Netherfriends aren't a band anymore. The name has always really functioned more as a guise for Chicago songwriter Shawn Rosenblatt and his bedroom indie pop, but Rosenblatt's given up on bandmates entirely. And considering Netherfriends' restless output, streamlining things made the most sense.
"It's all egos with bands," Rosenblatt tells the Scene via phone. Netherfriends toured the Northeast on bicycle as a duo in 2011, but when the drummer quit on the last day of the tour, Rosenblatt decided to go it alone permanently, building his set on live loops with an array of instruments and knickknacks. "I like to say that my life now is more like a comedian and less like a musician, because it's like I'm building my set to kill every night, where there isn't a single person talking or not paying attention to what I'm doing. I'm really trying to figure out how to win over an entire crowd every night."
At this point, Rosenblatt has taken his show on the road in every state, while writing and recording a song in each of those states for the self-explanatorily titled 50 Songs 50 States. That was a project he undertook in 2010, finished in 2011 and unveiled earlier this year with an interactive map on his website, netherfriends.us (a dozen of the tracks appeared last year on Middle America, while four others were included on the Angry East Coast EP the year before that). On the site, you can click on each state to bring up photos and a journal entry about his time there, plus a stream of the song he recorded during that time. All the songs are named after the towns in which they were recorded, including "Murfreesboro, TN," where Rosenblatt played a set at house-show spot Trash Mountain.
At 50 songs, it's a surprisingly easy listen of homemade, sometimes shoegazey indie pop. Less surprising is the fact that more than a handful of the songs are about traveling, getting meta on tracks like "Wilbur, AL": "The pressure is on / I'm recording in a van / Got one last state of the Lower 48." But after having that project dictate his next move for so long, Rosenblatt is still trying to figure out where to steer Netherfriends next.
"I'm still making music, but I really want to top the 50 states thing," Rosenblatt says. "I really want to do an album essentially how I've been making beats live. I want to make a 24-hour beat live and record it, but in Chicago there's nothing open 24 hours that would be worth hanging out in, so I'd have to do it somewhere else — something like a bar in New Orleans."
There's a new album in the mixing stages called P3ACE — his first recorded in an actual studio — but Rosenblatt hasn't determined the best way to release it. The Netherfriends Bandcamp page is littered with catalog curiosities like the ambient drone on Alap, or Netherfriends Does Nilsson, an album built entirely on Harry Nilsson samples. Rosenblatt recently recorded a garage-rock album because he's tired of garage rock. "I'm really so sick of garage rock taking over every area that I move to. It's like the hipster thing to be really sloppy and have an out-of-tune guitar and rip off Thee Oh Sees, so I made an album like that because I thought it'd be really funny, but that was the first time I sat down and wrote songs on guitar since the 50 states project."
Instead, Rosenblatt's focused on making the above-mentioned beats and loops and dabbling more in hip-hop. He started hosting improvisational jam sessions, inviting Chicago-based rappers to freestyle for a project called Kind of Buzzed, and P3ACE is largely built on similar loops.
"I didn't really think I was making beats," says Rosenblatt. "Even with the solo stuff, I didn't understand that's what I was doing live. There's something about making loops live with different instruments and being as creative as possible that you don't really get with making songs."