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The Nychillharmonic – Interview with Sara McDonald & ‘Mean’ Single Review
Jad | July 27, 2020
I always use the analogy of an orchestra working together in harmony to explain how group work should be done. Well today we’ve got an actual orchestra to cover. Which is definitely not the usual kind of groups our readers have been accustomed to. We usually have bands with three to six members, sometimes even two. Today, however, we have an orchestra formed of 18 members!
The Nychillharmonic is an 18-piece orchestra based in Brooklyn, New York, and lead by Sara McDonald. The group’s sound is a Progressive Rock one. Their newest single was released on June 26th, entitled ‘Mean’, which you can listen to below.
We had the chance to write a short review for ‘Mean’, as well as take an interview from the leader of the orchestra, vocalist, Sara McDonald.
‘Mean’ is probably one of the best songs, if not the best song, by The Nychillharmonic from the ones I have heard of them. The song being the first single from the group’s upcoming second album can tell you a lot about how the sound of the new album will be.
The best thing about ‘Mean’ is that despite the orchestra being a progressive Rock one, which usually means a fusion of different musical styles blended together, the song does not seem like a Rock song with a layer of orchestra, or an orchestral song with a layer of Rock. The song has a homogeneous progressive sound where all instruments along with the vocals make it into what it is.
‘Mean’ is a great song that has a chill vibe but also a tune rockers would enjoy. The Nychillharmonic raise the bar for themselves with this single, raising expectations of a big second album coming for them.
We had the pleasure to interview Sara McDonald and ask her about her music among other things. We hope you enjoy this interview.
Hello Sara! It’s a pleasure to chat with you! How are you doing? Hope COVID-19 isn’t affecting you much?
Hello! Very happy to be chatting with you as well. Just getting over a sinus infection at the moment, but doing alright all things considered.
Great, hope you get back to your best health soon. We’re going to talk about your new single ‘Mean’ and your upcoming album. But first would you like to introduce yourself and The NYChillharmonic to our readers?
Yes! My name is Sara, and I’m a composer/vocalist/multi-instrumentalist that leads an 18-piece, progressive rock ensemble called The NYChillharmonic. The band is composed of rhythm section, horn section, string quartet, synthesizers and lead vocals. Looks like a big band – is definitely not a big band!
Would you also like to tell us a bit about each of the 18 members of your band? 😂 Just kidding of course. Your band is far from being a “traditional” Rock band. For example it’s not possible to fit 18 or more people in a garage to practice like new Rock bands would usually do. What things do you do to keep a good chemistry between your band members despite the large number?
Haha I could! They’re all so talented – I don’t know how I got this lucky to work with so many wonderful people. And yes, the band is not a traditional rock band, so when it comes to rehearsing and performing timing is everything. I plan everything months in advance and do all that I can to accommodate people’s schedules. If someone has to show up late to or leave early from a rehearsal, that’s fine (except for the rhythm section, they really have to always be around for the most part!). You have to be respectful of everyone you work with. People are busy! And as a group we do well, but large ensemble gigs are generally not all that high paying (at all). At the end of the day everyone in the band is really doing me a favor, so I do my best to communicate well, book good shows, and keep things fun. The more competent I am, the better everything runs. Just have to remember to print charts the night before and not the day of !
You’ve released your new single ‘Mean’ a few weeks back. How are you feeling about the reception the song received?
I’m very happy with the reception so far! It feels great to be getting attention from rock and metal blogs after years of being labeled a “progressive-jazz big band.” Not that it bothered me much! I think it just shows that the band is evolving and heading in a new direction – which I’m excited to explore even more and share with everyone.
This single was the first from your upcoming album, which will be your second. Is there a date yet for release of the album?
Unfortunately there is no release date for the next full album yet. Covid is keeping everyone out of the studio. In the meantime, the plan is to release a single every month for the rest of the year. We’ve got everyone recording remotely so the process is tricky and obviously less fun, but we’re going to do our best!
What can your fans expect to be different between your upcoming album and your debut which was released in 2016?
