Though it feels like it happened 40 years ago, I remember clearly when I first saw The Values. It was in the backyard during Putnam-o-Rama, and three girls passed in matching, spangly sunset-gradient dresses, golds and silvers bleeding into deep orchid. And Sean Jones said, “That’s The Values. You’ll like them, they’re really different.” But I was uprepared. Woefully unprepared.
Because The Values proceeded to pounce on the muddy, murky night with a glitter bomb of soulful voices. While impossible to pin down as one genre – the synth spine of Ladytron, the wardrobe of The Supremes… who even is on this extended family tree? idefk – they never, not for a fucking second, lacked coordination or the ability to dazzle a collection of completely different people in the crowd. Playful lines like “I do my online window shopping, pretend that I have money,” reminded the audience that despite the unrelenting sparkle, they aren’t untouchably manicured. They just try harder, work harder, and play pretty hard as well. It shows.
Different. But inclusive.
So post-set, I ran up to Mason Taub to say “Hi, I’m Mary Grace from the Internet, your band is amazing and we are totally getting breakfast together!” She was all, “That’s great, but also I need to get out of this dress. Do you want to help me warn the crowd that the cops are coming?” “I would be insulted if you DIDN’T invite me,” was my response, and I followed her around the establishment, being generally useless and unpacking whatever That Guy drama I had while she undressed in one of the bedrooms.
That was, not 40 years ago, but July. And now it’s a sunny August afternoon and the cork just hit the ceiling. Won’t you join us?
The Scene: Aside from Mason, who just opened the prosecco, the band is streamlined to a core group: Evan Zwisler (frying up french toast), sisters Nathalie and Mel Escudero, and a drum machine called Little Nicky (after former drummer Nick Ciccantelli from The Lounge Act).
So that’s why we’re in Mason and Evan’s kitchen in Flatbush, their precious pitbull Honey at our feet. “Mel, Mason and I went to a party last night and we got home at 2:30 and we were like, ‘Oh, let’s play some tunes…’” Evan says, before we cheers.
“So did you make sweet tunes?” I ask. No, they just stayed up and watched The Great British Baking Show. Through the chaos and hastily downed mimosas (me, that’s all me) Nat mentions that she had the best key lime pie the other day and that Mason makes a boss lemon curd and hummus (maybe not paired together).
“You guys, like, make food and that’s so strange to me, because I’ve fucked up mac and cheese before,” I observe.
“Macaroni and cheese can be hard because cheese is like, delicate,” Mel offers sympathetically.
“I mean, it was literally a box,” I admit.
Laughter abounds, but clearly I’m a trash human being who’s gonna get the deluxe treatment here.
2:06 TOUR STORIES!
“Do you remember that terrible bar in Long Island?” asks Evan, in the midst of food discussions. “There were just people in the bathroom doing cocaine…”
“There was a dude in the woman’s bathroom,” Nat adds.
Mason remembers. “That’s when we saw Misogyny The Band.” (Not their real name. I asked, don’t bother Googling).
“The guy was wearing this t-shirt that said ‘Fuck your sensitivity,” Evan remembers.
“And then,” Nat adds, “he would just say in between songs, ‘penis.'”
The kicker, I’m told, was their signature song – something about this dude choking his girlfriend and coming on her neck. Suffice to say nobody was impressed and the kitchen filled with a lot of “ews” and groans.
“Half of the people weren’t even listening,” Mel recalls. “But the ones that were, everyone was looking at each other. They had to look at someone.”
“And then we went up there and we have this song ‘Zombie’ and it’s about abortion, and so the way I always start it is, ‘This song is about an abortion,'” Mason says. “And there were audible groans when I said that.”
“That says everything about this scene and how weirdly sexist it is,” I chime in. “You can choke a bitch and cum on her neck but you mention a song about an abortion and suddenly it’s ‘Oh, god, NOT THAT.'”
There’s often some kind of audible response, but it’s not always negative. The band is playing a lot of out-of-town shows and their college gigs are filled with impressionable youths (I’m only 26 but I’m condescending) wearing glitter highlights (which the band has adopted in their look). And from them, Mason and the band get appreciation.
“I have a lot of girls come up to me, and it’s always younger girls, and they’re like, ‘We don’t ever see bands at our college with women in there, thanks for coming.’” she says.
