New bands, New Jersey in spotlight

A homeowner near Collingswood, N.J., invites bands to play in his overgrown yard, posting the subsequent videos to the Internet. The monthly installments document the South Jersey suburb as much as the music.

Since August, local bands have been getting a boost from a back yard in New Jersey.

A homeowner near Collingswood invites bands to play in his overgrown yard, posting the subsequent videos to the Internet. The monthly installments document the South Jersey suburb as much as the music.

On a recent day, the band called Break It Up was getting ready to play behind a two-story house on a quiet street near Newton Lake. It had rained recently, so the ground was wet and the drum kit was sinking in the mud.

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“We don’t know how things are going to sound. We’ve only played inside,” said drummer Casey Bell with guitarist Jen Sperling.

“A lot can get lost outside—the sound dissipates in the air. The wet ground, everything is going to be muddy—we were lucky to find some plywood for the drum kit,” Bell said. “There are some really dangerous branches there I’m going to have to contend with.”

They also have to contend with air traffic from Philadelphia International Airport.

Kyle Costill, a longtime figure on the local indie music scene, invited Break It Up to perform in his back yard. Costill struck upon this video project, dubbed “Bands in the Backyard,” as a way to promote upcoming talent and showcase his home state.

“I think I live in East Philadelphia. Some people think, ‘Oh, you live in Jersey, it’s terrible.’ But I always say I can get into Center City faster than my friends in West Philly,” says Costill. “I’ve always seen myself as living in Philadelphia.”

Results of the three-camera video shoot will be posted as the monthly episode on the Bands in the Backyard website. It rhymes with NIMBY, as in “not in my back yard.”

The loud and the short of it

Although just a three-piece band, Break It Up is loud. Very loud. But Costill says the neighbors don’t mind.

“I thought in the beginning it would be hard to explain what we’re doing. Everyone is being cool,” says Costill. One of his neighbors lets the band use her driveway. And that has meant accommodating a 10-foot crane on occasion.

Yet, on this day, a neighbor has raised some objections.

“I think it’s too loud,” says Linda Maiorano, one of Costill’s neighbors, who has called the cops because of the noise.

Sperling did her best to smooth things out.

“We want you to know we’re only doing three songs. Forty minutes. Is that cool?” said Sperling.

Another neighbor, Brian Cole, was fixing his car in the street. He said he likes it.

“I play music loud in my back yard, too. People call the cops on me, too. I like my volume,” says Cole.

This is not a house party. There are no people watching—only the cameramen and the band members are braving this cold December day. But a plastic Santa Claus keeps watch, while a clay dachshund holds the kick drum steady. The back yard is littered with detritus from four previous shoots and a toy castle stands ready for lights.

Costill says he wants to shoot a new band every month until next August.

“We want to show 12 full months of the environmental effects, what’s going on around it—summer fall, winter spring. Everything. And a great sampling of bands and how it’s so diverse in Philly,” he says. “But really, at the end of the day, everything’s tied together. Like the seasons—not to get too hippie about it.”

At the end of this gig, the band will be paid with pizza and beer. They will also have a professional-quality video on the Internet, and a publicity push they could never afford on their own. 

See the video from BITBY with Break It Up below.

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