Longtime friends make the best bandmates. Case in point: Floatie.
The Chicago band’s four members—vocalist-guitarist Sam Bern, drummer Luc Schutz, bassist Joe Olson, and multi-instrumentalist Will Wisniewski—have known one another for at least a decade, mostly because they’ve moved in the same local music circles. Bern, Olson, and Schutz previously played together in the band Spooky Action Space Captain. Before that, Bern was a fan of Olson and Wisniewski’s now-defunct group Hundred Heads. Olson even recorded Bern’s duo Date Stuff.
By 2017, Bern had begun writing new material with Olson and Schutz, using the name Floatie. “I knew who I wanted to work with,” they say. “It was just a process of getting my friends to come out of their musical retirement and work on these songs with me.”
From 2017 into 2019, Floatie operated as a trio. They landed some plum opening slots, including a Subterranean show in October 2018 with Pile and the Spirit of the Beehive. Still, they thought something was missing, and eventually they brought Wisniewski aboard in summer 2019.
“As soon as Will played with us, it was like everything got glued together,” Olson says. “All of the sudden the songs were done. We didn’t have to do anything else.”
With Wisniewski filling out the band’s dreamy, polyrhythmic songs with guitar accents and keyboards, Floatie began playing shows more frequently, sharing bills with the likes of Stuck, Shell of a Shell, and Ratboys. And they made their booking appeals without a recording of any kind—none of their early attempts to cut a demo “sounded like we wanted it to,” says Olson.
“It worked in our favor,” Schutz says. “The live show was the only way people could hear the music.”
The four-piece version of Floatie finally tracked what would become their first release in winter 2019 with Seth Engel at Pallet Sound studios in Bridgeport. But in March 2020, as the band were about to mix the recording, COVID hit and shows stopped. What has the pandemic been like for a band interrupted just as they were building buzz? It could’ve gone worse.
Floatie’s finally finished full-length debut, Voyage Out, comes out March 26 through Brooklyn-based indie label Exploding in Sound. Ahead of the release, the band members spoke to the Reader about the adventure novels that inspired the album, how what could’ve been a lost year actually helped them out, and their decision to make complicated rock music that’s congenial rather than confrontational. This Q&A has been edited for brevity and clarity.
At what point did you four decide to form this band?
Bern I had this two-piece project, Date Stuff, that was ending. I really had this exact group of people in mind, because of the music they’ve made that I’ve heard and the time I’ve spent with them. [Olson, Schutz, and I] played some shows as a three-piece before, but there was always something missing. Then Will joined.
Schutz It’s so much more than guitar too. He plays electronic synths and samples, and that adds another layer.
Pre-pandemic, is it accurate to say the band was gaining more steam?
Bern Yeah, I’d say so. Our first show with all four of us was at the Hideout in 2019. The music was where we wanted it to be, and we were all really excited about it. We weren’t questioning it anymore.
What were the band’s plans before the pandemic hit, and how did they change?
Bern There was an epic timeline shift. We finished the album, the last bit of it, in March 2020. Our friend Seth Engel recorded it. He sent us a text and was like, “Anything you want to do—any finishing touches or overdubs—we need to do it right now.” At that time, the pandemic was seemingly getting more serious every passing hour.
After that last day of recording, we lazily kept mixing it because we assumed that the pandemic would last a few months. We were going to wait until the pandemic was over to release it ourselves. That never happened.
Schutz We weren’t really thinking about the album for a while—we just had it. Then the uprising [protests against police brutality and racial injustice] was happening. The release of the album seemed not important at all. We put it on the back burner.
Bern There was no rush. We decided to ask a few people and labels if they would be interested in releasing it or helping out. If they didn’t want to do it, then we would release it ourselves.
How did you link up with Exploding in Sound Records?
Bern In the past, [EiS cofounder] Dan [Goldin] had reached out to me about Date Stuff being on a fundraising compilation the label was doing. I knew Dan knew of the music I was working on, but I wasn’t 100 percent sure if he would be interested in Floatie.
I also knew Seth and Dan had worked together in the past, and I asked Seth, “What do you think about sending our music to Exploding in Sound? Do you think that’s a possibility?” And Seth was like, “Oh yeah, here’s Dan’s personal e-mail.” Seth really paved the way for that to happen.
During this past year, have Floatie written more songs? Are you tired of these songs you’re about to release?
Bern The time worked in our favor, because we didn’t play for so long. We weren’t sure how safe we could make band practice. We went four or five months without band practice at all. Once we got back together, it was fun playing the songs again because it had been so long.
Wisniewski We never had a reason to play the songs to an exhaustive point. We never were like, “Maybe a show could happen today or at any moment, so we should have the songs ready.” We let them fall into disarray and tried to find new riffs over the last few months. There will be new songs.
Olson Some of the songs on the record are three years old at this point.
Speaking to the music, in the initial press release, there was a mention of “frog rock.” What is this?
Wisniewski If you say “prog rock,” you’re instantly thinking of Rush [laughs]. We wanted to pick something that reflects that the music is fun and not pretentious.
The music seems to be consciously against distortion pedals.
Wisniewski We all have them [laughs].
Bern I have one. I’m just like, “When is this appropriate?” I don’t know. I listen to a lot of heavier music, and I love it so much. But for some reason, it’s been a challenge to take it there.
Why Voyage Out for the title of the record?
Bern I was reading some adventure books at the time of writing the lyrics for a lot of these songs, like Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage and The Count of Monte Cristo. These books are set in ages where people were just going places and exploring things just to see if they could. That was on my mind.
It’s cheesy, but the best part of playing in this band is practicing, not necessarily the end product. We’re just having fun, playing and expressing ourselves.
What do you imagine a performance will be like once we can get back to seeing concerts?
Bern We’re not scientists, but I feel like people are going to lose their damn minds. v