From the looks of their debut EP, you’d have no idea that The Taxonomists started out as an Animal Collective cover band. Forget Panda Bear and Merriweather Post Pavilion: From its irresistible pop hooks to its gritty, propulsive guitar riffs, the Taxonomists’ Dolphin Ape Demo is the sound of a band leaving the past behind and boldly staking out its own space. This Boston four-piece may only have five songs to its name, but the powerhouse vocal duo of Alex Handler (guitar) and Anna Neumann (keyboards) — with Andrew Hughes on guitar/bass and Evan Rees on drums — has stirred up a bouncy repertoire that won’t leave your head for days.

At work on a full-length album and set to play at O’Brien’s Pub on March 16 with local bands Vital Sign and Brave Elephant, the Taxonomists are looking ahead to a year of new music and getting to know the Boston scene. I sat down with the band at Somerville’s Diesel Cafe as they enter what Anna calls “a new chapter of their sound.”

Jenna: So, tell me your story. How’d you guys get started as a band?

Anna: Alex and I met at school and started playing music with each other over a year ago. We were just fooling around for a while, just exploring and covering different artists. We did a lot of Animal Collective covers, and that was actually our first duo show together at our university. We went to Northeastern. And then Andy and Evan are from my hometown. So as we were pulling together more musicians to hit up some shows, we all came together and it worked rather nicely.

Jenna: How’d you come up with the band name? I noticed you have an animal theme going on.

Alex: [Laughs] Oh, I’m so glad you noticed the animal theme! It actually kind of came from us playing Animal Collective songs. We had been kind of reinterpreting a lot of their music when we first started playing, and that was the first show we played together, just Anna and I playing only Animal Collective covers. The Taxonomists was kind of a play off of Animal Collective. A taxonomist is, you know, a scientist that classifies life.

Jenna: How would you describe your sound?

Andy: Friday night. Imagine what your Friday night could be… the best Friday night you could have. Just different sounds, different energies that you might relate to.

Anna: Generally high energy, traditional pop chords, but with a rock twist. It’s like the real pop rock. The good stuff. The juicy. I’d say we take a lot of influence from The Strokes… We’ve all got a lot of different tastes coming in.

Jenna: Tell me about the songwriting process for the Dolphin Ape Demo.

Alex: A few of the songs we had before we started playing with Andy and Evan. On a couple of the songs, there’s parts that I had written in high school, when I was 16. Like “Play It Cool.” And the very first section of “Dolphin Ape Culture” as well.

Anna: But then I ended up contributing to those songs in different ways, adding new parts. I feel a very strong 50/50 from the basic bones of what we wrote. And when the full band came together, the arrangement was very collaborative.


Jenna: And what was the recording process like?

Andy: Grueling. [Laughs] No, it was a lot of fun. We kind of put it into too short of a time frame. So we were working on it all the time. I feel like it would have been better if we got a little bit of a break on that. But it went well; we just wanted to have recordings online that were the band playing. Because before it was recordings that Alex and Anna did.

Jenna: Do you have any favorite songs off the demo?

Evan: I love “Dolphin Ape Culture.” It’s very anthemic. I like that it has a very catchy, poppy feel without driving anything down your throat. On top of that, honestly, it’s a lot of fun to play. There’s a lot of different parts to that song where suddenly if you were doing something else, just listening to it in the background, there’s a bunch of different parts that would suck you in, turn your head.


Jenna: One of the most interesting things about your music, I think, is the vocal contrast between Alex and Anna. How do you guys negotiate the singing parts, like who takes what part?

Alex: I’d say we try to do what the song calls for. Neither of us really have a problem with stepping back. I really enjoy arranging music. I think we both have good ears for what’s necessary.

Anna: When we started playing together until now, we’ve had an interesting dynamic with our voices. When I started to sing with him, I found different things in my voice, and there was a very natural give-and-take to when we sang together. Like Alex says, the different arrangements just call for his narrative or mine, and then sometimes coming together.

Alex: We had a very intense kind of first few months where we were learning how to play together. We come from very different backgrounds. I’ve only been interested in playing rock music, and she is from a more classically trained choral background. I would show her all these rock songs that I wanted to play, and she actually convinced me to do choir at Northeastern. We learned a lot from each other in that early time, and I think that helped our voices match so well because we were developing them together.

Jenna: Yeah, I think your voices work very well together. It keeps your music really fresh and exciting. Actually, one of my favorite songs of yours is “Backup Singer.” Can you talk about the inspiration behind that song?

Anna: I remember exactly when I came up with that line: “I’m not your backup singer.” It was the first song we really got into together. It came from trying to figure out the balance between our vocals. And it was at a practice where I was feeling like I needed to say more, and I wanted [Alex] to know I wasn’t his backup singer. We both have very strong personalities — egos perhaps — so that song really represents balancing it out and checking in with each other. A bit of a fight, but a union.

Alex: I think it’s better to be singing most things than to be keeping it all inside. It’s kind of like open-air therapy for the two of us. We kind of get a chance to yell at each other onstage, and everybody in the room has to listen.


Jenna: What are your thoughts on the Boston music scene?

Anna: I think we’re just starting to explore it. I’ve never been in a serious band in the Boston area until now… There’s a lot of different scenes going on. I’m really curious to start playing shows in the future to see which audiences are into what we’re playing. Overall, I think our music is appealing to a lot of different audiences because it’s written to kind of just stick in your head, and you don’t really have a choice about that. That’s the whole idea.

Alex: I think Boston has a really unique scene. There’s great jazz clubs, basement shows…

Anna: Our first show was at Club Bohemia. And that was a fun show. All the venues we’ve played at have been very different. Lilypad, Copperfield’s, this place called Industry Lab. We just tend to bring a crowd. We have good following of people. Whatever club we’re playing, we kind of bring a bunch of loyal fans.

Jenna: What’s your dream venue to play in Boston?

Andy: Fenway. Why not?

Alex: I wouldn’t love the acoustics there, but I gotta say Bank of America Pavilion has the best sound in Boston. I would absolutely love to play that place.

Anna: I wanna play in whoever’s basement. Because that seems like the best way to get to know people.

Jenna: If you could pick one favorite album of all time, what would it be?

Evan: …and Justice for All by Metallica. Done.

Alex: First Impressions of Earth by The Strokes. Easily. That’s my desert island disc for sure.

Anna: I think I’d go with Fiona Apple’s most recent album. It has a really long name.

Andy: I’d probably make a mix CD. [Laughs] If I can’t do that, then Lateralus by Tool.

Alex: Metallica, The Strokes, Fiona Apple, and Tool. That’s what our music sounds like.

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