PET POLITICS: Two Lovebirds and a Little Honey Form the Core of Synthpop Band The Values

This month, I got to hear from Evan Zwisler and Mason Taub, founders of Brooklyn’s electro-indie-pop group The Values. Mason and Evan take the forefront as a duo—Mason working her deep and vibrant vocals along with the keys and Evan grooving on guitar and backing vocals—to pay homage to timeless R&B vibes and the dance punch of ’80s hits. In 2018 they released their EP Civil and are about to release a new music video for their song “Imposter” (keep your ears and eyes peeled). The Values also share some family values as a band; Mason and Evan recently got engaged (congratulations guys!) and they co-parent a sweet-as-can be pitbull named Honey who joins them on their tours and at photo shoots, and always has an ear-to-ear grin for fans of her family’s band. Is that a rock pup or what?!

AF: Please introduce us to your pup!

MT: Honey is a three-year-old blue nose pitbull, but most people think she’s a puppy when they meet her because she only grew to be about 40 pounds and she loves to be picked up (which is probably our fault honestly). She’s the most physically affectionate and emotionally connected dog I’ve ever had – she needs to be in constant physical contact. She also rarely barks but instead makes the weirdest sounds. Some of our friends have described them as an aggressively cooing dove, an angry baby, and an alien.

EZ: Honey is a hilarious and farty cuddle monster. She’s pretty much my best friend. Sometimes I’ll put on cute dog videos for us to watch together. She loves watching puppies crying! She also loves to be the center of attention, so we’ve actually brought her to a bunch of our photo shoots!

Mason, Honey, and Evan embarking on tour!

AF: How did you two meet, Mason and Evan?

MT: We met a few years ago when we were both nannying for kids who went to the same school in Brooklyn. We struck up a conversation in the schoolyard at pickup and the rest is history!

EZ: Yeah, I saw Mason and pretty much thought she was the most beautiful person ever. I didn’t have anything to say by the time I walked over to her, so I just asked, “Is this where pick up is?” I had been picking up the kids for three months at that point, but it was the best I could come up with!

AF: When did your fur baby come into your lives?

MT: We got Honey a little under three years ago when she was nine months old. A former bandmate of ours was her dogwalker, and the family that had bred her and her siblings couldn’t take care of her and her brother anymore in their tiny apartment. The two pups had been mostly living together in a shared crate, which is partly why I think she’s so aggressively affectionate. They needed a new home for her ASAP, so we met her, fell in love and took her home all in the same day.

AF: What is each of your musical backgrounds like?

EZ: I did the school musical from 6th grade to 8th grade; however, I wasn’t very good. They actually took away my one singing line in Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat and asked me to “Just say it with conviction.”  I grew up in Shanghai so I was lucky enough to play in local bars with my various punk bands throughout high school.  I never went to school for music or anything like that.

MT: I asked for piano lessons when I was six, so everything started there. I studied classical piano privately for 12 years, and have done a fair amount of teaching myself now. I did a lot of musicals in middle school and high school, but I really started singing around 11 years old when I started teaching myself my favorite songs by ear and would wait until my parents were out to sing my heart out to an empty house. I also dabbled in oboe, guitar, and double bass, but none of those really stuck!

Family Values: Evan, Mason, and Honey.

AF: How did you start playing together?

MT: We started dating when Evan was just starting to play shows out in NYC and I was doing a lot of writing on my own. I would help him sometimes when we hung out, just little things like sounding out a melody or recording a harmony on a demo. Eventually he reluctantly let me be a part of it, and it’s evolved into what we’re doing now.

EZ: Mason is being overly modest. Very quickly into working together I realized how talented Mason was – she blows me out of the water. Not only is she amazing at everything she does but she also helps me articulate my ideas in a way that makes sense. I truly feel like I’ve found my partner in everything with her.

AF: Do either of you play in other projects?

MT: I would honestly love to, but we’re too busy to do much outside of our stuff. We have started doing little collabs here and there or helping people with Ableton, but that’s about it.

EZ: We’ve begun to produce for a few other songwriters around New York and Philly and we have a few collaborations planned. We’ve always dreamed of starting a Bikini Kill cover band, so if anyone is into that, call us.

AF: Where did you grow up, and did you have any pets then?

