- Courtesy Of Ezra Distler
- From left: Jamie Soph, Echo Mars and Lu Racine
Whose job is it to keep concertgoers safe? Obviously, whoever is in charge of the venue or performance space in question is responsible for the physical safety of its patrons. But more and more frequently, bands and artists are taking it upon themselves to foster a safe space for their fans' emotional and psychological well-being.
Brattleboro queer post-punk trio I Love You! prioritize the cultivation of a safe space for their followers.
"The thing we can offer is the opportunity for queer people at our shows to realize that they are allowed to be there," says the band's guitarist and synth player, Echo Mars. "Because they can go to a show anywhere. What they can't [always] do is go to a show and be told that it's OK for them to be there. We are in the position to make that atmosphere clear and certain."
I Love You! are a relatively new band. Its members — bassist Jamie Soph, 20, drummer Lu Racine, 21, and Mars, 20 — just met each other in the summer of 2018. But all three were looking for a project into which they could channel their creative energies. And based on the strength of two back-to-back three-song demos, the group seems to have cultivated a strong aesthetic bolstered by an unflappable ethos.
All three members grew up in the Brattleboro area — though Racine was born in Florida. Despite going to nearby schools and having friends in common, the three were unaware of each other until July. Their apparent closeness is remarkable.
"Three people with very similar feelings about the world and identity [who are] exploring identity in very similar yet totally nuanced ways, coming together at this specific coordinate — it's just kind of amazing," says Soph, who uses they/them pronouns. "It just happened."
"These are my best friends, and that's important to me," says Racine, who also uses they/them. "I fucking love these people so much."
I Love You! balance loving sweetness with plenty of pain and anguish. Their work recalls '80s monoliths such as the Cure and Joy Division through melancholy, slightly discordant guitar work and Mars' gloomy crooning.
"Heartfelt but heavy," she says. "Things that are beautiful can also be overwhelming. I feel like that's kind of the feeling that we produce in our music. Emotional intensity."
In terms of the group's lyricism, its songs derive from two primary places: reactions to social and civil injustices in the world, and deep, internal explorations of self.
"Fuck my life or fuck your life," jokes Mars.
For instance, "Pith and Point," from the band's first demo collection, dwells on internal turmoil, albeit abstractly.
"Today I feel small / As I reach for the conducive ... I walk the line / Of desire and action," Mars drearily sings over increasingly thrashing guitar chords.
"The action of trying to solidify yourself and be present and be queer and open is a tiresome task that you have to work at emotionally, physically and spiritually every day," she says.
Leaning into contemporary politics, the group's track "Immigrant" was written as a reaction to family separation at the U.S./Mexico border. The spacious mid-tempo tune pairs a driving bass line with cosmic synth.
"Fuck ICE," Mars declared during a recent performance at White River Junction's Main Street Museum, referring to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, before launching into the song.
The artful combination of the examination of identity and sociopolitical topics makes I Love You!'s work all the more compelling.
"They're inherently connected," Mars says of the band's music and its politics. "However, when I'm writing a song, I'm not thinking in my head, I'm gay, I'm gay, I'm gay. [But] a song that I write will be going through a filter of the band that is queer."
I Love You! espouse a need to represent the queer community at large, though "it's not our burden to carry," says Soph.
"We just want to speak from the corner of the world that we come from and the lives that we have," they continue. "It's not our place to say, 'We are the ambassadors of all things queer.' That's simply not accurate. There are a million different ways to be a person."
That's especially true as gender and sexuality are frequently conflated. But I Love You! are primarily concerned with ruminations on gender.
"Identity is of the self," says Mars. "It's insight. Sexuality is sociology, [which] is incredibly and easily validated and normalized, whereas understanding of [the self] is way harder to express.
"It's a risk," she continues, citing her own struggles with outward gender expression. "I'm exhausted if I'm constantly thinking that people are looking at a fucking lie. How far can I be myself without getting hurt?"
This relates to the band's promotion of queer safe spaces.
"It's about turning the power," Mars says. "You have a room, and you don't know how many [people in it] are queer. The performers announcing that it is a queer safe space gives everyone in the room who is queer the opportunity and power and confidence to address any damage that is being done."
Fortunately, the band members say they haven't encountered any such problems at their own shows, though they have elsewhere.
"I think we've all been to shows where there have been problems that need to be brought to the attention of the performers and venue," says Soph.
Despite their clearly defined beliefs, I Love You! are very much in their infancy. Though not a stranger to playing music, Racine had actually never touched a drum kit before taking up the position.
"It's very hard and very stressful," they say. "But also, [it's] the most fun and spontaneous thing I've ever done in my entire life. I'm constantly proving to myself, Oh, I can do this."
Though they've been making and recording music for almost 10 years, Soph recently made some strides as a producer with their recording project Plushing.
"That was the project that really skyrocketed my production skills," they say. "I'm still learning a lot about that stuff. Doing all that writing and recording by myself really helped me grow as a producer instead of just a musician."
The band members say they have a hard time finding other local groups in their area with which to play, not to mention venue space.
"It's hard to play music in Vermont if you're not a fucking blues band," says Soph.
However, being located in Brattleboro affords them a primary spot for regional touring. Boston; Northampton, Mass.; Albany, N.Y.; and New Haven, Conn., are all within a few hours' drive. But relocating to Burlington — where they would surely find like-minded young bands — is more or less out of the question.
"I think we'd do really well — in Burlington," says Mars, noting that the Queen City is too far from other markets.
"We have very big dreams and goals," says Racine.
For now, I Love You! are focused on writing, performing as much as possible, and working toward their mission of inclusion and acceptance.
"I think what we have to offer is a normalized space," says Mars. "If you come [to our shows], you're safe; you're included. This is for you."