For a many years now, the future of the Seattle music scene—one that has long been defined by the vibrant grunge and DIY rock scene of the 1990s— has been in question due to Big Tech money and the extensive forces of gentrification overtaking the city. As Bandcamp Daily recently wrote about the status of the Seattle scene, “Flannel-wearing, granola-eating punks were pushed out of the way by the formidable income of North Face-wearing yuppies who could afford $20 bowls of paella as an appetizer.”
Sure enough, many artists have moved away due to the skyrocketing Seattle prices, irrevocably altering the Seattle music scene and sending many Seattle music fans scrambling to establish new nonprofits and venues that could help preserve what’s left. What’s more, many of the issues the scene was facing before have been exacerbated tenfold by the COVID-19 pandemic.
But when you hear THEM, a brand new band of Seattle-bred teenagers, you hear hope. Their debut single, “Bad 4 U,” which dropped on June 5th, is the natural continuation and expansion of what Seattle music has always been about—gritty, honest, and unique rock brought to life with the help of the local music community that’s rallied around them.
THEM is named for the first letter of each multi-instrumentalist member’s name: 16 year-old Thompson, 16 year-old Hudson, 19 year-old Ellie, and 19 year-old Maia. The foursome met when they were put in a group class together at West Seattle’s Mode Music Studios, a mainstay local music school that opened in 2014 and is operated entirely by working Seattle musicians. Over the years, the school has boasted such notable teachers as Jen Wood from The Postal Service, solo artist Maiah Manser, Rat Queen’s Jeff Tapia, and KEXP radio host and The Black Tones lead vocalist and guitarist, Eva Walker.
All four of the girls started taking private lessons at Mode Music Studios years ago—Ellie, in fact, was one of the school’s first students. “Mode is mostly one-on-one private lessons. That’s how all four of us started,” says Ellie. “But we got recruited to do this Sunday night rock band class which we all four were in and that’s how our group formed. We were in this Sunday night class that we’re paying for, just us four, collaborating, really just covering our favorite songs.” That was four years ago; initally, local singer-songwriter and drummer Heather Thomas taught the rock band class before Eva Walker took over. From there, the group began to play gigs around Seattle.
“Once the pandemic started [we couldn’t] really do a virtual class and we were starting to write our own songs,” Ellie continues. “So we just took it into our own hands and went to each others’ houses and continued the weekly group.”
As the pandemic went on, THEM pulled back from playing shows and instead worked on writing music until they had enough for a debut album, which Ellie says will be released sometime late this year. “Bad 4 U” is the first single to be released off the forthcoming record, and it’s based on the rest of the group’s reaction to one band member’s bad boy crush.
“Hudson brought it to the band actually in probably April or May 2020,” says Ellie. “Hudson pulled this song out of nowhere and played it for us and we loved it—we all related to it differently because it’s basically about liking somebody who’s not good for you, or liking somebody who you know is bad but it doesn’t matter.”
As Hudson shared more about the song, the rest of the band realized they knew this crush—and agreed it was probably best she steer clear of him. For that reason, the group decided to have Thompson, who’s close friends with Hudson, echo Hudson’s vocals at the chorus with sound best friend advice: “You know he’s bad for you.”
This creative choice—and the song’s refined rock sensibility— underscores just how mature these girls are, despite their youth. They perform with soul and heart, they add call and response, they play with sound density and form. Their professionalism reflects their hard-work and talent, as well as the ample mentorship they’ve had along the way—both from the teachers at Mode and from other cultural institutions in Seattle.
“We have kind of grown from Seattle Theater Group education program. We were in Moore Music at the Moore last year and we’ve been in STG songwriters’ classes for like the past four or five years,” explains Ellie. She’s also spent several years beefing up on music business and social media management, primarily by working at Mode Music’s front desk and eventually becoming The Black Tones’ social media manager.
“Eva saw my work at Mode and… saw that I was interested in studying music business so she asked me to do their social media,” says Ellie. “I started off posting for them and that work has spread. I started doing social media for [the band] Warren Dunes as well, and then [for] Seattle Secret Shows. I’ve done a few things for Seattle Theater Group, too, and now I’m about to start with Naked Giants and a few local LA bands because I’m actually moving to LA in a few months.” There, she’ll finish up her Bachelors degree in entertainment business at LA Film School.
Ellie’s applying what she learns to the promotion of THEM, and no, the group has no plans of breaking up while Ellie finishes her schooling. Instead, they plan to leverage Ellie’s change of locale to broaden the reach of THEM, and Ellie says she will definitely be flying back and forth this summer to play the shows they have on the calendar.
When asked about her perspective on the future of the Seattle music scene, her perspective is sunny—noting that the pandemic hasn’t been all bad because the time helped THEM get inspired and create. She expects other artists have had similar experiences.
“I think we’re going to bounce back just fine,” she says. “I think during the pandemic people were kind of M.I.A. and got really inspired. We wrote a whole album’s worth of songs. I think the fans are really going to benefit from that when things open up and see that the growth that some of their favorite artists have done during the pandemic.”
Ellie sees talent in her age group simmering and swelling, ready to lay down some tracks and make it big. The list of local artist peers that inspire THEM is long—and includes her boyfriend Destin Mai of Ambient Village, who produced, mixed and mastered “Bad 4 U.”
In Ellie’s eyes, too, there’s a new “Seattle sound” bubbling up among the next generation of artists, born from the combination of the DIY rock/pop sound the city’s long been known for and Seattle’s vibrant underground hip-hop scene and wealth of talented producers and emcees.
“I definitely think that there’s some inspiration from new pop music that’s coming out, like Olivia Rodrigo—she’s got a full band but there’s 808 [drum machines] in her music. It’s kind of a mix of that hip-hop and pop sound,” says Ellie. “It’s like a full band like us, falling into the hands of a hip-hop producer, like how we’re working with Destin and he’s putting in automated drums in our music—I think that that is itself a new sound for sure.”
Follow Them on Instagram for ongoing updates.