The first album was definitely more orchestral pop / indie-rock, with some jazz influences. So much has changed since then! I think the new music will still appeal to the same audience, but in different ways. The songs are a lot heavier now, more fleshed out, and groovier. Our first album feels polite in retrospect, but also melancholic with the desire to get bigger and richer. The next record will be…less polite. Haha.
hahaha best description. What artists did you grow up listening to? And who of these musicians can you say had the biggest influence on your music-making decisions, such as the type of music you want to make and the way you’re going to make it?
I grew up listening to mostly classical music since both of my parents are classical musicians. As I got older I began listening to more rock and jazz. I’m also a french horn player and was in youth orchestras and concert bands throughout my entire adolescence. Aesthetically speaking, I’m drawn to large scale productions and organizing big shows that require a lot of preparation. I’m comfortable playing in large ensembles, and I write best for bigger groups (in my opinion). I was also involved in musical theater from the age of 5 on into college, so I think that played a role (no pun intended) in my musical trajectory as well. My taste in music has fluctuated a lot over the years and I’m inspired by different things all the time, although I will say I’ve always been more rock influenced than anything else. Sorry that only answered part of the question! I do remember listening to a lot of Elton John and other classic rock bands like Boston, Kansas, and the Doobie Brothers when I was in elementary and middle school. Then in high school/college I discovered Grizzly Bear, Tune Yards, and NIN and those were really the bands that made me want to write music. So there were a lot of different influencing factors that contributed to the way I make music now.
That’s nice. Have you ever been treated with sexism? How would you face sexism and what advice do you give to girls who face sexism on a daily basis, and in general, to young people who are treated with discrimination?
The fact that we have to address this topic at all, is proof of how much work still needs to be done. Sexism and discrimination shouldn’t be regularly occurring themes in anyone’s lives, and yet they are. I will say, I have not had many negative experiences, in regards to sexism, with my peers. It really has been older generations of musicians that have given me a hard time – by far – the most. When you’re just starting out as a musician and you’re extremely vulnerable and impressionable and still learning about your craft, it can be hard to identify when sexist or discriminatory microaggressions are taking place. Even now in my late 20’s, I’ll reflect back on moments that made me feel uncomfortable and when I really think about why I was so uncomfortable, I more often than not realize it’s because someone said or did something sexist that I thought I was supposed to just be OK with. The point is, oppressive behavior should not be normalized to the point where people either become numb to it or question their own levels of sensitivity. The conversation needs to shift from how people are dealing with sexism and discrimination to how people are learning to become actively non-discriminatory/sexist/racist.
So what I would tell someone dealing with sexism or discrimination on a daily basis, is to say something. Call out that behavior and ask why the person engaging in said behavior finds it appropriate. If it is hard to confront someone alone, speak with someone you trust and have them support you in your efforts. We need to educate and help one another to do better and be more knowledgeable, even if it’s uncomfortable. I know this is much easier said than done, but it can be done.
Yes, hopefully one day there will be no need for such thing as feminism and then we’d just be…. metal.rocks. As a musician do you feel that artists should avoid expressing their political opinions on social media? Or that they should use their ability to reach more people than others to inform people about causes they believe in?
Everyone should do what they want, as long as it’s genuine. I personally don’t think artists should avoid expressing their political opinions online altogether. After all, all artists do is create art to express their opinions! If you hold a platform and have influence over a group of people, I think it’s especially important to share resources and information that everyone can utilize in order to support a cause or movement, and become better educated. There is strength in numbers. In order for real change to occur, we all need to put in the work.
If you had the power to get rid of one of the problems the world is facing, which problem would that be?
Inequality. In all of its forms.
Aside from singing, composing, playing instruments, arranging and leading a big band, do you have any hobbies or activities not related to music?
I’m inclined to say that I do, but I’ve mostly just been working on music. And following bat sanctuaries on instagram.
That’s an interesting hobby. Thank you for the interview Sara! Good luck for you and NYChillharmonic in your future plans and projects.