MT: I was born in California but I don’t remember living there because we moved to the suburbs of New York when I was really small. When I was 12 we moved to the Bronx, and I’ve been here in the city ever since! My family got a dog when I was 14. She was a Shetland Sheep Dog (think Lassie). I loved her so much, she was much more austere than Honey is. She was very Downton Abby, while Honey is very much Frank from It’s Always Sunny.

EZ: First, I feel like Honey is way more Charlie than Frank. And yeah I grew up with a bunch of dogs – when I was really young we had a big yellow lab named Bradley and a doberman mutt named Bowie, then a string of Chesapeake Bay Retrievers up through high school. I was born in Taiwan in ’90 and moved to Shanghai when I was 2. I then lived in Shanghai, China from 92-2008. It was a great place to play music because the scene was so small, but so supportive. No one really knew what we were doing – most people haven’t even been to America so it was a lot of earnest intimation.

Honey and Evan enjoying a snuggle session.

AF: What are your spirit animals?

EZ: I really like elephants, but I think Cookie Monster shares my love of life.

MT: Honestly sometimes I feel like Honey and I are each other’s spirit animals. We’re cut from the same anxious cloth.

AF: What instrument do you think Honey would play if she was a human?

MT: She’d be a punk drummer, for sure. She has a lot of upper body strength and looks like a tiny body builder.

EZ: Yeah, that’s absolutely brilliant. I also could picture her playing upright bass, wearing cool sunglasses and a backwards Kangol hat.

Honey reluctantly rocking out on keys.

AF: Tell us a little about your writing process.

MT: We live together so we spend almost every night we’re free writing at home. We tend to write in Ableton and have a bunch of different things going at once. A lot of what we focus on is just establishing groove. Honey often curls up in Evan’s lap or in our gear cases while we work.

EZ: She always wants to be in the middle of the action!  We usually sit down and write something from a fun drum beat or some cool sound we find on one of our synths. Sometimes, Mason will write something on the piano and bring that in.  I feel that we’ve written some of our best songs like that.

AF: How did you decide to take Honey on tour?

MT: Out of necessity, honestly. Dog sitters can be expensive and Honey is just small and cute enough for us to get away with taking her places we wouldn’t normally.

Honey and Mason chilling in the trunk of the tour van.

AF: Can you tell us some funny family tour stories?

MT: We play in Philly a lot, and one time we were playing at this bar where the only place to park the car (with Honey inside) was either far away or illegally right in front. The bouncer, this big beautiful man named Bear, immediately took to her and let us park in front and looked after her while we played. Other times when we’ve played house parties, she likes to curl up in our suitcase on stage with us and sleep.

EZ: Yeah!  She loves to come up on stage and sleep at our feet as we’re playing! She also likes to knock over beer cans and red cups at house shows so she can drink the beer! She’s kinda like Jim Belushi from Animal House in dog form.

AF: Do you have any favorite songs about (non-human) animals?

MT: Ha, no, but when I was little my dad used to tease me and tell me I should write songs about our Chesapeake Bay Retrievers Meg and Annie, but refer to them as my sisters. He was also always telling me to write songs about how much I loved my dad. I never took either of those pieces of advice.

EZ: Does “Werewolves of London” count?

AF: Have you ever written a song about or inspired by animals?

MT: We don’t have any songs just about animals, but I do mention Honey in a line in our song “Civil,” which is a breakup song, that goes, “Tell the dog I love her everyday,” which I think is kind of sweet and silly.

EZ: When I first moved to the city I wrote this song about putting my first dog down that I played at open mics. It was very sappy. I think it was probably an alright song, but it always felt emotionally manipulative playing it.

AF: When is your next show?

MT: March 2nd at the Knitting Factory!

AF: Any other tour dates on the horizon?

MT: We have a few things lined up in Philly (March 1st at Tralfamadore!) and a show in Western Massachusetts on March 15th, so follow us for more news on that!

AF: Do you have any more exciting news to share about your project?

MT: We just recorded a new EP with Holy Fang Studios so keep a look out for those singles to drop!

AF: When and where can we expect to find the “Imposter” video?

MT: It will be coming out next month. We are just finishing up editing it and then it’s ready to go!  We has so much fun filming this one.  We recreated a bunch of our favorite album covers and filmed a video around that.

EZ: I dress up as Lady Gaga and a banana.  Let’s just say we hold nothing back on this one!