfortably."

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