2:24 We move into Evan and Mason’s room/practice space, hence the wall of guitars and literal piano near the window. The girls and I waste no time devouring Evan’s breakfast: chicken sausage, sliced peaches, French toast and eggs on the way. “You know what’s really funny? Ev is a vegetarian,” Mel says, but clearly one who can make a boss chicken sausage.
“Should the whole article be just recipes that you guys have excelled at?” I ask later.
Mason’s about it. “We should just include our recipes with our album.”
They consider making the cover of their next album a picture of something they’ve cooked, with production credits and lyrics deleted and replaced by just the recipe for it. Full disclosure: I would buy the fuck out of that album, but in case it never happens, here’s a list of other essential Values dishes:
- Garlic Mashed Potatoes
- Pulled Pork Sandwiches
- Brie Cheese Pie
Evan can apparently make a mean chicken, too.
Invite them to your next party.
2:34 So Mel’s apparently so vocally talented it once got her abducted.
“There’s a story our mom tells us about when my sister was in pre-school and there was a bus driver who would hear my sister sing on the bus,” Nat recounts. “And she was Columbian like us, so my sister was singing this song from a popular Columbian telenovela at the time. And she was like, in love with my sister. So she took her, didn’t take her home to my parents, took her to her home, had her sing in the living room for her family.”
“I’ve never heard this story,” Mason chimes in.
“How old were you?” Evan asks.
Mel’s pretty nonchalant about it. “I was like, 4 or 5?”
Evan freaks out. “WHAT?! YOU WERE KIDNAPPED. THAT IS KIDNAPPING!”
“And my sister’s not aware that she was being taken against her own will. The bus driver took her back home and my mom was like, worried sick,” Nat says. “This was before people took things like this more seriously.”
“Like, kidnapping more seriously?” I ask.
Anyway, we’re all very glad that Mel did not end up a milk carton kid. That really would’ve hindered The Values’ sound.
3:00 The Values are recalling their old rehearsal space in Brooklyn Heights, a hot box in which they had to fit roughly “67” people in a room.
“We were down to our bras in that room and we kept singing,” Mason remembers. “And I vividly remember Phil sitting down and after 5 minutes and I checked him and was like, ‘Are you okay?’ and he was like, ‘I’m not moving, and the sweat is just pouring down my face and I’m not moving.'”
It sounds like a time, but I’m too many mimosas deep to concentrate, and Air is playing, and that was my high school sex stuff music. So.
“I think this is one of the best, funniest songs,” Mason shares. “It still kind of makes me giggle, and just the fact that that’s the hook makes me laugh, ‘Sexy Booooy.‘”
“Well they’re a French band so a lot of it’s just nonsense, they’re like, Oh, yeah, we are a couple of sexy boys. Let’s do it,” Evan jokes, putting on a mangled accent.
“Like Borat?” I ask, confused.
Eventually it ends up just Evan, Mason and me watching the dorkiest but purest Foo Fighters fan video, cry-laughing the whole way through. I think I’m still too obliterated to make intelligent conversation, but I’m learning that Evan grew up in Shanghai and Mason grew up in New York.
“I think that’s part of why we get each other. We had similar experiences in high school seeing bands and going to bars and stuff,” she says.
“It’s also like growing up in a big city, there’s always more trouble to get into,” Evan adds. They talk about the lure of these communities, a sort of “chase culture” that draws active, adventurous, creative teens like a moth to the flame. More trouble to find, more troublesome people to run with.
“Chase culture.” I don’t know if I’ve grown out of that yet. Sometimes I worry I never will.
“Can I play with the dog?” I ask. The answer, thank dog, is yes.
I check in on The Values twice more before I write this, supplementing their shows as a date plan, as a 25th birthday plan, a plan that I plug into my schedule whenever I can.
“It’s so refreshing to see a band that actually tries,” my friend Joe Mayer says during the tail end of their Knitting Factory set. Word.
It’s a drive-by appearance, as always, but I chat with Nat in the bathroom about how they killed it with their choreography (choreography, HOW). And in a smokey haze, sunken onto the couch in the Green Room, I catch up with Mason, who asks me about how things are going with That Guy. Different That Guy, but always some That Guy.
There’s always a possibility that I’m an easy crowd member to win over. But more likely, The Values are playing with a brighter spectrum of hues than most. And sue me, I like visiting their colorful world.
I think you would, too.
“I do my online window shopping, just to see some beauty…”